Did you know that Tanzania has approximately 1,424 kilometres of Indian Ocean coastline? Of course the most popular destinations are Zanzibar, Mafia Island, Pangani and Dar es Salaam, but heading further south you can find a more rustic, untouched coast. The Slow Leopard Bar in Masaki has become a Dar es Salaam institution, combining a bar and hostel to host live music, djs and sports events on a weekly basis. I’ve already been checking out the best beaches near Dar es Salaam, but I am definitely up for checking out one further afield. When I heard that they were opening a Slow Leopard Kilwa right on the beach, I knew I had to be one of the first to check it out!
We took a private bus from Dar es Salaam. The journey took around 6 hours through beautiful tree-lined roads. The Slow Leopard can also organise transfers from Dar es Salaam and elsewhere for a reasonable price.
On arrival in Kilwa, we were met on the main road by Henry, our host for the weekend. This is where the adventure began. Leading us from the back of a truck, our bus followed him down a seriously bumpy road. Just as we thought we might not make it, Henry jumped off the truck and signalled to us to stop. Sure enough, we could smell the salt air and hear the sea in the distance. We had arrived!
The Slow Leopard Kilwa is designed to maximise the natural surroundings so actual indoor space is kept to a minimum. The indoor area consists of one large dorm, 2 triple rooms and a double room. However, we didn’t drive for 6 hours to sit indoors! The bar area is the perfect chilled hangout, complete with hammock and sandy floor.
The rooftop of the hostel has a beautiful view towards the ocean. My favourite part was the perfect little nooks for reading. It was my go to spot for sunrise where I could listen to the waves and enjoy the sea breeze before the December heat got too much!
At breakfast on our first morning we had a little competition trying to decide what the unique garden feature was – turned out it was an outdoor shower! We definitely appreciated this when we arrived back after a long day of swimming. Washing off the sand surrounded by nature followed by a cold beer in the hammock – perfectly planned combination!
Slow Leopard Kilwa is located just a few steps away from the Indian Ocean. Hidden behind some bush, it is perfectly private while still allowing for easy beach access. Kilwa Masoko village is nearby where fresh fish can be purchased cheaply and cooked right before you.
By far the easiest activity to try is swimming in the crystal clear water outside the hostel. At night it becomes a bed of bio-luminescence – meaning the water glows as you swim. It is a magical experience that everyone should experience once!
To really get a feel for Kilwa, I recommend spending the day on Slow Leopard’s platform boat. It can easily fit 25 people. We left at 8am to make it to the lagoon in time to swim. We had the place to ourselves and made our own little party complete with games, and some beers from the cooler on board.
After a morning of swimming we went to Songo Mnara island, followed by a delicious lunch and more swimming in the most perfectly turquoise water I’ve ever seen. We even saw dolphins! This day trip is unmissable.
Don’t let the unspoiled nature fool you though – there is much more to Kilwa than just swimming. Kilwa is home to two of the oldest Swahili settlements – Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara. On both islands you can see UNESCO Heritage Sites from as long ago as the 13th century.
We explored the old stone town at Songo Mnara which dates back to the 14th century. Slow Leopard Kilwa organised it for us as part of the full day boat tour and we paid the local guide a small fee for showing us around.
The verdict on The Slow Leopard Kilwa:
The Slow Leopard Kilwa is the laid-back hideaway that this part of the coast has been waiting for. Tanzania has so much to offer outside of the usual Northern Circuit National Parks and Zanzibar so I hope this will be the start of a more “off the beaten track” type of tourism for the south coast. What Henry and the Slow Leopard Kilwa team have established is truly a home away from home. From campfires, to beer pong, to boat cruises and delicious food – they really have thought of everything. Now the only question I’m left with is – when can I go back?!
Need to Know:
Beds start at US$20 including breakfast
To get the most up to date information on the hostel, check out the official website for The Slow Leopard