Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya and in addition to being the centre of the coastal tourism industry is a major regional port. It was founded by Arab traders in the 11th century and was an important centre for ivory and slave trading until the 16th century. The original Arabic name is Manbasa; in Swahili it is called Kisiwa Cha Mvita, which means "Island of War", due to the many changes in its ownership.
The famous Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama sailed into Mombasa in 1498 to a hostile reception from the inhabitants. The town was subsequently sacked by Pedro Cabral in 1500 and in 1505 by Francesco de Almeida, the first Portuguese viceroy of India. In 1698 troops of the sultan of Oman seized the port. Mombasa came under the control of the sultan of Zanzibar in 1840 and was leased to the British in 1895. From 1905 to 1907 it was the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate and in 1920 it became the capital of the British Protectorate of Kenya. It was ceded to the newly independent Kenya in 1963, after which it grew rapidly.
Built in 1593 by the Portugese, Fort Jesus is Mombasa's greatest tourist attraction. Designed by the Italian architect, Cairati, the structure represents an Italian fortress from the 16th C. Built in the shape of a man, the fort was given the name of Jesus as a clear religious reference. The fort changed hands nine times between 1631 and 1875 before finally resting in the hands of the British. The bastions were needed to shield the nearby Mombasa beach and carry the cannons that covered the approach from the sea. In the 17th C, the Sultan of Oman controlled Fort Jesus and adjustments were made such as raising the walls. Its open to the public daily from 8.30 to 18.00, admission adults 200/= children 100/=
There are four beaches on the North coast, Nyali, Kenyatta, Bamburi and Shanzu, extending 19 km as far as Mtwapa (see map). There are innumerable high quality beach front hotels but not much for the budget traveller until you reach Shanzu/Mtwapa. Other than relaxing on the beach the main activities are trips to the reef in either a local dhow or glass bottomed boat, snorkeling, scuba diving and deep sea fishing.