A Romantic Getaway in Mombasa, Kenya

When people think of Africa, an image of unimaginative mud huts with conical thatched roofs and dark, smoky interiors still lingers. But that can’t be farther from the truth. After a recent visit to Mombasa, Kenya, my view of East Africa changed and I realized that some parts of the continent are ideal spots for romantic getaways and honeymoon goers who want to explore a unique destination that isn’t limited to Europe or Asia.

Kenya is home to advanced architecture influenced by the Arabs and Indians, food that spans from curries to meat delicacies to an assortment of fresh fruits, safaris that provide a glimpse of the country’s natural landscape and wildlife, and culture that is rich and reflective of the Swahili-speaking peoples.

For all couples looking for a relaxed vibe compared to the busier safari circuit, Mombasa is a popular beach destination on the Kenyan coast that must be explored. Only an hour flight from Nairobi, most of Mombasa’s resorts and hotels are located 30 to 45 minutes from the coast for that relaxing beach vacation. Here’s everything to do during your next visit.

Relax on White Sand Beaches

Honeymooners can enjoy a romantic breakfast overlooking the ocean at tranquil Serena Beach Resort & Spa.
Photo: Serena Beach Resort & Spa

After intense wedding planning and an energy-filled wedding weekend, couples will appreciate the opportunity to relax and unwind. Mombasa is blessed with miles of sparkling white sand beaches kissed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The soft, powdery sand slopes gradually into the sea, with gentle waves lapping the shore. Lining these pristine beaches are elegant resorts and hotels that offer a relaxing tropical paradise, like the tranquil Serena Beach Resort & Spa. This beachfront property is designed to resemble a small traditional town, with narrow winding streets that are framed by palm trees and clusters of bougainvillea, hibiscus and frangipani. Besides the balconies overlooking the ocean and the open verandas, guests can stay in “town houses” that are inspired by Lamu Town, a perfect example of a precolonial Swahili town that has been now revamped with modern amenities and electricity.

Honeymooners can enjoy a romantic breakfast overlooking the ocean with a carefully prepared spread of tropical fruits and plates of traditional Swahili foods, like mandazi fried doughnuts and spicy chai tea, or continental breakfast options await them. With a full belly, take a post-breakfast stroll on the soft, warm sand before diving into the turquoise waters. The resort also offers to book guests on sunset camel rides, which span the length of the beach, where they can gaze out at the Indian Ocean while listening to the soothing sound of the waves.

For even whiter sands, head further along to South Coast to beaches like Tiwi, Diani, Galu to enjoy water sports, including kitesurfing, scuba diving, windsurfing and snorkeling, or to play a round of golf. If water sports are too much physical exertion for you, many resorts like Serena Beach have glass bottom boat trips where guests can enjoy a guided tour of the harbor while admiring the natural beauty.

Visit Old Mombasa and National Parks

A yellow tuk-tuk rides a narrow street in Mombasa, Kenya.

Mombasa is a great destination if you’ve already done the safari circuit at places like Maasai Mara and are looking for some self-guided exploration to round out your Kenya vacation. You can book an Uber (widely available) or a private coach to visit the city center. For safety purposes, speak with your hotel’s concierge when arranging transport and only get into authorized vehicles. In Downtown Mombasa, wander the streets and sample street food like sizzling mogo (cassava fritters) and chapati, and sip on fresh coconut juice. Don’t forget to visit Fort Jesus, a 16th-century Portuguese fort worth exploring to learn about Mombasa’s diverse history, which was marked by Portuguese, Arab and British influences. After filling up on snacks, browse the stalls at the Kongowea Market and shop for linen tunics and handmade jewelry. Note, the currency here is the Kenyan Shilling (KSH), but US dollars are also widely accepted. Pro tip: negotiate prices with locals on all goods you’re looking to purchase.

There are two national parks near Mombasa that are home to unique wildlife like giraffes, hippos, crocodiles and antelopes. The first, Haller Park, is home to grazing giraffes, an enclosed crocodile pen and a reptile sanctuary. Admission is 1,400 KSH for adults ($9.50). Guests are able to participate in feedings but be sure to review the hours of operation for accurate timings.

Tsavo East National Park is the largest protected area in Kenya and is home to most of the larger mammals, vast herds of dust –red elephant, Rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, pods of hippo, crocodile, waterbucks, lesser Kudu, gerenuk and the prolific bird life features 500 recorded species.

Another must-see park is Tsavo East National Park. Founded in 1948, it is one of the oldest National Parks in the country that spans the outstretched savanna of the Yatta Plateau. Here, guests can see four members (lions, buffalos, leopards and elephants) of the Big Five together with other wildlife. Don’t forget to pack your camera and wear protective clothing during this visit!

Appreciate Swahili Architecture

Symbolic "Tusks" in city center Mombasa, Kenya. The tusks were built to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the town in 1952.

The architecture of the Swahili-speaking peoples has evolved over many centuries along the shores of modern Kenya and Tanzania and on the adjacent islands, and it has been heavily influenced by overseas expansion. The Palace of the Nabaha of Mombasa is a cultural center that displays exhibits on Swahili history and has preserved the palace in its original 19th-century style, with carved doors, coral walls and a veranda. The Mombasa Tusks, which are aptly modeled after elephant tusks, are also a tourist attraction. Interestingly, the landmark arches reflect a blend of Swahili and British colonial styles. For an authentic Swahili Gothic style, visit the nearby Holy Ghost Catholic Cathedral.

Lastly, as there is a large South Asian demographic in Mombasa, there are a number of ornately decorated Hindu temples that showcase intricate designs, carvings and bright colors on the exterior and interior. Some key temples are the Oshwal and Digambar Jain temples and the Hindu Swaminarayan Mandir.

Cool Off With Tusker Malt

Grilled fish with sliced lemon is one of the food fare in Mombasa, Kenya.

After a hot day exploring the sights of Mombasa, there’s nothing better than cooling off with a cold local beer and some delicious seafood and Indian cuisine. Served ice cold, the light pilsner-style lager is the perfect refreshment when escaping the heat and humidity.

At Jahazi Grill at Serena Bay, indulge in fresh seafood straight from the Indian Ocean. The menu highlights include grilled fish, shrimp curries, crab cakes and octopus stew. For those craving spicy Indian fare, you are in luck as a lot of Kenyan food draws inspiration from Indian flavors, curries and ingredients. Whether you are looking for some freshly made chapati and lentils or classic options like chicken tikka masala, samosas and biryani, rest assured you will be well fed. On days you want to venture out for a meal, consider going to the open-air Nomad Restaurant in Diani Beach, which is ideal for seafood, pasta, pizza and even some Swahili dishes.

Remember, after finishing off a meal there is nothing like relaxing on the resort’s outdoor patio and watching the sun sink into the Indian Ocean.