On the Shores of Lake Victoria in Mwanza and on to the Serengeti

In early 2007, I went to Tanzania for work reasons and I was excited to get to this part of Africa.  Two other entries in this blog cover the trip over and  some observations about Dar es Salaam.  This entry will share more of the logistical items about my visit to Mwanza, the actual stories of what I saw once there (field visits, the city, and the Serengeti) merit their own to-be-written entries and I don’t want to make this entry too long!

Part of the reason to be sent to Tanzania, as I may have mentioned in earlier entries, was to better understand my organization’s operations in the developing world.  I was fairly new to the organization so this was to be part of my onboarding, if you will.  There were a few places in Tanzania to potentially visit but we settled on a 1-day visit to Zanzibar and a 4-5 day visit to Mwanza, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Getting to Mwanza

To get to Mwanza, I flew Air Tanzania as land travel is extremely slow (there is a train and some sort of road but nothing that would make for an easy and speedy trip; the latter being more important due to time constraints).  The plane was brand new and very well kept.  I was not sure what to expect but the service and the food were quite good and I felt quite safe flying the local airline.   I landed in Mwanza and, though I have flown to a smaller airport (Contadora Island in Panama), I was amused by smallness of the airport and the baggage claim area:  a wall divided the area where the plane was from baggage claim and a big rectangular hole in the wall was where the baggage handlers placed the luggage to then be claimed by the passengers.

Mwanza airport in Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria

Mwanza airport

Lodging in the City

I was picked up at the airport and taken to a hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria, named Hotel Tilapia (http://www.hoteltilapia.com/).  There were different types of rooms  and over the few days I was there,  I got to try one of the rooms in the building and one of the rooms on the docked boat (the Buganda, which appeared in the movie the African Queen!).  (I didn’t stay at the bungalows, the 3rd type of room.)

Tilapia Hotel House Boat Buganda in Mwanza, Tanzania

The Buganda

The one on the Buganda was rather interesting as the boat (which was well docked and tied up so it didn’t move) was sort of tilted.  Also, my window to the water wasn’t really sealed so I wondered what creatures would come in during the night…  Actually, both rooms were well fumigated so I actually saw no critter in either one (a key success factor for me even if the spray they use daily in the rooms is toxic to ANY living creature!).

The best feature of this hotel was being on Lake Victoria.  There was an outdoor bar and restaurant area by the water which, as long as you had put on some mosquito spray, was quite enjoyable.  Clearly, there are other hotels in Mwanza and I didn’t get to see them so there may be better options but this one worked well for me.

The Tilapia Hotel's bar area right by the shores of Lake Victoria

The Tilapia Hotel’s bar area right by the shores of Lake Victoria

Mwanza

Mwanza is blessed to be located on Lake Victoria and not terribly far from the western entrance to the Serengeti.  It is the second largest city in Tanzania after Dar es Salaam (located on the Indian Ocean coast).  I traveled the Mwanza region visiting projects with work which was a neat way to see the area. Some of the projects I visited had to do with village savings and loans (economic livelihood improvement projects).  Everyone was very friendly to this visitor!!

Village savings and loan group in Tanzania

Village savings and loan group 1

Village savings and loan group in Tanzania

Village savings and loan group 2

Being on the lake, it is a port (other countries bordering the lake include Kenya and Uganda).  One of the natural features of the lake are the rock formations which you also see on land.  The most famous of the rock formations is Bismarck’s Rock right by the shore.

Bismarck Rock in Mwanza (Tanzania), by Lake Victoria

Bismarck’s Rock

The city of Mwanza was very manageable and there seemed to be a  lot of economic activity at the time.  It was a great base to explore the lake area and enter the Serengeti from the west.

Downtown Mwanza, Tanzania

Downtown Mwanza

Downtown Mwanza, Tanzania

Downtown Mwanza

Lodging near the Serengeti

I did overnight in another part of the Mwanza region because I was going into the Serengeti (from the western entrance) the following day and since you want to be there at the crack of dawn, driving from Mwanza was not going to work.  So I stayed at the Speke’s Bay Lodgehttp://www.spekebay.com/ ), run by some Dutch (if memory serves me right).  They built the lodge area (bungalows and tent area) and they cleared the reeds/bushes from the shores of the bay and actually created a beach (which apparently is very difficult to keep clear of reeds so it is a labor of love, I suppose).

Speke Bay Lodge on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Speke Bay Lodge – my lodge

Speke Bay Lodge room by Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Speke Bay Lodge room by the shore of the lake

The “beach” looks very nice but not a beach you would walk around at night – the hippos are not far away and may meander through the beach!  I stayed at a bungalow by the lake (the ground where the bungalows are is at a higher level than the beach so I assume the hippos can’t get up there, or so I hoped!).  All night long I could hear the hippos – I could have sworn they were right outside my window!  (They were not.)   The hotel shuts off electricity at some point in the evening so it was an early night which suited me fine because of the early start.  However, it was a very hot night and I didn’t think it wise to open the sliding door…  One good thing was that the bed had a mosquito net and was quite comfortable.

View from Speke Bay Lodge in Tanzania

Lots of wildlife around Speke Bay Lodge

Sunset on the shores of Lake Victoria at Speke Bay Lodge

Sunset on the beach at Speke Bay Lodge

Unfortunately, I did not spend too much time at the lodge because of all the visits on the day on my check-in and because of the very early check-out the next day.  However, I had a great meal at their restaurant where a group of Canadians were nice enough to ask me to join them since I was on my own and the grounds were very beautiful and well kept.

There are likely other options (the lodge was on the more expensive side) that may make more sense but I generally went were I was taken so cannot offer other suggestions.

The area around Lake Victoria is beautiful and the memories of nature and people will last me a lifetime…

Sunset on Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Sunset on Lake Victoria

Does someone else have insights into other hotels in the city of Mwanza and accommodations near the western entrance to the Serengeti? Can anyone comment on traveling by road or train instead of flying there?

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