The second largest town in the country with a population of about 600,000 and the official gateway to the country by sea. It has a history dating back to more than 2,000 years when the Persians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans visited the East African Coast and carried out trade between the Coast and the Mediterranean Lands. It is built on what was formerly an Island separated from the mainland by a narrow channel until a causeway was built at the beginning of this century connecting the Island with the mainland. Both the sea-farers from the Persian Gulf, the Indian Sub-continent, the Cape of Good Hope and the land-lubbers from the African Continent met at Mombasa Island to enjoy its calm beauty once described by Winston Churchill, (1908) as ‘alluring and delicious’.
For a period of over 1400 years since the Great Geographer Ptolemy marked the town of Mombasa on his ‘World Map’ of A.D. 150 until the island was seized by the Potruguese who built Fort Jesus there to signify their reign on the East African Coast, Mombasa was the hub of commerce and communications between Eastern Africa, Middle East and the Far Eastern countries. The Portuguese were however driven out of Mombasa by the Arabs who ruled the Island until the arrival of the British in 1873. The British stopped the dreadful slave trade and eventually established orderly government and development facilities like the Uganda Railway, Kilindini Harbour and several tourist facilities along the Coast.
Mombasa’s tempo of development continued. Missionaries built churches and Indians and Muslims established temples, Mosques and bazaars. After independence in 1963, the up-country African communities brought with them a rich wealth of business experience which expanded the town as a commercial and tourism nerve centre at the Coast. The old section of the town with its old-fashioned houses, carved doorways and shops fringe the old dhow harbour with Fort Jesus dominating the entrance. This section is characterized by narrow streets and passages. There is the Customs House, a fishmarket and shops which sell carpets, chest, brassware, souvenirs and colourful clothes. Various African traders sell curios and antiques in the shops and on the sidewalk vendors. A museum has been established within Fort Jesus displaying ancient artifacts of the coastal life. Shops in Digo Road and Moi Avenue in the main town offer excellent shopping facilities. A significant landmark in Mombasa is the ‘Mombasa tusks’ built in 1952 to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth. The town offers various night entertainment facilities, night clubs and bars, casinos and cinemas. Various town hotels offer a wide choice of Arab, Chinese, Indian, Pakistan and European styles of cuisines for all tastes.
From the Island visitors can make short trips to many of the nearby beach resorts where the attractions of Mtwapa Creek with dhow trips and skiing offer the biggest recreation. Deep sea game fishing is usually organized from the town before visitors move north to explore the marvels of the north-coast. Before setting off to the north or south coast, it would be worth visiting the Wakamba carvings show-room at Changamwe to see the displays of magnificent wooden wildlife carvings or visit the traditional villages of Giriama tribe at Rabai.