An original, back-to-basics lodge in a heavenly Indian Ocean setting
A charmingly rustic eco-lodge (built before the term became a catchphrase), Chole Mjini is one Tanzania's most original small lodges. It lies on Chole Island, near Mafia Island, and is a peaceful and charming hideaway in an area off the tourist highway. Despite the isolation, though, there's a wonderful community atmosphere, some fascinating historical sites nearby and that blue, blue sea to explore. The rooms are charming, but don't expect much in the way of mod cons – the toilets are long-drops – but if you have a yearning for a Robinson Crusoe-esque experience, you're in the right place.
At the lodge
The communal areas, made from natural materials (apart from the polished floor and a few sofas of concrete strewn with cushions), include a large open-sided lounge and dining area with views through mangroves to the sea. Overhead, in the rafters of the thatched roof, is a bar with more sofas and, incongruously, an old-fashioned bicycle attached to a cross-beam. Mealtimes are flexible (dinner is three-course) and the food is splendid. Chill afterwards with the staff, playing bao, the local board game.
Chole Mjini has seven rooms, six of which are set on platforms high up in baobab trees. The seventh, slightly more conventional, is at ground level, with an en-suite bathroom and the island's only flushing toilet. Each tree house is different (some are two-storeyed), but all have storm lanterns instead of electricity, a shower heated by an effective paraffin burner, composting long-drop toilets and no aircon, although small solar panels provide for fans beside the huge and very comfortable beds.
Take a dhow trip to a remote sandbar, where you can relax on a beach surrounded by the sea. Snorkel, dive the shallow marine park or, for more advanced divers, head out on a dhow to explore outside the bay, where the reefs and wall dives descend to about 30 metres. Explore the island's ruins and mangroves alone or with a guide (take a late-afternoon walk to see a huge colony of fruit bats rousing themselves for the nightly foray to Mafia Island).