Chole Mjini Lodge is situated on the northern 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.
For a while Jean and Anne took a back seat in the running of Cole Mjini, but we are delighted that they have decided to take over management once again. They have carried on the excellent work that the team at Chole were doing in their absence.
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 some diving equipement.
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. It’s also the only place to pick up a wireless internet signal on the island.
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 (although we have found this ‘DIY’ shower to be actually better than showers in most hotels!). 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. We were amazed at how much there was to do on such a ‘sleepy’ island!
The Chole team usually organises a complementary dhow trip each day. This typically sails to a remote sandbar, perhaps an twenty mins or so away, where you can relax on a beach surrounded by the sea. You can also go a coral reef on the way to snorkel if you wish. 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.)
But it’s not just diving that’s great here. Guests can explore Kua Ruins, visit Chole Village, snorkel in the blue lagoon on neighbouring island Juani, go on sunset cruises, and at certain times of year you can arrange whale watching, snorkeling with whale sharks and trips to see turtle hatchings!
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.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Independent / Owner Run
Staff: Jean and Anne de Villiers
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. On your first night guests will be invited to join Jean, Anne and the other guests for dinner – on subsequent nights you have the choice to dine separately if you like.
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.
Further dining info: There is no room service here – apart from tea and coffee in the morning.
Family holidays: The original Chole Mjini, which feels quiet but social, is charming for Tanzania family beach holidays with older children. Most kids love its six wooden tree houses, the ruins to explore around and activities like dhow trips and snorkeling in Chole Bay.See more ideas for Family holidays in Tanzania
Honeymoons: Chole Mjini offers an unusual but totally magical and remote honeymoon to Tanzania: ideal for honeymooners who want something different and who are not afraid to go without mod cons. Stay in a romantic open-sided treehouse, and enjoy the privacy and peace of Chole Island.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Tanzania
Beach holidays: The best beaches near Chole Mjini are on isolated sandbars, uncovered by the tide and surrounded by coral reefs of the Indian Ocean. Beaches don't come more magical, untouched or remote than this; this is one of the best beach experiences in Tanzania today.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
Cultural experiences: 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.See more ideas for Cultural experiences 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.
Property’s age restrictions: No children under the age of two are allowed to stay at Chole Mjini.
Special activities & services: Childminding can be arranged – though parents should be aware that a childminder would be a local islander from the housekeeping team, and would not be specifically qualified.
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
Power supply notes: Batteries can be charged in the ‘Red Herring’ bar between 10:00 and 17:00.
Communications: There is intermittent mobile phone reception at Chole Mjini and Wi-Fi at the ‘Red Herring’ bar when the generator is turned on.
TV & radio: No radios or TVs here - you're in a wonderfully remote spot!
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: The water used for the showers is pumped from a well and heated by self-service kerosene heaters. Bottled water is provided for drinking.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: 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. There are first-aid kits on all of the boats and there is a clinic in the village for first response.
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. Fire extinguishers, buckets of water and sand are also provided in every treehouse.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service – Included. Although they use a charcoal iron so please don’t brink your finest silk clothes!
Money: Chole Mjini does not offer any currency exchange.
Accepted payment on location: Because of Chole's remote location, they prefer guests to pay in cash, using US dollars, pounds or euros. There is a 5% charge for Visa, MasterCard and Amex credit cards. This uses 3G so please notify the managers before departure that this is how you would like to pay.