Mombasa, Kenya

Founded on an island on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya about 900 C.E., Mombasa has been a trading hub between the riches of the continent and the far-flung empires of China, India, the Middle East and later Europe. It was one of the premier cities of the Swahili Coast, developing a unique Islamic, Arab-influenced culture that is and has always been very cosmopolitan. Domain has been contested and re-contested throughout its history, with rule by Omani, Portuguese, British, and Ottoman entities at various periods. The looming Fort Jesus guarding the Kilindini (Deep) Harbour was built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century. Today it houses a museum that offers some insights into the city’s past. The Old Town, with its narrow cobblestone streets and Swahili vernacular architecture, preserves the ancient character of the city, which was the first capital of Kenya until 1906, when the government was moved inland to Nairobi. Traditional local crafts are taught to disabled Kenyans at the Bombolulu Workshops, where they are produced and sold to visitors. One or two swatches of the vividly printed African fabrics worn by local women are also popular souvenirs. Outside the city, Haller Park is a nature park offering close-up contact with hippos and giraffes, among other fauna. The Shimba Hills National Park is unusual for Kenyan game parks, being set in a lush tropical ecosystem rather than savannah.