One of Kenya's most recent marine parks, Mombasa Marine Park lies a few kilometres north of Mombasa Island, slightly north of the Nyali Headland, and comprises a 10 sq km national park surrounded by a 200 sq km national reserve.
Altitude: Sea level.
Area: Mombasa Marine National Reserve; 200 sq km.
Mombasa Marine National Park; 10 sq km.
Location: Mombasa District, Coast Province; offshore of Mombasa town.
Distance from Nairobi: 485 km.
Climate: hot and humid.
Vegetation: mangroves, sea grasses and seaweeds.
Fauna: myriad species of reef and deep-sea fish, corals and other forms of marine life.
Birds: numerous shore birds.
Activities: snorkelling, diving, windsurfing and swimming.
The Kenyan coast
Kenya's stunning coastline runs 700 km between the Tanzanian and Somali borders and is renowned for its silken white sandy beaches, coconut palms, sheltered lagoons, pellucid blue waters, remote islands, uncharted mangrove swamps and mysterious Arab and Swahili ruins, many of which date back to the 8th Century AD.
An idyllic climate cooled by the monsoon
Mombasa offers a daily average of 8 hours of sunshine, and the hot steamy climate is tempered by the monsoon winds: the south-easterly Kaskazi, which blows from April to October; and the north-easterly Kazi which blows from November to March.
Protector of one of the world's most famous coral reefs
Kenya's world famous marine parks were inaugurated to protect the most outstanding feature of the Kenyan coast: the pristine and well-developed coral reef that extends virtually without break from Shimoni in the south to Malindi in the north, some 230 kms in total. The reef is broken only in a few places by river mouths and creeks; and of these the deepest and most sheltered safe channels through the reef are those that lie on either side of Mombasa Island. It is these safe anchorages that gave the city its strategic role in the coast's turbulent history, and made it Kenya's second largest city and premier trading port serving not only Kenya but also Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo.
Shelter for one million marine residents
Coral reefs provide one of the most fascinating ecosystems on earth, sheltering nearly one million different types of marine life. Forming only in warm seas, they are made by battalions of tiny polyps, miniscule sea anemone-like creatures that live together in colonies; some create a hard skeleton outside their bodies and it is this which eventually forms into stony coral. Coral comes in many shapes, sizes and colours including the open-branched stag's horn coral, the pincushion-like acropora coral, the wavy-branched and plate-like pavona coral, the massively solid favia coral and the convoluted brain coral.
The reef attracts an incredible range of fish, most of which are almost iridescent in colour and fantastically marked. Look out for the celestial blue and jade-green parrotfish, striped zebra fish, multi-coloured angelfish and the soup plate-sized butterfly fish. Clouds of tiny damselfish also often hover above the branching coral, and under deep ledges you may catch a glimpse of the magnificent lionfish with its mane of sharp spikes (a sting from this fish can be very painful). Hunting sharks, rays, turtle and starfish also hunt the reef.
Turtle and dolphin territory
Kenya's reef and lagoons also prove popular with the endangered green, hawksbill, loggerhead, Ridley and leatherback sea turtles. Dolphins too are regular visitors to the area (spinner, humpback and bottle-nosed) and can be encountered singly or in schools, above and below the waves.
The beaches that border Mombasa Marine Park
North and south of Mombasa are some of the finest beaches in Africa; endless crescents of silver sand bordered by opulent coastal hotels; and with direct access to the coral gardens of the reef. Nyali Beach, Bamburi Beach, Shanzu Beach and Kenyatta Public Beach all enjoy immediate access to the Mombasa Marine Park.
Note: Shanzu Beach is very popular with sea turtles, which come here to lay their eggs.
Boat trips to the coral gardens
Mombasa Marine offers one of Kenya's finest snorkelling venues and all the coastal hotels offer trips, either in glass-bottomed boats or graceful dhows, to the coral gardens. Visitor tip: The best time to snorkel is two hours either side of low tide, when the greatest amount of marine life is revealed.
One of the world's top three dive venues
Not only is the Kenyan reef one of the most beautiful in the world, but it is also rated by experienced divers as one of the world's top three dive sites, alongside the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and the Red Sea Reef. It also offers year-round clarity and warmth, but also the possibility of spectacular night and wreck dives.