When living in a big city like Dar es Salaam with its incessant traffic and hot clime, life can be a hustle and bustle. An escape to an idyllic island is, therefore, a most welcome break.
And it turns out you don’t have to go to Zanzibar for this. A few kilometres from the Dar es Salaam shoreline is a scattering of islands; among them is Mbudya, a marine reserve open to tourists where one can hike, camp or just enjoy a picnic on the beach.
We took a boat ride from the Belinda Ocean Resort on Mbezi Beach to the tranquil island. A return trip will cost you either Tsh20,000 ($12.3) per person for two, or Tsh15,000 ($9.25) per person if you are more than two.
The boat was nothing fancy, just a traditional dhow. Our captain was a lanky man in a jogging suit. He kept his phone in a black plastic bag. We would see why later. During the boat ride, water kept splashing into the open dhow.
Before long, the shore became a distant line and we were in the open sea surrounded by the vast blue waters. The gentle bobbing of the waves had a calming effect. The water was not rough enough to cause sea sickness.
The boat ride to the beach front at Mbudya Island took us 12 minutes.
The first sign — which, regrettably is only in English even though most Tanzanians speak Kiswahili — we learnt that litter is prohibited, and so is taking anything away from the island whether dead or alive.
Since Mbudya is a marine reserve, there is an entrance fee of Tsh2,000 ($1.2) for citizens and Tsh16,000 ($9.9) for foreigners. We found a vacant makuti shed at the only restaurant on the island — which, interestingly, is nameless, and shed off our land clothes for beach wear ready to soak up the atmosphere.
Since this marine reserve facility is the only built up area of the beach, we had to pay for the shed which costs Tsh10,000 ($6.17). We placed our orders for drinks and lunch at the restaurant counter. The menu is simple: Calamari with chips; fish and chips or lobster with chips for Tsh15,000, Tsh10,000 and Tsh25,000 ($15.4) respectively. We learnt that all the sea food is fresh from the ocean, delivered by fishermen on a daily basis.
The chef, Hassan told us he only uses “binzari nyembamba” also known as “Jeera” (cummin seeds), garlic and lemon to marinate the fish.
The marine reserve ranger Mzee Hussein Mwinyigogo later collected our entry fee to the park and gave us a brief on the island’s tourist attractions.
“Many tourists come here to see the coral reefs while snorkelling; we also offer a nature trail walk to see snakes and the rare coconut crabs which weigh about four kilos. Some camp here for weeks while doing research on particular animals like the coconut crab,” said Mzee Mwinyigogo.
He also explained to us the challenges of keeping the island clean. “Here at Mbudya, the beach is hardly polluted by its inhabitants. However, the rivers that flow from Dar es Salaam sweep dirt down here, which can be quite a nuisance. The good thing is that the sea naturally brings this trash onto the shore together with dead sea grass. We then use this mixture of sea grass and trash to create more beach front by burying it in the sand in piles, which encourages more sand formulation.”
On the type and frequency of visitors to the island, Mzee Mwinyigogo said: “Lately there have been more Tanzanians than in the past coming here. I used to get about 10-15 Tanzanians and about 150 foreigners per weekend. But just yesterday (a Saturday) I got 60 Tanzanians and 32 foreigners, and the previous Saturday I received 70 Tanzanians and 38 foreigners.”
On why the information banner is in English, he said that it was placed there decades ago when virtually all the tourists were foreign. He concurred that one in Kiswahili is needed since the growth of local tourism had brought with it the problem of litter.
The marine authorities are also thinking of banning all forms of packed foods and plastic bags from the Mainland, thus forcing tourists to buy food from the island’s restaurant to avoid litter. He said plastic bags have been known to kill baby turtles when they eat sea grass entangled with plastic.
Above all, the island day trip is a good cheap getaway.