Mombasa is the tourism hub of Kenya and has become popular with both local and foreign tourists as a destination. As well as it’s beautiful coastline, Mombasa is also full of Somalian history. Most commonly, travellers will head to a nearby beach destination, Diani, Wasini, Watamu or Malindi. But to do so, you will most likely need to travel from Mombasa to reach these coastal towns.
We spent around four weeks in Kenya of which two and half weeks were on the East Africa coast, starting in Mombasa. We spent our remaining time in Nairobi.
Travelling from Tanzania, arriving into Mombasa was a breath of fresh air! Albeit the bus station is pretty manic! But once we offloaded our backpacks, we instantly felt excited about this crazy and lively place.
Mombasa has a lot to offer and is diverse in activities. The city was more developed than any we had visited in Tanzania. On most corners, you will find a shopping mall filled with stores and eating outlets. Discover more about the rich Somalian history of Mombasa and Kenya. Party the night away under the stars on the beach. Or head down to the beach during the day to relax and unwind.
TRAVEL TO MOMBASA
As we were travelling from Tanzania (Moshi) we decided to take the bus to Mombasa. We travelled with Tahmeed bus company for around 18,000 TSH ($9 each) and the journey took 8 hours. You can purchase a ticket at the Moshi bus stand.
We arrived at Moshi bus stand at 6 AM, but the bus didn’t depart until 7:30 AM. In true African style, the journey probably took 12 hours door to door. Do not expect to get anywhere on time in Kenya, always add a few hours on when making important journeys.
The bus journey from Moshi to Mombasa means you will have to go through the Kenyan border. So after some incredible views of Kilimanjaro, we had reached the border crossing after around an hour into our journey. The crossing was very straight forward and efficient. We purchased our visa at the border for $50 after completing a short form. Easy!
Once you arrive into Kenya, a large chunk of the journey is through Tsavo East National park – get your binoculars ready for some wildlife spotting. We were lucky enough to see a herd of elephants, zebras, ampala and ostrich.
There are a number of bus routes from various destinations to Mombasa. You cannot book tickets online, so best to head to the nearest bus stop for timetables and costs.
This coach journey wasn’t too bad and we were becoming a little more accustomed to the long journeys. Little advise, don’t sit next to the door or the bus as you will get a lot of foot flow and bumps along the way.
Recently there has been a train line built which connects Nairobi and Mombasa: the Madaraka Express. Although the train line has received heavy criticism from Kenyans, this is a really convenient way to travel through Kenya.
You can book a train online at the Kenyan Railways site however, you will require a local number and M-pesa (mobile payments on a local sim card) to complete the transaction.
Ensure you book your ticket in advance – at least a week – as this can get booked up quite quickly. You should pay KSH 1000 ($9.80) for economy class.
The train runs two routes; one in the morning at 8:20 AM and the second in the afternoon around 2:20 PM.
The times that we did use the train, we were fortunate enough to have our host book our train tickets for us. It’s worth asking your hosts as well if they can help.
The train journey is also through the National Park, so enjoy the views and animal spotting.
Flying is, of course, a more efficient but more expensive. We usually use Skyscanner to choose cheaper flight options.
WHERE TO STAY IN MOMBASA
Throughout the city, there are a number of luxury resorts available to stay where you can expect VIP treatment. However, being backpackers, our budget didn’t stretch as far.
So we decided to choose a home-stay! If you are backpacking, you really need to try home-stays. We loved home-stays as it allowed us to live like a local (and eat like a local). But you also have a richer experience and get a feel for the community you are staying. It’s also a great way to learn about the area and gain inside tips and tricks for your travels.
You can find many home-stays on Airbnb and Booking.com. Just filter your search.
We were fortunate enough to stay with our friend, Dave, who stayed in the trendy Bamburi area north of the city centre, close to the beach. He shared many tips and pretty much sorted out our itinerary for the next 48 hours.
It’s worth noting our stay cost $10 per night per room! A steal for our backpacking budget. Mombasa welcomed us with open arms.
THINGS TO DO IN MOMBASA
VISIT THE JUMBA RUINS
Jumba La Mtwana is located around 13 miles from the busy city of Mombasa. We travelled by Matatu – the local bus but you can use tuk-tuk or taxi if you prefer.
The Jumba La Mtwana – translated from Swahili as the ‘the large house of the slave’ – are the ruins that remain of a small coastal Swahili town. The town was deserted around 500 years ago. Once the town was evacuated, the site was recognised as a national monument.
Located on the Indian Coast, Jumba La Mtwana has been dated from the 14th century. The ruins stand among a healing baobab forest and although some of the village deteriorated over time, remains of the Mosque, House of Kitchen and House of Many Pool still remains.
Worthy of a trip in the afternoon, to learn about the ways of Swahili coastal life and take in the architectural position of the village of the beautiful coast. A small fee of KHS 400 ($4) is required per person to help maintain the site. Relive the simpler life in a stunning location.
EAT AT MONSOONS RESTAURANT
While we visited Jumba La Mtwana, we were fortunate enough to stumble across an idyllic restaurant overlooking the coast. Little did we know, we had found Monsoons restaurant – the number one restaurant in the area.
Monsoon restaurant is located on a private beach overlooking the ocean. From Mombasa city centre, it is around 13 miles. Sit back and let the sea breeze cool you in the afternoon, with a glass of white wine. Listen to the ocean crashing against the coastal wall and enjoy some smooth Nina Simone in the background.
The restaurant is owned by an Italian gentleman – who seems to be living his best life; rich in the simple things. The menu is predominately seafood with an Italian twist. This was a real treat after living off Swahili cuisine for the last month.
We were served the best-tasting bruschetta we have ever tasted – the freshest and simplest of flavours used. And ordered some calamari to share. We made the mistake of eating lunch before we arrived, but couldn’t resist a few small snacks.
Dinner with drinks would cost around $30 per person with drinks. Make sure to book in advance if you plan to dine in the evening. We visited at lunch and it was slightly quieter so were fortunate to get a table. Our friends who have lived in Kenya for 30 years also say this is their favourite restaurant in the country!
PARTY THE NIGHT AWAY AT MOONSHINE BEACH BAR
Mombasa is a cosmopolitan city, where lots of young travellers head for a good time. We were the same and in search of a dance.
We spent the Saturday evening at Moonshine Bar and Club, situated in the Reef Hotel. We were informed by our host that this was one of the better clubs in the area. So we spent the evening dancing under the moon on the beach with the locals. Entry is around KHS 1000 ($10) a little on the steeper end, but worth it for a good time. We headed off at around 4 AM but many stayed on to party until sunrise on the beach!
VISIT THE BEACH
As we were heading south of Mombasa to Diani, we didn’t spend too much of our time at the beach in Mombasa. However, head to the well known Bamburi and Nyali beach for miles of white sand and blue waves. Nearby to monsoon restaurant we were also incredibly lucky to see a local sea turtle charity release baby turtles into the sea! Absolutely magical!
Although we stayed near Haller Park, in Bamburi, we were unable to visit. Mainly because we were strapped for time.
However, Haller Park is a nature park and a transformed quarry area into an ecological area. It holds a variety of plant and animal species – including giraffe, hippos and crocodiles! You can visit the park during feeding time, which is meant to be good fun.
The price for foreign tourists is significantly steeper at KHS 14,000 ($14) but worthy for an afternoon out.
And that’s it! Enjoy Mombasa and the East Coast of Kenya.
PEACE OUT! 🙂 x