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With a beautiful coastline that has 480 km of tropical beaches, with the azure blue waters of the Indian Ocean lapping at undisturbed golden or white sand beaches, the perfect country to combine beach and bush safaris. The temperatures here average 28° Celcius, and with eight hours of sunshine every day, there is plenty of time to relax, or to learn about the fascinating history of this portion of the East African coast.
Mombasa is the second most important city, and is located on Mombasa Island. Relaxed and friendly, it is a picturesque city with many monuments and old buildings to look at, including the extremely historic Mombasa Old Town.
This dates back to the 13th century, and feels like a page out of the history books as you stroll through narrow streets and houses with intricately carved doors. The doors are somewhat famous, and more examples of them can be seen on Lamu Island, which is north of Mombasa. These doors are a status symbol, and rich merchants have them carved to display their wealth. The Old Town is particularly exciting in the late afternoon and evening, when the people who still live there come out and socialise.
Moi Avenue is another popular area with some good circuits to explore:
- the tusks which commemorate Princess Elizabeth’s 1952 visit to the town
- the war memorial honouring the country’s World War I casualties
- the colourful bazaar at Biashara Street which sells traditional clothes and fabrics which make wonderful souvenirs that are extremely versatile and can be used as table clothes, chair covers, wall hangings and so on.
The Fort Jesus Museum
This museum documents the history of the coast, as well as the Swahili culture, and the building itself is a marvel; built by the Portuguese, it has a deep moat and is one of the oldest European buildings in Africa. For those interested in the Swahili people, the Swahili Cultural Centre provides activities and educational resources so you can learn about the skills of this remarkable people. This centre intends to keep the Swahili culture alive, and so is a wonderful way to try out the crafts, as they are all completely genuine.
With plenty of restaurants and cafés, there is a lot of choice for food and drink. The pavement cafés are particularly excellent offering some delightful cuisine in a lovely relaxed atmosphere.
Another good place on the East coast, with plenty of historical attractions to enjoy, including a Portuguese monument to Prince Henry the Navigator and the Juma mosque and pillar tombs. The market here is also very interesting, with large game fish on sale, and various curios such as carvings, kiondos and jewellery. Guided tours of the town are available, and these avoid the main tourist areas, providing some excellent inside information about the fascinating buildings and people.
There is a falconry centre here where demonstrations can be arranged, and visitors can learn about the birds, and the training programmes they are part of. Other activities that can be done include horse-riding, golf, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing and scuba diving. Snorkelling is also fantastic in the area, with the warm Indian Ocean being the perfect location for a huge variety of tropical fish and corals.