Usambara Mountains – Tanzania’s hidden treasure
Think Tanzania and you’d probably think Kilimanjaro, or the Serengeti, or the Ngorongoro Crater. And although these beauties are world-famous for a reason, there’s more to Tanzania than these tourist go-to locations. One of Tanzania’s hidden treasures are the Usambara Mountains, tucked away in the north-eastern corner of Tanzania and stretching into neighbouring Kenya. The Usambara Mountains are special – one of the last true Tanzanian wildernesses, the Usambara Mountains contain stretches of protected lush, virgin tropical rainforest and have a rich biodiversity all their own. With magical, winding paths, stunning views, a refreshingly cool climate and an adventure round every corner, the Usambara Mountains are a hiker’s paradise. 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 stretch for 56 km so there is plenty of room to stretch your legs. You’ll find nothing better than striding out in the dawn along woodland paths chittering with morning birdsong, stopping for a coffee as the rising African sun warms your back, 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 to Tanzanians living their lives in colourful, bustling villages, in hamlets perched terrifyingly on vertical cliffs, and even a town or two, so when you crave a little company, you won’t be disappointed.
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. Start your Usambara adventure here.
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 it’s 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 including pineapple (our favourite!) and fresh fruit– and you can even check out 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 closet botanist (or even if you’ve come out!) you’ll love hunting for the flora and fauna species 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 montaine 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 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 menu of activities. Start with a bike ride round the area to get your bearings, before heading 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, and where there are traces of ancient peoples. The Mambo Footprints are still a mystery – a series of preserved “footprints” in rock that could be tracks of ancient hominids – or something else entirely. 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 Mtae, a tiny hilltop village, and when we say hilltop, we mean hilltop. The view over the Tsavo Plains and down to Mkomazi National Park is truly breathtaking, and on a clear day, you can see Kilimanjaro, the rooftop of Africa. When you can tear yourself away from the views, take a trip to the nearby Mazumba Forest for an evening walk amidst the butterflies, chameleon and colobus; and you can check out a tea plantation and factory, too.
The Usambara Mountains aren’t on the regular tourist route so if you are thirstier for adventure than the average traveller, put Usambara 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.