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Written by: Juan Proll on 15 March 2023

5 best islands for day trips in Tanzania

Best Islands Tanzania

Beautiful islands are part of Tanzania’s natural wealth. Not all of them have accommodation for tourists. But that is exactly why they are worth a romantic day trip by boat. In today’s blog, I will introduce you to five of the best islands for day trips in Tanzania.

Best Islands day trips Tanzania

Besides world-class safaris and great trekking opportunities, Tanzania is also home to beautiful islands. Some of these islands are inhabited, at best, by rangers responsible for conservation. However, these islands have no accommodation for tourists and can only be visited on half-day or day trips. They are not always easy to reach, but the journey by boat across the Indian Ocean and the islands themselves are fabulous.

Bongoyo Island & Mbudya Island

Bongoyo island and Mbudya island are located about 3 km off the coast of Dar es Salaam. Both islands are nature reserves, close to each other and uninhabited. However, you are allowed to visit the islands. White sandy beaches, dense forests, coral reefs, and an abundance of marine life await you. The journey from Dar es Salaam is very easy.

Bongoyo Island

There are four islands as part of the Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve (DMRS) – Bongoyo Island is the most visited of the four. Multiple times a day, a 30-minute boat ride will take guests from the Bongoyo Island terminal at Hotel Splipway to the island. You will be taken to the north-westerly point of the island, literally blinded by the beautiful white sandy beach. There are a few kiosks offering drinks and food. You might even forget all about snorkelling and swimming. The Indian Ocean created a sort of tidal lagoon at the north coast of Bongoyo Island. But if the water levels are just right, you can snorkel in the mangroves of the lagoon.

Other parts of the island’s coastline are very rocky. There is a second longer but narrower beach along the north side. Not many tourists make it here and there is a chance you will have it all to yourself. There are no kiosks or other facilities here either – so far. The island also has a dense forest and a few hiking trails. Ideal to find your very own little corner. Who knows, you might just stumble across the remains of German colonial buildings somewhere in the middle of the island.

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Mbudya Island

Mbudya island seems to be less popular than Bongoyo island. This may be due to the fact that the point of departure is about 25 km north of Dar es Salaam at the White Sands Resort and Conference Centre. Only from here is it easy to cross over to Mbudya island (about 15–20 minutes). The advantage is that the island is much quieter. That makes it an ideal retreat, and for me, it is the island of love for couples or those who want to become one. Why? Well, have a look at an aerial view of the island: The dense forest forms a large, elongated heart. If that’s not a sign…

There are also thatched huts with cool drinks and delicious food. The soothing sounds of the ocean provide musical entertainment. The white sandy beaches and range of blues from turquoise to navy add to the romantic atmosphere. It invites you to sunbathe, swim, snorkel and more…

Misali Island

You are looking for the best islands for day trips in Tanzania? Misali Island is definitely on that list. And while Mbudya Island is shaped a bit like the form of a heart, the dense green of Misali Island looks a bit like a tempting piece of cake. And yes, the roughly 1 km2 small island west of Pemba Island is certainly a real treat. There are a number of endemic animals here: the green Pemba vervet monkey, the Pemba sunbird, the Pemba white-eye or the Pemba flying fox. Endangered species such as coconut crabs and sea turtles, nest on the island’s beaches as well – a real Misali Island highlight. A ranger lives on site with them to make sure they’re safe.

Amongst divers, the area around Misali Island is known as one of the best diving destinations in East Africa: crystal clear water and a breathtaking coral reef await you. But even those who prefer to stay close to the surface can explore a spectacular underwater world on a snorkelling trip. Afterwards, take a break and relax on the beautiful white sandy beaches. At Baobab Beach on the north coast, you can see a great baobab tree. If you venture inlands and come across some caves, always keep in mind: The ghosts of the ancestors may or may not be living here. To organise a boat trip to Misali Island, you can contact a local hotel or travel agent.

Kwale Island & Sandbank, Sansibar

Kwale island lies southwest of Zanzibar’s main island of Unguja on the edge of Menai Bay, with Kwale Sandbank just north of it. There are a number of really beautiful islands and sandbanks worth exploring, including Pungume island and Pungume sandbank. They are a good alternative to the more well-known sandbank of Nakupenda beach just outside Stone Town, where often too many sailing dhows anchor with their guests. The islands are rich in vegetation and usually have a paradisiacal beach. By contrast, sandbanks are really just bright, sparkling beaches with no land behind them. However, that adds to the thrill.

The Sandbank Experience

You sail across the sea, with a bit of luck you can enjoy wildly jumping dolphins, and finally you stumble across a small sandbank somewhere out there in the middle of the water. Then you disembark, enter the plantless oasis and rotate 360° around your own axis. Now comes the moment when you automatically take a deep breath – a breath of freedom, spiced with a mixture of impressive vastness and that pulse-pounding sense of awe at nature: a small piece of land, seemingly safe, but all around you only the ocean, changing from turquoise to an impenetrable dark blue. What if a huge wave came? What if you had to swim back from here?

Fear not: Instead of a gigantic wave, you are usually treated to a wonderfully prepared seafood and fish lunch. While you enjoy snorkelling at Kwale Sandbank or swimming in natural coral reef and mangroves of Kwale Island’s green lagoon, your crew prepares a superb meal. It doesn’t get much more romantic than this. Enjoy a nap on the beach, the warm sun shining you your belly. Make sure to bring lots of sunscreen and a hat to protect you from the heat and sun. For day trips starting on Unguja, you will usually picked up at your hotel. The tour starts in the Fumba area, south of Stone Town.

Kilwa Kilwisani Island

If you thought Tanzania was all about beautiful day-trip islands with pristine white sandy beaches, you are in for a surprise. Kilwa Kilwisani is not about swimming and sunbathing, it is about Arab cultural history. The tour begins by gently drifting to the island’s jetty in a traditional dhow. Get off here to climb stone steps to a dirt track. This later forks into many narrow paths that wind through backyards, gardens, and small markets. Schoolchildren look at you, smiling happily or turning away shyly. Some will greet you with a boisterous “bye-bye”. Your path then leads you to an impressive array of historical ruins that you might not expect to find on such a small island. But after a short time, you will realise how closely they are interwoven with the lives of the locals. This island was once the seat of the Kilwa Sultanate.

The Persian Ali ibn Hasan founded this sultanate around 975 at the height of his prosperity. For centuries, the sultanate’s ports were filled with ships carrying trade goods such as porcelain, pearls, Chinese silk, gold, ivory and more. Over the years, Kilwa Kisiwani became the centre of the powerful Shiraz dynasty. After their downfall, the magnificent buildings of the past became the impressive ruins of the present. These include the Great Mosque, which dates from the 10th century and is still the oldest standing mosque on the East African coast. You can also see the remains of the Husuni Kubwa Sultan’s Palace, built of coral stone. It once had the reputation of being the most imposing palace of its time south of the Sahara. Elements of the elaborate building contributed to this, such as the large octagonal swimming pool.

Today, Kilwa Kisiwani is a UNESCO world heritage site; you can reach it from Tanzania’s mainland. If you are travelling in the southeast of the country and are looking to visit Selous Game Reserve and Nyerere National Park, you can easily take a detour to the small harbour of Kilwa Masoko. There are accommodations and boats which you can charter to take you to the islands. Make sure you have the correct visitor’s permit. You can get it at the tourist information in Kilwa Masoko.

The above are five of the best islands for day trips in Tanzania. They have no classic overnight accommodation for visitors, they are all accessible by boat only and most importantly: They are all worth a visit!

We are happy to answer any questions you may have and help you plan your trip to Tanzania. We are on site and up to date on the current situation. Just get in touch!

Author: Juan Proll

Traveling has always been Juan Proll's great passion: three years in Latin America, two years in Southeast Asia and Oceania as well as short trips of up to nine months in Europe, Central America, and North Africa. In 2010, he decided to quit his job in Germany as an adult education teacher and head of department for migration issues and to become a ranger in South Africa. Juan has been traveling across Africa since 2011, traveling to southern and eastern Africa and also climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Beforehand, he completed his nature guide training in South Africa and worked in a Big Five game reserve. With further training and intensive self-study to become a cultural guide, Juan has since expanded his field of activity beyond the natural world to include the countries, cultures, and its people. In mid-2013 he joined Africa-Experience and has been guiding travelers through Africa as a safari guide ever since. Juan is a member of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa.

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