Mfangano Island: Budget vs Luxury Travel // Frame Ambition
So I’ve written and ‘grammed your faces off about Mfangano Island and how beautiful and interesting it is, but I’m back for one last post to hand out some free practical information.
You know me, shutting down your excuses for not traveling, one trip at a time ;)
I’ve briefly mentioned that I stayed on the island for 2 weeks absolutely for free by using Workaway (more below) and kept my costs down otherwise by just rolling with public transport and going on walks and hikes independently.
Spoiler alert: there are no cars on the island except for one wrecked one near Kitenyi market and the manager of a lodge’s 4WD. How those got there I don’t know but I heard talk of a ferry that runs intermittently. Either way you definitely arrive at Mfangano Island via water (surprise) and move around (if you want to) on foot, by bicycle or on boda-bodas.
Here we go!
Getting to Mfangano Island
On a budget:
From Nairobi: Given the distance between Nairobi and Kisumu this may seem like a long and torturous journey if you’re coming up by road but as it turns out Lake Victoria does not revolve around Kisumu city.
What you do if you’re smart is head to Mbita in Homa Bay (overnight bus would be my preferred option) and catch the water bus (150 bob to Sena, the first stop on Mfangano Island) from there.
From Kisumu: This is what I did and the journey was a long-ish but scenic and peaceful one with a matatu to Lwanda K’Otieno (400 bob from town), a water bus to Mbita(150 KES) and a final water bus to Sena also at 150 bob.
You can find the water bus schedule here and I found it to be reliable, clean and generally pleasant. Recommend!
Guests booked in at Governor’s Camp (more below) can have transfers by speedboat arranged for them departing from Mbita right to the lodge’s private jetty. There are flights from Nairobi to Homa Bay on FlySAX where the camp staff can pick you up and drive you to the boat’s departure point.
Aside from that, construction is ongoing on an airstrip which will be no more than a 20-minute ride to any of the existing accommodations on the island. It’s not yet confirmed what carriers will be flying in and from where but there will likely be options for private/chartered flights too. Watch this space!
Accommodation at Mfangano Island
My Workaway experience – The website is one of a number of volunteering/workstay platforms where people seek out volunteers for their projects/businesses/schools etc. to work part time (5 hours a day, 5 days a week is the generally accepted agreement) and in return offer free accommodation and sometimes even meals. All you’re responsible for then is to get yourself there and of course your personal items and any tourist-y activities you’d like to do while you’re there. Some places have a minimum stay, others don’t – this one was 2 weeks, which is how long I stayed.
This is available worldwide and even on this little island there are like 12 Workaway profiles to choose from, many to do with either permaculture (sustainable farming) or childcare/education (the latter I have some issues with, to be honest).
I stayed at a house facing Lake Victoria at Florence and Gabriel’s and had 3 meals a day with them and their three daughters. There was one other volunteer, Morgane , and we had our own little house and toilet (showers in the lake, elite!). They were at the intro stage of a permaculture project so Morgane and I went to 4 schools to introduce permaculture and eco-bricks to discourage litter and plastic waste messing up the environemnt. My specific jobs were to take photos at the schools, do some architectural drawings of the plan for the family’s home/example garden and help in the farm, although there wasn’t a lot to do while I was there.
There are a handful different options for mid range accommodation, all on the South/South –East sides of the island. Of the three I’d say Siambi Resort was the best outdoor and weekend vibe (and more reliable Wi-Fi if you care about that) and Mfangano Island Beach Club had beautiful grounds and a better-looking room layout.
Generally bookings and rate inquiries are best done by phone as online presence is not updated often with either of the two lodges.
The stunning Mfangano Island Camp - Governor’s Camp Collection was the first ever tourist accommodation on Mfangano Island, set up over 20 years ago now. Well it’s just beautiful and that’s that. Rates start from 320USD per person per night and it has a private jetty for guest arrivals and departures, a pool and a permaculture garden where much of the fresh food is grown and served at the restaurant.
Note that the camp is closed over April and May for the low season.
What to Do at Mfangano Island
I won’t lie, there’s not a whole lot of activity to book and do on Mfangano Island – the vibe is much more retreat, enjoy nature, switch off.
You can however see the rock art at the caves at Mawanga either by befriending a local who knows the ting (some people are better at this than others) or hiring a guide from the Peace and Reconciliation Museum. The museum itself was – I hate to say it – not very impressive or well set-up. Still if you’re a history and artefact fiend like me go check it out and pray there’s an attendant who can answer a few questions about the tools/weapons on display because there isn’t much information about that. It was annoying paying the 200 bob fee after that but I handed it over praying it went to at least some maintenance or curation or something.
Decent general info about the island and its first inhabitants, the baTwa and abaSuba, an introduction to the rock art of the great lakes region (including Kivu, Turkana and others) and a handy map of the island which was a godsend on our walks and hikes later on.
One thing I highly recommend is walking, cycling or riding a boda boda around the island’s main road, a loop around the whole outside. My Workaway-mate Morgane chose the walk/hike option one Saturday and I’m happy we did because there were surprises around every corner.
There are lush parts of the island, Muslim fishing villages in a sea of staunch Christianity, fruits growing wild on the side of the road, mini waterfalls and little tucked away black sand beaches. The elevation from the lakeshore to the centre of the island (Mt. Kwitutu) is quite extreme so here and there you’ll bump into unbelievable sweeping views and the general feeling that you’re actually at the ocean for the most part because the South and West parts face the water borders with Uganda and Tanzania.
Full disclaimer: we left our place at 6am and were back at 6pm from this expedition! So it’s a full-day hike and not for the faint of heart. You could always pay a fisherman for the use of his boat for a day or half—day as well and have a little tour from the water including some of the smaller nearby islands; one is said to be haunted so nobody lives on it! Chat to your hotel or hosts about negotiating or advising a good rate for you first!
And there it is, your guide to enjoying some time at Mfangano Island no matter what your pockets are saying. Are you convinced? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!