The North Coast of KenyaThe Kenyan coast is roughly divided into ‘North and ‘South' of the island city of Mombasa.To reach the south coast, it is necessary to cross from the island of Mombasa via the Likoni Ferry (10 minutes) to the start of the south coast beaches. The link to the north coast is via the Nyali Bridge, which leads from the island (via the suburb of Nyali) to the north coast.
Coastal temperatures average 28 centigrade tempered by the monsoon winds (the southeast monsoon, the Kaskazi blows from April to October, while the northeast monsoon, the Kazi blows from November to March - a daily average of eight hours of sunshine.
The north coast features features:
- Nyali Beach
- Kenyatta and Bamburi Beaches
- Shanzu beach - the location of the Serena Beach Hotel and Spa
The Coastal ecosystem
Situated on Shanzu Beach, the most northerly portion of the coast between Mombasa and Mtwapa Creek, the hotel looks out over the waters of the Mombasa Marine National Park, a 200-square kilometre National Marine Reserve. Featuring a well-developed coral barrier reef, the park is visited by dolphin and turtles and plays host to 250 marine species to include crabs, butterfly fish, parrotfish, sea urchins, cowries, moray eel, lionfish, starfish and sergeant major fish.
Much of the Kenyan coastline has evolved over the last 30 million years and offers a fascinating selection of cliffs, stacks and rock pool platforms. At low tide, the coral-sand beach also reveals extensive areas of channels that harbour a broad selection of marine creatures and shells. The coastal vegetation is made up of microscopic marine plants, extensive mangrove swamps, luxuriant palm groves and areas of Casuarina woodland. The coastline also provides valuable nesting sites for seven species of endangered migratory sea turtles whilst the coastal grasslands and mangrove swamps are a haven for a spectacular bird life, unique members of which include; bee-eaters, greenshank, stint, egret and spoonbills
The coastal rainforests, which rise to the rear of the coastal strip, are all that remain of a vast and ancient forest that once covered much of East Africa. Both the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and The Shimba Hills National Park are open for visits and play host to an extensive and colourful range of life forms to include prehistoric cycads, ancient hardwoods, rare butterflies, unique mammals and over half of Kenya's rarest plant species.
Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya, lying on the Indian Ocean. It has a major port and an international airport. The city is the centre of the coastal tourism industry. The original Arabic name is Manbasa; in Swahili it is called Kisiwa Cha Mvita (or Mvita for short), which means "Island of War", due to the many changes in its ownership. The town is also the headquarters of Mombasa District which, like most other districts in Kenya, is named after its chief town.
The city has a population of 727,842 and is located on Mombasa Island, which is separated from the mainland by two creeks; Tudor Creek and Kilindini Harbour. The island is connected to the mainland to the north by the Nyali Bridge, to the south by the Likoni Ferry and to the west by the Makupa Causeway, alongside which runs the Uganda Railway. The port serves both Kenya and countries of the interior, linking them to the Ocean. The town is served by Moi International Airport.
Mombasa Old Town
Dating from the 13th century it's easy to be transported back in time when wandering around the Old won in Mombasa, which has similarities to Lamu and stone town in Zanzibar. The narrow winding streets are overhung by filigree timber balconies and houses have intricately carved wooden doors, a symbol of status for the merchant residents whom commissioned them. Alongside the more recent Indian and colonial styles of architecture. Within the Old Town there are more than 20 mosques. During the 1800s slaves were shipped from the harbour as well as spices and mangrove poles. The Old Town has protected status as a result of a 1985 conservation project.
This Portuguese fort, built in 1593 is a huge bastion with a key position overlooking the old port of Mombassa. One of he oldest European buildings in Africa, it is surrounded by a deep moat. Designed by Joao Batisto Cairato, to protect Portuguese interests in East Africa, it is considered one of the finest examples of 16-century Portuguese military architecture. During the ferocious battles between the Portuguese and the Omani Arabs between the 16th and 18th centuries, the fort changed hands nine times. Subsequently, when Kenya became a British protectorate, in 1895, the fort was turned into a prison and remained so until 1958. Thereafter it was declared a national monument and made into museum. The museum houses artifacts from other coastal historical sites and the shipwreck of the San Antoni de Tana which sank off Fort Jesus in 1697. In the evening the fort hosts a son et lumière show Men baring fire torches mark the entrance to the fort as visitors are given a presentation of the coasts turbulent history followed by dinner served in Portuguese attire.
The Swahili People
The Swahili are not a ‘tribe' as such, but the product of centuries of mixed heritage that has combined the strains of assorted African, Persian, Portuguese and Omani people into one harmonious whole. Arab traders, sailing to Kenya from the Persian Gulf, first plied the coast in their dhows around the 7th century. With time, they settled, established dynasties and intermarried with the locals, the result being that Islam came to exert an increasingly strong influence on the people of the coast. In the 15th century the Portuguese, the first of the coastal colonizers, arrived and spent two centuries fighting the Arab settlers and plundering the gold and ivory of Mombasa before being ousted by the Sultans of Oman. Throughout the 18th century rival Omani dynasties fought for ascendancy in the region and establishing a flourishing slave trade until, in 1824, the British ship HMS Leven arrived and, at the request of the people, declared Mombasa a British Protectorate. Thereafter commenced the battle to both abolish slavery and establish a British colony in Kenya.
The end result of so much racial intermingling is a cultural melting pot of coastal people who are loosely termed Swahili and share a common language. And, although the majority are Muslims, the relaxed and colourful Swahili way of life is worlds away from the stricter Islamic practices of the Middle East. Traditional Swahili culture features modestly veiled women, flowing robes, bright colours, henna-painted hands and jangling jewellery. It also offers a treasure trove of literature, art and architecture whilst the Swahili craftsmen excel in the production of ornate sailing dhows, gorgeously carved doors, delicate stonework, brass work and ceramic inlay. As for the Swahili cuisine, it has absorbed the best of a fusion of cultural influences to emerge vibrantly colourful, exuberantly spiced and steeped in coconut, lime, coriander and a profusion of exotic spices.
The history of the coast
The Kenyan coast offers a colourful history. From the 9th century onwards, Indian and Arab traders mingled with the indigenous population to create the unique Swahili culture, much of which still survives until this day. During the 15th century, the Portuguese stamped their mark on the coast, fighting with the Omani Arabs, their main legacy being Fort Jesus in Mombasa' Old Town.
The coast then remained an entity in itself with little connection to the interior, apart from that forged by the Arab caravans, which trekked inland for ivory and slaves. At the turn of the 19th century, the British established a foothold and declared the coast, which at the time was in the hands of the Omani Arabs, a British Protectorate.
Subsequently, Mombasa became pivotal in the development of Kenya as a British colony, being the starting point for the building of the Uganda railway. Today it still plays a vital role as the hub of commodity transportation inland. Mombasa is also a strategic port on the East African coastline.
The remains of many early Swahili settlements dot the coastline, the most significant being the 15th century Gedi ruins south of Malindi, while Lamu town has been designated a World Heritage Site due to its significance as a Swahili Centre. The coast also boasts unique and diverse habitats, both in maritime and terrestrial national parks and reserves. Highlights include: Mombasa Old Town, Lamu, Gedi, the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Resave, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary and the Shimba Hills National Park.