The Chole Mjini Lodge is situated on the nothern side of Chole Island.
Chole Mjini Lodge: Our full report
Chole Mjini is one of the most original small lodges that we know in Tanzania. Jean and Anne de Villiers established and built Chole Mjini with a very clear ideology, which contributes hugely to its atmosphere. It stands on Chole Island, just off the coast of Mafia Island, which is a peaceful and charming hideaway in an area that sees little tourism. The lodge was built to be environmentally sound, and to give real benefits back to the local community – the ultimate 'eco-lodge', built before the term became so commonplace and over-used.
Having lived and breathed Chole Mjini since the mid-nineties, Jean and Anne have now decided to take a back seat, and in January 2011 they moved off the island and handed over the management. We're confident that this change can only be positive, carrying on the excellent work Jean and Anne started, and bringing a new perspective.
A walk through the nearby village will show you how much Chole Mjini has contributed to local life – including building a local dispensary, a primary school and an adult education centre. U$10 per person per night goes directly toward helping the community and funding projects.
Chole is a beautiful, spacious lodge, in a historical location. Its spacious communal areas, set in lush tropical gardens, are linked by winding paths that lead past the intriguing ruins of Chole Town. The island was settled as early as the 16th century, and it was an important trading port in the 19th century. Still the ruined walls and building of the old town can still be seen dotted around the lodge's gardens and the small port area, often wrapped with vines and the roots of fig trees (there are some amazing specimens!).
A large open-sided banda serves as Chole's lounge and dining area. Here you will find comfy sofas moulded out of stone, and strewn with sumptuous cushions. The thatched roof and polished stone floors help to keep the area cool – as does the sea breeze. Odd bits of African furniture mixed with Arab antiques give Chole a beautiful yet simple Swahili style.
From the lounge you can look out over the mangroves at the sea beyond, lose yourself in one of the books on offer, or perhaps indulge in a game of bao. Boards of this favourite East African game are dotted around the lounge – it is fun to learn, and the staff will happily teach you how to play.
Above the lounge and dining area is a small bar, built into the rafters of the thatched roof, where guests usually congregate for pre-dinner drinks. There are more sofas here – and an incongruous old-fashioned bicycle attached to a cross-beam!
A short walk from the lounge is a small inlet, where the lodge has a number of dhows for excursions and diving.
Back at the old port, facing Mafia Island, is the Red Herring bar, which is also owned by Chole Mjini. This is where the boat from Mafia Island drops you at Chole Mjini, and is a fantastic place to watch the sunset and have a few pre-dinner drinks.
Six of the rooms at Chole Mjini are tree houses, set on platforms high up in baobab trees. The seventh, slightly more conventional, stands on the ground, with an en-suite bathroom and the only flushing toilet on the island!
Chole's wooden tree houses were built to a very high standard by local craftsmen whose skills were honed building dhows. Although each is slightly different, some being on two storeys, they all share one trait: their general lack of modern conveniences. Expect storm lanterns and torches rather than electricity; composting long-drop toilets rather than flushing ones; and a shower that is heated by a small, but very effective, paraffin burner that you light yourself. There's no air con or fans, but the tree houses are all open-sided and – being raised up – catch a natural breeze for most of the year. (Read more about the tree houses in general here...)
Helped by Chole Mjini's owner, Jean, we've made a few notes here on some of the quirky individualities of the rooms, and added a few pictures:
- Tree house 1 - also called 'Moja' tree house
- Tree house 2 - also called 'Mbili' tree house
- Tree house 3 - also called 'Tatu' tree house
- Tree house 4 - also called 'Nne' tree house
- Tree house 5 - also called 'Tano' tree house
- House 6 - is on the ground, not in a tree, and is called 'Sita'
- Tree house 7 - also called 'Saba' tree house
Activities are very much a part of most visitors' time at Chole Mjini; it's a place to do things, as well as to relax. They're all very flexible, and a lot depends on the tide, and what the various guests want to do.
The Chole team usually organises a complementary dhow trip each day. This typically sails to a remote sandbar, perhaps an hour or so away, where you can relax on a beach surrounded by the sea. Often there's a coral reef around the sandbar, so you can snorkel when you wish, but sometimes snorkelling is arranged on the way to or from the sandbar. We really enjoyed these trips, and the lack of a private beach next to the lodge was never an issue. Note that you need to hire masks and fins to take part in the snorkelling.
With a day's notice, Chole Mjini can organise diving in conjunction with the Sea Point Dive Centre over on Mafia mainland, just a short boat ride from the island. All of the waters around Chole lie within the Mafia Island Marine Park – and Chole Bay itself is ideal for novices: shallow (mostly less than 20m) and relatively protected, yet with some good coral and marine life.
More advanced divers head out on an old sailing dhow to explore outside the bay – where various reefs, passes and wall dives go down to about 30m, with even more spectacular marine life. Having dived both here and all around the Zanzibar Archipelago, we regard the diving here as amongst the very best off Tanzania – and probably the best for sightings of large individual fish. (We've seen potato cod, giant grouper and white-tipped reef shark on recent dives here.)
Back at the lodge, Chole Mjini's close relationship with the village means that it's a great base from which to explore – either by yourself or with a local guide. Wander off in the late afternoon and you'll usually see a huge colony of (large!) fruit bats starting to wake up before the nightly foray to Mafia Island.
Our viewChole Mjini can be a perfect place to get away: a quiet and unspoilt spot, yet quite social – with a fantastic community atmosphere. It is a high-quality lodge, although it has deliberately chosen to avoid many of the mod cons that we take for granted – and we think it's all the better for it!
Ideal length of stay: Four days or more – especially if you are a keen diver or just love relaxing.
Directions: It is a 20-minute flight to Mafia and then a 45-minute drive to Utende Beach. From there it is a short 15-minute boat ride across Chole Bay to Chole Mjini. Please note that there is no jetty at Chole – you will need to wade a short distance in water, so wear clothes and shoes that you don't mind getting wet.
Owner: Independent / Owner Run
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The food at Chole is very good and was both delightfully fresh and imaginative when we last visited.
Breakfast is very flexible in its timing to allow for individual activities. Expect fruit, plain and sweet bread, and (usually) yoghurt made by the lodge team. Eggs can be served in a variety of ways, but as the people of Chole are Muslim, they are not asked to cook pork as matter of respect.'
Lunch is light and tasty, usually a buffet of salads, vegetables and a meat dish – all you would wish for on a hot day.
Dinner, however, is a sociable, three-course affair, with a dinner-party atmosphere. There is usually a set menu – taking dietary requirements into consideration – with all the dishes put in the centre of the table for guests to help themselves.
That said, private dinners are sometimes arranged for honeymooners (or anyone else who requests this).
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Drinks included: Drinks are not included – it is around $2 for a local beer or a spirit and then $1 for a soft drink.
Family holidays: Jean and Anne brought up their children at Chole Mjini – and hence the lodge has developed with a very inclusive approach to families. The variety of things to do, and the space to explore, makes it a great place for older, more inquisitive children.See more ideas for Family holidays in Tanzania
Honeymoons: Chole Mjini offers an unusual but totally magic and remote honeymoon destination: ideal for honeymooners who want something different and who are not afraid to go without mod cons.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Tanzania
Beach holidays: Chole Mjini's beaches are just a short dhow ride away: isolated sandbars uncovered by the tide and surrounded by coral reefs and the Indian Ocean. Beaches don't come more magical, untouched or remote than this.See more ideas for Beach holidays in Tanzania
Diving & snorkelling: Scuba diving in Mafia Island Marine Park is superb, and if you come here in January or February, you might get the chance to swim with whale sharks.See more ideas for Diving & snorkelling in Tanzania
Traditional Cultures: Chole Mjini was built to benefit its local community, with local people helping to build the lodge. It is a great place to visit if you value being able to interact with village life. Don't miss the walking tour of the village, or feel free to wander around on your own whenever you wish.See more ideas for Traditional Cultures in Tanzania
Wellbeing: Chole Mjini is a peaceful haven that works closely with the local community. It is perfect for those who are looking for something that is eco-conscious, and can give you a high 'feel-good' factor – though it doesn't have a spa!See more ideas for Wellbeing in Tanzania
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of two years old are welcome at Chole Mjini. This restriction is primarily due to the open-sided tree-houses, which would not be safe for very young children.
Generally recommended for children: We would not recommend Chole Mjini for very young children – the tree houses are a slight hazard and the laid-back nature of the lodge might leave the young feeling a little bored after a few days.
Power supply: Solar Power
Communications: There is intermittent mobile phone reception at Chole Mjini
TV & radio: No radios or TVs here - you're in a wonderfully remote spot!
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: In the event of any medical problem, the dive centre on Mafia island has first aid trained staff, and for serious cases clients would need to fly to Dar es Salaam.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: There is a large wooden lock box in each room for valuables. There are also askaris (guards) around the camp.
Fire safety: All of the buildings at Chole Mjini are open sided – so in cases of fire it would be straightforward to exit any building.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Included
Money: Chole Mjini does not offer any currency exchange.