A hostel off Tanu Road and down a dirt track between Korosho Lodge and the large church at the coastal end of the road. When we arrived in Mtwara, roughly an hour before sundown, we headed straight to Kwa Limo from town, foolishly taking an overpriced taxi which was not necessary- a bajaj/tuk-tuk would have sufficed (you could also walk if you know the way). We went to Kwa Limo on the advice of other charity workers who had stayed there the previous year however, it was not the ‘gem’ it has been in previous years. Despite showing our charity t-shirt, which the hostel owners immediately recognised, we were asked for 11,000 TSH a night per person for a room with too many eight-legged inhabitants, dirty sheets and no water. More worrying was the lack of security, the hostel is not gated and the rooms -resembling a terrace of garden sheds- are accessible from the track by anyone. We later found from locals that Kwa Limo had severely lowered its standards in the last year and now received little custom. This was the first real test of our Swahili and having failed to negotiate a cheaper price, we were left with half an hour to find somewhere to stay before sundown…
This is a 10 minute walk or short bajaj journey from the high street (by the internet cafe), it is left at the cross road (opposite Uhuru Road) if you are facing the big church, and is next to the Half London pub which all of the locals seem to know. Double rooms are 15,000 TSH per night and you will only be able to arrange to stay if you can speak Swahili to the owner. There are also few rooms, approximately 7, so you will not be guaranteed a room on the day. However, the rooms are clean and have box mosquito nets. This accommodation appeared to be very safe.
This is where we settled for the duration of our book project in Mtwara, we really enjoyed it and felt both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide do not do it justice. The Lutheran’s reputation should also mean the quality of service and accommodation will not deteriorate in the near future, I would therefore recommend staying here. As we were staying for 29 nights, we were able to negotiate (Swahili needed) a double room with breakfast for 13,000 TSH per night with the help of a local charity worker called Jimmy- to whom we will be forever grateful! The Lutheran Inn is situated on Mikindani Road (over the roundabout at the top of Tanu Road). It is therefore away from the town (10 minute walk) but only a few minutes in a bajaj away (1,000 TSH max/40p) and 2,500 TSH to Shangani beach. I should mention however, that the ‘double’ beds are not very generous, us girls managed fine but I think boys may not appreciate the cosiness. There are both en-suite rooms with western toilets and non en-suite rooms for a lower price with shared showers and squat toilets, there is also a communal seating area with sofas which we used every evening as there were very few other guests. Breakfast is simple bread, tea and bananas and dinner can be provided for 3,500 TSH per person if you request so in the morning-you can also tell the manager what you would like for dinner and he will go to buy chicken, fish etc, if you do not ask then it will be rice and beans. Water is extremely unreliable- on for an hour in the morning then off during the day, possibly coming on again in the evening but water can be pumped from the well outside. The guide books made the 10pm curfew sound far more strict than it is- Big Dave (the manager, whose name is something-David) would always let us in late at night if we let him know before going out that we would return after 10pm –he saw no problem in getting out the shower to open the door for us.
A beach in the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet which apparently can be reached by boat from the fish market –not true. Having been sold on the idea by the Lonely Planet, we got a bajaj to the fish market where we expected to get a dhow boat over to Msangamkuu beach across the bay, but instead we simply found a lot of fish and locals. When we asked about the boat we were told it had sunk around a year ago and as we seemed like typical mzungus the locals tried to convince us to let them take us over to the beach where they would ‘guard’ us and our belongings, as the beach is notoriously unsafe. After little deliberation we promptly left the fish market and ranted about the Lonely Plant for a fair while. But do not worry, there is a decent beach in Mtwara…
We found this by asking a bajaj driver to take us to ‘beachy nzuri’, it is in the Shangani area and is a quiet sandy beach with clear water. When the tide is out it is a fair walk to the water however, after lunchtime when the tide is in it is brilliant for swimming. A bajaj will take you to the beach from town for around 2,500 TSH, it is often a good idea to take his phone number so you can get back to town as bajajs rarely pass down the road by the beach. Alternatively, if you remember the way you can start walking back to town and will probably see a bajaj on the way.
Msemo Hotel/Southern Cross Hotel-
This hotel is on Shangani beach and for some reason has two names which can be confusing- guide books refer to it as Southern Cross while locals call is Msemo. The hotel is used by many of the mzungus in Mtwara, especially the employees of Ophir, the oil company which has a base in Mtwara as they are working towards drilling off of the coast. The hotel does food (6,000-12,000 TSH) and drinks, and whilst the food takes over an hour to arrive (standard for Mtwara) it is often good- a few things to look out for are pizza and curry. The pepperoni pizza was dough, tomato and a chopped up frankfurter –cheese is expensive in southern Tanzania, you therefore have to ask if they have cheese before ordering anything containing it. The curries are generally great but will occasionally not be quite what you expect however, this is simply how things are and it never seems right to complain, TIA. The best thing about Msemo is the sunset, the sun goes down on the horizon and is definitely worth watching. There is also a small gift shop at the hotel, and as Mtwara is one of the best places in Tanzania for wood carvings, it is worth stocking up because it turns out they are more expensive in Dar or Zanzibar. You can get a bajaj to Msemo from town or the Lutheran for around 2,000-3,000 TSH, as there are no bajajs passing outside the hotel, you can walk to the main road in the hope of seeing one or, if you give your phone to reception, they will phone a taxi, although this will cost more than a bajaj, around 5,000 TSH to the top of Tanu road.
A guest house and restaurant on Tanu Road –there is a green sign outside. The rooms here are around 40,000 TSH per night as they are very good quality rooms. We often went to Korosho for dinner, curry is 6,000-7,000 TSH and we shared between two people. The food takes an hour to arrive but the atmosphere is welcoming as the staff are friendly, and the premises are gated and safe during the evening. You can get a bajaj from Lutheran to Korosho for 1,000 TSH. This lodge also has a television in the bar area- never has a subtitled version of CSI been more interesting. I recommend the fish curry here; one evening we ordered and ten minutes later the chef came through the gate with a huge fish from the fish market- the freshest curry we have ever had.
There is an internet café on Tanu Road on the left if you are looking at the church, before the crossroad in town. It is in a government building and whilst it is not always open, when it is open the internet is good and there are no power-cuts. Internet here is 1,000 TSH for an hour. There is another internet café on Uhuru road opposite where all of the bajajs wait, here the internet is temperamental- frequent power cuts most of the time we went, the price is the same as the government internet café. The government internet café is not open on Sundays; this may be the same for the café on Uhuru road.
Educational office and Immigration
Locating this building was essential for us and it also a good idea for other individuals working with charities in Mtwara. Due to its close proximity to the Mozambique boarder, Mtwara can be strict when it comes to visas, it can therefore be a good idea to check in with immigration and let them know you are working in the region. However, the immigration officers sometimes appear to be on a power trip- they took out passports and refused to return them until the entire office had had a good look through them. So this can be frustrating but could also save hassle in the long run when it comes to visa checks. The building is located on Tanu road towards the top and immigration can be found on the first floor.
Mnazi Bay (Marine Reserve)
The Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve is a safeguarded area of the coast which offers one of the best diving experiences on the east coast of Africa. However, poverty is rife among the 30,000 people who live within the park and depend on marine resources or infrequent tourism for their livelihoods. Both guide books raved about Mnazi Bay so we thought this was a place not to be missed and we were right…in some ways. We knew Mnazi was approximately a 2 hour drive from the Lutheran so we asked Big Dave how was best to get there –daladalas (buses) do not cover this journey so private transport is the only option. Big Dave kindly gave us his driver and a body guard for the day to take us there and back, for which we covered the cost of petrol. The drive to Mnazi Bay is bumpy but also one of the most interesting tracks in Mtwara, the road goes through many small villages and settlements which rarely see mzungus pass. Once at the bay we paid an entrance fee of 6,000 TSH each and were then free to enjoy the vast, white beach and clear water. We were the only people on the beach apart from a few local fishermen further along the bay and were stunned by its beauty and calm. However, the beauty of the day seemed to end there. The part of the bay we had entered, named ‘Marine Safari’ was run by a local family who had apparently run the business into the ground after having taken over from the previous owners. Whilst you can buy cold soda for the usual price of 1,500 TSH, food is a lot more expensive for no other reason than to get as much money as possible from tourists- chips were 10,000 TSH (£4), we therefore did not eat. The real problem came when we left the beach late in the afternoon and drove back toward Mtwara town. About 20 minutes into our journey the car came to a stop at a ‘check-point’- a barrier drawn down over the road which had not been there when we entered the marine park. Having stopped at the barrier, our driver told us the 15 year-old ‘guard’ was asking us for 26,000 TSH each for us to pass through –we tried our usual getting-out-of-mzungu-payments speil, telling them we were working for a charity in Mtwara however, this was not very successful. The driver then phoned Big Dave back at the Lutheran to get us out of the payment (for which we probably did not have enough money between us, even if we did give -in). After nearly 2 hours of us waiting in the car in the heat, with the local men and children from the village banging on the windows and attempting to open the car, we were free to go! It turns out that as long as you know someone who knows someone who works for the government, you can get out pretty much anything in Mtwara.
The Old Boma at Mikindani
The Old Boma is a hotel in Mikindani- a small bay which you will pass if travelling into Mtwara by bus. The Boma is run by the charity Trade Aid who train local members of the community to work in hospitality- the hotel is therefore run by local employees but is overseen by Trade Aid employees. The restored German fort has large rooms and an outdoor pool- the rooms stretch beyond the budget of most backpackers, we therefore visited the Boma at weekends to use the pool and eat something other than rice and beans. There is a charge of 6,000 TSH to use the pool however, the staff are very friendly and the pool is never too busy or overcrowded. Food prices range from 5,000-10,000 TSH and does take at least an hour to arrive but is always good quality. Many charity workers and other mzungus from Mtwara go to the Boma at the weekend, it can therefore be a good opportunity to meet some mzungu people who know the area well. The Boma also offers excursions including snorkelling, diving and trips to the river at the Mozambique boarder. We went on the snorkelling trip, this was 20,000 TSH each for the day including lunch. We were taken out on a dhow boat through the bay and into the ocean, the reef here was pretty good but I think further north on the east coast of Africa is more impressive.
The market is walking distance from Uhuru road or you can ask for a bajaj which should cost 1,500 TSH maximum. It is located round the corner from the bus stand- if you leave through the entrance, turn left, if you leave through the exit you will be almost opposite the market. The market is made up of small alleys selling food, clothing and some other supplies. I definitely recommend a trip to the market even if you do not intend to buy anything. If you are able to haggle in Swahili, you are likely to get a better price, alternatively, go to the market with a local you know well.
Shops in Mtwara- what can be found
If you need to buy any food or toiletries in Mtwara, it is best to go to Uhuru road. Here there are many small shops which all sell similar items such as biscuits, nuts, water and soda. Some shops, such as those by the main road (opposite where the bajajs wait) will sell mars bars, hot chocolate powder, bread and branded toiletries which you will often have to pay a premium for. Fruit (oranges and bananas or mangoes if in season) can be purchased from street vendors sitting on the pavement or carrying fruit on their heads. There are also a few vendors who do chipsy mayai (chip omelette) which is usually 1,500 TSH or rice and beans at a similar price. There are also a few stationary shops, although due to limited demand pens and paper are often more expensive than in England. Top-up credit for Tanzanian networks such as Zain and Vodacom can be bought from most of the small shops in town. There are some disabled beggars in Mtwara who will follow mzungus around the town asking for money however, be advised that if you give them money they will follow you each time you are in town. There are considerably more beggars on Thursdays as they are brought to town by a bus in order for them to beg.