Set inside an almost circular, mangrove-lined harbour some 11km by road before Mtwara, Mikindani is home to fifteen thousand people, for whom the sea is their livelihood. The peaceful, almost languid atmosphere belies a brutal past, when the town was one of the coast’s major seaports for ivory – and slave-carrying caravans. Mikindani’s stone buildings, many in ruins, are eloquent and picturesque reminders of those darker but more prosperous times, while sandy beaches on the far side of the harbour, a wide choice of excusions, a scuba diving school, and one of southern Tanzania’s most beautiful hotels make it a great place to get away from it all.
The German Boma
On the hill behind the village, the German Boma has been sensitively restored and beautifully converted into the luxurious Old Boma Hotel. Built in 1895 as the seat of the German colonial administration, the single-towered limewashed building is the town’s most distinctive and attractive landmark, combining German, Arab and Swahili architectural elements. Visitors are welcome to look around – on entering, check out the stunning door carvings, the work of Gulum Dosa, who also carved the mosque’s doorway. Inside is a cool courtyard, with rooms arranged around it on two floors. one corner of the building has a three-storey tower with crenellated battlements, resembling an Andalusian minaret. The gardens surrounding the Boma are attractive too, with colourful fragipani and flame trees providing shade and shelter for blue monkeys.
Mikindani’s hotels are useful sources of information, especially The Old Boma Hotel, which has dozens of useful sheets covering attractions here and elsewhere in the region. Trade Aid, the British NGO running the hotel, is involved in education, and the preservation of the village’s historic buildings.
Set inside the beautifully restored German Boma above the village, this is Southern Tanzania’s best hotel by miles, with bags of atmosphere and outstanding accommodation, and a wide range of activities and excursions. There’s also a sophisticated restaurant and bar, wi-fi in the reception, and a swimming pool. The eight high-ceilinged rooms, some with balconies, have large timber beds and are decorated with local handicrafts, and no TVs! Two rooms (now four) have a/c; thick walls, sea breezes and ceiling fans keep things cool in others. It’s worth spending a little more for a view.
Eating and Drinking
Consistently delicious and inventive cooking, always with a decent selection of vegetable soups, unbeatably fresh salads and herbs from their own garden, and fresh seafood, including prawns. Eat under parasols or trees, by the pool or on a private terrace. Diners can also use the pool. There’s also a bar.
The hotel shop sells a good selection of unusual arts and crafts that have been sourced from a variety of self-help projects in southern Tanzania.
Time seems to have stood still in Tanzania’s sparsely populated southeast. It lacks the development and bustle of the north and tourists numbers are a relative trickle. Yet, for adventurous travellers seeking to learn about traditional local life, for safari enthusiasts and for divers, the southeast makes an ideal destination.
Mikindani – set on a picturesque bay surrounded by coconut groves – is a quiet, charming Swahili town with a long history. Although easily visited as a day trip from Mtwara, many travellers prefer it to its larger neighbour as a base for exploring the surrounding area. For David Livingstone fans, the famous explorer spent a few weeks in the area in 1866 before setting out on his last journey.
The Old Boma
This beautifully restored building is on a breezy hilltop overlooking the town and Mikindani Bay. It offers spacious, atmospheric, high-ceilinged doubles and the closest to top-end standards that you’ll find in these parts. There’s a sunset terrace overlooking the bay, a pool surrounded by bougainvillea bushes and lush gardens, and a restaurant.
Sights & Activities
The imposing German boma, built in 1895 as a fort and administration centre, has been beautifully renovated as a hotel. even if you’re not staying here, it’s worth taking a look and climbing the tower for views over the town.
“Like early explorers, latter-day writers are inexorably drawn to those parts of the globe where few others venture. What happens – I wondered, as the nights drew in at home – on the southern coast of Tanzania?…
And so, a month later, we are in the village of Mikindani, which is spread beneath a plantation of glossy coconut palms beside a limpid blue lagoon. It was from Mikindani that David Livingstone set out on his final expedition in 1866. Thirty years later the Germans arrived and ruled southern Tanganyika from this old Arab slaving port, until they were deposed by the British after the First World War.
The Old Boma, where we are staying, had been the office of the district commissioner, and its thick whitewashed walls, tall shutters and silent fans provide a cool refuge from the African sun. The garden has a large inviting pool and a dining terrace where delicious curries are served…”
The South Coast is a fascinating, often enchanting, area endlessly rewarding to those with a sense of adventure and curiosity. The older towns are profoundly Swahili in character. Their roads are lined with crumbling German and Arab buildings that generate a time warp atmosphere like something out of a Graham Green novel. The people retain a gracious slow pace of life one into which it is easy to slip. Scenically, the South Coast is all you might expect – stunning palm lined beaches, thick mangrove swamps and baobab studded acacia bush as you head away from the beaches.
Sleepy Mikindani is of greater historic interest than its upstart neighbour Mtwara possessing a characteristic old Swahili town layout of narrow roads lined with balconied double storey homes and carved Zanzibar doors. It is where Livingstone set off for his last expedition into the interior. A number of historical sites are dotted around the old town.
The Old Boma
Now immaculately restored to its former whitewash pomp, the Boma doubles as the HQ for Trade Aid and the smartest hotel anywhere on the south coast. Accommodation is in spacious airy double rooms with mosquito nets, fan, hot bath and atmospheric Swahili furnishings. Wooded grounds contain a clean swimming pool and outdoor dining area.
It is an extraordinary experience to arrive at Mikindani at the end of a long, bumpy and extremely dusty drive from Dar es Salaam – the final bend in the road that reveals Mikindani town can seem to be a fairy-tale encounter. Nestling between mountains and sea on a large circular natural lagoon, this tiny town had the historic atmosphere if quiet quaintness that attracts visitors to tiny villages in the English Cotswolds or Italian hilltop villages in Umbria. The winding streets are flanked by a hotchpotch of thatch and mud, stonework with balconies, and carved wooden doors from Arabic and colonial days.
The Old Boma
Immaculately restored to reveal its original grandeur and accommodate guests in style, with a pool surrounded by flowering trees and a poolside bar, excellent views down the hillside over the town and bay. All rooms have grand, hand-carved wooded beds and clean white linen, with balconies facing the sea or coconut groves.