Mombasa: A Magical Port City

August 28, 2023 No Comments

Mombasa is a magical port city and it’s the second-largest city in Kenya. If you’re planning a visit or you just want to learn more about this incredible place, today we will explore it at length. Mombasa has a rich and fascinating history. While it was originally inhabited by the Bantu people, it became a melting pot of cultures. Its past is very diverse and it’s a must-visit if you’re interested in African culture and history.  

Swahili Culture in Mombasa

Today, Mombasa is a fascinating tourist destination and it exposes visitors to many elements of Swahili culture. For instance, you’ll find a lot of people wearing traditional Swahili garments. Such as the kanga, which is very popular. It’s basically a cotton cloth rectangle featuring bold patterns, colors, and designs. Women wear it beautifully by wrapping it around their waists and upper bodies or draping it over their shoulders and heads.

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A very interesting thing about kangas is that they often feature a phrase, known as a “jina”. The phrases can have different meanings, so they’re often used to communicate things. For example, if a woman is upset with a friend, she might give that friend a kanga with the phrase “njia ya mwongo ni fupi,” which translates to “the days of a liar are numbered.”

Swahili traditional food is also very popular in Mombasa and if you’re visiting Kenya for the first time, you will be amazed by the food. There’s a reason why this Swahili saying is so popular: “Kuingia ni Harusi, Kuodoka ni Matanga.” It translates roughly to “Entering is a wedding, leaving is a sail.” Meaning that arriving is like a celebration and leaving is like a funeral. Swahili dishes have a lot to do with that because they’re one of the first things people miss when they’re gone from Kenya.

Swahili music and dance is also something you will encounter in Mombasa. Taarab music is incredible; very rhythmic and the lyrics are very poetic. Chakacha music is also quite popular in Mombasa and coastal tribes love to dance to it. Chakacha dancing is characterized by a lot of waist movements and it follows the rhythm of the music. Chakacha and taarab performances are definitely a must, so make sure to find them when you’re in Mombasa.

Last but not least, Swahili architecture is very present in Mombasa and it makes exploring the city worthwhile and memorable. Some of the elements of Swahili architecture include open courtyards, geometric patterns, mashrabiyas, overhanging eaves, carved wooden doors, and more. Most of Swahili architecture is built with coral limestone, mangrove, and mortar, which are all local materials. The color white is very common on walls and façades because it helps protect the interiors from the hot climate.  

The Most Interesting Things You Should Know About Mombasa

There are too many great things to know about Mombasa, so we’re compiling the most interesting ones in this list. Here are only a few of the things that make Mombasa so special:  

1. Mombasa Has One of the Largest Deep-water Harbors

Kilindini Harbour is a natural deep-water harbor and it is the main part of the Port of Mombasa. It was inaugurated in 1896 and it’s the only international seaport in Kenya, so it welcomes a lot of cruise ships and cargo ships. It has a very long history and it’s extremely important for East and Central African countries because all imports and exports go through Kilindini Harbour.

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2. It’s Home to One of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kenya

Fort Jesus is one of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kenya and you can visit it when you go to Mombasa. It was designed by an Italian architect and built by the Portuguese between 1593 and 1596. This place is full of history because it played a major role in nine different battles in Kenya’s history. Back then, Mombasa was actually known as “the Island of War” due to the many battles between nations over control of the land. Today, Fort Jesus is a museum and it’s a must-visit for anyone interested in stepping back in time to learn a little history.  

3. There’s a Pair of Huge Elephant Tusks in Old Town

The Mombasa tusks are one of the most iconic things in the city. They were built back in 1952 by the British administration of the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the city. These huge elephant tusks are made of wood and canvas, and they’re found on Kilindini Road. Originally, it was only a set of tusks over a one-lane road. But in 1956, another set of tusks was added and, entirely by coincidence, they look like a giant “M” for Mombasa.  

4. Mombasa Has a Rich Historical Background

One of the most interesting things about Mombasa is its rich historical background. Due to its location, this coastal city was the battleground for many different conflicts. In the early days, ocean traders flocked to Mombasa, so the city became economically important. It delivered goods from all over the world to residents and royal families, so it became essential. Additionally, it was a major trading hub for ivory, coconuts, spices, gold, and sesame. India, China, and Europe all traded in Mombasa in the old days, so there’s a lot to learn about it.  

5. It’s a Musical and Cultural Hub

When you visit Mombasa, the first thing you notice is that music is a very important part of daily life. The sounds of Taarab, Chakacha, Mwanzele, and Bango music are heard all over the place. Taarab music is particularly popular in Mombasa and it’s the most well-known music. At night, bars are particularly lively with music and dance, so visiting places that play traditional music is a must.

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6. The Marine Park in Mombasa Is Amazing

Anyone who loves the sea and is interested in marine species must visit the Marine National Park and Reserve in Mombasa. The park is truly incredible and it offers a variety of adventures. Including water activities like snorkeling, windsurfing, and much more. There’s a great variety of marine species that you can learn about and admire, including stonefish, starfish, crabs, and more. With white sand beaches, azure waters, and white coral leaves that you can see through the glass bottom of your boat, the Marine Park is one of the best things to do in the city.

7. Mombasa Has a Wonderful Hindu Union

One of the many great things that happened in Mombasa history was the formation of a Hindu Union. It happened in 1899 when a group of Gujarati Indian immigrants wanted to raise money to build a big temple. They decided to walk from village to village and, little by little, they gathered enough funds to build a temple and Lingam in Central Mombasa.

Currently, Mombasa has two large Hindu temples: the Lord Shiva Temple and the Swaminarayan Temple. Both temples are beautifully built and you will have a great time exploring them. The Lord Shiva Temple is an amazing example of Indian architecture and the Swaminarayan Temple has incredible paintings from Hindu mythology you must see for yourself. 

8. Mombasa Has the Largest Jain Population in All of Africa

While most residents of Mombasa are Muslim, the city has one of the largest Jain populations in all of Africa. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that focuses on how important non-violence, asceticism, and vegetarianism are. It’s one of the oldest religions in the world and it’s non-theistic, which means that they don’t believe in a god. Instead, they believe in soul and matter, so they believe in accumulating good karma. Jainism has been practiced in the country for over a century, so it’s no surprise that it’s still very popular in the region. There’s even a Jain Temple in Mombasa, called Shree Parshva Vallabh.

9. There Are Breathtaking Beaches in Mombasa

Last, but certainly not least, there are many breathtaking beaches to visit in Mombasa. One of the most popular ones is Diani Beach, a white sand beach with clear water that’s considered one of the best beaches in Africa. Locals and tourists love to visit.

Nyali Beach is also very popular due to its incredible scenery and calm waters, making it perfect for a variety of water sports. Additionally, Tiwi Beach is another breathtaking beach, known for its golden sand and a more relaxed environment. Shanzu Beach is also great and it’s quite popular among families because there are many great amenities for children.

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Final Words

Mombasa is one of the best places to visit in Kenya and we hope this article helped you understand why. If you want to experience Swahili culture, learn African history, and have unforgettable experiences, Mombasa is one of the top places you should visit. And if you want to make your trip better and a little easier, we recommend learning some Swahili before you go. It will help you feel more comfortable approaching locals, who are very friendly and welcoming.

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I'm an elementary school teacher who loves what she does! I enjoy creating resources in my Native language "kiswahili". My goal is to spread the beautiful language of "Kiswahili" inside and outside the classroom. Thanks for stopping by! Read More

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