The island of Ukerewe

Ukerewe beach

This week’s travel tale is provided by one of our amazing Trip Co-ordinators, Laura, who tells us about her adventure to the remote island of Ukerewe!

I’ve been lucky to have had many experiences volunteering and travelling in Africa over the last 10 years, so it hasn’t been easy to pick one to tell you about!

I’ve spent the majority of my time in Mwanza, Tanzania. If you read Katie’s Travel Tale, you’ll realise this is also where she spent 10 months volunteering in 2017. It is quite the coincidence as, despite being Tanzania’s second largest city, Mwanza is not very well known. We’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing about our favourite beauty spots and restaurants, and talking about how we were there at the same time without even knowing it!

When in Mwanza, I spend my time volunteering at Forever Angels which is a charity that focuses on reuniting orphaned and abandoned children with their families whilst providing interim care for the children. They also provide a lot of outreach support to the local communities and families they work with.

I was in Mwanza for 6 months in 2013, so it would take far too long to tell you about all my work there. Instead I have focused my Travel Tale on a weekend trip to the island of Ukerewe.

Ukerewe is the largest island on Lake Victoria and is 45km north of Mwanza. It is well known for being home to a large community of people with albinism and was featured in the 2012 documentary ‘In the Shadow of the Sun’ which follows the plight of two young men with albinism.

With a rare weekend off, a group of five of us decided that a couple of days exploring Ukerewe would be a great way to spend our time. We set off very early on Friday morning, as the ferry from Mwanza to Ukerewe departs at 6am and takes around 3-4 hours!

Once we arrived in Ukerewe we made our way to the hostel where we would be staying for the next couple of nights. It was very basic but had everything we would need as a base to explore. After settling in and freshening up (and maybe a short nap!) we decided to wander around the town and explore, just to take in the sights. The quiet village of Nansio on Ukerewe is vastly different to the bustling town of Mwanza; it is incredibly rural, with dirt roads and corn fields in every direction.

Our hostel owner recommended that hiring bikes and a guide would be the best way to see as much of the island as we could in the short time we had, so the next morning – again bright and early – we set off. Little did we know, Ukerewe is actually quite hilly and many of the roads are sandy, so what we thought would be a leisurely bike ride quickly turned into a gruelling fitness session!

Although it was tiring, we had the opportunity to see so much and it was definitely a good recommendation. We cycled through villages, along the beaches and through forests. We stopped and explored an old Roman church, wandered through the Chief’s palace, spoke to many of the locals about their lives and the success of farming and fishing on the island, and played with children on the beach. Our guide was incredibly informative, and we learnt so much about the history of Ukerewe, the livelihood of the islanders and the emerging tourism industry there.

The highlight of the day for me was hiking up to a rocky viewpoint to sit and take in possibly the most incredible sunset I have ever seen.

Cycling back to our hostel in the fading evening light was interesting. Although our bikes had lights, not many worked, but we all made it back in one piece! After a refreshing shower we wandered a short distance from our hotel to relax at a restaurant on the beach. In typical Tanzanian style, our food took a couple of hours to arrive, however, there is no better place to wait than a quiet, secluded beach.

On Sunday we slowly made our way back to Mwanza and back to Forever Angels, feeling exhausted but grateful that we had the opportunity to discover this wonderful island.