About two weeks ago I went to Bukoba for a funeral, it was my second time in the town and I was as mesmerized as I was the first time; and a week after I was back home, I recommended Bukoba to a fellow traveller who had an extensive itinerary of planned tours around Tanzania which includes going to a water fall in Kigoma. The town is relatively small and less developed than my favourite Arusha town. But it's natural beauty; the preserved nature takes my breath away and brings a calmness to a tired wandering soul; there is something about connecting with nature that has a profound effect on our well being. Here is where you can almost imagine the beginning of creation- okay, may be am throwing in a little embellishments:-)
Bukoba is the capital of Kageara region and is several kilometers from Dar-es-salam, it's practically going across the country; by bus it would take over 18 hrs with a sleep over at Shinyanga. It is a hassle that I would think no one who has come to Tanzania through Dar-es-salam with the goal of visiting the national parks or go to the beaches of Zanzibar would want to take. But, when Petro told me that he would be going to Mwanza and then to a nearby island called Ukerewe; I found myself suggesting Bukoba as a place he should be thinking of visiting; it has the beauty of Mwanza but it is more reserved. It would take him a whole night journey by ferry and over 12 hours by bus but a little over 45 minutes by plane.All these travel options are available daily.I must mention that since most of it's population speaks the native language, it can be a little nerve wrecking when traveling with the 'dala-dala'; even though i'm familiar with the language, I found myself in at most discomfort when I rode a bus in which everyone was speaking Kihaya except for me, from town to the village I was staying in; an elderly woman kept muttering things to me and I could only stare back with what I would imagine to be a blank expression.Why do I want to convince you to take this cumbersome journey? Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Lake Victoria is a wonder It's the second widest fresh water body in the world. You can have all the water fun you would have at the shores of the Indian ocean in Zanzibar without the salt, the dangerous jelly fish, the crabs (I know they scare the hell out of my sister); the crowd and the pollution of larger cities. And enjoy watching the birds swooping into the lake for a meal or busy on the shore.
>2. Many inhabited isles/islands on the lake that you can reach by flight or motorized boat (if you feel a little more adventurous, why not try the man powered boats). Close to Bukoba is the highly recommended Rubondo island which is also a national reserve. The national park has a number of indigenous mammal species - hippo, vervet monkey, genet and mongoose - which share their protected habitat with introduced species such as chimpanzee, black-and-white colobus, elephant and giraffe, all of which benefit from Rubondo’s inaccessibility. Rubondo also protects precious fish breeding grounds. It's natural botanical gardens has wild jasmine, 40 different orchids and a smorgasbord of sweet, indefinable smells emanate from the forest.
3. Explore the forests There a number of natural forests in Kagera region, Burigi,Biharamulo, Ibanda which all have been declared reserves. They are home to elephants, hippos, reedbuck, steinbuck, zebra, sable, roan antelope, sitatunga, topi and colubus monkeys. A number of smaller forests are within Bukoba town and now many man-made forests of tall pines. I was delighted to smell the intoxicating eucalyptus when I hiked back home that I had to stop and savour the air.
4. Conquer the rocks Bukoba is a rocky highland, as you descend from the sky by flight you can appreciate some of the cliffs. I'm not a rock climber but if you are you could challenge youself to a climb or explore ancient rocks paintings in Nyangoma (which is the name for the first of female twins by the way) close to Nyakijoga. There are hundreds of these paintings in caves overlooking a very attractive valley.
5. Get into the caves, watch the waterfalls and follow the rivers. Some tour operators offer trips to Kyamunene River Waterfalls and near-by caves and share tales of the use of the cave by warriors in the ancient tribal wars & by more recently by soldiers in the Idd Amin war. I experience a part of Kyamunene river on my trip, the sound of it's water rushing over the rocks made me want to follow it down; it's like a relaxing zen.
6. Experience a new culture The bahaya are the natives of Bukoba, and even though they have embraced change though christian civilizationa and now the global civilization; they still hold their language and culture close at heart. On my trip to Bukoba for a funeral I learnt quite some; funeral rites and traditions and was lucky to witness the swearing of a new Mulangila (chief of the clan). If you are out to experience a new culture, the Bahaya are generous people, welcoming and full of laughter. Guests are welcomed with a traditional banana brew and sun dried coffee beans which also feature in a number of traditional gatherings. If you are in a dance mood, you can enjoy “Ngoma”; traditional dances in a variety of styles including Omutoro, Amayaga, Mulekule, Amakondele, Akasimbo.
7. Embrace a unique culinary experience In Bukoba, 'Senene' or locusts deep fried or smoked are a popular snack, for some it will be like a real life fear factor; can you dare your senses? The main staple is boiled green banana with beans or groundnuts; my favourite dish in the whole world. My mum would treat us to her traditional meal every now and then; I remember hearing her sing in her vernacular all day long and we knew she was in a good mood that day.
8. Go fishing How about catching your own meal? Dotted along the shores of Lake Victoria are numerous fishing villages. Most of the fishermen are local and thus they use traditional technology -- wooden boats and nets. The most famous villages near Bukoba Town are Igabiro fishing village in Bugabo, Musila Island, Kifungwi and Nyamukazi. On this occasion I went to Musila village, a small island just off shore a few meters from the airport. It consists mostly of temporary fishermen settlers. You can negotiate a deal with the local fishermen and they would gladly take you on board. Maybe you can even bring home a tilapia or Nile perch.
9. Experience all star hotels to fit your budget Bukoba isn't as developed as the big cities in Tanzania but it hosts luxurious hotels with international cuisines. You can cool off and relax as you watch the sun go by. I was fortunate to see quite a few such as the Walkgard, Walkgard annex, Bukoba Kolping... The best thing is that google maps and places works! You can easily find your way around the town to hotels of your liking, I found New Coffee Tree Hotel where I had my favorite Green bananas in a modern taste with Tilapia for lunch. They have a full buffet at less than 15,000 ;-)
Check out what travelers on TripAdvisor say about some of the accommodations.
10. When you plan for it, you can get there in comfort All you have to do is makeup your mind and go off for the experience. There are flights from Nairobi to Bukoba via Mwanza if you are traveling from Europe. Daily flights from Mwanza-Bukoba by Auric Air at a prize of 135,000 Tshs one way; round trip from Kilimanjaro-Bukoba or Dar-es-salam-Bukoba with Precision Air. Or if you are already in Tanzania, a tourist or a resident/citizen on a long holiday why not take a bus ride and enjoy the pleasures of travelling on the road; the dust, the bumps and all.
Even though the costs of accommodation and food are almost comparable to the budget places I have been to, due to the costs of traveling there, Bukoba falls off my favorite category of budget travels. So why would I suggest Bukoba and Kagera at large as a destination worth exploring? Because in Bukoba you can satisfy your thirst for wildlife, lazying on the beach, exploring a new culture and whatever else your imagination holds.