Some 80km west of Katesh, this modestly sized town is most often visited by travellers bussing or driving to the Lake Victoria region via Shinyanga. Set at an elevation of 1,500m, it is most notable for the pair of Rift Valley lakes on its outskirts, in particular the shallow and hypersaline Lake Singida, a surreal apparition whose eerie green waters are offset by a shimmering white salt-encrusted shore and weird rock formations. Only 15 minutes’ walk from the town centre, Lake Singida (together with the more distant Lake Kindai) is listed as an Important Bird Area, attracting thousands of lesser flamingo when the water level is suitable. There’s also a small regional museum (out past the J-Four Motel) and facilities include a good internet café close to the bus station, and a couple of banks.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY Coming from the east, Singida lies 350km from Arusha, a day’s drive assuming you’ve no interest in stopping along the way. The thrice-daily nine-hour Mtei Express Coach between Arusha and Singida via Katesh and Babati is recommended, but other buses also cover the route in full or in hops.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
A J-Four Singida Motel Ø 026 250 2193. This rustic lodge lies 500m from the bus station on the road to Lake Singida. It has a slightly down-at-heel feel & the green grounds don’t really compensate. US$15 en-suite dbl with hot water, net, fan & TV.
A Stanley Motel Ø 026 250 2351; f 026 250 2285. Set at the base of the large rock outcrop that overlooks the town centre, this reliable stalwart has a good restaurant, en-suite rooms with net, fan, hot water & TV, as well as rooms using common showers. See http://stanleygroupofhotels.com/ for rates.
A Lutheran Guesthouse Ø 026 250 2013. Clean accommodation with common showers. US$5 dbl.
X Shana Resort Prominently & promisingly signposted all over town, this small restaurant serves chipsi mayai & other cheap local favourites.
ALONG THE SINGIDA–SHINYANGA ROAD
Two of Tanzania’s Important Bird Areas, both part of the Wembere River System associated with Lake Eyasi, are accessible from the road between Singida and Shinyanga. Lake Kitangiri, which lies about 20km north of the main road, close to Sekenke, is a shallow and moderately saline Rift Valley lake set below a 500m-high scarp at the western base of the Mbulu Highlands. The reed-lined shore and mudflats harbour a wide variety of waders and waterfowl, but the main attraction is sporadic concentrations of up to 500,000 flamingo.
West of the turn-off to Lake Kitangiri, the road crosses the Wembere Steppe, one of the largest seasonal wetlands in Tanzania, extending over 1,000km2 and more than 30km wide in parts. This is an important breeding ground for waterbirds, including reed cormorant, yellow-billed stork and glossy ibis. The site is particularly rich in herons and relatives, including relatively scarce and elusive species such as the black egret, white-backed and black-capped night herons, purple and Goliath herons, and dwarf and little bitterns. The patches of acacia woodland also support a diversity of birds, including four species endemic to the Serengeti biome: Fischer’s lovebird, rufous-tailed weaver, Karamoja apalis and grey-throated spurfowl.
Nzega, the largest town along this road, 77km south of Shinyanga, has an assortment of places to bed down for the night. The pick of these is the Forest Inn Hotel (Ø 062 269 2555), which lies in green gardens about 1km west of the town centre and charges around US$10 for a neat, clean en-suite double with netting, fan and TV. Cheaper central options include Fourways Executive Lodging (Ø 062 669 2535) and Nzega Hotel (Ø 062 669 2534).
Set on the dusty plains that slope towards Lake Victoria, Shinyanga is a large yet oddly unmemorable town whose post-World War II economic heyday was founded on a cotton boom and on the local gold and diamond mining industry. Diamonds are still mined at Mwadui, 40km further north, and several small dealerships are scattered around town, but that aside Shinyanga now has a rather subdued aura – here, every day really is like Sunday – and there’s not much in the way of local sightseeing. Its dusty Wild West aura is enhanced by the fabulous granite outcrops that dot the surrounding landscape, and run-down colonial buildings that serve as an anachronistic memento of headier days.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY Shinyanga lies 165km south of Mwanza by road, and roughly 320km northwest of Singida, along roads that are greatly improved of late. There are good bus services in both directions: Mwanza to Shinyanga takes four to five hours and Singida to Shinyanga the best part of a full day. Shinyanga lies on the central railway line between Dar es Salaam and Mwanza, and all trains stop here, but seldom at convenient times.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
A Shinyanga Hotel [410 G1] Ø 028 276 2369/2458. This dazzling orange 3-storey hotel opposite the railway station is easily the best in town, offering a variety of large clean en-suite dbls with fan, TV, hot water & balcony. The garden bar faces the railway station, & it has a good restaurant. US$20/25 without/with AC.
A Mwoleka Hotel [410 A1] Ø 028 276 2250; f 028 276 3540. Around the corner from the bus station, this is of a similar standard to the Shinyanga but pricier & not such good value.
A Silent Garden Motel [410 C4] Ø 028 277 2368. There’s no garden, of course, & it’s not as silent as it might be, but still it’s one of the better cheapies scattered around town. US$5 twin or dbl with common shower.
(c) Philip Briggs 2012