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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Valenti

Visit Mwanza, where is home in Tanzania - discover the Rock City on Lake Victoria

Mwanza is the second largest city in Tanzania and stands on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, surrounded by green hills, it's dotted with gigantic boulders which have given it the name Rock City.

Bismarck Rock, Mwanza
Bismarck Rock, Mwanza

Mwanza had been our home for a month during which Enrico and I volunteered at the Bugando Cancer Center of the Bugando Medical Centre, the most important hospital in the region.

In addition to standing out for the strong presence of the Indian community which guarantees a very interesting cultural mix (the population is predominantly Christian, Indian but there are also many Arabs and indigenous people), Mwanza is also an important industrial center, with a port on the lake through which much of the cotton, tea and coffee grown in the north of the country. What literally made us fall in love with Mwanza is that, despite its size, it manages to maintain its authenticity and the atmosphere of an African village. This area is neither particularly well-known nor is it a particularly popular destination for tourists, which contributes to making it so fascinating and real. In Mwanza, there are not many attractions for tourists or entertainment, but it is ideal for those who want to experience African reality and everyday life first-hand.

In any case, Mwanza is an excellent base for visiting its surroundings, the wonderful Lake Victoria, the nearby Rubondo Island Nature Reserve but also for a splendid safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. From the small national airport, you can then take internal flights to reach Kilimanjaro or the splendid island of Zanzibar.

The currency in Tanzania is the Tanzanian Shilling but American Dollars are also accepted. 1 Tanzanian Shilling (TZS) = €0.00038 = $0.00042 I strongly suggest you use Shillings because it is much more convenient considering that the highest existing denomination banknote is 10,000 TZS or €3.85 or $4.24, just to give you an idea of ​​how little life can cost. Mwanza and its surroundings are not a particularly expensive area for tourists, but everything varies depending on the choice of accommodation, restaurants and activities. Certainly, the costs are lower than other tourist cities in Tanzania, such as Arusha or Zanzibar.

Mercato di frutta e verdura, Mwanza - Tanzania

For us who stayed in a private house and had our own kitchen the prices were really very low: by shopping in the local markets and living mainly by adapting and immersing ourselves in the local culture the costs are minimal, even though there are specific Muzungu (for foreigners) prices for everything which are still a little higher than those for the local population. However, we are talking about a few pennies... let's see some examples just to give you an idea of ​​how much fruit and vegetables cost at the market:

  • a mango 2000 TZS (75 € cents)

  • a dozen small onions 500 TZS (20 € cents)

  • 4 aubergines 500 TZS (20 € cents)

  • large pineapple 1500 TZS (60 € cents)

  • 10 small bananas 1000 TZS (40 € cents)

  • 1 small watermelon 500 TZS (20 € cents)

  • 2 avocados 2000 TZS (75 € cents)

As far as accommodation is concerned, I have no particular facilities to recommend since, as mentioned before, we stayed for the whole month in a house near the hospital. However, I can indicate the most popular areas and usually preferred by the few tourists or in any case by Westerners who frequent Mwanza, namely Capri Point (here there is a very beautiful and particular hotel which is the Tilapia, but quite expensive compared to local prices), the area around the Rock City Mall and that of Isamilo.

Capri Point is located on the shore of Lake Victoria and has numerous restaurants and bars, Rock City Mall is a shopping center surrounded by numerous shops and restaurants, while Isamilo is a quiet residential area full of gardens. Last mention of the logistics for visiting Mwanza, or how to reach the city.

The quickest and most comfortable option is by plane but keep in mind that Mwanza airport currently only offers domestic internal flights or for example from Mombasa. The international one is under construction but until it is completed you can get there with small airplanes that stop in Kilimanjaro, Dar Es Salaam or from Kenya.


How to move around Mwanza

Centro di Mwanza, Tanzania

In Mwanza, there are various ways to get around but the best in my opinion is by far walking. It is cheaper, safer and allows you to enjoy the landscape in complete freedom and explore the city thoroughly. We almost always moved around the city on foot and only used public transport to reach the surrounding areas. In the city you will see that the locals move mainly on motorbikes which they use as taxis: I strongly advise against this option as it is really dangerous... I saw some terrible accidents in the month I spent in Mwanza. What I can highly recommend is to use the application BOLT, which many already know where it is also used for delivery. Through this very convenient and simple-to-use app, you can book rides both by taxi and on board the Tuc-Tuc: both methods are economical and relatively safe (the risk of accidents is there... let's say that Tanzanians have rather reckless driving skills). Tuc-Tucs are 3-wheeled vehicles typical of Africa: I had met them both in Kenya and in Nosy Be and they are quite fun and characteristic.

In both cases the payment methods are either cash or by credit card if you enter it in the app. The prices are truly negligible and significantly lower than taxis or Tuc-Tucs stopped on the street. To give you an idea of ​​the costs: from the Bugando Medical Center to Rock City Mall we spent 5,500 TSZ (about €2.10) for a ride of about 15 minutes. Please always keep in mind that as soon as the sun goes down the streets become dark: there is no street lighting so it is quite dangerous to travel around on foot or by car.


Bidonville di Mwanza
Bidonville di Mwanza

When is best to visit Mwanza

Thanks to the proximity to the equator, in Mwanza, as in the rest of Tanzania, the climate is subtropical but is tempered by the altitude (the city is located 1100m above sea level). Its proximity to the waters of Lake Victoria and its inland position guarantee almost stable temperatures throughout the year. The fundamental thing to know if you want to go to this area is the alternation of wet and dry seasons. There are two rainy seasons: the big one, from March to June, and the small one in November and December. If we were therefore to say what is the best period for a trip to Mwanza, but also to Tanzania in general, it is certainly the dry season, which runs from June to October. Even the short rainy season is not bad, it tends not to rain much, as in January and February. We were there in March and it rained a lot, almost 15 days out of 30: it almost always rained around lunch for an hour then it stopped.


What to do and see when in Mwanza

Mwanza, although not a particularly tourist destination, offers some absolutely particular and authentic activities and points of interest but the city also hass a wide range of activities for nature lovers and for those interested in discovering glimpses of local life, such as the markets, local food and beaches.


Lake Victoria

Lago Vittoria, Tanzania

As already mentioned, Mwanza is located on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, the largest lake on the African continent and the second-largest freshwater lake in the world after the Caspian Sea. Lake Victoria is simply spectacular, immense and bordered by the typical rocks that have given Mwanza the nickname of Rock City. To admire it at its best I recommend you climb the Capri Point hill or visit some restaurants/resorts such as Tilapia or Tunza, which we will see later. The waters of the lake are absolutely not suitable for swimming as they are polluted and full of waste material so, although you will certainly see children and locals bathing in them, I strongly advise you against following them.


Bismarck Rock

Among the main tourist attractions, there is without a doubt Bismarck Rock: this rock is the most iconic and symbol of Mwanza and offers a suggestive panoramic view of the city and Lake Victoria. The rock is located on the shore of the lake so you can get close but not reach the actual base unless you want to pay a small fee to the guys you will find parked out front.

Bismarck Rock, Mwanza - Tanzania


Capri Point

vista sul Lago Vittoria da Capri Point - Mwanza

Capri Point is the small peninsula on the left of Bismarck Rock: this area is characterized by a hill from which you can enjoy a wonderful view of Lake Victoria. It is a residential area famous for its bars and restaurants and for being frequented mainly by Westerners or a wealthy population. Among the various places in this area I would like to point out the Tilapia hotel/restaurant which I will then tell you about in detail. We took a beautiful walk for a couple of hours crossing it all and I think it's the best way to explore this area so as not to miss a single glimpse of it. Just before the Tilapia, after passing the Mwanza station you come across the only stalls selling typical African souvenirs such as wonderful landscape or indigenous paintings, necklaces, bracelets and sarongs, perhaps more typical of the coastal area. Going along it from west to east, at the base of the hill you cross the Christian cemetery: you can enter freely as it is not delimited by any fence... it is a very suggestive area. Walking through this area you come across lots of flowers and beautiful tropical plants, palm trees and many of the typical rounded rocks that characterize this area.


The swimming pool of Tilapia Hotel

Tilapia Hotel is a splendid property located at Capri Point on the shore of Lake Victoria that deserves a mention for two reasons: its swimming pool and restaurant, both with breathtaking views of the Lake. The Tilapia pool is also accessible to non-hotel guests by paying TSZ 20,000 (around €7.60). Included in the entrance price there are sunbeds available and you can use the bar or restaurant. We've been there twice and I can only recommend it as a nice way to cool off and get a bit of tan, taking a break from the chaos that reigns in the city.


Kwatunza Beach Land

Kwatunza Beach, Mwanza - Tanzania

Kwatunza is also called Tunza and it is a resort on Lake Victoria located further away from the nerve center of Mwanza. From Bugando it took us about 30 minutes by taxi but it was absolutely worth it. The resort is also accessible for those who do not stay in the rooms if they want to enjoy the beautiful private beach on the lake or the splendid restaurant. To access the beach you pay 2,000 TZS (about 75 € cents): it is tiny and not equipped but truly delightful. Obviously the water of the lake, as already mentioned, is not suitable for swimming but it almost feels like being at the seaside: golden sand, palm trees... perfect for sunbathing and relaxing. Super recommended for admiring the sunset from the beach or terrace: the sun goes down on the lake giving life to splendid colors while the fishermen on wooden boats throw their nets into the water. The bar/restaurant is beautiful and offers excellent food and if you are looking for a bit of entertainment they also have concerts and disco evenings.


Hindu Temple of Mwanza

Tempio Indù di Mwanza

The Hindu Temple of Mwanza is a real pearl in the chaos of the city... a clean, white and quiet place hidden on Temple Road, behind the Central Market, the main market. You can find it like this on Google Maps BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and it is without a doubt the most beautiful building in the city. In Mwanza, the Indian community owns most of the most profitable businesses and this is reflected in the city's Hindu temple: crossing the gate, in an instant, you are catapulted into another dimension. Inside the gate everything is very well-kept, tidy, white and extremely calm and clean... a nice change compared to two meters before: I swear it didn't even feel like being in Africa anymore. Entrance is free, just ask the guardian at the entrance, and it is possible to admire the temple from the outside but also to enter and go up to the first floor where the prayer room is... just take off your shoes at the entrance


Sukuma Museum

Museo Sukuma - Mwanza

Sukuma Museum - Bujora Cultural Centre is the only museum in the area and is located outside Mwanza, in a small village called Kisesa: by taxi, it takes about 40 minutes from the Bugando Medical Center but it is a truly recommended experience. The Museum offers an interactive and educational environment where the history and traditional arts of the Sukuma Tribe are taught, which is the predominant ethnic group in the Mwanza area. The cultural arts of this tribe are among the richest in East Africa, and as the Sukuma people are the largest cultural group in Tanzania, the Sukuma culture is dispersed throughout the country.

Museo Sukuma Bujora

The heart of Usukuma is located in the Mwanza Lakes, Shinyanga and Mara regions, where the legacy of a rich artistic tradition is preserved. The museum is located in the open air and is an excellent way to learn more about the local population and immerse yourself completely in the life of the native population. Enrico was a little skeptical but in the end, he changed his mind: the visit was extremely interesting.

Museo Sukuma - Mwanza

We start by visiting the typical Sukuma huts, from the homes to those where they worked producing very particular weapons. We then move on to the typical game with which lands were played, the game of pebbles, and then move on to tools for hunting, fishing, weapons and medical rites carried out by shamans. For an additional fee, you can also watch the traditional dances which end with a dance with three immense live pythons which you will still be able to see resting. Entrance to the museum costs 15,000 TSZ (around €6.70) which must be added at least 5,000 TSZ tip to the guide who will accompany you throughout the visit.


Fruit and vegetable market in Banda Street

Mercato ortofrutticolo di Banda Street, Mwanza

The Banda Street Market is definitely one of our favorite places in Mwanza: we went there almost every afternoon after work. Buying vegetables and exotic fruit was literally Enrico's favorite pastime. Walking along this long street on whose sides the women of Mwanza sell their products neatly placed in small piles on a cloth on the ground is an unmissable experience. There are many varieties of very particular fruit and vegetables and the prices are truly ridiculous. Watch out for motorbikes whizzing past pedestrians and don't be scared: everyone will call your attention by shouting Muzungu and inviting you to buy from them. If you are in Mwanza this is truly an unmissable, authentic and perfect place to immerse yourself in local life.


Bidonville

Bidonville di Mwanza, Tanzania

The Bidonville is the part of Mwanza that could correspond to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro: tin houses piled up on a hill, dirt roads and barefoot children running around kicking a ball made of rags... not very inviting to describe it like that but I can assure you that this it was our favorite place. The Mwanza shantytown was behind our house and overlooked Lake Victoria: every time we could we walked through its streets and every day we fell in love more and more: the brick, mud and tin houses, the palm trees and the rocks constitute a breathtaking backdrop.

Bidonville di Mwanza, Tanzania

Definitely the most beautiful place in Mwanza, authentic and realistic: exactly what you expect from Africa. Here there are many stands with fruit and vegetables from which we bought what we needed for dinner when we didn't go down to the center and the one that crosses the Bidonville was the road we took every time to get to the lake.

Despite what you might think, the area is very quiet and we always felt super safe on foot: just be prepared for children running towards you shouting Muzungu (the Swhaili word for foreigner) and asking you for some change.


Rock City Mall, Mwanza - Tanzania

Rock City Mall

The Rock City Mall is the shopping center of Mwanza and is recently built: it is not a real attraction for tourists.. the interior is almost half empty and the few shops that are there are purely for locals.. I only point it out to you because it hosts the largest supermarket in the city, where you can also find Western products. It is certainly the best-stocked in the city and useful if you need to buy sunscreen, bathroom products, or foods that are a little more similar to those at home.


Saanane Island National Park

Saanane Island National Park is a protected area located on a small island in Lake Victoria right in front of Capri Point. To reach it it takes about 20 minutes by boat and the excursion starts from the Center located in front of the Tilapia. There you can request information and book: the national park is home to wild animals, including monkeys, antelopes and birds. The excursion costs $50 each and we skipped it: they told us it's not that great... there are few animals compared to the Serengeti Safari and the island is really small.


Rubondo Island National Park

Rubondo Island National Park is perhaps the only regret I had on this trip: we really wanted to go but getting there is quite complicated and doing it in two days is a bit of a pain... but we'll go there sooner or later! It is a national park located on an island in Lake Victoria further west than Mwanza: approximately 80% of the park is made up of a forest which is home to hippos, ginettes, monkeys, gorillas, elephants and crocodiles, but also giraffes and many species of birds. Two Danish girls who worked at the hospital went there and said it was beautiful! Rubondo is off the usual tourist routes, which makes it perfectly preserved but also difficult to reach. You can get there by ultralight plane which must be booked in advance from Mwanza (this option is the fastest but also the most expensive) or by bus (Sabuni Express Bus) in 3-4 hours of travel from Mwanza (170km) to in Muganza. Here you need to take a taxi to Kasenda port (5 minute journey) from where you will be picked up by the park boat and it will take you around 20-30 minutes to reach the park.

As far as accommodation is concerned, there are three possibilities: Rubondo Island Camp (very expensive and totally out of our reach), a tent in the public field, or in the park. Low-pretentious and definitely more affordable public accommodations ($35 per person per night) managed directly by the park and bookable only through direct contact - if you are interested then write to Daniel +255 767 935 975 or +255 736 778 493 and ask for all the information to book. I recommend that you always plan everything and book before going there: the place is very small and you often risk not finding a place. At Rubondo you can do many activities: sport fishing, walking safaris, the CHEX (Chimps habituation experience) or a visit in close contact with the chimpanzees, jeep safaris or boat trips. To access the Park you pay a fee of $30 per person for 24 hours. In the end, even if you sleep in the gang and get there by bus, it's still an expensive trip, but it seems to be a splendid experience! When I will manage to go back to Mwanza I will definitely try it and update you!


Masumin Travel Agency

Safari nel Cratere del Ngorongoro, Tanzania
Safari nel Cratere del Ngorongoro

Whatever activity you want to plan while in Mwanza, from a safari in the Serengeti and/or Ngorongoro, a trek to Kilimanjaro or a visit to Lake Manyara, I can only suggest you refer to Masumin Tours & Safari, a local travel agency in Mwanza. My colleagues at the hospital recommended it to me, claiming that it was the best agency in the area: we let them organize our safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro and we were more than satisfied. Furthermore, although they did not deal with these destinations, they gave us a hand with information for the Rubondo Island National Park and for reaching Zanzibar. Here you are the contact details of the owner's son Mehboob Rajabali who was incredibly kind and helpful: if you want any information or to plan a safari tailored to your needs, don't hesitate to contact him on Whatsapp on +255 784 505 786 or by email masumins@thenet.co.tz


Hisani Orphanage

Orfanotrofio Hisani, Tanzania

I know that if you are on this page and more generally on this blog, the reason is that you are looking for information on travel and want to read advice, itineraries, and maybe some tricks to save while traveling... so I apologize if I now take a couple of lines to talk briefly about an issue that is very close to my heart and which has little to do with travel. About 30 minutes from Mwanza, near a small village called Ilemela, stands the Hisani orphanage, which in Swahili indicates thanks, kindness and courtesy. We discovered this place thanks to Angelo who had already been there and to the IOR, which has supported the children hosted in Hisani for years and we left our hearts there. When we visited it in March it hosted 118 children aged 2 to 18-20 years old.

Orfanotrofio Hisani, Tanzania

Some of Hisani's children were orphaned due to HIV, which is widespread in these areas, while others were abandoned by their parents because they could not afford to raise them due to economic problems or because they were ill or had problems; still, others have suffered abuse in the family... this happens especially to albinos, who are saved and find a safe refuge in Hisani. I'll try to be brief and get to the point: we had brought with us 23kg of children's clothes to deliver to Hisani (we took another 23kg to another community) and then we bought soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, notebooks, pens, paints and some toys to give to Hisani's guests. On the street, as we headed to the orphanage, I felt very excited and happy imagining their happy and satisfied faces, I felt like I had collected a lot and really wanted to go there and make a difference.

Orfanotrofio Hisani, Tanzania

So, try to imagine my face when I got out of the car and discovered that there were 118 children and what I had with me wasn't even enough for 10 of them, all barefoot, with torn and threadbare clothes... so all this to tell you that if you're planning to travel to these areas and you have the opportunity to collect clothes from friends, relatives or acquaintances, bring them. You have no idea how useful they can be... even money can contribute a lot: in this case, don't hand it over directly but use it to buy hygiene products and school supplies. With what is just a few pennies here, you can really do a lot here. Whatever you do or however you manage to contribute, it will never be enough, so forgive me for this little space but it is an issue that is really close to my heart. Those smiling faces are unforgettable and filled me up like few other times it has happened in my life... so, if you intend to go, let me know so I can get you the contacts and arrange a visit!


Useful tips for your trip to Mwanza:

  • You can leave with either Euros or Dollars to be exchanged at the bank: they are both accepted without problems... life in Mwanza is very cheap so you don't need a lot of cash, unless you want to do the Safari then I advise you to bring enough cash to pay as credit cards are often not accepted;

  • To change money I recommend the bank in front of the Bugando Medical Center: it is safe and has excellent exchange rate prices;

  • Always pay attention to what you eat: prefer cooked foods, raw fruit and vegetables with thick skin, and avoid drinks that contain ice and are not sealed. Never, ever drink tap water and I recommend a good prophylaxis with lactic ferments for the entire duration of the trip;

  • Don't forget a good supply of medicines just in case: it's always better to be ready for anything;

  • Whatever time of year you are organizing your trip to Mwanza and Tanzania in general (rainy period or dry period) don't forget the sunscreen;

  • The electrical sockets are type G so I recommend you bring an adapter;

  • As regards health vaccinations, anti-malarial prophylaxis is strongly recommended, as Mwanza on Lake Victoria usually has many mosquitoes and malaria is endemic. Actually, we saw very few of them, maybe a couple during the whole trip, but it's still better to be cautious. A good anti-mosquito repellent is also essential, even if there are very few of them. It is essential that it contains at least 50% of the insect-repellent DEET: I usually use the Jungle Formula Very Strong Spray, recommended in areas with a high risk of malaria and other insect-borne diseases.

For more information on planning a trip to Tanzania on your own and everything you need to keep in mind before leaving READ ALSO: A perfect guide to plan a trip to Tanzania on your own - everything you need to know


Bidonville di Mwanza, Tanzania

Mwanza is a splendid city, often underestimated by tourists who go to Tanzania but in my opinion it is a unique and authentic place that Enrico and I loved deeply and where we would have gladly stayed for much longer. Once you have overcome the cultural shock, it is a place that can really give a lot and has a simple and authentic beauty that I have found in few other places in the world. So if you are planning a trip to Tanzania, make sure to include Mwanza in your itinerary and dedicate at least a couple of days to it, you won't regret it.


If you'd like to know more about my experience as a volunteer nurse in Mwanza, READ ALSO: 30 days as a volunteer nurse in Tanzania: from my travel diary at the Bugando Medical Center


Safari njema - have a good trip in Swahili


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