Reviews of Chole Mjini Lodge
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
A Rare Return Visit
We don't often revisit places but we fell in love with Chole Mjini five years ago. We enjoyed our return visit just as much.
Everything was as we remembered; the smell of frangipani on arrival; the dhow sailing; tree house living; good island food and relaxing activities. Anne and Jean are welcoming hosts and their passion for Chole is infectious.
Amazing and unmissable place to stay
We stayed at Chole Mjini for 7 nights & wished we'd been bolder to stay for our full 12 nights spent within Mafia and Chole. The lack of electric was a bonus, with amazing night skies, and romantically lit dinners. The gardens are beautiful encouraging a colourful array of birds and butterflies; we saw birds of paradise, humming birds, weaver birds, kingfishers and monitor lizards just strolling through.
The tree houses - where to start? The baobab tree by treehouse 2 must be 2000 years old, and everything is built with thought and care. Tree house one, has the most stunning view from the bed. Morning tea or coffee is delivered by a pulley system, and the hammocks are comfortable and nicely situated.
The long drop toilets are the best in East Africa! No smell. A comfortable seat, but the resident gecko made me jump until we got used to each other! The shower is certainly innovative. It sounds like a swarm of bees when the wind blows, and under the circumstances is more than adequate. A pumped hot shower it isn't, but it certainly serves its purpose within the restraints of the situation. A shower within a secluded outdoor area, which is warm enough given the climate and works ingeniously to overcome the lack of utilities.
The only thing that I would mention as a negative was the lack of comfortable seating in the tree house. The bench on the balcony was uncomfortable (I know they're hand made on the island, but,) - perhaps rattan chairs may be an alternative?
My husband had worried about the food, but he was quickly won over. Fish was on the menu everyday, so if you're a carnivore, then you're in trouble, but the food was delicious and plentiful. I doubted fish quiche, but it was delicious, and the fish samosas were to die for! The salads and vegetables were varied and nicely presented, rice and pasta all cooked to perfection. Breads cooked in a charcoal oven, varied from cinnamon rolls, to warm doughnuts on an early morning boat trip.
Condiments including balsamic vinegar, chilli oil, salad dressing etc were always on hand.
There are 3 or 4 brands of beer to choose from, and the wines are thoughtfully sourced and chosen - all delightful.
The staff are helpful and attentive, and the rooms cleaned and tidied with care. Linen and towels regularly changed and the laundry service was exemplary - even with a charcoal iron.
The daily dhow trips were fantastic; snorkelling, a bbq lunch on the sandbar, a trip to see a turtle nest hatching, a romantic sunset sail, a visit to neighbouring Juani to see the Kua ruins. Refreshments always provided and knowledgable guides. Other entertainment included badminton amongst the ruins, or Viking chess on the beach and paddle boarding around the island.
Most of our meals were communal with Anne and Jean and their family and other guests, eaten under the stars in varying locations, but that was our choice for the varied and interesting conversation. More private seating arrangements are easily arranged if required.
All in all, I would heartily recommend you stay here. It will be a decision you won't regret if you are the sort of person that doesn't need a hairdryer. Anne and Jean are wonderful hosts who have dedicated their lives to this island and its' indigenous people - building a school, a library and caring about the whole community. They are true philanthropists and have created a truly balanced ecological paradise.
Chole Mjini July 14
Wake up every morning to watch the sun rise through the branches of the Baobab tree in which your room is built - can't be beaten!
The location of this place makes it something special - from the rooms in trees to dining in ruins or on a jetty overlooking the sea.
The food was very good and the staff always helpful. There are plenty of trips that you can do (don't miss the snorkelling over the coral reef) but its a great place to just relax and 'chill' if you want to.
Toilets: I would say don't be put off by the fact they are downstairs from your room and don't flush. You soon get used to it and they are perfectly acceptable.
A useful tip: no-one tells you to keep the receipt for the Marine Park readily available - don't throw it away as you need it when you leave the park because they check it - a Dutch couple we were leaving with couldn't find all of theirs and got charged the entry fee again - and they were only allowed to pay in US Dollars, Tanzanian currency was refused!
Very tidy and great experience to stay 3 nights in a baobao tree. Super friendly staff and also very helpful to do the trip easy with a child (e.g - serving food earlier seperately in evenings etc)
Excellent food and good variations of activities
Chole Mjini Lodge review
We spent 1 week at Chole. The place is amazing and potentially as close to paradise as possible. The reef is beautiful and in some places really unspoilt. The very idea of the tree houses as put in place together with the special relationship between the lodge and the village left us admired and happy to be there.
We also appreciated being disconnected from the world without electricity, running water, flashing toilets etc.
However, this is an expensive place, not only to stay in but also to reach (the costs of the marine park are high) and to fully exploit as most of the activities get easily to serious prices for one family (one trip to see the whale sharks is 100$ pp). Guests are therefore entitled to expect a service which matches these costs.
Unfortunately this is not the case. Some examples:
1) we were exposed to potential life risk at sea 2 and half hours from the lodge (faulting boat engine, very low level of remaining fuel, uncaring captain) The same captain was again unable to operate another engine and to bring us on a sand bank off the lodge on the last day of our stay.
2) the toilet was given to us the first night full of tropical cockroaches 3/4 cm in size. I killed more than ten myself and had to ask in order the toilet to be sanitized, but only the day after.
3) while the food was good, the quantities were ridicolous: typically one would get a lot of rice and very little fish (30g). In 2 occasions we were refused additional serving "because the remaining portions were for the other guests".
4) common facilities are non existent: apart some sitting space in the breakfast area, no organised sunbathing anywere, not a deck chair, not a bench near the sea. The terrace in our treehouse had no shade.
We understand that the management has changed several times in the last 3 years and Jean and Anne are now reassuming direct responsibility. It is about time and having met and talked to them we have appreciated their strength and vision. Our advice would be, however, that you check thoroughly the conditions of the lodge under the new management before sending new clients.
Expert Africa comments
We spoke to Chole Mjini about these travellers comments, which were of a concern to us - especially those on safety. Chole Mjini responded with a thorough answer and sincere apologies.
It transpires that the period in which these travellers visited Chole, was a transition period between managers. The managers there at the time were preparing to return to Canada and the owners Jean and Anne de Villiers were returning. In their final months, the managers at the time lost their attention to detail and Jean and Anne do agree that service elements, the food, communal areas and rooms lacked a degree of care. Jean and Anne who built the lodge from scratch themselves, are now back at the lodge and assure us that they have already addressed many of the issues raised by these travellers.
They tell us that they have caught up on all deferred maintenance, replaced all the tired old linen, towels, pillows and soft furnishings, bought new cutlery and glasses, installed more photovoltaics and a WiFi router in the lounge. They have added new boats, new furnishings, brought back loungers to the jetty and bought new outboard engines which are much quieter, more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly. They have spent the month of January working with and retraining staff members and re-introducing old favourite dishes back into the "dumbed down" meal plans.
In regards to the safety concerns these travellers had - Jean and Anne assure us that all of their boats are fully equipped to sail and carry first aid kits, life jackets,
communications equipment, food and drink. Therefore running out of fuel or a malfunctioning engine is not a life-threatening problem, ever, which could possibly explain why the boat captain appeared somewhat unconcerned.
Expert Africa intend to visit Chole later this year, and so we can review the changes made by Jean and Anne first hand in. Hopefully these kind of comments are a thing of the past.
Great lodge and overall experience
The camp is described as "quirky" and that's a good description. The treehouses are wild and different, and each house has it's own personality. The new manager, Danny, is doing a good job and they take advantage of their great location by moving dinner sites around the camp. There are many daily activities available and our 4 days there were filled with fun and excitement.
A great place to end up a Tanzanian safari adventure, with snorkeling, dhow excursions, village walks and other hikes available.
Dinners were excellent, but everything is seafood based.
Relaxing stay with Whaleshark swim
After daily early starts on safari in hot temperatures, we were ready for a rest! It took a day to relax into Chole, and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here. It was a treat to enjoy slightly cooler temperatures! The staff were delightful, very friendly and eager to chat but they also respected our privacy. The food was very good, portions were balanced and just right for all the excursions.
We enjoyed the company of all, including 2 teachers who were working with babies and families. 'Batman' was excellent, very talented in numerous areas, and he worked so hard to find whale sharks. I swam with an 8 m whale shark with him and although I am not a strong swimmer, I felt very safe in the water with him. My husband and I both wish him well in the future he deserves to do well! The whale shark experience is one of the most memorable experiences that I have been lucky to have. Also visited an out of season turtle hatching (watch your footware as it involves a walk over sharp rocks)
Enjoyed being off the grid at Chole Mjini
Very good management from Lyndsey, good food - really liked the different romantic evening meal locations.
Good friendly service.
No real beach might be a minus but were busy enough with diving/excursions.
Great fun but not for everyone
The whole family loved it. Very different experience sleeping in simple open tree houses in the mangroves. Drop toilets on the ground are a little way away from the rooms. Open air showers worked well despite the need to light a cup of parafin to get them going (good fun). Fantastic trips out to sandbars and extremely atmospheric dining by candlelight amongst the old ruins now covered in strangler figs.
Lyndsey now manages Chole and does a terrific job. Very friendly, organised and helpful.
Highlight is a guided trip round the village which the lodge helps support.
Overall highly recommended for something completely different if you are ok with no running water or electricity in your room.
Chole Mjini Lodge review
A wonderful and unique location. Expert Africa rightly made us aware at the outset that activities were limited but def. worth the visit.
Loved the treehouses and showering facilities were ingenious. Slightly aware of a take it or leave it attitude from the management but they were pulling out mid January so perhaps that explained their attitude. Didn't like the way our children were pushed continually towards interacting with the management's children or the lunch and supper communal dining despite our requests for a separate table. One meal being formal with mangement was fine, but every meal .......
Wonderful to explore villiage, sail dhows, snorkel etc - snorkel hire and beer prices a complete rip off compared to Mafia and lodges. A continual and very hard sell on whale sharking which at $50 per head for half a day was expensive (probability of viewing them was 50%)
Food really delicious.
Overall a huge success but to make it all round excellent there needs to be a different attitude from management.
Expert Africa comments
The change in management that these travellers mention in their feedback has now taken place, and Chole tell us that things are settling in and running very well. They explained that the new manager Lyndsey, usually joins guests for their first night to make them feel at home and answer any questions they may have, but then leaves it to the guest’s preferences thereafter.
Chole have also reduced the cost of their snorkel hire, and have ordered some new kit too.
Unfortunately the Whale Shark Expedition costs are fairly high. Chole explained that this is because it includes transfers to Mafia main island to join the trip, and a $15 per person district levy which goes towards whale shark conservation. However, Chole is looking at including a Chole guide to escort people on these excursions, to try and make it better value for money. Hopefully this will be implemented later on the year – ask us for the latest on this.