There are so many great places in Tanzania, many of which have reached worldwide fame, think Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and Zanzibar. As travellers though, many of us are keen to explore those places that haven’t yet made it onto the mainstream tourism circuit, places that remain largely undiscovered by the international travel industry. These places are not only often naturally beautiful and culturally rich, but also largely unspoilt by the ravages of intensive tourism. Accordingly, they offer great value for money and allow more refined travellers who don’t mind getting off the beaten track, a chance to peel back a layer and take a look at a wholly unfiltered Tanzania.
In my mind, no place in Tanzania better fits this definition than Kilwa Masoko. Once the single most influential trading port on the East African coastline, Kilwa today is a sleepy fishing village, home to a rich cultural history, UNESCO listed World Heritage ruins, beautiful beaches as well as a series of reefs and inland waterways. Not completely off the tourism map, Kilwa sports a few hotels and receives the lion’s share of its visitors from amongst the Dar es Salaam expat community, generally those keen to escape to the coast for a few days but overwhelmed with hordes of package tourists crowding the resorts in Zanzibar.
Nestled on a peninsula around 5 hours from Dar es Salaam (sealed road the whole way), Kilwa can be accessed by private transport, or just as easily via public buses leaving from Dar es Salaam's southern bus terminal “Mbagala”. The Slow Leopard in Dar can arrange shuttle services for groups travelling down to Kilwa. Like much of Tanzania’s coast, Kilwa is best accessed following the wet season from June through to November.
A recent trip to Kilwa for us involved a visit to both Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnaro, two islands off the coast that feature 14th-century era ruins of the sultan's palaces that once ruled over this strip of coastline. Both accessible by boat, a breakdown in expenses can be found below. The afternoons involved more boat trips, with some snorkelling and fishing incorporated before collapsing on Jimbiza beach with a few beers. Having stayed in Mwangaza Hideaway on previous trips we opted this time to stay in the recently developed Slow Leopard Kilwa, giving us beachfront access.
Tourism in Kilwa is undergoing a bit of a resurgence in recent years with the aforementioned Dar es Salaam favourites “The Slow Leopard” expanding their operation to Kilwa with a recently opened hostel/bar (pictured below) right on Jimbiza beach. The Slow Leopard Kilwa offers dorm and private accommodation with shared facilities as well as a bar and restaurant. It also has the advantage of having access to a private fleet of ocean-going vessels for all your boating needs.
If you are looking for something a bit more upmarket, Mwangaza Hideaway as long been the pinnacle of luxury in the area. Sitting on the western side of the peninsula, Mwangaza overlooks the inland waterways, giving guests beautiful views of the sunset from the pool/dining area. Rooms are spacious and stylish and with options for both families and couples, it is the perfect option for a romantic getaway, family trip or a private function.
Kilwa will not remain a hidden gem forever, already people are capitalising on its location. Global adventure travel giant “The Adventurists” are now in their fifth year of running their “Kraken Cup” a 9-day sailing race where competitors captain “Ngalawas” (traditional dhow sailing boats) from the Zanzibar archipelago, finishing in Kilwa Masoko. Adopting a slower pace The Slow Leopard has been offering a 4-day sailing experience for groups of up to 8 people from Dar to Kilwa, taking in Zanzibar and Mafia Island along the way.
Undoubtedly momentum is growing in Kilwa, yet when you put your feet up in a hammock on Jimbiza beach early in the evening and there isn’t another tourist in sight you still have the sense that you have truly found your own private paradise.