Mombasa Old Town is a historical suburb in Mombasa, the Kenyan coastal city. It was a central point during the Arab spice trade from as early as the 12th century. A number of pre-colonial and colonial era rustic buildings still stand strong with crumbling fascia and faded walls originally painted white. The architectural style is mainly Arabic infused with Portuguese and European with narrow streets, Arab style curved doors and cobbled streets.
After a 3 days conference in Sarova Whitesands, Nyali, I had one full day to tour Mombasa and the Old Town was my unrivaled choice.
Upon checking out at Sarova and before my Uber driver arrived, I sat down in the comfortable lobby to book my accommodation using the Sarova free Wi-Fi, one last time.
Surprisingly enough, most places near my areas of interest (Fort Jesus, Pembe Mbili, Mombasa Old Town) did not have good options on booking.com. and most homes on Airbnb were fully booked, which was getting me nervous.
I finally got a hotel/lodging /whatever in downtown. When I arrived at the reception, a young girl was in charge. She said I couldn’t pay using my Visa card even when it was written all over the reception that they accept all cards /Mpesa payments. When I asked why she said she had run low on petty cash and she was using that day’s bookings to collect cash (insert emoji)*
I had to walk along Nkurumah road (almost all banks are found on this road) and was lucky enough to find my bank after just about 5 minutes of walking. I checked in and whoa, the room was creepy (this is a story for another day) 😀
After one-hour power nap (man, si I was tired) I left the hotel to walk around Fort Jesus, Mombasa Butterfly house, and Mombasa Old Town.
As I was walking around taking photos and munching some Mahamri (a type of Swahili bread) I bought at a small kiosk near Fort Jesus, a random guy who runs an Antique shop along Ndia Kuu road told me to to be careful with my phone and bag at a junction ahead. There were young men seated on the walkway and the good man didn’t find it safe for me to walk there alone. He advised on an alternative route (Thika street) that leads to Mombasa old port.
My little bold self-was now freaked out as hell. I took the proposed route which now looked more dangerous. When I was struggling to gather my already shattered courage to walk along the new path where young men were scattered all over, a middle-aged guy of Indian decent who runs a furniture shop in the area came to my rescue. I told him that I had been advised not to walk further through Ndia Kuu and that Thika street would join another one at the Old Port Mombasa which would lead me back to the Fort Jesus roundabout.
He walked me through the narrow path chatting about the illegal drug situation in Mombasa and the effects on young men like those seated around. Really sad.
With young men intoxicated with hard drugs, petty crime is the order of the day. Common in the area is rape, murder, and God knows what else could happen to an unsuspecting tourist.
Around the Old Port Mombasa, there are dozens of men catcalling so it’s best you walk past them pretty fast.
Just after the first junction to Mbarak Hinawy road, there’s a fantastic seafood restaurant called Forodhani Seafront. They serve probably the best seafood in Mombasa and the prices are affordable.
My lobster here cost 1,500 Kenya shillings (15 USD) and the treat of English point Marina view is out of this world.
After my 5 pm dinner, I walked back to Fort Jesus to meet an old friend, Jackson who lives in Mombasa.
Jackson’s first reaction was ”where were you? What were you doing there? It’s too dangerous for ladies. OMG! People get robbed and raped every day in Mombasa Old Town!!! Most young men in this area live on hard drugs.”
Too scary, isn’t it?
Glad I toured safely. And thanks to the two shop owners in the area who gave me a heads up.
What to know Before you visit Mombasa Old Town
- Stay vigilant all the time. Keep your antenna up and your eyes open
- Know who’s walking ahead, behind you, and by the side
- When the locals say hello, greet them back. Sometimes they mean well
- Do not go when it”s dark. If it’s past 5 pm push your trip to the next day
- Trust your instinct. If you think an area is unsafe, don’t go
- Great to use a guide or walk in a group for safety reasons
Mombasa Old Town Fact sheet
- The first ever hotel on Kenyan soil built in 1901 is located in Mombasa Old Town. It was run as Africa Hotel Museum until recently when it was converted to a school named Safina High School. Word has it that the Museum income was not sustainable
- Fort Jesus is located in the Old Town
- Mombasa Old Town and Fort Jesus were submitted by the National Museum of Kenya for selection in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1997. Not sure if the two made it.
I’m curious to know, have you visited Mombasa Old Town before? What was your experience? Please share with us on the comments section below.