Since the writing of our last blog post about single-country itineraries, many actors within the tourism industry have pulled together and made plans to ensure that multi-country itineraries are possible in Africa once again.
What has emerged as standard in Africa is that almost all countries, with the exception of Tanzania, require a negative PCR test before you are allowed to travel to them. This means that if you are visiting multiple countries, you generally have to get a new PCR test every time you depart one country and head to the next, though Zambia's 14-day old test requirement makes it possible to use your test done at home to enter Botswana, spend a week there, head to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side for a couple of nights, and then fly out.
For other popular countries and destinations, we will tell you how it easy to get tested inside each country, but first, we have made a table to show what the requirements are for you to enter the various countries in the first place.
A useful tool we have found for telling you the latest requirements to enter a country is this one:https://klm.traveldoc.aero/?WT.mc_id=L_DE_Email_ExactTarget_Newsletter_UPDATEJANUARY2021_null_SmartFun&WT.tsrc=Email&WT.i_vid=61577889
But the latest requirements should always be checked on each country's government website.
South Africa is the biggest country in Southern Africa and the economic hub of the region. It is also the transit hub for Southern Africa as many flights to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique transit through Johannesburg. This means that these other countries are often dependent on South Africa for getting travellers through to them and back out again, which made it important for South Africa to be able to offer speedy and easily accessible PCR tests.
Travellers departing from OR Tambo Intl airport in Johannesburg may now get tested and collect their PCR certificate at the airport prior to departure. The National Health Laboratory Service (www.nhls.ac.za/) is operating three mobile COVID-19 test units in clearly identifiable vans located opposite the InterContinental Hotel, just outside the terminal building. The service is available 24/7, at a cost of ZARR600 per person – cash, cheque cards and credit cards are accepted, except American Express. Children under five years do not require a test.
Results are available in four to six hours and you will be advised by SMS that the test result and certificate are ready for collection. After testing, you can wait for the SMS at the airport or nearby, collect the certificate, and proceed to fly, or the test may be done a day or two prior to departure if preferred, and the certificate collected on the day of departure. Please refer to this article for further information: https://www.tourismupdate.co.za/article/247-covid-19-testing-or-tambo
UPDATE: Due to local residents making use of the OR Tambo testing facilities, PCR test results now take 12 - 24 hours and we recommend booking a night of accommodation in Johannesburg after your safari in order to wait for results.
One of our preferred guesthouses in Johannesburg, Safari Club SA, is now offering day rooms to all travellers waiting for their PCR test results. Guests will be allocated a room for the time they are at the hotel and will have access to all the hotel amenities including bar services, swimming pool, use of the garden and ordering of meals. Transfers are included in the day room rate.
For guests heading to Cape Town, the situation is a bit different. Of course, you can book your flight home via Johannesburg in order to get tested at OR Tambo Airport, but it is also possible to take a few hours out of one of your days in Cape Town to head to the nearest clinic and get tested. Rates differ depending on the clinic, but prices of between ZAR600 – 1000 can be expected. We will be happy to show you where the nearest clinic is to your hotel.
In the Greater Kruger Park, South Africa’s wildlife gem and one of its most popular destinations, PCR testing is also possible now. A PCR clinic has been set up in the town of Hoedspruit, which is the nearest town to many lodges within the Greater Kruger Park. Lodges are able to transfer guests in between safari activities to the town of Hoedspruit to get a PCR test done. The cost of the test is ZAR850 per person, while the cost of the transfer will differ depending on the lodge you are staying at. Some lodges have gone a step further and are able to offer PCR tests in your room. Please ask us for an updated list of which lodges can do this.
Botswana is one of the most popular destinations for a wildlife safari due to the exquisite unspoilt nature of its wilderness. However this vast wilderness and lack of infrastructure which many people fall in love with also originally meant that getting a PCR test done would be difficult.
Several luxury bush camp and lodge operators have come together and are now able to fly clinicians into camps to take samples for testing. The samples will then be sent to the nearest major town for testing, with results to be expected back the following day. The results will then be e-mailed to the camp and can be printed out for you to take with you. The cost of this service ranges from +-USD275 - USD330 depending on the camp you are staying at.
If you do not wish to be tested in camp, it is possible to be tested at the airports of Maun and Kasane at a cost of BWP850 - 1100 (+-USD110.) The test results will be ready in 24 - 48 hours, so it is recommended to spend a night in Maun or Kasane while waiting for results.
For Maun, bookings and payment for the tests can be made online here: -http://www.pharma.co.bw/# - be sure to pick “Testing office – Maun International Airport"
For Kasane, booking and payment for tests can be made here: http://diagnofirm.co.bw/
Please note that you need to have a negative PCR test in order to depart Botswana, irrespective of where you are travelling to. It is not officially in the regulations, but the overly efficient border guards are asking all travellers for them and it is not wise to start an argument with a border guard.
The testing will be offered between 07h30 - 16h45 every day and Sundays from 10h00 – 12h45
Due to limited testing on weekends, the timing of your journey is important.
The primary destination of choice for any traveller to Zimbabwe is Victoria Falls, so this is where the government has focussed most of its efforts. PCR testing is now possible upon arrival or departure at Victoria Falls Airport, with a waiting time of 3-6 hours for the results. Alternatively, several luxury lodges offer in-house testing now. The cost of the test is US$60 per person, but this can change without notice.
Zimbabwe has re-entered hard lockdown on 08 January 2021 and travel is therefore banned at the moment.
The majority of itineraries to Namibia only include one or two nights at each destination, which makes getting finding the time to have tests done difficult. In addition, Namibia is a vast, sparsely populated country. We therefore recommend adding a night in the capital city of Windhoek at the end of your tour to get a test done at one of the private laboratories there. Windhoek is situated right in the centre of Namibia, so it is the starting and ending point for almost all safaris in Namibia and therefore you do not have to go out of your way to get a test done.
Zambia updated their entry requirements in March 2021 due to increasing infections in Europe. To enter Zambia, you must have a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours prior to arrival. To leave Zambia, you will need to get a another PCR test done. All travellers departing Zambia must be in possession of a negative PCR test certificate. Even if the country you are travelling to doesn't require a PCR test (such as Tanzania) you still need one in order to depart Zambia.
Many people visit Zambia to see the mighty Victoria Falls. There are testing facilities in the town of Livingstone, but is very difficult to arrange the testing on an individual basis, especially since you cannot pay for the tests with cash or credit card. Only EFT bank transfers are accepted. For this reason, hotels have stepped up to help guests arrange tests. You can pay the hotel for your PCR test and they will then transfer the payment to the Zambian health authorities. Private testing can be conducted at the hotel and the hotel will help to arrange this. The test costs between USD100 - USD150.
If you are going on a wild and remote safari in Zambia, to places such as Kafue, South Lungwa and Lower Zambezi, lodges are in the process of setting up testing facilities. The lodge will take a swab in camp and then fly it to the lab in Lusaka for processing. The cost for this is US$300pp. Alternatively, you can spend a night in Lusaka at the end of your safari. There is a private testing facility in Lusaka and you can prebook and pay for your test here: https://cidrz.timetap.com/#/
All test results take 24 - 48 hours to be delivered. Therefore, if you are only visiting Victoria Falls for 2 nights, it would be a good idea to get tested on the day you arrive.
Tanzania does not have any entry requirements for travellers. It is currently the easiest country in the safari industry to travel to. You will have to fill out a health questionnaire when you arrive and have your temperature checked, but you don't need a negative PCR test to arrive. You may need a negative PCR test to depart, depeding on the country you are departing to, or the airline you are travelling with. It is possible to get a negative PCR test in Dar Es Salaam, Arusha and Zanzibar. Tests cost between USD100 - 120 and resutls can take up to 96 hours. Please note that the current government advice is for travellers to undergo Covid19 testing a minimum of 5 days prior to departure to allow enough time for results to be delivered.
Kenya has perhaps done the best job of handling the pandemic out of all major African countries. Their testing facilities appear to be world class.
All arriving passengers on international flights must show a PCR COVID-19 negative certificate carried out within 96 hours before travel to Kenya (before departure) that has been digitally verified through the Trusted Travel (TT) Initiative or Global Haven. This will produce a QR code which travellers will be required to display to port health officials for them to be allowed to proceed to arrival immigration. From 01 January 2021, all travellers requiring a visa will need to apply for an e-visa in advance. No visas shall be issued on arrival in Kenya. For more information visit www.evisa.go.ke
When departing Kenya, it is possible to be tested in your hotel in Nairobi at a cost of US$120 per person. Results will be ready within 24 hours. It is also possible to be tested in some safari destinations, including the Maasai Mara. The collection point for testing in the Maasai Mara is in Mararienta, close to Musiara Gate and it costs US$110. Alternatively, the test can come to your camp, for US$140 per person (*min 2 guests.) Testing in the Mara his is subject to availability and results will take 48 hours. You only need to get a PCR test done on departure if the country you are travelling to requires it.
There are not widely available direct flights from many European countries or America to Uganda, which means some people are worried about their validity of their tests. Happily, to travel to Uganda, your negative PCR test must not be older than 120 hours, which means that even if you have to catch 2 or 3 flights to get to Uganda, you don't have to worry about your test certificate expiring before you arrive.
When departing Uganda, you also need a negative PCR test not older than 120 hours, but please bear in mind the entry requirements of the country you are travelling to from Uganda. PCR tests can be obtained in either Kampala or Entebbe. There is a 24 hours test which currently costs between US$65 - US$85, or you can pay more to have an express test done. The express test costs US$150 per person and results will be ready in 6 - 8 hours. It is probably safer to book a night in Entebbe and wait for your results.
Rwanda has a complicated set of testing standards. There is one testing standard for entering Rwanda and another one for entering Rwanda's national parks. Rwanda is implementing double testing standards. This means that you need a negative PCR test not older than 120 hours, but that once you arrive, you will be given a second test to confirm the results of the first test. The cost of this test is USD 60. In addition, you will need to upload your first test certificate to the passenger locator form link, here: www.rbc.gov.rw;
While waiting for the result of your second test, which will take 24 hours, you will need to quarantine in a hotel at your own expense.
To enter Rwanda's national parks, you need a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours. Happily however, you can use the test results from the second test you did upon arriving in Rwanda.
To depart Rwanda, you need to undergo another PCR test, which you are encouraged to book and pay for online at least 2 days prior to departure, here: www.rbc.gov.rw;
Seychelles is open to the world again from 31 March (except for visitors who have recently travelled to South Africa.) All you need to visit this tropical island paradise is a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours prior to departure. Visitors are strongly advised to get vaccinated before travelling, although it is not required. You may only stay in certified tourism establishments, although this shouldn't be a problem as anyone who travels to the Seychelles wants to stay in a hotel on the beach which offers a plethora of water activities.
You only need to get a negative PCR test to depart Seychelles if it is a requirement of the country you will be travelling to.
We have been working hard updating our website during lockdown and have added new pages specially dedicated to multi-country itineraries. If you are looking to explore as much of Africa as possible in one go, or tick off the biggest highlights, check out our pages for Southern Africa Combo Itineraries and East African Combo Itineraries.
Please remember that you will have to adhere to the lockdown rules of any country you are travelling to, such as curfews and mandatory mask wearing.
If you are unsure about anything, send us an e-mail or give us a call and we’ll do our best to make your ideal trip happen.
Western Tanzania's three parks are the hardest, and in Katavi's and Mahale's cases, the most expensive, to get to. Yet for the intrepid and dedicated few that make it there, they are well worth the effort and the expense.
The main draw of Mahale National Park and Gombe Streams National Park are the chimpanzee sightings, whilst Katavi National Park, the country's third largest National Park, is a remote, untouched wildlife haven visited by less than 1,000 people a year. Often there are fewer than two dozen people in the national park, that covers 4,471 square kilometres.
katavi national park
Located along the rift escarpment in Western Tanzania, the 4,471 square kilometre Katavi National Park is the third largest in the country. However, its remoteness and inaccessibility leaves it comparably untouched, with just a few hundred visitors per year. A land of great diversity, this untamed and wild area is in the heart of one of the largest and richest wildlife areas in Tanzania.
Home to the largest herds of buffalo on the planet, Katavi National Park is a wilderness paradise, situated in the western area of Tanzania. The park boasts a wonderful array of habitats, which range from flood plains of thick reeds and dense waterways that teem with hippo and crocodile to woodlands, open grasslands, forests and pristine seasonal lakes.
Katavi is a classic dry season reserve. From June to October buffalo herds of up to 3,000 graze on the plains. Game drives offer superb photographic opportunities, whilst walks beside sluggish rivers are exciting. Large crocodiles lie in mudholes, marabou storks pick over hippo carcasses and spotted hyena lope off into the distance. Elephants drink from tiny water holes in mud-cracked pans, roan and sable antelope hide in dense thickets, while vultures clean and dry their wings in small streams. As the sun falls low in the sky, a visit to the hippo pool, where 600 hippo live in dense formation and engage in fierce territorial battles, provides a perfect place for a sundowner.
In contrast to many other Tanzanian parks, night drives are permitted, and after, as the smoke curls up from the fire and the sound of cicadas becomes deafening. If you sit quietly you might see a pennant-winged nightjar flit across the purple sky or hear an eery owl.
With only three small upmarket camps, and only two expensive flights on 12-seater planes each week, this is no place for the masses, but for the dedicated safari enthusiast.
mahale national park
Mahale is both one of the most remote and most beautiful national parks in Tanzania. Mahale National Park encompasses a large mountainous forest rising from the white sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika, where you will find the only two lodges in the park. It is most famous for its chimp tracking and is arguably the best place in the world to see man's closest relative. The park was originally established to protect the large population of over 1000 chimpanzees and other primates. Over the decades since its establishment, researchers have managed to habituate a group of over 50 chimpanzees, allowing visitors to get very close to the chimps for unforgettable encounters.
The hike to reach the Mahale chimpanzees can vary from a short stroll of 20 minutes to a more strenuous hike lasting up to three hours. The easiest time to see the chimps is during the dry season (August to October) as the paths are less slippery and the chimps tend to stay closer to the shores of Lake Tanganyika. During this time they occasionally venture very close to camp.
Getting to Mahale National Park is expensive, due to the distance from Tanzania's main airports and the fact that only very few people travel on this route. The flights take 4-5 hours from Arusha or Dar es Salaam and only go twice a week. On the positive side, this is the reason why Mahale has remained so untouched, which makes it a real off the beaten track adventure experience.
GOMBE STREAM NATIONAL PARK
Gombe Stream National Park is a thin strip of ancient montane forest also bordering, Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest lake in the world. This park was made world-famous for the primate studies conducted by pioneering British researcher Jane Goodall. With just one lodge in the national park, prepare yourself for a truly remarkable experience of chimpanzees and nature in one of the most untouched parks of Tanzania
You can see a selection of our Western Tanzania itineraries here.
Southern Tanzania is home to the very accessible Selous Game Reserve, the largest wildlife reserve in Africa, the beautiful and little-visited gem of Ruaha, the country’s largest National Park, Mikumi National Park, the Udzungwa Mountains, and the ancient trading port of Kilwa.
SELOUS GAME RESERVE
Selous Game Reserve is on the coastal plains, with the Rufiji River running through it, supplying a system of lakes with water year-round, allowing for boat-based game and bird viewing too. Both reserves are linked by daily flights in light aircraft operating from bush strips within each reserve/park. Ruaha can also be linked to the superb and even more seldom-visited Katavi National Park in the west, three times a week.
The enormous, 50,000 square-kilometre reserve (almost twice the size of Belgium and two and a half times larger than the famous Serengeti in the north) also prvides the most varied game viewing experiences in the country, with boat-based game viewing, mornign walking safaris, and standard game drives all an option. Some lodges also offer an excellent fly-camping experience. The landscape here has remained almost as it was before tourism began and the massive park has only a few accommodation options inside the reserve and low visitor numbers, which creates a more authentic experience than safaris in the northern circuit.
For the more budget conscious traveller, there are some good-value options just outside the main gate that we have excellent relationships with.
Flora and Fauna
The reserve contains a great diversity of vegetation types, including rocky acacia-clad hills, gallery and ground water forests, swamps and lowland rain forest. The dominant vegetation of the reserve is deciduous Miombo woodlands and constitutes a globally important example of this vegetation type. Because of this fire-climax vegetation, soils are subject to erosion when there are heavy rains. The result is a network of normally dry rivers of sand that become raging torrents during the rains; these sand rivers are one of the most unique features of the Selous landscape. Large parts of the wooded grasslands of the northern Selous are seasonally flooded by the rising water of the Rufiji River, creating a very dynamic ecosystem. The reserve has a higher density and diversity of species than any other Miombo woodland area: more than 2,100 plants have been recorded and more are thought to exist in the remote forests in the south.
Selous protects an impressive amount of game; it contains globally significant populations of African elephant, black rhinoceros, and an estimated 1,300 of the worlds’ roughly 5,000 remaining rare wild dogs, giving guests an opportunity to glimpse all of these exotic animals in true unspoilt wilderness. It also includes one of the world's largest known populations of hippopotamus (18,200) and buffalo (204,015). There are also large populations of ungulates including sable antelope (7000), Lichtenstein's hartebeest (52,150), greater kudu, eland and Nyassa wildebeest (80,815). In addition, there is a large number of Nile crocodile and 350 species of birds, including the endemic Udzungwa forest partridge and the Rufous winged sunbird.
How to get there
The best way to access Selous is by flying in from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar in a light aircraft, landing on a bush strip, and being collected by the lodge. Flights are from US$170 per person each way. It is also possible to arrange drive-in safaris from Dar-es-Salaam, but we do recommend to fly, as the drive can take anything between 5 and 8 hours to Selous, depending on the road conditions.
A safari to the Selous can also be combined with a trip to Ruaha National Park, another little-visited gem. To visit the Selous there are two types of camp. Those inside the reserve itself, and those just outside.
RUAHA NATIONAL PARK
The hidden jewel of Africa...
The rolling wilderness of Ruaha National Park, studded with the great baobab trees, and intersected by the Ruaha river, is known for its elephant population, large herds of buffalo, big lion prides, rarer antelope species, and its bird life. Park fees are lower here than in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, and visitor numbers incomparable. With only a dozen lodges and camps inside the park, which covers 24,000 sq. km, peace and tranquillity are assured. It’s not uncommon to not encounter another vehicle on a game drive.
Of all the reserves and national parks in Africa, Ruaha is in our top three favourites. Nothing can beat its variety of stunning landscapes and dry season wildlife action. Combined with only having a handful of lodges and being bigger than the Serengeti, if you really want to feel in the heart of Africa, Ruaha is the place for the ultimate safari.
As well as hosting 450 bird species in its abundant trees, Ruaha is also home to the elusive and rare, stinky but beautiful, African hunting dog. With a varied landscape there is also a good chance of spotting a cheetah stalking on the open savannah, encountering the majestic Sable antelope and its dry grassy areas make it a great habitat for cheetahs. Ruaha has unusually large prides of lions, and encountering a pride of 20 or more is not uncommon. As the river slows to a trickle in the drier months, the game concentrates on the dwindling stream, and the game viewing is superb. In the wetter months after the rains in March and April, the game viewing is still very good and the birding excellent.
Ruaha has the widest range of antelopes in the region, being a crossover/meeting point of southern African and eastern African species. Roan antelope, Sable antelope, Common waterbuck, Defassa waterbuck, Greater kudu, Hartebeest and Tsessebe can all be seen there. Ruaha is a sublime step into safari wilderness.
A vehicle safari can cover the ground and will deliver you concentrations of animals – you can count yourself unlucky if you don’t see a large pride of lions here - but walking safaris take you closer, both physically and spiritually, to the soil. Walking with a park ranger alongside the river the next morning, hearing nothing but the wind rustling the vegetation and your own footsteps makes the bush an even more intimate place. With so few tourists around and covering such a vast area, you are no longer visiting the bush, you are the bush.
Sightings of distant crocodiles and, by keeping downwind, nearby giraffes, zebras, and antelope are the norm, but you can also look at the bizarre, sprawling nest of the hammerkop, a large stork-like bird that buries its eggs in a three-roomed nest decorated with old bones; inspect spoor (field guide talk for prints and poop) of some of the bush’s unseen nocturnal inhabitants like the aardvark and the genet, the choggy footprint of a hippopotamus and an impressively large lion paw; and prod biscuit barrel sized elephant pats. And all this before brunch and heading on to your next destination for dinner.
How to get there
The best way to get to Ruaha is to hop in a light aircraft. Ruaha can also be accessed by light aircraft from Selous Game Reserve, offering splendid views of the savannah and the Udzungwas. Despite being larger than the Serengeti, there are only a dozen lodges and camps inside the park. It’s a 10-hour drive from Dar, so is best broken up with a stop over in Mikumu and/or the Udzungwas.
Mikumi National Park
West of the bustling town of Morogoro, Mikumi National Park is small reserve with some lovely scenery and offers a gentle game experience – ideal for a two-night stop and a good base for daytrips to the Udzungwa Mountains. Mikumi shares a border and its game populations with the Selous, so you'll find plenty here, including elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, warthog, impala and buffalo. The vast Mkata plain is often a good place to search for lion, whilst the lucky will spot leopard or even wild dog.
The park is bisected by a major road, which detracts from its feeling of wilderness, but does make it easy to reach by vehicle; it's just four hours south-west of Dar es Salaam.
There are a few fairly simple camps here; all suitable for stopping at with your own vehicle and guide. The best in the area is Foxes Safari Camp with twelve en-suite tents. And the recently renovated Mikumi Wildlife Camp is also good with 12 simple, clean cottages made of stone and thatch. There is also Vuma Hills which is only 15 minutes from the park entrance and has 16 spacious en-suite tents. It's a convenient location for a stop-over and short safari en-route to Ruaha, but we wouldn't recommend more than two nights here.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park
Part of the 'The Eastern Arc', an ancient group of mountain ranges stretching across Tanzania and Kenya, the Udzungwas are the most extensive mountain range in Tanzania. They were formed at least 100 million years ago and many endemic species have evolved here, making them something of 'an African Galapagos'. Local taboos have helped to preserve the wildlife, and now this national park protects almost 20% of the Udzungwa Mountains.
Amongst the larger attractions are 10 species of primate, three of which are endemic: the Uhehe (aka Iringa) red colobus, the Matunda galago and the Sanje crested mangabey. The last of these is amongst the world's 25 most threatened primates. With a day to explore slowly, you'll usually see the red colobus, along with the black and white Angola colobus. Blue and vervet monkeys and yellow baboons are also common.
More than 400 species of birds live here, including many regional endemics like the Udzungwa forest partridge, which was new to science in 1991. With more scientific research, further new species are bound to be discovered. A quarter of the plants here are endemic, including some Saitpaulia species, closely related to African violets. There are also endemic amphibians, reptiles, and butterflies.
Setting off in walking shoes, with water and snacks, you'll explore the park's walking trails with a guide. These trails vary in length from a few hours to three days, and do have steep sections, but are always taken at your own pace. Expect to pass streams and waterfalls amidst the thick forest vegetation. We recommend Udzungwa as an excellent day trip from Mikumi - or perhaps a short stay at the new Udzungwa Forest Mountain camp to break up the journey between Dar and Ruaha.
Kilwa – meaning ‘Place of Fish’ – is the collective name given to three different areas on the Tanzanian coast: Kilwa Kisiwani, Kilwa Kivinje and Kilwa Masoko. Exploring UNESCO-listed ruins that tell the story of close to a millenium of coastal history is the main draw.
Kilwa isn’t located on the usual tourist route, so the quality of accommodation isn’t as high, however, travellers who want to learn a little more about the colourful history of this area will find it an adventurous addition to an off-beat itinerary, with comfortable and well-hosted, if relatively basic, accommodation.
The most modern of the three ‘Kilwas’, Kilwa Masoko is where most people base themselves to visit the ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani. There is little of historical interest here, but Jimbizi Beach – where Kimbilio Lodge is situated – is pleasant enough for a day or two relaxing.
Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara
Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara were Swahili trading cities and their prosperity was based on control of Indian Ocean trade with Arabia, India and China, particularly between the 13th and 16th centuries, when gold and ivory from the hinterland was traded for silver, carnelians, perfumes, Persian faience and Chinese porcelain. From the 9th century all the way up until the 19th century, Kilwa Kisiwani was a wealthy and powerful port. At its height, the empire stretched from Kenya to Mozambique, and Kilwa Kisiwani’s prosperity was crucial to the development of Swahili civilisation. Kilwa Kisiwani minted its own currency in the 11th to 14th centuries. When the Portuguese took over the coastline in 1505 they assumed control of Kilwa Kisiwani. They murdered the majority of the residents and replaced the Arab palaces with forts. Today, a small number of local fishermen live on the island, but for the most part it is deserted.
Kilwa Kisiwani is now an abandoned city covering much of the island, filled with crumbling mosques, remnants of once glorious palaces, and ancient tombs. Considered one of the most important surviving examples of the Islamic-influenced Swahili maritime trade, it’s quite rightly the main attraction for visitors to the area. The runs of the Sultan's 100-room palace are the largest palatial ruins on the continent, and the Great Mosque the oldest standing in East Africa. Constructed in the 11th century and considerably enlarged in the 13th century, and roofed entirely with domes and vaults, some decorated with embedded Chinese porcelain; the palace Husuni Kubwa built between 1310 and 1333 with its large octagonal bathing pool; Husuni Ndogo, numerous mosques, the prison constructed on the ruins of the Portuguese fort and an entire urban complex with houses, public squares, and burial grounds. In 1331-1332, the great traveller, Ibn Battouta made a stop here and described Kilwa Kisiwani as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The ruins of Songo Mnara, at the northern end of the island, consist of the remains of five mosques, a palace complex, and some thirty-three domestic dwellings constructed of coral stones and wood within enclosing walls.
Kilwa Kivinje – a small town on the mainland – was once the wealthy southern centre of the slave trade with up to 20,000 slaves passing through. Banned in 1873, the slave trade is still thought to have continued in Kilwa Kivinje until 1880. Afterwards, the Germans took over the town and used it as an administrative centre, but following the end of World War II the town gradually lost importance and today it is a small port. Travellers can visit the big fort with a cannon leftover from World War I, an old German market hall, as well as an attractive beach where you can watch the local fishermen. Very few people visit the area, so it provides an authentic insight into Tanzanian life.
How to get there
There are light aircraft flights to Kilwa, or it can be reached in an six-hour road transfer from Dar, or four hours from Selous. The island can be reached by a short boat ride, and explored with a private guide for around US$50, including the entrance fee (which the guide will buy on your behalf from the Department of Antiquities). The trip takes at least half a day, or a full day if you want to combine it with Songo Mnara.
Photographer, conservationist, dive and field guide, teller of bad jokes.