Usambara Mountains – Tanzania’s hidden treasure
Think Tanzania and you’d think Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, or the Ngorongoro Crater. But there’s more to Tanzania than just these famous locations.
The Usamara mountains are one of Tanzania’s hidden treasures. The mountains are located in the north-eastern corner of Tanzania and stretch into neighbouring Kenya. This area is truly special as one of the last true Tanzanian wildernesses. The mountains are home to lush, virgin tropical rainforest that have a rich biodiversity all their own. The Usambara Mountains are a hiker’s paradise with a cool climate, winding paths, adventures around every corner and stunning views . If you’re looking for an experience beyond the usual tourist spots, then this is it. And it won’t break the bank.
The mountains span 56 km so there is plenty of room to stretch your legs.
You’ll find nothing better than striding out at dawn along woodland paths with the sounds of morning birdsong.
Stopping for a coffee as the rising African sun warms your back is also recommended as well as gazing across ridges with spectacular views towards Kilimanjaro beyond, and settling down around a campfire under the star-packed night sky.
But that’s not all. The Usambara Mountains are also home colourful, bustling Tanzanians villages, in hamlets perched terrifyingly on vertical cliffs. There’s even a town or two, if you are craving a little company.
Make sure that your adventures take in all these inspiring highlights:
Lushoto is a bustling town nestled in a shady valley. It’s the capital of the Usambara Mountain region and the heartland of the Wasaamba people. It’s a great base for some short hikes – for instance, to the Irente Viewpoint (see below) and the Magamba and Mkusu Forest Reserves. This is the place to start your Usambara adventure.
2. Irene Viewpoint
For more spectacular views from a different angle, over the Maasai plains and the village of Mazinde as well as the main road back to Moshi, hike up to the Irente Viewpoint, an easy 6km walk from Lushoto. You’ll wander through villages and cultivate farmland up to the Irente Viewpoint; don’t look down as there is an 800 metre vertical drop.
On the way back, stop at Swedish-owned Irente Farm Lodge Biodiversity Reserve for a healthy farm lunch of bread, cheese, yoghurt, home-made jam (pineapple is our favourite!) and fresh fruit. Here you can also see how they make their cheese.
3. Shagayu Forest
The Shagayu Forest is rich in biodiversity and one of the oldest natural forests. So if you’re a bit of a botanist you will love hunting for the flora and fauna that are unique to the Usambara Mountains. The forest is considered a biodiversity hotspot, so watch out for the African Violet and the rare juniper calodendrum eickii as well as the chunky Usambara Eagle Owl, the Usambara weaverbird and the tiny akalat in the montane forests.
Take a guided day hike around the forest and up to the magical Kidhege Falls; along the way you can play Spot the Colobus.
Mambo is a delightful village high up in the mountains. It has its own town crier and a day each week where every resident performs two hours’ voluntary work. There’s a colourful Thursday market and the constant bustling energy of regular Tanzanians living their lives. You’ll find a warm welcome here as a hub for some amazing experiences.
We recommend staying at the MamboViewPoint Lodge, close to Mambo, a comfortable ecolodge that’s at the centre of a range of community projects. It’s perched on the edge of a dizzying cliff, with amazing 360 degree spectacular views.
The lodge has a choice of accommodation including a campsite, and a full range of activities. Start with a bike ride round the area to get your bearings of the local area. Then you should head off to the Mambo Caves, a three-hour hike to a series of geological accidents that have hidden Mambo villagers from attacks by the Maasai for centuries.
Here there are also traces of ancient peoples. The Mambo Footprints are a series of preserved “footprints” in rock that could be tracks of ancient hominids – or something else entirely. Their origins are still a mystery to this very day. Everyone has a different opinion so why not check them out and offer your own?
The MamboViewPoint Lodge can arrange longer biking and walking trips to let you really make the most of your time here.
If you’d like a day off hiking, the MamboViewPoint Lodge can arrange cookery lessons, a visit to a traditional healer or lessons in Swahili. Or you could just sit back and relax with a cold beer and take in the scenery.
North of Mambo and northwest of the Shagayu Forest is a tiny hilltop village called Mtae. From here you have views of the Tsavo Plains and Mkomazi National Park, which are truly breathtaking. On clear days you can even see Kilimanjaro, the rooftop of Africa.
If you can tear yourself away from the views, take a trip to the nearby Mazumba Forest. There you can enjoy an evening walk amongst the butterflies, chameleon and colobuses (a very unique and beautiful type of monkey). The tea plantation and factory are also worth a look too.
The Usambara Mountains aren’t on the regular tourist route so if you are thirsty for adventure and want to escape the more touristy areas, Usambara should be at the top of your list.
We offer a 6-day hike in the Usambara Mountains. So if you want to explore this hidden treasure together with us, contact our travel experts.