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Bukoba on Lake Victoria

Bukoba and the surrounding region is undoubtedly one of the loveliest parts of Tanzania boasting staggering beauty, the friendliest of inhabitants and a fascinating cultural history. Bukoba is located in the remote west of Tanzania – in the very heart of Africa – and on the western shore of the massive Lake Victoria; its vast waters and miles of white sand shores are awe-inspiring. It has a number of islands, each with its own beauty and enchantment.

Lake Victoria is shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; named after Queen Victoria it is the world's second largest freshwater lake. The lake covers a total of 69,000 square kilometers, and is the same size as Ireland. Despite the huge size Lake Victoria is not that deep only 100 meters at its deepest - unlike its close neighbor Lake Tanganyika which is one of the deepest lakes in the world. The lake is part of the Rift Valley a 3,500- mile system of deep cracks in the earth's crust running from Turkey to Mozambique.

Tanzania is known for the huge migrations and prolific lion populations across the endless plains of the Serengeti, however, its most diverse and endangered ecosystems are to be found under water. One way to preserve the lake for future generations is to promote responsible tourism to the area – then the local population and the politicians have a good reason to look after the lake.

Unfortunately the lake is riddled with bilharzias in some areas, so the swimming is only recommended far from any reeds. Avoid walking barefoot through the grass along its shores, as this is where the nasty parasite lurks.

Tanzania has many unusual National Parks and Bukoba and Lake Victoria is no exception; Rubondo Island and a wildlife sanctuary based on Saa Nane Island [Eight O’clock Island] is a fascinating and very special National Park.

The best way to get to this island is by charter plane and is a thirty minute flight from Mwanza. This island is a real paradise with the African adventure starting as the light aircraft lands on the grass airstrip, sometimes animals will have to be cleared off the runway. The island is striking in its greenness and the whistles of the African Grey parrot echoing in the forest, truly you have landed in an African paradise. Visitors to this island have the freedom to explore the forest and lake shores by foot or boat allowing each person to create his or her own magic of Rubondo and to leave with a uniquely personal experience of the island.

Dotted along the shores of Lake Victoria are many fishing villages. Most of the fishermen are local and apply traditional methods to their trade. The most famous villages near Bukoba Town are Igabiro fishing village and Musila Island.

Only five kilometers from the centre of Bukoba town is a project named Lavibogam. It is well known nationally for its skilled herbalists and traditional medicine. The Region has large variety of plants used for the healing of humans, livestock and treating crops. The famous Muarobaini Tree is claimed to cure over forty diseases. When visiting the area this project is well worth a visit.


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Fishing in Tanzania

The deep waters of Lake Tanganyika are rich in big-game fish. The waters of this deep lake are only just beginning to gain the world-wide fame which means these waters are less populated with boats and fishing conditions are absolutely perfect. Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world, and at 1,433 meters is the second deepest in the world. Amazingly the lakes lowest point is 642m below sea level; and it holds a volume of water seven times that of Lake Victoria. For divers as well as anglers, this is paradise, with over 350 species of fish, offers some of the finest lake game fishing in Africa. Some of the game fish to be found here include the goliath, tigerfish and Nile Perch.

Many fishermen come to African lakes looking to land a tigerfish; many claims are made by operators in Southern Africa that this fish is found only in Southern Africa countries – this is untrue as these game fish are also found here in Tanzania. The tigerfish is well-known for its powerful tail and savage teeth; and is claimed by some to be the world's most exciting freshwater sport-fish. This maybe because of the drama of the whole experience the jarring strikes, lightning runs and spectacular leaps; a typical tigerfish weighs 3-8 pounds, with 10-20 pounds being landed from time to time.

In contrast the shallow waters of Lake Victoria are home to legendary Nile Perch growing up to 300lbs, and even the novice fisherman can be encouraged by casting off a jetty to catch abundant tilapia. Nile Perch of over 80 kg have been caught; the main method of fishing in the lake is trolling with lures. Apart from the Nile perch, local tilapia of up to 5kg have been caught on bait. I have seen catfish of over 50kg caught often.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists an incredible 232kg Nile perch caught by local fishermen on Lake Victoria. Another way to fish is from the shore – there are few un-spoilt places, I am sure, in the world where in fresh or salt water it is possible to land fish in the 20 - 100lb plus category.

Sea fishing in one of the most exciting areas of Tanzania is in an area called Kilwa in Southern Tanzania – close to the Mozambique border - this is a blue water fishing paradise. For those who wish to experience the unbelievable thrill of saltwater fly fishing this is the place to head. Many different species can be teased up to a fly and the rush of playing a big fish on light gear is an unforgettable experience.

Fishing is best in the months of August, September and October. Silver service fly-camps are set up on an evening along the coastline and trips include all fishing, full-board accommodation, beer, table wine, soft drinks, and transfers to and from Dar-es-Salaam to Kilwa.


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Travel Tips for Bus Travel between Arusha to Dar es Salaam

To travel from Arusha to Dar es Salaam is easiest by air, however, this will cost about US$200 per person. The cheapest alternative is to travel by bus, which is never advised by tour operators. However, it need not be a nightmare as there are some good companies operating in Tanzania.

The most well known bus company must be the Scandinavia Express. They operate probably the best, safest and most comfortable transport between the two cities; it is, of course, the most expensive private bus option - at US$25 per person - and to book in advance is essential. In Arusha the offices for Scandinavia have moved to Kilembero Market – which is close to the Shoprite supermarket. Scandinavia have recently been in huge debt and have had some of their buses seized by the police; this has made the headlines in the East African news papers. It has also made booking in Advance more essential as the fleet is depleted.

The ‘Dar Express’ bus service comes a close second to Scandinavia or maybe an equal first place. They have different classes of busses and when at the booking Office – which is situated close to the Kimahama Bookshop [about 500m up hill from the Arusha Stadium] – it is essential to say you want the first class bus which should cost about US$18 per person. Dar Express are, without doubt, my favourite company and I would recommend this company above all others. However, some of the coaches do not have a toilet - although this may in fact be a blessing – as you travel in the African heat [and especially if you are sat toward the rear of the bus] a toilet may not seem such a luxury after most of the passengers have taken advantage of the service. The smell can become quite overpowering and the journey is a long one – about ten hours.

If you opt for the cheaper end of the market, most busses leave from the Bus Station close to the ‘Stadium’. Buffalo seem to be a favourite but they travel too fast. Speed is not a good thing as in places the road is single carriageway, it winds and there are hills; slowly slowly is the best way to ensure you get from Arusha to Dar es Salaam alive.

I would recommend either Fresh Coach or Amazon Coach – the ticket price must be negotiated and do not pay more than US$10 per person. The last of each of these coaches leaves Arusha Bus Station at 8 am sharp. Tickets are usually sold by freelance workers and as the commission is good – the more they charge the more pay they take home – competition is fierce. If you are a westerner then you will be targeted and you will be surrounded by enthusiastic ticker touts. This experience is not for the faint hearted. Hang onto your luggage and watch out [as you would as a tourist anywhere in the world] for pickpockets.

Fresh coach and Amazon travel to Dar es Salaam at a more leisurely pace and they are safer than the full steam ahead express buses.

If you want to leave Arusha and travel by bus to make the ferry crossing to Zanzibar in a single day - I would suggest leaving Arusha around 6 am to ensure you are in Dar es Salaam by 2pm. That gives you a good couple of hours to get from the Bus Station into town and to the ferry, buy your ticket.


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Kilwa: Southern Tanzania

To travel south from Dar es Salaam towards Mozambique is - as far as the tourist is concerned - uncharted territory. Few travel to this area of Tanzania; although there is much talk of future development. If this area were in Europe or North America it would be a major tourist attraction; for the moment at least it remains isolated with little or no infrastructure. Like all things in Africa, this area is at the moment one of extremes; it is for the adventurous backpackers or alternatively an exclusive destination for the rich.

Mafia Island and the Mnazi Bay [Coconut Tree] Estuary is in this area which means that this increasingly popular area will become the Tanzania Riviera; once the development and infrastructure is in place; it is not a matter of if but a matter of when.

Kilwa is a World Heritage Site and has the best preserved ancient Swahili buildings in Tanzania and Kenya. This area was developed in the 12th to the 15th Centaury and became the greatest trading port along the East African coast. This ancient settlement was once hailed as ‘one of the most beautiful of cities’. Today however it is little more than a dilapidated fishing village – waiting patiently in the sun for its time to come again; as it surly will.

The best remains of Kilwa’s past are on an island easily reached by a short boat ride. A special permit is required to visit the ruins. The entry point is at a Portuguese fort that was reputedly built in only three weeks during 1505 – it is named Gezira and it was rebuilt in the 19th Centaury. There is an ancient mosque here and the magnificent Sultans Palace preached atop a cliff. All the planning and effort that goes into a visit to the island is well worth it once you arrive.

The Mnazi Bay-Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park is a collection of diverse habitats ranging from mangroves along the estuary mouth to mudflats to coral reefs and white sands. There is good diving available here and coast line is just idyllic; although the towns and villages are quite unremarkable. This is one of the up and coming areas to watch and will one day become a rival to Zanzibar for the place to go for a beach holiday. For the moment there are a few small hotels in the area and in the Marine Park camping is allowed on the beach and I hear the security is good.

The river estuaries and large mangrove swamps provide a perfect habitat for a wide variety of birds. These areas are used for feeding and breeding of waterfowls. Some of the more common birds to be found include: Sandpipers, Herons, African Storks, Fish Eagle, Kingfishers, Oyster Catchers and Hawks. Fruit bats can also be found feeding and roosting around Kilwa; with Hippos and crocodiles to add to the adventure as they also live close to where the rivers enter the mangrove swamps.

Fishing behind the reefs and in the bay make for an excellent big game fish opportunity; I think maybe the best along the East African Coast is found here. Fully equipped big game fishing vessels with knowledgeable crews are available from the Kilwa Seaview Resort. Saltwater fly fishermen can try their luck at catching the elusive bone fish. All the tackle supplied is IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) rated.


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