Must see attractions in South Coast

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mombasa

    Fort Jesus

    This 16th-century fort and Unesco World Heritage treasure is Mombasa’s most visited site. The metre-thick walls, frescoed interiors, traces of European graffiti, Arabic inscriptions and Swahili embellishment aren’t just evocative, they’re a palimpsest of Mombasa's history and the coast writ in stone. You can climb on the battlements and explore its tree-shaded grounds. The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1593 to serve as both symbol and headquarters of their permanent presence in this corner of the Indian Ocean. It’s ironic, then, that the construction of the fort marked the beginning of the end of local Portuguese hegemony. Between Portuguese sailors, Omani soldiers and Swahili rebellions, the fort changed hands at least nine times between 1631 and the early 1870s, when it finally fell under British control and was used as a jail; it opened as a museum in 1960. The fort was the final project completed by Giovanni Battista Cairati, whose buildings can be found throughout Portugal’s eastern colonies, from Old Goa to Old Mombasa. The building is an opus of period military design – assuming the structure was well manned, it would have been impossible to approach its walls without falling under the cone of interlocking fields of fire. Within the fort compound, the Mazrui Hall, where flowery spirals fade across a wall topped with wooden lintels left by the Omani Arabs, is worthy of note. In another room, Portuguese sailors scratched graffiti that illustrates the multicultural naval identity of the Indian Ocean, leaving walls covered with four-pointed European frigates, three-pointed Arabic dhows and the coir-sewn ‘camels of the ocean’: the elegant Swahili mtepe (traditional sailing vessel). The Omani house, in the San Felipe bastion in the northwestern corner of the fort, was built in the late 18th century and has a small fishing dhow outside it. Inside there's a small exhibition of Omani jewellery, weaponry and other artefacts. The eastern wall includes an Omani audience hall and the Passage of the Arches, which leads under the pinkish-brown coral to a double-azure vista of sea floating under sky. There's a museum in the centre of the fort that displays finds from 42 Portuguese warships that were sunk during the Omani Siege in 1697, from barnacled earthenware jars to Persian amulets and Chinese porcelain. Like the rest of the complex, they are poorly labelled and woefully displayed. Despite this, the fort is unmissable. If you arrive early in the day, you may avoid group tours, but the same can’t be said of the guides, official and unofficial, who will offer you tours the minute you approach the fort. Some of them can be quite useful and some can be duds. Unfortunately you’ll have to use your judgement to suss out which is which. Official guides charge KSh1200 for a tour of Fort Jesus or the Old Town; unofficial guides charge whatever they can. If you don’t want a tour, shake off your guide with a firm but polite 'no', or they’ll launch into their spiel and expect a tip at the end. Alternatively, you can buy the Fort Jesus guide booklet from the ticket desk and go it alone.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Wasini Island

    Kisite Marine National Park

    Off the south coast of Wasini, this gorgeous marine park, which also incorporates the Mpunguti Marine National Reserve and the two tiny Penguti islands, is one of the best in Kenya. The park covers 28 sq km of pristine coral reefs and offers colourful diving and snorkelling, with frequent dolphin and turtle sightings. The marine park is accessible by dhow tour from Diani Beach or private boat hired in Wasini (per person from KSh2500 to KSh3000). The best time to dive and snorkel is between October and March. Diving and snorkelling in June, July and August can mean poorer visibility and rougher seas, though the weather is changeable. During the monsoon season you can snorkel over the coral gardens – enquire about prices opposite the pier in Wasini.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Diani Beach

    Kaya Kinondo

    This forest, sacred to the Digo people, is the only one of the area's sacred forests that's open to visitors. Visiting this small grove is a nature walk, historical journey and cultural experience. As you make your way across tangled roots and chunks of ancient coral, the guide points out various plants used in traditional medicine, and there's the chance to transmit your fears and worries to an ancient tree by hugging it. Expect to tip your guide. Before entering the Kaya Kinondo you have to remove head wear, promise not to kiss anyone inside the grove, wrap a black kaniki (sarong) around your waist and go with a guide, who will explain the significance of some of the 187 plant species inside. They include the 'pimple tree', a known cure for acne; a palm believed to be 1050 years old; snatches of coral; and the rather self-explanatory 'Viagra tree'. Enormous liana swings (go on, try it) and strangling fig trees abound. Many kaya (sacred forests) have been identified in this area, all of which were originally home to Mijikenda villages. The Mijikenda (Nine Homesteads) comprises nine subtribes – Chonyi, Digo, Duruma, Giriama, Jibana, Kambe, Kauma, Rabai and Ribe – united, to a degree, by culture, history and language. Yet each of the tribes remains distinct and speaks its own dialect of the Mijikenda language. Still, there's a binding factor between the Nine Homesteads, and between the modern Mijikenda and their ancestors: their shared veneration of the kaya. This historical connection becomes concrete when you enter the woods and realise – and there’s no other word that fits here – they simply feel old. Many trees are about 600 years old, which corresponds to the arrival of the first Mijikenda from Singwaya, their semi-legendary homeland in southern Somalia. Cutting vegetation within the kaya is strictly prohibited – visitors may not even take a stray twig or leaf from the forest. The preserved forests do not just facilitate dialogue with the ancestors, they also provide a direct link to ecosystems that have been clear-felled out of existence elsewhere. Kaya Kinondo contains five possible endemic species, and 140 tree species classified as ‘rare’, within its 30 hectares – the space of a suburban residential block. The main purpose of the kaya was to house the villages of the Mijikenda, which were located in a large central clearing. Entering the centre of a kaya required ritual knowledge to proceed through concentric circles of sacredness surrounding the node of the village. Sacred talismans and spells were supposed to cause hallucinations that disoriented enemies who attacked the forest. The kaya were largely abandoned in the 1940s and conservative strains of Islam and Christianity have denigrated their value to the Mijikenda, but thanks to their Unesco World Heritage status, they will hopefully be preserved for future visitors. The kaya have lasted 600 years; with luck, the wind will speak through their branches for much longer.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Diani Beach

    Colobus Conservation Centre

    Notice the monkeys clambering on rope ladders over the road? The 'colobridges' are the work of the Colobus Conservation Centre, which aims to protect the Angolan black-and-white colobus monkey, a once-common species now restricted to some 5000 monkeys in a few isolated pockets of forest south of Mombasa. It runs excellent tours of its headquarters, where you’ll likely get to see a few orphaned or injured colobus, Sykes' and vervet monkeys undergoing the process of rehabilitation to the wild. With advance notice the centre can organise forest walks (per person KSh1000) in search of wilder primates and other creatures. There's also a wildly popular volunteer program, costing from €750 for three weeks.

  • Sights in Wasini Island

    Mkwiro

    Mkwiro is a small village on the unvisited eastern end of Wasini Island. The gorgeous hour-long walk from Wasini village, through woodlands, past tiny hamlets and along the edge of mangrove forests, is more than reason enough to visit. There are some wonderful, calm swimming spots around the village. Local children are sure to take you by the hand and show you the best swimming places. The Mkwiro Youth Group can help you dig a little deeper into village life by organising village tours and cooking classes. It’s all a little vague and prices are highly flexible, but the man you need to speak to about organising these is Shafii Vuyaa.

  • Sights in Mombasa

    Spice Market

    This market, which stretches along Nehru and Langoni Rds west of the Old Town, is an evocative, sensory overload – expect lots of jostling, yelling, wheeling, dealing and, of course, the exotic scent of stall upon stall of cardamom, pepper, turmeric and curry powders, with stalls along Langoni Rd selling delicious street food.

  • Sights in Mombasa

    Mandhry Mosque

    Founded in 1570, Mandhry Mosque in the Old Town is the city's oldest, and an excellent example of Swahili architecture, which combines the elegant flourishes of Arabic style with the comforting, geometric patterns of African design – note, for example, the gently rounded minaret. Not open to visitors.

  • Sights in South of Mombasa

    Sheldrick Falls

    These pretty 21m-high falls are laced with lianas and greenery, and have a natural plunge pool. Free, two-hour, 2km walks, organised by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), depart from the Sheldrick Falls ranger post at 10am and 2pm daily.

  • Sights in South of Mombasa

    Elephant Hill

    With the best viewpoint in the reserve, this hill is the place to see elephants. It affords lovely views out over the valley towards the ocean. Armed rangers will escort you once you reach the entry point to the hill.

  • Sights in South of Mombasa

    Marere Dam

    A watering hole that attracts animals, including elephants. Also a great birdwatching spot.

  • Sights in Diani Beach

    Kongo Mosque

    At the far northern end of the beach road (follow the faded sign behind the Jacaranda Resort) is the 16th-century Kongo Mosque – Diani’s last surviving relic of the ancient Swahili civilisations that once controlled the coast, and one of a tiny handful of coral mosques still in use in Kenya. The baobab-studded beach is a wonderful picnic spot and the mosque is worth a peek in spite of an unsympathetic contemporary extension.

  • Sights in Mombasa

    Old Law Courts

    Dating from 1902, the old law courts on Nkrumah Rd have been converted into an informal gallery, with regularly changing displays of local art, Kenyan crafts, school competition pieces and votive objects from various tribal groups.

  • Sights in Mombasa

    Tusks

    Giant replicas of elephant tusks form two arches above Moi Ave, welcoming visitors to the city. Next to them are Uhuru Gardens, a tranquil, green space of fountains and giant trees hung with fruit bats.

  • Sights in Mombasa

    Jain Temple

    This Jain temple caters to believers of Gujarati origin, and the ornamental interior, with niches filled with brightly painted figurines of deities, is well worth a peek.

  • Sights in Mombasa

    Lord Shiva Temple

    Mombasa’s large Hindu population doesn’t lack for places of worship. The enormous Lord Shiva Temple is airy, open and set off by an interesting sculpture garden.

  • Sights in Mombasa

    Swaminarayan Temple

    The Swaminarayan Temple is stuffed with highlighter-bright murals that’ll make you feel as if you’ve been transported to Mumbai.

  • Sights in Mombasa

    Holy Ghost Cathedral

    The Christian Holy Ghost Cathedral is a very European hunk of neo-Gothic buttressed architecture, with massive fans in the walls to cool its former colonial congregations.