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Mombasa, Mombasa's insider take:

Largely overlooked by travelers, Kenya's second-largest city anchors the action on the country's southern coast. True, most visitors buzz by en route to the spectacular beaches, like Diani and Lamu. But Mombasa has been the unofficial (and unabashed) capital of coastal Kenya since the 15th century, when it became an influential trading port. Tuk-tuks putter through the streets while passing cars blast tropical beats. Vendors hawk piles of fresh fruit from the colorful carts they wheel around town. If you need a break from the nearby beaches, an afternoon around the evocative Old Town offers the best glimpse into the region's Swahili roots this side of Lamu. You can pass an afternoon shopping for local crafts and wandering the maze of roads that wind between buildings and mosques dating back to the 19th century. End your trip with a tour of the stout ramparts of Fort Jesus, which loom over the blue-green waves of the old harbor (Ndia Kuu Road; 254-11-312-839; The 16th-century fort offers a sobering reminder of the area's role in the slave trade, and visitors can tour the holding cells and torture chambers where slaves were kept before being transported around the world.

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