Founded as a German administrative centre by the Emin Pasha in 1890, Bukoba is the regional headquarters of Kagera Region, and the second largest port on the Tanzanian part of Lake Victoria, with a population estimated at around 100,000 is far smaller than that of Musoma. Bukoba is situated about 50km south of the Uganda border on a lush, moist and hilly stretch of lakeshore that supports a thriving coffee industry as well as recently discovered deposits of nickel and cobalt that are likely to be exploited in the near future. The main food crop and dietary staple of the Bukoba area, as in Uganda, is batoke (or matoke), a large green banana that is roasted or steamed, and eaten in much the same manner as ugali elsewhere in Tanzania.
Bukoba’s flat, compact town centre is dominated by several mid-20th-century Asian buildings – most in a poor state of repair – and lies about 1km inland of the lakeshore, to which it is connected by the leafy Jamhuri Avenue. At the lake end of Jamhuri Road, near the Lake View Hotel, stands a cluster of old German buildings, including the old Boma and Magistrate’s Court, the original post office, the German cemetery, and the first general store, known locally as duka kubwa (‘big shop’). The main port and ferry terminal is situated on a separate part of the lakeshore, about 3km from the town centre along Government Road. There is little in the way of sightseeing in Bukoba, but it is an agreeable place. Points of interest include the impressive Catholic Cathedral built by Bishop Hirth between 1893 and 1904, and the marshy area between the town and the lake, which supports a surprisingly large variety of waterbirds. Further afield, Musira Island, which lies a short distance from the shore and is accessible by boat, has a small fishing village and is enjoyable to visit. Nyamukazi is a picturesque fishing village about 20 minutes’ walk from town, on the other side of the airport. More remote excursions from Bukoba include the bird-rich Minziro Forest Reserve and Bwanjai Rock Art.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Air The airport is on Aerodrome Road alongside the lake. Precision Air currently operates daily flights connecting Bukoba to Mwanza, with connections to Arusha, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Flights can be booked through Precision Air’s website (www.precisionairtz.com), Kiroyera Tours(see below) or Bukoba Machinery (Ø 028-2220545 . In addition, Auric Air Services (m 0783 233334; www.auricair.com) operates a daily charter flight to/from Mwanza for US$100 one-way.
Ferry The MV Victoria sails overnight between Mwanza and Bukoba three times a week in either direction. It leaves from Mwanza at 21.00 every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday and from Bukoba at the same time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The trip takes about 12 hours in either direction. One way-fares work out at around US$19 for a 1st class cabin, US$14 for 2nd class sleeping, US$11 for 2nd class sitting and US$10 3rd class. Kiroyera Tours (see below) can book and reserve tickets in advance for an extra US$3.
Bus The main bus stand is in the centre of town. For long-haul buses, Mohamed Trans, Sumry High Class, RS Bus, Osaka Raha run coaches directly to Dar es Salaam (24 hours, US$35 per person). Mohammed Trans, Bunda and Bukoba Coaches all run daily buses to/from Mwanza (7 hours fare, US$13). Tickets can be booked in advance at the nearby bus offices, but it’s much simpler to book through Kiroyera Tours [437 B2]. Other buses go to Kigoma, Kasulu and Kibondo. Dala-dalas run to smaller towns such Muleba, Nshamba, Rubya and Karagwe for Tsh4,000–5,000. They leave when full, which can often involve a very long wait, and are very crowded. Taxis can be found at the market, near the bus stand and at the port, and charge at least Tsh3,000 for a charter trip in town.
Travellers who visit Bukoba by land generally do so on their way to or from Uganda. Friends Coach and Jaguar run daily buses between Kampala and Bukoba (5–6 hours, US$10 via Masaka and the Mutukula border post. It is also possible to do the trip in hops, using minibus-taxis from Kampala to Masaka and on to Mutukula, then local transport between the border and Bukoba, but this takes a lot longer and won’t cost significantly less.
TOURIST INFORMATION The dynamicaward-winning Kiroyera Tours ([437 B2] Ø 028 222 0203; m 0784 568276; e firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.kiroyeratours.com) is an excellent source of local information, and maintains an informative tourist website http://www.kagera.com. It can arrange a wide variety of inexpensive guided tours to local attractions such as the Kagera Museum, Musila Island, Minziro Forest, Rubale Forest and various waterfalls, cave, rock art shelters and sites relating to Bahaya history and culture. They also organise short safaris to Rubondo Island, and serve as a booking agent for Precision Air, the ferry to Mwanza, and most long-haul bus services,
WHERE TO STAY
A Walkgard Westland Hotel [437 C7] (30 rooms) Ø 028 222 0935/; m 0713 482423; e email@example.com; http://www.walkgard.com. Situated on breezy Balamaga Hill 3km from the town centre, this is easily the smartest accommodation option in Kigoma, with a grandstand position overlooking the port & good facilities including a swimming pool. US$35/45 ensuite sgl/dbl with AC, DSTV & hot water; US$75 suites.
A Balamaga B&B [437 C7] (4 rooms) m 0787 757289; e firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.balamagabb.com. Further up the same hill as the Walkgard, this lovely little B&B, boasting great views & an idyllic garden setting, is a refreshing alternative to the bland, run-of-the-mill hotel rooms offered elsewhere in Bukoba. Accommodation in 4 bright, airy rooms – 2 with dbl bed & en-suite, 2 with twin beds & shared bathroom – & satellite TV. Meals are also available. From US$27/42 ensuite sgl/dbl.
A ELCT Bukoba Hotel [437 D5] (22 rooms) Ø 028 222 3121; m 0754 415404; e email@example.com; http://www.elctbukobahotel.com. Situated close to the Lake Hotel & within walking distance of the airport, this efficient church-run hostel has comfortable clean AC rooms, a small restaurant serving inexpensive meals, & a curio shop, internet café & communal TV room. No alcohol. From US$35 ensuite dbl.
A Victorious Perch Hotel (20 rooms) Ø 028 222 0115; m 0756 189475; e firstname.lastname@example.org; www.victoriousperchhotel.com. The new hotel is strategically located in the centre of Bukoba town. Comfortable rooms have modern furnishing and modern amenities. From US$30 dbl.
A Lake Hotel [437 D5] (14 rooms) m 0754 767964. Boasting a scenic location at the lakeshore end of Jamhuri Av & overhung with an aura of fading colonial charm, this rambling old hotel has drab but spacious en-suite dbls with TV, fan & net. There’s a lovely outdoor garden & restaurant. US$8-15, depending on size. .
A Yasila Top Hotel [437 C7] Ø 028 222 1251. This evergreen hotel has a lovely beachfront location near to the port & large en-suite rooms with king size bed, lake-facing balcony, fridge, TV, AC & telephone. It’s a good place to eat or drink while you wait to board the ferry. US$15/25 en-suite.
t Kiroyera Campsite (5 bandas) [437 D6] Ø 028 222 0203; e email@example.com; http://www.kiroyeratours.com. Right on the beach overlooking Lake Victoria & only a few min walk from the centre of town, this perfectly positioned new campsite operated by Kiroyera Tours is a great choice for budget travellers. There are clean facilities, hammocks to laze in & a volleyball court if you’re feeling active, as well as a lively beach bar & restaurant serving tasty pizzas & large plates of fish, chicken & chips. Traditional banda US$10 pp; camping US$4 pp (own tent) or US$5 pp to rent a tent with night born fire and a pub with cold drink –
A Spice Beach Motel [437 C7] Ø 028 222 0142. This pleasant beach hotel near the Yasila Hotel and ferry jetty has inexpensive food and beers, and en-suite rooms with TV, hot water & AC. US$10 dbl
WHERE TO EAT and drink Recommended for cheap lunches and snacks is the Rose Café [437 B3], which serves matoke, beans, samosas, fruit juice etc, and is popular with volunteers working in and around Bukoba. The Kolping Café [437 C3] opposite the Kahawa Guest House near the cathedral dishes up inexpensive fish, meat, rice and matoke and has a TV..
For evening meals, the Lake Hotel [437 D5] is recommended for its view of the lake and good variety of food and drink. The satellite TV and outdoor beer garden makes it a popular Mzungu hangout, particularly on Friday nights. Also recommended is the restaurant at the Yaasila Top Hotel [437 C7],which serves a good variety of food and has a nice location, with two pool tables, darts and TV. Cheaper options include the lakeshore Bukoba Club (opposite the Lake Hotel) [437 D5] and Spice Beach Hotel [437 C7].
If you’re self-catering, or want to stock up on packaged goods before visiting Minziro Forest or catching the ferry, the Fido Dido Supermarket [437 B2] and Cosmopolitan Provision Store [437 B3] stock packaged and refrigerated imported goods, including bread and many types of biscuits and drinks.
The top spot in town for after hours entertainment is the effervescent Lina’s Nightclub [437 B4] which is open 24 hours, with a DJ on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. If you are nervous about clubbing alone, Kiroyera Tours or campsite can arrange an escort.
Foreign exchange The NBC near the Catholic Cathedral [437 B3] has an ATM that accepts foreign Visa and MasterCard, as well as foreign exchange facilities, but it doesn’texchange Ugandan Shillings – you’re best off trading any excess Ugandan money for Tanzanian currency at the border post. The CRDB nextto Bukoba Cyber Centre also accepts Visa ands MasterCard.
Internet The best options are theBukoba Cyber Centre [437 A2] (near the CRDB, and the Post Office Internet Café [437 B3]. Both stay open until 20.00 except on Sunday. There is also a reliable internet café at the ELCT Conference & Training Centre [437 D5].
Swimming There is no swimming pool in town, but you can swim at the Walkgard Westland Hotel [437 C7] for a daily entrance fee of around US$2. A number of nearby beaches, including Bunena, lie within easy walking distance of town. The lake is infested with bilharzia, however, so swimming anywhere carries an element of risk.
Sporting facilities The Bukoba Club [437 D5] has tennis, snooker, table tennis and darts. The Kaitaba Stadium [437 C4] hosts football matches and other events including concerts and the annual celebration of Farmers Day on 8 August. The Red Cross [437 A3] has a basketball court and volleyball net.
WHAT TO SEE
Kagera Museum [437 D1] (Ø 028 222 0203; f 028 222 0009; e firstname.lastname@example.org; ø 09.30–18.00 daily; entrance US$2 pp) This small museum houses a superb collection of wildlife photographs taken by Danish wildlife photographer Dick Persson, whose work is also displayed at the National Museum in Dar es Salaam, as well as a small exhibit of traditional tools and artefacts. The quickest way to get there is to walk east along the lakeshore past the airstrip, then turn left and follow the signs. While this is the route promoted by the museum, it cannot be recommended as you’re not in fact allowed to walk over the airstrip. The longer route follows Sokoine Street northeast as it rambles its way around the top end of the airstrip, from where the museum is again signed. Alternatively, you can arrange a guided walking tour with Kiroyera Tours which cost US$5 per person excluding entrance fee.
Katuruka Heritage Site Only 12km south of Bukoba, this recently established heritage site protects the remains of one of the most ancient and important Iron Age settlements this part of East Africa. It was the location of the 17th century palace King Rugomora Mahe, and is still the site of an important shrine called Kaiija dedicated to an ancient rain god called Mugasha. Two massive fig trees within the palace boundaries mark a far more ancient landmark, an iron smelter that appears to have been active circa 500BC, the oldest evidence of iron age activity in this part of Africa. Katuruka is about 30 minutes from Bukoba by dala-dala, and opening hours are 09.00-16.30 daily except Tue. Entrance costs around US$7 and includes an informative guided tour.
Bwanjai Rock Art Half a dozen ancient rock art sites are dotted around northern Kagera, of which the most impressive is a large rock shelter at the village of Bwanjai, about 25km northwest of Bukoba, and linked to it by erratic dala-dalas. Unlike the better-known Kondoa rock art sites, there are no naturalistic efforts on the Bwanjai panel, nor any animal portraits, although a few heavily stylised human figures are present. The panel is otherwise dominated by blocks of red dots, and a cluster of strange symbols that look a bit like a tripod with antennae at the top. What these symbols might signify is anybody’s guess, since local people have no tradition relating to the paintings except that they have always been there. It has been suggested the Bwanjai paintings are relatively recent, possibly the work of Bantu-speakers living in the area prior to the 16th century formation of the Karagwe Empire.
Minziro Forest Reserve This 250km2 reserve abuts the Uganda border some 20km inland of Lake Victoria, where it is bounded to the east by the Kagera River. One of the largest forest reserves anywhere in Tanzania, Minziro is essentially a southern extension of Uganda’s Malabigambo Forest, which runs northwards to Sango Bay. The topography of the reserve is generally flat, but dotted with small rocky hills, and most areas below 1,150m are subject to seasonal flooding from the Kagera between October and May. Roughly three-quarters of the reserve is comprised of groundwater forest, with a tree composition divided about equally between western lowland and eastern montane species, while the remainder is predominantly open grassland, with extensive papyrus beds running along the riverbanks.
Minziro is unique within Tanzania for the predominantly West African affinities of its fauna. This is perhaps most evident in the birdlife, which had received little attention prior to a pioneering ornithological trip undertaken by Neil and Liz Baker in 1984. This and subsequent expeditions have produced a formative bird checklist of approximately 250 species, of which 56 are restricted to the Guinea-Congo biome and unknown elsewhere else in Tanzania – representing about 5% of the national checklist! It should be noted that this is essentially a political rather than a biological phenomenon – had the boundaries drawn up by the European colonists been slightly different, Minziro might lie within Uganda, where most of its Guinea-Congo biome species are common.
Nevertheless, Minziro is an extremely alluring birding destination. A long list of birds recorded nowhere else in Tanzania includes forest francolin, great blue turaco, white-bellied kingfisher, shining blue kingfisher yellow-crested woodpecker, orange-throated forest robin, lowland akalat, blue-shouldered robin-chat, fire-crested alethe, white-tailed ant thrush, chestnut wattle-eye, red-headed bluebill, and at least half a dozen greenbuls. In addition to this, the grasslands of the Minziro-Sango Bay area have been recently confirmed as an important wintering ground for the endangered blue swallow, a migrant from further south, and the papyrus swamps along the Kagera River harbour the globally threatened (and very beautiful) papyrus gonolek.
Another indication of Minziro’s biodiversity is a tally of at least 500 butterfly species. Large mammals are more poorly represented, probably partially the result of local subsistence poaching, but the forest’s western affiliations are manifested in three monkey species (Angola colobus, grey-cheeked mangabey and red-tailed monkey), as well as red-legged sun squirrel, western tree hyrax (vociferous at night) and Peter’s Duiker. Buffalo and elephant visit the reserve seasonally, the bushbuck is common in the forest, and hippopotami are present but rare along the river, which also supports a substantial population of crocodiles and monitor lizards.
The village of Minziro, within the forest reserve, lies approximately 90km from Bukoba, a drive of less than two hours in dry conditions. To get there, first follow the road towards the Uganda border inland for 55km to the small town of Kyaka, crossing a bridge over the Kagera River, then passing though the Kyaka checkpoint, where you must turn right onto the district road to Minziro. This road passes through some Eucalyptus plantations and then through banana plots of the local Haya people, approaching a small hill known locally as Kele, which is a dominant topographical feature. From there on the road traverses the forest reserve, passing through the grassland and a block of the forest proper, emerging again into grassland before eventually climbing rising ground into Minziro village. From the track up to the church on top of the hill above the village one can obtain a good view of the extent of the forest on both sides of the cleared strip marking the Uganda border.
The road to Minziro is in good condition and accessible to normal two-wheel drive vehicles, but 4×4 and good ground clearance is necessary for off-road excursions, which are advisable only from July to September when the swampy ground has dried out. There are no local guesthouses at Minziro, so visitors wishing to overnight in the forest reserve must camp out, after first obtaining the necessary permit from the Forestry Office in Bukoba.
(c) Philip Briggs 2012