About Mombasa County
Situated in the southeast of Coast Province, Mombasa is possibly Kenya’s oldest town. Covering an area of 229.7 km2, Mombasa is the smallest county in Kenya. It sandwiched between much larger Kilifi County to the North, Kwale County to the South West and has the Indian Ocean to the East.
Mombasa’s origins may stretch back to 500BC when Phoenician sailors put in at a coastal port that would correspond to Mombasa Island. The Greeks noted its trading potential in the 1st century AD, and later shows, carried by the northeast monsoon from the Persian Gulf across the Indian Ocean, sailed along East Africa’s coastal reef and found a navigable opening here. Over the ensuing centuries, it has been a magnet for Arabs, Persians, Turks, Indians and more recently the Portuguese and British, all of whom left their mark.
Because of the closeness to the ocean, the climate is relatively mild, tropical. The average temperature is balmy 26.7 °C, and it doesn’t swing from it by more than 4 °C. The warmest month is March, the coldest is July and the rainfall of pleasant 11200 mm has its peak in May; the driest is February.
Sightseeing in Mombasa can be covered in a day and is best done as early in the morning as possible before your enthusiasm sinks into the torpor of the midday heat.
Highlights & Key Facts
- Mombasa is the only place in Kenya where you can combine pleasures of city life, immerse yourself in thousand years’ old culture on the crossroads of African, Asian and Europe civilizations, have an easy access to nature in parks and reserves and relish in the golden beaches suitable to everyone.
- Beaches – Mombasa has access to wonderful stretches of brilliant white sand near azure waves – beaches. Being the center of coastal tourism in Kenya, the Nyali, Bamburi and Shanzu beaches are located to the north of the city island while the Shelly, Tiwi, and Diani beaches are located south of Mombasa. Several luxury hotels stand close to these beaches, while the less expensive hotels are located further away.
- The Old town – Begin your acquaintance with Mombasa from its heart, the Old Town. Buildings in the Old Town reflect Mombasa’s trade culture, with many examples of Portuguese and Islamic architecture. Thick-walled, low rise white houses with balconies and terraces have ornately carved doors and window frames which give them an undeniable exotic charm.
- The famous Fort Jesus – Constructed as a military outpost by Portuguese in 1593 and now a museum, nothing will give you more inside in the melting pot that is Mombasa than Fort Jesus. Within its sick white walls designed to withstand bombardment, there’s a melange of artifacts of various cultures that lived and prospered in Mombasa. You will note flowery decorations left by Omani Arabs in the Mazrui Hall. In another room, Portuguese sailors scratched graffiti of European frigates, Arabic dhows, and Swahili type.
- Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve – Discover the most visited marine park in Kenya, 10 km² marine hub with a reserve about 200 km² surrounding it. The park is situated on the coast near tourist areas. It also has a popular beach with access to snorkeling and diving areas.
- Haller Park – Located in Bamburi area, Haller Park is an inspirational story of converting former industrial wasteland into a proper eco-park full of wildlife. Starting with a former quarry and brackish water, careful introduction of successive species resulted in a thriving ecosystem that includes more than 180 species of plants, bush pigs, antelopes eland and famous Oryx as well as vervet monkeys and giraffes, hippopotamuses.
When to Visit Mombasa City
Kenya’s high season is between July and August and between December and March, where national parks and coastal areas become a popular tourist destination and prices are at their peak.
During the long rains between March and mid-June, Mombasa and surrounding areas are much calmer and quieter and low season rates apply.
Keep in mind that weather conditions and wildlife rhythms are never entirely predictable or guaranteed at a specific time or a specific area. The winds may be stronger and the beach might have more seaweed but there’s really no unpleasant season at any time of the year.
The rains generally won’t affect your ability to move around from one place to another, to say the least, but there’s always time for playing stuck in the mud on a game drive.
Arrival & Departure in Mombasa
There are three main points of entry by air to Kenya: Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport in Nairobi and Moi International Airport in Mombasa. Border crossing by road from Tanzania, there are three major crossings –at Namanga from Nairobi, Taveta from Voi and Lunga Lunga from Mombasa. Air access to Mombasa is from Moi International Airport, Ukunda Airstrip (Diani beach) and Malindi Airport.
Immigration: Visas & Passports
Most visitors coming to Kenya, whether on business or holiday now require a visa irrespective of their nationality with exceptions for East African Citizens. Single and multiple visas are available. Visas are valid for three months starting at the date of entry and can be obtained upon arrival.
Citizens of the following countries need to have a visa prior to arrival in Kenya: Afghanistan, Somali, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Cameroon, Pakistan, North Korea, Stateless Persons, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Senegal.
It is possible to obtain visas from Kenyan diplomatic missions overseas from the High Commission, but be prepared to wait up to six months for a visa application to be approved. Single entry visas can be obtained for a fee of US $50 at any Kenya port of entry.
Visas for onward travels
As Nairobi is a common gateway to East Africa many travelers pick up visas here for other countries they intend to visit. Call the embassy to confirm the hours that visa applications are received. Most embassies will require payment in US dollars.
Keep in mind that Visas are not always available from the designated Embassy. The borders with Somalia and Sudan are closed; one must travel via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to obtain a Sudanese Visa.
For Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda, visas are readily available in Nairobi and cost the US $50 for most nationalities.
For entry into Kenya, you must have a valid vaccination certificate for yellow fever. A cholera vaccination exemption certificate may also be necessary but not essential. It is advisable to get vaccinations for tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis A and B.
Malaria is endemic in regional parts of Kenya and it is strongly advised that you take the following precautions:
a) Consult your GP about recommended prophylaxis such as beginning a course of anti-malarial tablets.
b) Use mosquito repellent on your legs, arms, and neck especially after dusk. Simply cover up by wearing long trousers and long sleeves if you are out on safari in the bush or on the coast.
c) Always use a mosquito net over your bed and spray your room with insect repellent.
HIV Hepatitis and other viruses are easily spread through sexual contact and are common between causal partners. Using/sharing dirty needles or razors can increase the risk of spreading the virus. Safe blood screening is performed in Kenya. The advice can be obtained from the major hospitals regarding blood transfusions.
Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa (041) 2227710 www.agakhanhospitals.org/mombasa
Pandya Hospital Mombasa (041) 2316482
Coast General Hospital (041) 2314201
Money Travel Tips
Carrying small denominations of Kenya shillings is always advised, i.e. 200/-, 100/-, and 50/- and smaller change as many places where you have to pay entrance fees like museums, parks or rural areas may not have the right change. Small change is also ideal for tipping for small services.
Wearing a moneybag is a practical solution to carrying money and other essential items on your travels. It should be worn around your waist and preferably under your shirt so as not to advertise your valuables. Smart trouser belts with hidden zipped compartments on the inside for money are a good idea.
Avoid keeping all your money, credit cards, and passport in one bag or purse. Find discreet hiding places either in your car, room, or on your person-but don’t forget where you hid it!
Most large hotels, lodges, supermarkets, restaurants, and petrol stations accept credit cards including VISA, Master Card and American Express; less so in more remote areas. Cash withdrawals from ATMs are available in most big towns along the coast including: Mombasa, Mtwapa, Diani and Malindi.
Monday to Friday they operate business hours from 9am to 2pm and one Saturday of every month. The airport banks are open until midnight every day.
Currency & Exchange
Most hotels and lodges will exchange foreign currency to Kenya Shillings however at much higher rates. It is best to go to a bank or Forex Bureau to exchange money or traveler’s cheques where they can issue you a receipt with each transaction. Forex Bureaus usually offer slightly better exchange rates than banks.
Upon leaving the country it is best to exchange surplus currency at the airport or bank it since it will be difficult to exchange Kenya currency at home.
Driving in Mombasa Kenya
One drives on the left-hand side in Kenya. If you intend to drive here, you can use a valid driver’s license from your country of origin for up to 3 months. Otherwise, you may obtain an International driver’s permits/licenses before leaving home.
Safety Tips for Driving in Mombasa Kenya
Driving on the roads in Kenya is not like that of the First World. The roads are in relatively poor condition- dodging potholes becomes a skill – and the quality of driving from other road users is unpredictable.
We caution you to drive carefully in Kenya due to the poor state of the roads, which can pose hazards. Be wary of the tuk-tuks throughout Mombasa and matatus Kenya’s main public mode of transportation–they are the notorious highway cowboys driving aggressively and dominating the road. Don’t be alarmed if traffic lights and road signs are not strictly observed.
Kenya’s wireless telecommunication system is well developed both domestically and internationally with direct dialing facilities and STD services almost countrywide. There are two major mobile phone networks in operation including Safaricom and Zain whose coverage does not always extend to rural areas including national parks. One can easily buy their own personal SIM card as long as you have “unlocked” your phone for international use. Top-up scratch cards are widely available in most outlets, petrol stations, and kiosks.
Internet access is available in all major hotels, lodges and internet cafes. Simply walk into a cybercafé or business centre and pay per use. Most lodges and camps have wither telephone, cell phone or radio communication with their offices in Nairobi or Mombasa. Alternatively, you can use the internet anywhere on your laptop via USB internet dongles (3g) or mobile phone available from Orange Telekom, Zain and Safaricom for reasonable rates.
Dressing on the Coast
The coast invites a more laid back, casual sense of dressing than Nairobi and other parts of Kenya including shorts, dresses, kikoi’s and kanga’s (sarongs). With the influence of Islam on Kenya’s coast, it would be wise to dress modestly out of respect to the Muslim population. Note – the Kenyan Government forbids topless sunbathing and nudity on the beaches.
Cotton fabrics are your best friend on the coast to keep you cool plus they are easy to wash and dry. Leave your synthetic or nylon pieces at home-they often overheat your body and are uncomfortable to travel with. Don’t forget your sarong/kikoi/kanga. It has a multitude of uses including wrapping it around as a skirt (for both men and women), as a dress, top, scarf, swim wrap, table cloth, bed sheet or instant shade.
Most major hotels, lodges, and restaurants include a service charge in their bills. Although tipping is not mandatory, you may tip porters and taxi drivers at your discretion if the service was over and above the call of duty.
10% is customary in restaurants, clubs, and bars where a service charge is not included. It is also customary to tip your safari guide/captain/driver at the end of your trip. If you would like to donate/give away clothes such as t-shirts, shirts, shorts, shoes, hats, etc. carry them with you and give them away as a token of appreciation to your local watchman, guide, house help and especially people living out in remote villages where access to such items is scarce or unaffordable at times.