Beach Bliss, Swahili Culture, and Elephant Encounters in Utange, Mombasa, Kenya
Head to the area’s wildlife reserves for a chance to spot rare or endangered species. | Photo: Larry Li

Beach Bliss, Swahili Culture, and Elephant Encounters in Utange, Mombasa, Kenya

The northeastern corner of Mombasa County in Kenya is the place for dreamy tropical breezes and wonderful wildlife. Welcome to the vibrant destination of Utange in Mombasa where responsible travel meets authentic experiences. Interact with the hospitable local community by exploring stunning beaches, encountering endangered species in nature reserves and discovering a rich cultural heritage. Wherever you roam, Utange will make a lasting impression.

~ This guide is a collaboration between local expert Bosco John Juma and frequent visitor Susan Onyango ~

Kenya

Upon Arrival

After a visitor arrives in my city, I always recommend going straight to Nyali Beach with its white sands and turquoise waters — it’s the perfect place to unwind and introduce yourself to the beauty of the Kenya coastline.

The best time to visit the beach is during the early morning or late afternoon, when you can witness the local fishermen heading out to sea or returning with their catch, demonstrating the community’s reliance on the ocean for their livelihoods.

The best museum to start your journey and get a good sense of this city is Fort Jesus in Old Town Mombasa. This historic Portuguese fort dating back to the 16th century showcases the region’s diverse history, architecture, and cultural influences, while also serving as a reminder of the resilience and spirit of the people of Utange.

Parents should take their kids to Haller Park, a nature reserve located nearby where kids can observe a wide range of animals in a safe and educational environment. Discoveries here include the crocodile farm, reptile park with its snake species, serene palm garden and the game sanctuary. It’s a great opportunity for children to develop an appreciation for nature in Kenya and witness conservation efforts in action.

Food from the Heart

Among the delicacies my city is most proud of, rice-based dishes like biryani or pilau are an absolute must. To really enjoy them, I like to go to Jiraniz Kitchen.

When we get together to celebrate, madafu — made with the refreshing water from young, green coconuts — is what people here traditionally drink. I like to gather my friends and go to Masai Bar and Restaurant for a round.

When I eat completely local, I will go to the Mwembe Tayari street food stalls for the samosas, chapati, and nyama choma (grilled meat). I know the food here is strictly authentic Swahili cuisine.

Another two classic, iconic restaurants include Tamarind Restaurant, famous for its seafood and breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean; specialities such as grilled prawns and Swahili fish curry have earned them their well-deserved reputation. I also recommend Yul’s Restaurant with its fusion of African and European flavours and dishes like grilled tilapia and sukuma wiki (collard greens with ugali, made from maize flour). 

The part of town where locals come for traditional food is Old Town Mombasa. It is a vibrant and historic neighbourhood known for its Swahili architecture and narrow winding streets. Here, you’ll find local eateries and street food vendors serving traditional Swahili fare and Kenyan treats like biryani (rice with meat or vegetables and spices), mandazi (fried bread) and vitumbua (fluffy coconut rice pancakes).

Kenya

Shopping Locally

My city is known for making beautiful handcrafted jewellery and accessories.

I tell first-time travellers to explore the local markets in Mombasa to support the local economy and enjoy an authentic experience. I also tell them to avoid buying products made from endangered species, such as ivory or coral, as they support the illegal trade and harm the local environment.

The best food market in Utange is Kongowea Market. And the best market to buy everyday items like traditional African art, clothing and handicrafts is Maasai Market at Naivas Nyali.

For real, local souvenirs I always take visitors to Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre. It’s a social enterprise that empowers people with disabilities by providing them with training in various crafts. The products are of high quality and the vibe is truly inspiring.

And we know to skip shops selling mass-produced souvenirs because they often lack the authenticity and positive community impact that an enterprise like Bombolulu offers.

Getting Deeper Into Utange

A great book to learn more about my city is  African Nights: True Stories from the Author’s Adventures in Africa by the Italian-born Kenyan national Kuki Gallmann, a best-selling author, poet, environmental activist and conservationist. She writes lyrical tales of our amazing wilderness, rare animals, and extraordinary people.

Most people know about Nyali Beach, but the Butterfly Pavilion, home to a wide variety of butterfly species should also be visited. Its educational tours showcase the importance of preserving biodiversity and creating a harmonious environment for all creatures, great and small.

My city is a place people are attracted to because of its vibrant cultural festivals and events. Throughout the year, Utange hosts celebrations like the Mombasa Carnival, Lamu Cultural Festival and Eid al-Fitr festivities. To really celebrate my city at its best, come during the Swahili Cultural Festival. It’s a vibrant showcase of local culture, with traditional music, dance performances, art exhibitions, and delicious cuisine.

Most people think of my city as a place to relax on the beautiful beaches, but really this is a destination to engage with friendly locals, explore the historic sites of Old Town Mombasa, visit museums like Fort Jesus and indulge in a feast of traditional flavours.

This is one of the best places in the world to experience rich Swahili culture, a blend of African, Arab and European influences. Locals are proud of that because it reflects their deep-rooted traditions, music, dance and culinary heritage.

Getting Around Utange

One thing you should know about getting around my city is that tuk-tuks are a popular and convenient mode of transportation.

The best way to travel in my city to have as little impact as possible is by renting a bicycle since it’s a relatively small town with bike-friendly roads and scenic routes.

Luckily this method of transportation also allows me to explore the nearby attractions at a leisurely pace.

Outside The City

To get away and into the outdoors, I like to tour the nature reserves and parks surrounding Utange like the Shimba Hills National Reserve which offers nature trails, game drives and a chance to spot rare or endangered species like Sable antelopes and elephants. 

For a day trip just beyond my city, I like to visit Haller Park. This unique ecological park is located in Bamburi, a short distance from Utange. It’s a world-famous ecological and ecotourism showcase created from a former quarry wasteland, now rehabilitated into a rich diverse tropical ecosystem. Visitors can take a guided tour, walk along the nature trails, and even feed the giraffes. 

Many people will head to Nyali Beach, but locals know to go to peaceful Tiwi Beach for its more serene and less crowded stunning white sands, crystal-clear surf and swaying palm trees.

I really enjoy the view of my city from Fort Jesus where I experience panoramic views of Mombasa and its surroundings.

Connecting with Locals

When I want to have fun and celebrate being out in my city, I join in the vibrant street festivals and cultural events. Utange takes great pride in its community celebrations, from lively parades to colourful costumes and delicious street food. These festivals create a joyful atmosphere that brings the community together and allows visitors to be immersed in the true spirit of Utange.

To hang out with my friends and go to a real insider spot, I go to Yul’s Beach Bar where I can connect with the locals and enjoy the easy and breezy beach lifestyle.

The best resource for finding out what’s going on around town is the Utange Community Centre. The centre serves as a hub for local activities, workshops and social events. They provide information on upcoming cultural events, music performances, art exhibitions, and community gatherings. 

When I want to enjoy my city without spending much (or any) money, I head to Uhuru Garden.  It’s a perfect spot to relax, have a family outing or simply enjoy the tranquillity of nature… and it’s free!

Tamarind Dhow is my first choice for music. This pair of traditional dhows now refurbished as floating restaurants offers a unique and enchanting experience. And when I feel like dancing, I go to  Club Hypnotica for the vibrant nightlife and high-energy dance floor.

Finding Solitude in Utange

When I want to go somewhere to sit and relax in my incredible city, I go to local favourite Shanzu Beach. It’s the perfect place to find inner peace, connect with nature and recharge your mind and body. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can windsurf, go snorkelling or fishing.

The place that makes me proudest of my city is Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre with its unwavering commitment to empowering individuals with disabilities and preserving traditional Kenyan craftsmanship.

When the Seasons Change, This City Shines

March to May is the best time to explore outdoors and visit locations like nature reserves where you encounter wildlife up close.

I always recommend visitors indulge in water sports and beach activities from June to August in Utange as it’s the perfect time to engage in activities such as snorkelling, diving and jet skiing in Kenya. 

September, October and November here are magical when you witness the annual migration of humpback whales along the coast of Kenya. The Indian Ocean becomes a playground for these gentle giants and it’s awe-inspiring to observe them breaching and splashing in the water.

December to February is a great time to explore the cultural heritage of Utange. I recommend visitors immerse themselves in the rich history of the city by visiting Fort Jesus.

Susan Onyango

Local Expert

Susan Onyango is a young African woman hailing from Kenya. A travel enthusiast and a responsible tourism ambassador passionate about tourism in East Africa, Susan has an academic background in Mass Communication with a major in Public Relations. For over a year now, she has been working in the tourism industry in Kenya. Her most recent professional engagements have been with Ecotourism Kenya, Tierranjani Africa and Kenya Utalii College


Bosco John Juma

Local Expert

Bosco John Juma is a conservationist, social entrepreneur and the Executive Director of Big Ship Organization. He has over 10 years of hands-on experience promoting the conservation of marine, forest, and allied natural resources. Bosco continues to share information on marine conservation efforts through his social media accounts via Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.

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