Most of my work days have become kind of “normal”. They start around 8 am with greeting my colleagues, then a cup of coffee followed by work. 1 pm is lunch and 6 pm is the time to catch a bus home. But there were at least two exceptional days. One was when virtually everyone who saw me spoke Swahili to test my greeting skills. And when I failed they insisted “you just HAVE to learn this!” So I practiced.
Only a few days later several people told me about the beauty of Mwanza: “You just HAVE to go to Mwanza!” and “Look at me, I’m from Mwanza. Aren’t I beautiful?” There was no way I could say no to that girl. You know – courtesy rules and all. So I booked a weekend flight to Mwanza (which is pronounced moo-anza).
My colleagues recommended a couple of things to do and a couple of places to stay. Upon checking TripAdvisor I found Mwanza to have 8 attractions of which 5 were multi-day safaris to Serengeti. One review set the stage “Let’s be honest, there’s not much to do in Mwanza, other than eat and hang out at nice hotels, so this (Sukuma Village) is about the only attraction you can find.”
That’s when another colleague entered the picture: Mr. S, an old friend of a friend. He likes to go to places, I was told. When Mr. S suggested to rent a car with unlimited mileage I could have been alarmed. But I agreed.
I met a friendly person who picked me up at the airport, delivered me to my hotel and proceeded to take me out to Tilapia hotel for chat, nibbles and beer. All as a favor to his friends.
The next morning I walked to lake Victoria and the iconic Bismarck rock and was surprised to find Hyrax, colorful lizzards, maraboo storks and other large birds. Quite a zoo in the middle of a town that’s surrounded by hills and is full of boulders. Hence its nickname “Rock City”.
As for the weekend tourist: I didn’t manage to see a single thing TripAdvisor had suggested. Instead I met some great people, had good conversation and my eyes were constantly pleased by the landscape, the vast lake and the cleanliness of the city.
Here are some recommendations
Places to sleep
- Victoria Palace, TZS 75k or USD 35 per night. Mainly local guests, good bed, warm water, large room, breakfast included
- For a nice view of Lake Victoria Ryan’s Bay hotel was recommended to me. It is centrally located near the train station. Expect to pay more than USD 100 per night.
- Tilapia is also right on Lake Victoria and it is USD 100 per night. Get 10% discount on that if you ask and give them a good reason.
- Tunza Lodge is near the airport and offers simple bungalows and camping ground in an idyllic setting on the shore of Lake Victoria. Might be a bit noisy on weekends as it’s a favorite watering hole for locals.
Places to eat
- Tilapia comes up again in this category, thanks to it’s large choice of Indian, Thai, Italian and International food. Expect to pay around TZS 20k per dish.
- Villa Park Resort is a place to go to in a group. Food, drink and music are offered. We had deep fried tilapia there for TZS 15k if I remember correctly. Both Nile perch and tilapia are locally fished, so try them!
- Apparently there is a restaurant with a view on top of Goldcrest hotel. Sounds like a good location for a sundowner.
- I also saw Malaika hotel which is an impressive structure on the lake. I could imagine a very nice buffet lunch or dinner to be served at a location near the airport.
Things to do
- If you like company, go to Tilapia hotel bar/restaurant on a weekend – that’s when many expats come to town for a small memory of how life might be back home. I found people to be friendly and willing to strike up a conversation. You might find a mix of tourists, NGO workers, teachers from international school, mining staff and local middle class
- Find a fisherman and head out on his boat, catch a fish, BBQ it on a lonely island, down a beer and head back. There is no official service for this but people might be happy to accomodate you, especially if it sounds like fun and if you pay them. I didn’t do it but I want to in the future.
- Unfortunately swimming in the lake is not on this list as there is Bilharzia in the lake. If you are adventurous you can mitigate the risks but I won’t tell you how.
- If you have any connection to someone in Mwanza, activate it now. I’ve had the best of times thanks to friends of friends.
- By all means, also go to the Sukuma museum or to Sanane island which is the smallest national park in Tanzania, if you must. I didn’t make it there this time.
As you can see from the photos Mwanza truly “rocks”, the climate is a bit cooler than on the coast and it is much cleaner than Dar es Salaam. The fish is good, the views are great and I would just love to own one of the houses propped up next to a huge rock. I can easily see how someone would like to stay and work in Mwanza.
Go there now if you like quiet towns as many new hotels are built in anticipation of Mwanza becoming the hub for Serengeti safaris. There is talk of renaming the airport to Serengeti, just as they did in Arusha where the airport is now called Kilimanjaro. Package tourists will flood the town, stay for the night before heading out to the national park.