Kilwa is an island and a small village in Southeast Tanzania.
Kilwa Kisiwani was once a thriving Arab city-state on the large island surrounded by the Kilwa Bay. The great Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta visited it in the 14th century and described it as one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. Today the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with fascinating ruins.
Later the city-state collapsed and most of the population moved off the island to Kilwa Masoko, previously just the mainland market town for Kilwa Kisiwani. Kilwa Kivinji is a pleasant Swahili town smaller and politically less important than Kilwa Masoko about 20 km away.
Today Kilwa Masoko is the capital of the Kilwa district in the Lindi region. Most visitors stay in Kilwa Masoko and use it as a base for visiting the other two Kilwas
Flights on Coastal Airways arrive in the late afternoon and depart early the next morning back to Dar es Salaam, therefore you must spend the night.
Driving can be very difficult in the rainy season.
Buses run daily from both the north and south. From the north (Dar) big buses leave around 6am from Ubungo and stop at Temeke and Mbagala bus stations. The companies running change regularly, the buses with four seats in a row are significantly more comfortable than the ones with five seats in a row. Part of the road is unpaved so get a seat nearer the front. It's about 4 or 5 hours from Dar. It's best to book at least a day in advance. These buses will drop you off at Nangurukuru which is about 30 km (19 mi) from Kilwa Masoko (where most people stay). From Nangurukuru you can get a minibus, shared taxi or private taxi to either Kilwa Masoko or Kilwa Kivinje.
From Dar there are also minibuses throughout the morning leaving from Mbagala to Kilwa Masoko although these will be more cramped and less comfortable than the larger buses.
From the south (Mtwara, Mikindani and Lindi) buses depart both towns at 6AM and they take 4 or 5 hours. The road is paved all the way. These buses will also drop you off at Nangurukuru (see above).
From Lindi (but not Mtwara) there are also minibuses in the morning. Ask around at the bus stand to find out what time they leave.
Most hotels will arrange pick-up from the airport.
To get from Kilwa Masoko to Kilwa Kisiwani you will need to take a boat. Up market hotels will organise this for you (and charge you), or you can organise this yourself as there are boats waiting at the dock that you can charter. Expect to pay Tsh 10,000-15,000 for a sailing boat to drop you off, wait and then return you to Kilwa Masoko - more for a boat with an engine. If you don't speak Swahili you can hire a guide (who you will probably want to show you around the ruins) who should also take care of this, but bear in mind that the guide may not always try to get you the best price.
To get between Kilwa Masoko and Kilwa Kivinji, there are shared taxis regularly, although if you turn up they will probably insist that you have to hire a private taxi or you will have to wait hours and hours. If you politely decline and offer to wait they usually leave every half an hour or so.
All three towns are small enough that the best way to get around them is by foot (although see the safety section). There are a number of taxis and tuktuks (bajaji) around town if the heat is too much for you.
The fantastic ruins on Kilwa Kisiwani (which means "Kilwa of the Island"), a UNESCO world heritage site. Most hotels will provide you with a boat to the island and a guide. Otherwise, just go to the port and ask local people hanging out there. A permit (27000 Tsh for foreigners) is required, it can easily be obtained in the antiquities department office close to the port. The boat trip is just about 2 km. With some negotiating skills, you could hire a boat for 10000-15000 Tsh (round trip). Guides with detailed knowledge of the history and archaeology are sometimes hard to find (but they are around), but there are extremely informative signs to help you out if your guide only knows the location of each of the ruins and not the story behind them. There is also a useful book available with the history of the island and a detailed description of the ruins, which makes a good guide and a nice keepsake. See the Wikipedia page for more information.
The town of Kilwa Kivinji is less popular than the other two Kilwas but it is a charming, sleepy Swahili town, much of it built in the traditional style out of traditional coral-rag. It doesn't have the 'sights' of Kilwa Kisiwani but it is a pleasant town in its own right and well worth a day trip from Kilwa Masoko.
- 1 Great Mosque of Kilwa.
There is something like a tourist information office in the town center, at the market place. They have a long list of tours on offer, even to more remote places further away. They will probably charge you more than if you hire a guide directly, but they seem to have the knowledge about the region's sights, as well as English language skills. They also rent broken bikes for 5000 Tsh / day. That's fun to explore the town and nearby beaches.
No hotels have dive centers but all offer snorkeling and trips to Kilwa Kisiwani ruins.
Several hotels cater to sport fishermen- and often serve up the day's catch at dinner!
Kilwa is a safe, sleepy little town with dirt streets, making it very nice for a morning or late afternoon stroll around to see the market and port, and get the feel of this wonderful Swahili town.
Masoko Pwani (3 km from town center) is one of Tanzania's most beautiful beaches and is worth visiting. Here, local fishermen bring their catch. Fried fish (and sometimes lobsters etc.) is sold at the beach for very cheap prices. For swimming, come at high tide. At low tide, the water is very far away from the beach.
Seafood, obviously. Available at the northeastern beach and on the market. Octopus and Calamari is sold as a very convenient snack for cheap. However, it seems to be less common to serve European-style fish meals in the local restaurants.
All kinds of seasonal tropical fruits are sold on the market.
Many places sell the local beers. There is a kind of a night club in the town center.
Almost all visitors choose to stay in Kilwa Masoko (there is no accommodation on Kilwa Kisiwani, there are a couple of budget options in Kilwa Kivinji) all the options below are in Kilwa Masoko.
- Mikumi guesthouse (where the bus from Nangurukuru drops off). About the cheapest place in town, rooms are spacious but a little grubby (though not unclean). It has electricity (some of the time), and while it has running water, there is only one tap for the entire guest house. Facilities are shared, and showers involve using a bucket. Tsh 3000.
- New Jika Guest House. This is the main local (read cheap) place in town. It's in the centre of town and recommended for people not wanting to pay tourist prices. Rooms are clean and some have AC. Best to avoid the restaurant, as there are many better places around town. around Tsh 8,000 per person.
- Kilwa Beach Lodge, ☏ , email@example.com. Beautiful beach front accommodation. Offers accommodation at a variety of price points, accepts Visa and online bookings. US$ 90-120.
- 1 Kilwa Pakaya Hotel, Beach street 1, Kilwa Masoko (Down Kariakoo St, next to Kimbilio Lodge on the beach), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 11:00AM, check-out: 10:30AM. This hotel's rooms have a sea view and clean facilities, and the restaurant/bar caters great food and drinks all day long. Book online via email or call the hotel directly. US$120-140.
- Kilwa Seaview Resort, ☏ , , fax: , email@example.com. Prices are by room based on occupancy: room with 1 person is US$100 w/ full board, room with 4 people is US$190 w/full board, therefore a good choice for families. US$90-190.
During the day walking around town should be safe but after dark, take significant caution. Tourists have been mugged: always travel in groups or take a taxi or tuktuk (bajaji).
There are daily minibuses leaving Kilwa Masoko for Lindi and Dar es Salaam leaving early in the morning - buy your ticket in advance and (especially if going to Dar) try and sit as close to the front as possible.
It is possible to get a daladala, shared taxi, or private taxi to Nangurukuru and try to pick up one of the larger buses going either north or south that pass by between 10AM and 2PM, but these buses are often full and you may find that you cannot get on one.