One-day trip to Kilwa ruins, ancient coastal settlement

Friday August 19 2022
The Portuguese fort in Kilwa built by Dom Franscisco de Almeida.

The Portuguese fort in Kilwa built by Dom Franscisco de Almeida. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Recently I made the 300 kilometres journey south of Dar es Salaam to Lindi region, to visit the Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara ruins, which are listed on the World Heritage.

I took a public service bus from Dar es Salaam ride to Kilwa Masoko, at a cost of Tsh20,000 ($8.5), the trip takes about four hours and buses are available the whole day. For those wishing to fly to Kilwa, it is 40 minutes by a small charter plane. For a personal car drive, the trip is slightly under four hours through Mtwara Road to Nangurukuru township in Kilwa district, about 298km away.

Public transport vehicles stop here for a breakfast break, before the final 32km to Kilwa. This town is important because it is the connecting point to Lindi, Kilwa town and Mtwara region.

I arrived about mid-morning. The ruins, facing the Indian Ocean to the east and the Selous Game Reserve to the west, are currently being excavated and restored by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.

Although the entire eastern seaboard from Sofala in Mozambique to Kismayu in Somalia is dotted with ancient Arab and Swahili settlements and Portuguese forts, Kilwa island is famous for having been the first to mint copper coins at the height of the trans-Indian Ocean trade, and attracting famous world travellers, according to my host and guide, Faki Mfaume.

The great Arab traveller, Ibn-Battuta, visited and stayed in Kilwa Kisiwani between 1331 and 1332, wrote about its beauty, and it was back then ranked among the most beautiful cities of the world, with the Great Mosque of Kilwa being the largest in the east African coastal strip.


The ruins of the mosques and Portuguese fort – built by Portuguese ship commander Dom Francisco de Almeida -- are still standing, and are the main attraction.

I also visited the nearby Kilwa Kivinje where ruins of ancient coral stone and lime houses and a mosque are still standing.

Before ending my day-long trip in Kilwa, I visited the Malindi mosque and Kilwa fort.

The graves and tombs of the Malindi cemetery and the mosque according to my guide are associated with a prominent family of the island, who originated from Malindi in the north coast of Kenya.

The ruins of the ancient Kilwa Mosque.

The ruins of the ancient Kilwa Mosque. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

A full tour of the island takes slightly over two hours, so one can plan for a half-day itinerary but if you incorporate bird watching and a picnic on the beach, then a full day is needed.

For visitors preferring private driving for more comfort, it costs about Tsh200,000 ($85) to hire a car to Kilwa Ruins per day, my host had informed me.

There are several tourist lodges offering full board accommodation such as Kimbilio Lodge, Slow Leopard, Kilwa Beach Lodge and Kilwa Sea View Resort. Away from the beach, guest houses in the town also offer decent accommodation at affordable rates.