Mombasa, a melting pot of languages and cultures from all sides of the Indian Ocean, waits like an exotic dessert for travellers who make it to Kenya's coastline. Having more in common with Dakar or Dar es Salaam than Nairobi, Mombasa's blend of India, Arabia and Africa can be intoxicating, and many visitors find themselves seduced by East Africa's biggest and most cosmopolitan port despite its grime and sleaze, which somehow only adds to the place's considerable charm.
Indeed, the city dubbed in Swahili Kisiwa Cha Mvita – the Island of War – has many faces, from the ecstatic passion of the call to prayer over the Old Town, to the waves crashing against the coral beaches below Fort Jesus and the sight of a Zanzibar-bound dhow slipping over the horizon. As the Swahili people themselves say in an old proverb: ‘Mombasa is famous, but its waters are dangerously deep. Beware!’