Songo Mnara

Southeastern Tanzania

The tiny island of Songo Mnara, about 8km south of Kilwa Kisiwani, contains ruins at its northern end – including of a palace, several mosques and numerous houses – that are believed to date from the 14th and 15th centuries. They are considered in some respects to be more significant architecturally than those at Kilwa Kisiwani, with one of the most complete town layouts along the coast, although they’re less visually impressive.

Just off the island’s western side is Sanje Majoma, with additional ruins dating from the same period. The small island of Sanje ya Kati, between Songo Mnara and Kilwa Masoko, has some lesser ruins of a third settlement in the area, also believed to date from the same era.

The only way for tourists to visit Songo Mnara is via boat from Kilwa Masoko, arranged through the Kilwa Islands Tour Guides Association. Prices start at US$96 per person including transport, entry permit and guide, and decrease with a larger group size. Dhows between Kilwa Masoko and Songo Mnara take about two to three hours with a decent wind (1½ hours with motor). For combined full-day trips including both Songo Mnara and Kilwa Kisiwani, a guide plus motorised boat transport and entry permit fees costs US$148 for one person (US$247 for two).

After landing at Songo Mnara be prepared to wade through mangrove swamps before reaching the island proper.

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