Mikindani is an old Swahili port that was once the centre of trade in southern Tanzania. Its original inhabitants were members of the Makonde tribe, who were joined by Arab traders in the 9th and 17th centuries, trading in ivory, copper and tortoise shells and, by the mid-18th century, the export of slaves across the Indian Ocean.
The huge natural harbour in Mikindani Bay was a welcome respite from the perils of the unpredictable Indian Ocean for explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mikindani was the staging point of David Livingston's last African expedition; from Mikindani he followed the Ruvuma river along the border between Tanzania and Mozambique.
In the late 1880s the area became of part of German East Africa and trade in the area's natural resources of rubber, sisal, coconuts and oil seed grew. Mikindani gained a fort (boma), a prison, a dock, a commemorative slave market, the Governor's house and a range of administrative and residential buildings.
With the arrival of the British at the end of the first world war, Mikindani remained an important administrative post until 1947 when the British administration developed the port in neighbouring Mtwara for exporting peanuts grown as part of the infamous Groundnut Scheme; after massive a investment the project was abandoned!
As the centre for trade and administration moved to Mtwara, Mikindani's focus shifted to fishing, the town declined and, due to its proximity with the northern border of Mozambique, the whole area remained relatively unexplored; the area was off-limits to tourists during the 1979 - 1994 Mozambican civil war.
Today Mikindani is a fascinating old town with winding streets and an interesting blend of local and Arabic influenced architecture. Arab buildings from the 17th century still stand in the town today, and the graves and mosques from this period give it the feel of Zanzibar's Stonetown.
There are several busses daily from Dar which you can get from Ubungo, Temeke or Mbagala bus stations. (8+ hours) note that during the rainy season parts of the road can get flooded. It's usually still passable but this can add significantly to the journey time. The companies operating the route change regularly but when picking a bus go for one with four seats in a row, the ones with five can be pretty cramped. Sitting in the back half of the bus can be somewhat traumatic during the non-paved part of the journey.
From Lindi there are buses throughout the morning, in the afternoon you can make the journey by first getting a bus to Mnazi Mmoja (Mingoyo) then catching an onward bus from there. (~2 hours)
From Mtwara there are daladalas (minibuses) throughout the day from around 6am to around 7pm (about 30 minutes). Alternatively, you could get a taxi for around 15,000/-, a bajaji (tuktuk) for around 6,000/- or a motorbike / pikipiki for around 4,000/-.
From Masasi there are buses throughout the day,the last one leave around mid afternoon(about 4 or 5 hours)
From Newala and Mozambique you'll have to go via Mtwara.
Precision Air also fly from Dar to Mtwara, the timetable is highly erratic but flights are scheduled daily (sometimes twice a day). Air Tanzania has also recently (2013) started flying the Dar to Mtwara route 4 days a week.
Mikindani is sufficiently small that you shouldn't need anything other than your legs to get you around. That said cycling around the town can be quite pleasant, depending on the current management The Old Boma may or may not rent you a bike to explore it with.
There is little in the way of actual 'sights' in Mikindani (and those that are there are often mislabeled, the old slave market isn't that old and Livingston house has very little to do with David Livingston) however it's a very atmospheric town and a nice place to stroll around and soak in the culture. If you prefer your strolls more structured the Old Boma has a book of walks around town (although last time I was there the staff were unaware of the book - it was still there though) but it is equally interesting to just wander and get lost. There will be no shortage of people to point you in the right direction when you want to get back.
For general supplies you're better off going to Mtwara but basics can be purchased in Mikindani. There are general shops (duka) all over town, the best of the bunch are probably the ones at the daladala stand.
Kuchele is the towns resident artist and if you're in town for more than a day he will probably find you to show you his work. He's a nice chap and won't switch on the 'hard-sell' if you look through his work. If he doesn't find you ask your hotel and they can tell you where to go.
The Old Boma has a selection handicrafts produced locally, and larger collections can be found at ADEA and at the crafts shops in Msemo Hotel, both in Mtwara.
For Tanzanian fayre, Subira's restaurant at the long distance bus stand is the best bet for cheap, tasty food (try the Pilau) with the only other option being Samaki's in the old slave market. There's a chap at the daladala stand that does chipsi mayai (chip omlette - it sounds odd but it's a Tanzanian classic) or chipsi kuku (chicken and chips). For tourist or ex-pat food go to:
Muku's bar next to the daladala stand is the liveliest of the bars in town offering all you would expect from a Tanzanian bar.
Hiphop beach next to the long distance bus stand will be a cracking place for a drink overlooking the bay if they ever get round to getting a beer fridge. Currently they have cold soda and warm beer.
Ten Degrees and the Old Boma (listed in the Eat section) are both cater to a combined ex-pat and local crowd.
All buses going north from Mtwara (those going to Dar, Kilwa, Lindi, Newala and Masasi) stop at Mikindani en route, although the Dar buses (which also stop at Nangurukuru for Kilwa) will only stop if you have brought your ticket in advance.
Going south (to Mozambique, Tandahimba or Newala) you will have to make your way to Mtwara first.