There are actually three Kilwas – the oldest, Kilwa Kisiwani (Kilwa on the island), lies on a small isalnd two kilometres offshore. Here are the ruins of the medieval city of Kilwa, once thought to be the site of King Solomon’s mines. Kilwa Kivinje (Kilwa of the Censuarina Trees) was a major 19th century slave trading centre, while Kilwa Masoko (Kilwa of the market) is a regional headquarters.
The Kilwa area is of great historical interests and great scenic beauty. The Kilwas were at their height during the 12th century and continued until the 1800s, ending with the abolition of the slave trade. Power shifted and soon all that remained of the Kilwa’s former glory were the fabulous ruins along the coastline.
The coastline town of Kilwa is still beautiful. Kilwa Kivinje was the terminus of the southern caravan route from Lake Nyasa . Over 20,000 slaves were exported from here annually during the 1860s. It was also the site of the Germans’ southern administrative headquarters.
A colourful market is held daily on the square at Kilwa Masoko. Men in white robes and women in black buibuis gather under the mango trees to barter fresh produce and a variety of goods.
Kilwa Kisiwani is famous for spectacular ruins, the finest and most intact collection of Islamic architecture south of the Sahara. These ruins, together with the stone town ruins on Songa Mnara Island, a few kilometres to the south as well as the ancient oblong houses of uninhabited Sanje ya Kati, make this area the historical nucleus of the south. Time bars visitors from venturing south of the Kilwas. Small fishing villages are scattered along the coast, unchanged by the progress of the rest of the country.
The town of Lindi is known for good fishing and fine beaches. The main southern port at Mtwara offers good swimming and snorkelling. The village of Mikindani is an old Arab seaport with narrow winding streets lined with small shops and mosques.
Visitor facilities include hotels at Kilwa, Lindi and Mtwara. Kilwa Masoko is the best base for exploring the Kilwa area. Going north, there are several delights for tourists on the coast and most are within easy reach of short stay visitors. Tanga is the largest town in the area.