The Old Boma, Mikindani, Tanzania
One of Tanzania’s best kept secrets, and one of the most unusual and charming places to stay on the entire East African coast. The Old Boma, a magnificent German fort dating from 1895, has been handsomely restored to create a smart 9-bedroom hotel in a remote, fascinating and little-visited location.
A quiet, historic and half-forgotten port town on the far-flung southern coast of Tanzania is not necessarily where one expects to find such a very special and distinctive place to stay – and the very unlikeliness and unexpectedness of The Old Boma only adds to its considerable appeal and charm. Way off the beaten track and away from Tanzania’s tourist trails, there can be few better places in the region to really relax and get away from it all – and to enjoy a gentler pace of life in such beautiful and welcoming surroundings.
All the hotel’s elegant, high-ceilinged and spacious bedrooms are named after historic notables – from David Livingstone who visited Mikindani in 1866, to Julius Nyerere first President of Tanzania, to Von Lettow-Vorbeck the undefeated commander of German forces in the region during World War One. The four superior rooms have balconies facing the sea and air conditioning, and all the bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms and views of the sea, gardens or swimming pool, traditional hand-carved beds and other locally-crafted furniture, pictures and bedspreads.
“Thank you and all the staff for the most wonderful stay. The Old Boma far exceeded our expectations and really was the highlight of our trip. We have stayed in many hotels around the world and throughout Africa and I can honestly say that The Old Boma is amongst the very best. Apart from the friendly and very willing staff and all the facilities, the building itself is so beautiful and has been wonderfully restored by Trade Aid.”
Judy and Tim Carruthers, UK
The Poolside Restaurant reflects the different local and colonial influences found in Mikindani – the cooking best described as ‘Swahili fusion’, with spices and flavours from East Africa mixed with traditional Western recipes. There are always a number of delicious seafood dishes, along with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs from the hotel’s own kitchen garden. The fully-licensed bar offers all kinds of beers, wines, juices and cocktails including the house speciality – the ‘Boma Bee Sting’.
The large freshwater swimming pool is particularly inviting – it is surrounded by sun loungers and shaded by palms and flame trees and frangipani. The hotel’s brand new Afya Spa offers a variety of massages and beauty therapies in a comfortable and tranquil new treatment room, with staff specially trained in specific treatments in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
The Old Boma sits in a lovely breezy hillside position looking out over Mikindani’s sheltered bay and harbour to the Indian Ocean, and enjoys beautiful sea views from sunrise to sunset. Mikindani is a friendly and sleepy little town, unchanged in many decades, with winding sandy streets and a number of historic colonial and Swahili Arab buildings, some dating back as far as the 17th Century.
“This place is great! The building and grounds have been renovated with incredible attention to detail and have been cared for beautifully. The rooms are full of character, there are plenty of lovely places to sit and take in the scenery and everyone who works here is warm and welcoming.”
Charlie, Washington DC, 2015
A wide variety of activities and excursions are available from the Old Boma, including guided tours around the local historic and cultural sites and markets, PADI operated diving trips, trips on traditional sailing dhows and expeditions to idyllic beaches. The hotel can also arrange visits to the Mozambique border and Ruvuma River for hippo and crocodile spotting, and to the beautiful and remote Rondo Plateau and Forest Reserve.
The Old Boma is run by Trade Aid, a charitable trust which rescued and renovated the hotel buildings and now provides vocational education, training and employment within the local community. The hotel is entirely staffed by local people supported by Tanzanian managers and European volunteers. Trade Aid also runs and supports other community projects in the areas of conservation, enterprise, education and the environment in the Mikindani area.
- “Southern Tanzania’s best hotel by miles”
- Spacious, authentic and beautifully-renovated accommodation.
- Excellent restaurant and bar, swimming pool and spa.
- Numerous activities and excursions available.
- Double Rooms from £75 to £110 bed & breakfast.
- Single Room £50 bed & breakfast
Accommodation and Facilities
- 4 superior double / triple bedrooms with air-conditioning and balconies
- 4 standard double / twin bedrooms
- 1 standard single bedroom
- All bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms
- Freshwater swimming pool
- Poolside restaurant
- Licensed bar
- Spa offering massages and beauty treatments
- Colourful gardens
Activities and Excursions
- Cultural and historic visits
- Dhow sailing and fishing
- Unspoilt beaches
- Diving and snorkelling
- Mozambique border and Rovuma River
- Rondo Plateau and Forest Reserve
- Community and Conservation projects
Mikindani – ‘the place of young palm trees’ in Kiswahili – is an old port town that was once the centre of trade in southern Tanzania. The original inhabitants, the Makonde people who are still noted for their expertise in wood carving, were joined around the 9th Century AD by Arab traders. A further influx of Arabs occurred in the 17th century under the reign of Sultan Seyyid Said – and graves and ruined mosques from this period can still be seen there.
The town is located on the gently sloping hills of the southern coast of Mikindani Harbour, a small roughly heart-shaped natural harbour off Mikindani Bay. With a narrow entrance to the ocean and a sheltered anchorage, it was a welcome respite from the perils of the unpredictable Indian Ocean for explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the protected lagoon has made a safe harbour and trading post for generations of fishermen and merchants.
It was from here that David Livingstone departed for his last voyage into the interior of Africa in 1866 – he praised Mikindani’s harbour as being perhaps the best anchorage on the whole of the East African coast. Trade Aid, the charitable trust responsible for The Old Boma hotel have recently renovated Livingstone House, a building where the explorer is reputed to have stayed, and are also involved in other conservation and environmental projects in the town.
In the late 19th century under German colonial rule trade grew in the area’s natural resources of rubber, sisal, coconuts and oil seed. The boma, a slave market, a prison and a dock were constructed. With the arrival of the British at the end of the First World War, Mikindani remained an important administrative post until 1947, when the British developed the port in neighbouring Mtwara as part of the infamous and unsuccessful Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme.
As the centre for trade and administration moved to Mtwara, Mikindani’s focus shifted back to fishing and agriculture, the town declined further and was left frozen in time for many decades. Due to its proximity to the Northern border of Mozambique the area was off-limits to tourists during the 1977-1994 Mozambican civil war, and this combined with poor infrastructure and communications ensured the area remained isolated and underdeveloped but unspoilt.
Today’s Mikindani is a fascinating and atmospheric old town, with a range of cultural influences from Africa, Arabia, India and Europe which reflect the East African coast’s unique Swahili culture. Its buildings demonstrate an interesting blend of local, colonial and Arabic-influenced architecture with tin-roofed terraces, carved doors and thick coral stone walls. Crumbling Arab buildings from the 17th century still stand in the town today, although most buildings were erected during the first half of the twentieth century.
Mtwara, 6 miles south of Mikindani, the regional centre and the largest town in southern Tanzania has a recently expanded deep-water port that can accommodate ocean-going vessels. It is now linked by paved roads with Dar es Salaam and Lindi to the north and Masasi inland and by partially paved roads to Newala inland to the west. Beyond Masasi the road is newly paved for some 60 km towards Tunduru and the newly-built Unity Bridge which provides a crossing point to Mozambique.
Beyond Mtwara lies the idyllic peninsula of Msimbati which has a beautiful 15 km long sandy beach and is located within the Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve. The protected coral reefs provide excellent snorkelling and diving, even for the novice, and some are very close to the shore. The beach shelves away gradually so swimming at low or high tide is good, and a trip to Msimbati makes a perfect day excursion from Mikindani
Msimbati was also home to colonial civil servant and noted eccentric Latham Leslie-Moore, alleged to be the illegitimate son of King Edward VII and illegitimate grandson of Queen Victoria. In 1959 Leslie-Moore declared Msimbati’s independence from colonial Tanganyika and declared himself Sultan of this small kingdom – but his sultanate did not last and Latham-Moore ended up living in Kenya, first in Shela village on Lamu island and then in Nanyuki where he died in 1980. The ruins of his house ‘Wind’s Whisper’ can be found among the cashew nut trees and coconut palms beside the beach.
How to get there
Mikindani is on the main tarmac B2 road from Dar es Salaam to Mtwara. The journey south is approximately 500km and should take six to eight hours. There are a number of interesting places to stop or visit on the way including the Selous Game Reserve and the ancient port city of Kilwa.
There are regular flights between Dar es Salaam and Mtwara with Precision Air and Air Tanzania – the flight takes approximately one hour. Mtwara is just 6 miles south of Mikindani and The Old Boma can arrange a private transfer from the airport to the hotel.
“A beautifully restored building on a breezy hilltop overlooking the town and Mikindani Bay. It offers spacious, atmospheric, high-ceilinged doubles and the closest to top-end standards that you’ll find in these parts. There’s a sunset terrace overlooking the bay, a pool surrounded by bougainvillea bushes and lush gardens, and a restaurant.”
Lonely Planet Tanzania, 2015
“This place is great! The building and grounds have been renovated with incredible attention to detail and have been cared for beautifully. The rooms are full of character, there are plenty of lovely places to sit and take in the scenery and everyone who works here is warm and welcoming. I stayed in the tower room, which has access to a trap door that lets you out onto the top of the fort’s tower – how can you go wrong with that! I only stayed for one night, but it seems like there are lots of worthwhile excursions and you could happily spend a few days exploring. The Old Boma is fantastic! Don’t pass up the chance to go if you are nearby.”
Charlie, Washington DC, 2015
“This is a brilliant little hotel down on the south coast of Tanzania. It was originally the local German administration offices hence its imposing location above the village of Mikindani. These types of buildings can be seen up along the coast but all are in a dismal state of repair. The Old Boma however has been restored to its former glory with an incredible view over the natural harbour. I really enjoyed a sundowner watching the fishing dhows streaming through the narrow inlet.
What impressed me about this hotel was its involvement with the local community, providing English and computer training along with hotel training and entrepreneurship. They recently helped a local with some beehives. He now makes his living supplying honey to the Old Boma along with other hotels in the area and so your breakfast honey could not be fresher (or tastier)! Finally the staff and trainees were so friendly, eager to stop and say hi and share a few jokes. I look forward to returning!”
Brendan, Dublin, 2014
“On the hill behind the village, the German Boma has been sensitively restored and beautifully converted into the luxurious Old Boma Hotel. Built in 1895 as the seat of the German colonial administration, the single-towered limewashed building is the town’s most distinctive and attractive landmark, combining German, Arab and Swahili architectural elements. Visitors are welcome to look around – on entering, check out the stunning door carvings, the work of Gulum Dosa, who also carved the mosque’s doorway. Inside is a cool courtyard, with rooms arranged around it on two floors. one corner of the building has a three-storey tower with crenelated battlements, resembling an Andalusian minaret. The gardens surrounding the Boma are attractive too, with colourful frangipani and flame trees providing shade and shelter for blue monkeys”.
Lonely Planet Tanzania, 2015