Simple charms of Mombasa

Yul's Aquadrom life savers team during a drive test with Yamaha V1 115HP jetski in the Indian Ocean. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG
Yul's Aquadrom life savers team during a drive test with Yamaha V1 115HP jetski in the Indian Ocean. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG 

This holiday, don’t book full-board in a hotel, get out and experience the real Mombasa like a local. Unwind at the city pubs, dine at Swahili restaurants and enjoy the water sports activities.

Forget about the hotel pubs, unless you want to drink in solitude. Here are the interesting places to visit, most of which are located a few kilometres away from your luxurious hotel.

Pubs in Nyali

Tapas Cielo located at Nyali Centre is one of the modern bars and restaurants in Mombasa where you can unwind as you take your favourite drink or have a meal.

It is a relaxed bar with perfect lighting and good music. Depending on how much you want to spend, there is a variety of alcoholic beverages ranging from Sh295 to Sh180,000.

If you have a group of friends or family that love whisky, a 750ml bottle of John Walker & Sons Odyssey costs Sh176,000 while Yamazaki, a 12-year-old Japanese bottle goes for Sh18,575 at Tapas Cielo.

According to Sam Rabadia, a director at the pub, most of their clients are mature working-class individuals.

“We only allow individuals above 25 years, this helps to maintain the standards of our clientele,” he said, adding that the place is open from midday to the wee hours of morning.

There is also variety of food at the restaurant ranging from seafood, grilled meats among other types.

A few metres from Tapas Cielo is another fine bar and restaurant, Anuba Lounge. It has very good open terrace section where one can be able to have a great view of the entire Nyali Centre on one side and that of Mombasa-Malindi Road while enjoying a drink.

The bar and restaurant boasts of the best sound system known as FBT from Italy.

Dominic Muange, a manager at Anuba Lounge said majority of their customers are professionals such as lawyers and also businesspeople.

“Our clients are people who have a fine taste for life and have money to spend, we also host some governors...this shows they have confidence in our services,” he said..

Drinks at Anuba range from Sh300. A bottle of Rémy Martin prime whisky goes for Sh23,000 while that of Hennessey goes for Sh7,500.

Both Anuba Lounge and Tapas Cielo also serve non-alcoholic drinks for the teetotallers.

Jet-skiing paradise

By Diana Mutheu

Yul’s Aquadrom in Mombasa, a jet-skiing paradise, started with five tables under an umbrella. Now, the restaurant and pub has grown to offer the best water sports activities in the region.

“We were the first beach hotel to launch jet skiing in the country but this water sports centre has become very famous,” says Yul Wenger, the owner of Yul’s Aquadrom as he showed some of the old photos of the restaurant taken in the late 1980s.

He does a small introduction then rushes to the kitchen as he lets the water sports department manager, Seth Yuri take us through the water sporting activities that draw tourists in droves.

Mr Yuri says this peak tourism season, the hotel has a fun package for both the children and adults to spice up the holiday for jet ski lovers.

“We have the latest 2017 Yamaha waverunner 115HP which is 1100cc and can carry three people. We also have the crazy scrambler, a new wave jumping family sofa, a banana boat that carries six to 10 people and a falcon ride for water-skiing, knee boarding and wake boarding, XO Xtreme oval-shaped ski tube,” he said.

For 20 minutes, you can hire a one-seater jet ski for Sh2,800, if you want to ride with the two-seater you pay Sh3,100 while the three-seater is Sh3,500. A falcon ride which carries three people costs Sh4,500 for 15 minutes while an aqua slider goes for Sh4,500.

Prices of the water sporting activities are fixed at all seasons regardless of the low seasons or high season of the tourist turn out. Both the locals and the tourists also pay similar amounts for the fun activities.

“At Yul’s, we treat everyone equally. We don’t discriminate,” said Mr Yuri.
 Safety in the water is a priority. A customer is given a copy of instructions to read carefully and sign, then trained for 15 minutes before participating in any water activity. Life jackets are given for free.

Yul’s has a boutique, Heike’s which sells swim wear if one has not carried from home.

They also stock snorkelling equipment, reef shoes and water toys. Children who are water phobic can ride quad bikes at the beach.

At the restaurant, you can also eat wood oven-baked pizza and handmade ice-cream which comes in 50 flavours.

‘’One should try the famous stick barbecue,’’ said Mr Yuri.


Forget About Hotel Food

In Mombasa, there is much more than beaches, high-end resorts and Fort Jesus.

Make a coffee stop at Jahazi Coffee House along the Thika Road off Ndia Kuu Road where you will drink traditionally brewed kahwa. They have brought the delicious viazi karai street food to a restaurant set-up. You also have an option of enjoying the kahwa with mahamri, samosas and bhajias while sitting in the Swahili seats and kanga dressed throws.

“We serve everything in a real Swahili setup. Besides the coffee, we also have authentic Swahili cuisine,” said Baba Jahazi, the chef.

In the heart of Old Town, ‘Kwa Bhalo’ Salim Mansoor Halwa shop also sells the Arabic sweet (halwa) which is a dessert accompanied by halwa. The shop has sold to generations earning them a title of ‘halwa specialist.’

“The shop has been here for 80 years selling the dessert to tourist and locals. A kilogramme of halwa with sim sim goes for Sh300 while one with almond sells at Sh400,” said Abdulmajid Nassor.

As you further wander into Old Town, you will come across the Forodhani restaurant.

Nestled on a restored building, it offers traditional Swahili dishes over a breath-taking view of the Old Mombasa Port.

The seafront restaurant with just a perfect view was opened in 2016. Its menu is centred on Swahili and Arabic influences, with dishes such as biryani, kebabs and a range of grilled foods.

Crab in Diani. Photo | Courtesy

Crab in Diani. Photo | Courtesy

From the executive seat one has a perfect view of the luxurious English Point Marina, where water sports lovers show their prowess in jet skiing. Yacht owners can also moor their vessels at the marina.

With a pair of binoculars or a telescope, you have a front seat to view ships waiting to dock at the Kilindini Harbor.

Abdulhamid Dor Mohamed, one of the founders says there is joy in dining with the soft breeze from the sea over delicacies.

If you have been sightseeing at the Fort Jesus, The Fort Seafood Restaurant and Pizzeria is the ideal place for a candle-lit dinner.

Opened in October 2016, directly opposite Fort Jesus, the spot offers Italian cuisine with Swahili infusion.

“I recommend seafood and Swahili sauce for a visitor to feel the Mombasa vibe. Something when you think of Mombasa, you recall the food you had at the pizzeria,” said Faith Mwembe of The Fort, adding that on request the restaurant organises private dinners.

Each table has a lit lantern to create a soothing, romantic atmosphere.
In case you are a fan of street food, Damascus Shawarma is the place to stop by.

The food van sells chicken shawarma.

“We specialise in chicken shawarma and goes for Sh200,” said Said Omar, the chef.

The food van is very popular in Mombasa with both residents and tourists lining up for the delicacy.

Besides takeaways, there is a sitting area next to the van where few people can eat over a conversation.

If you want to have fun as a family or a group of friends, go for bowling at Nyali Cinemax and thereafter enjoy Indian vegetarian food at the restaurant below. You can also watch movies.

“Our cinema halls are open and we also have an Indian restaurant with authentic vegetarian food,’’ said Sapna Sacchania, a manager at the recreational centre.

For those on vacation at Vipingo Ridge or who want to 45-minute drive from the city, there is a quiet Beach Bar— a seaside restaurant on Kuruwitu beach. The private beach is very clean and uncrowded. The newly refurbished Beach Bar serves seafood from calamari to king prawns. You can play volleyball by the sea or do kite surfing.

If you never been to Tamarind, then you have not visited Mombasa. At the rooftop of the seafood restaurant, there is a casino where you can play a variety of games.

“We offer transport to hotel and return. Besides gaming one can also have food and drinks while in the casino,” said the casino manager Chris. The casino also has a smoking area for shisha lovers.

Cafesserie restaurant in Nyali is a must-visit. Here, coffee beans are freshly roasted daily and grinded on demand, says the manager Eve Njoroge. The restaurant has authentic Italian foods with local ingredients.

“We use only premium imported French butter for all our pastries. I love the authentic Italian pizza and our fresh salads. Our sauce is also made from scratch,” says Ms Njoroge.

Their red snapper garnished with flesh herbs served with mashed potatoes is perfect for dinner. You can also eat their sandwiches.

Also, take a dhow excursion along the Mtwapa Creek. From the La Marina Restaurant, it takes one to the open waters of the Indian Ocean for snorkelling.

Visitors are guided through the 600 hundred years of history and origin of the dhow trade, says the manager Alice Gacheru. The adventure costs about Sh5,000. One has a chance to view rare marine life species and coral reef system on a glass bottomed boat.

“The dhow sometimes anchors off a coral fringed sand bar. One can swim, snorkel amongst the many coral heads or just laze around the sandy shallows,” said Ms Alice.

The adventure ends with a sumptuous meal at the restaurant while admiring the yachts moored at the marina.

Landscapers will be impressed by the reclaimed quarries at the Haller Park and Forest Trail along the Malindi-Mombasa Highway.

The two ecological paradises are ideal for family activities and picnics.

Haller Park is robust with serene environment while viewing animals such as crocodiles, giraffes, hippo, zebras and warthogs. Many people are amazed by giraffe feeding at the sanctuary.

Watching dolphins in Diani. Photo | Courtesy

Watching dolphins in Diani. Photo | Courtesy

At the forest trail, you can jog, cycling and take walks.

Nguuni Nature Sanctuary is beautiful park with animals which also doubles up as a perfect site to enjoy the sunset. Ngomongo eco-cultural tourist village at Shanzu is also a must visit to learn how reclaimed quarries have added to the marvellous sceneries of Mombasa.