In my experience, a well planned trip can make the difference between an enjoyable vacation versus a somewhat unpleasant one. It is always advisable to research your destination and what may be required of you before you plan your trip so as to avoid a situation where you are unprepared for certain situations.
Mombasa, Kenya is a popular destination for many tourists wanting to soak up some African sun on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and explore the nature, culture and history that the town has to offer. Before you book your flights and accommodation in Mombasa, here are some things you may want to take into consideration:
How to get there
There are regular international flights into Mombasa’s Moi International Airport but more options are available for flights into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, from where you can connect to Mombasa. Mombasa can also easily be reached from Nairobi by bus or train.
Visa requirements for Kenya
First off, ensure that you have a valid passport with one blank page for your travel period for three months from entry date. Nationals of certain countries may require a visa to enter Kenya and it is advisable to check with your local Kenyan embassy or consulate to confirm this. Kenyan visas are generally available upon arrival at the international airports in Kenya for USD25 (make sure you have exact change) with no cost for children under 16, but it is prudent to obtain your visa prior to travel.
All travellers to Kenya should visit their personal physicians or health clinics 4-8 weeks before departure. Mombasa is a high-risk area for Malaria and it is important to take a course of anti-malarial tablets. Other vaccinations required include those for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid and Yellow Fever. During your stay in Mombasa, I suggest always requesting for bottled water to drink as opposed to the tap water which is sometimes questionable. There are a number of medical facilities in Mombasa, including major hospitals such as the Aga Khan Hospital in the North and Diani Beach Hospital in the South.
The local currency in Kenya is the Kenya Shilling which has been known to fluctuate against the US dollar and visitors to Kenya are advised to check currency exchange rates regularly. From April 2009 to November 2009, the range has been approximately 1USD: KES74.00 to 1USD: KES80.00. Most banks offer more competitive rates than hotels but the numerous foreign exchange bureaus available in Mombasa will probably offer you the best rates without a commission charge. American Express, Visa, Master Card and other well-known cards are widely accepted at ATMs and major establishments throughout Kenya but it is important to ask who you are paying if they take such cards in advance.
Mombasa enjoys a pleasant tropical climate throughout the year with the hottest months between December to April hitting a maximum of 31C and the cooler months between July and August with highs of 27C. The wettest months in Mombasa are between March and May but the rain usually occurs in short bursts after which the sun comes out and you can continue to enjoy basking on the beach. The dry season, from July to October, is the best time to visit Mombasa as the temperatures are milder and the air is not so humid.
Swahili is the official language of Kenya and is spoken by the majority of the inhabitants of Mombasa. Although English is also widely spoken, it is useful to know some common words and phrases to use whilst visiting Mombasa.
Security and Safety
Mombasa is not a particularly unsafe town but you should be careful when walking alone and after dark. Pick pocketing is not uncommon so be cautious when moving around the town and avoid carrying large sums of money or valuables including expensive jewellery.
Mombasa locals use rickshaws (tuk tuks), matatus (minivans) and boda boda (bicycles) to get around the town. These are relatively inexpensive means of transport and can be an experience in itself but a ride in a Matatu isn’t for the faint hearted. Taxis are also widely available but it is best to negotiate the rate before entering one. Car rentals are also an option if you wish to travel around the region.
The electricity voltage in Kenya is 220/240v. Make sure to check any electrical appliance that you may be bringing along with you for compatibility.
Mombasa is on the same time zone as the rest of Kenya. Kenya’s (Mombasa) time zone is UTC/GMT +3 hours
Using your cell phone in Mombasa
The main cell phone service providers in Kenya are Safaricom, Zain, and Orange-Telkom. SIMs for these providers can be purchased for as little as Kshs. 100 and are widely available from many vendors. As long as your cell phone is not locked into another service provider’s contract and is GSM 900 compatible or tri-band / quad-band, you should be able to use the local lines effectively within Kenya at reasonable rates for international as well as local calls.