12 January 2015

how to hike the usambara mountains.

To end our adventure-filled first year in Tanzania, Michael and I had the opportunity to go on one last trip, so we went to Lushoto, a small town located in northeastern Tanzania. We had heard it was one of the most beautiful areas of Tanzania in which we could do some serious hiking, so we jumped at the chance.

Most tourists to this country only have time for the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro, but if you have some time to tread on the less chosen path, look no further than the Usambara Mountains.

Why hike the Usambara Mountains? 

We were mighty tempted by this trip because of descriptions we read, detailing the area's picturesque 360 degree views, abounding greenery and farmland, and relative silence (in comparison to Mwanza, that is). Lushoto and the surrounding towns we hiked through fit that description well. There were stunning vistas everywhere we looked. We were constantly slowing down our guide to take picture after picture!

How did the hike work? 

Due to the way domestic airline travel in Tanzania operates, we were forced to spend one night in Dar es Salaam, both on the way to and the way from Lushoto. This didn't really bother us, as Dar is a great place for ex-pats to spend a few days relaxing and eating great food. We took advantage of our time and did just that. (Since we've been to Dar before, I won't elaborate but simply mention more recommendations for that area I've placed at the bottom of this post.) To get from Dar to Lushoto, we took a 7-hour bus. Not ideal, but cheap, costing us about $20 per person.

We picked the Friends of Usambara Society as our guide for the hike. We were very impressed with their service and would recommend them to anyone looking to travel in the Lushoto area. Hiking itineraries, starting at just one day up to ten, can be arranged. Since we only had a week of vacation, we picked a four-day itinerary. The cost per person for a four-day hike was TZS 515,000 (~USD 303), including the guide, accommodations and three meals per day. We found it to be a great value.

michael led by our awesome guide, richard. 

We were provided with Richard, our young Tanzanian guide, who was nothing but professional and courteous the entire time. Because we hiked in the low season, no other tourists accompanied us so we essentially had a private four-day tour!

Day 1
Kilometers Hiked: 27
Time on Foot: 6 hours, 30 minutes

The first day was the longest, which was good, since we had the most energy! We traveled uphill through villages to the Magamba Rainforest and slept overnight in the one-horse town of Lukozi. We loved taking in the views of the untouched forests and filling our lungs with clean, fresh air.

tanzanian women in their bright fabrics, coming from the local market. 

Throughout the trek, we learned a lot about the agriculture of the region. Rows of growing produce are everywhere, down in the valleys all the way up to the tops of the hills. We recognized apples, plums, peaches, cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, and carrots popping up everywhere!

Day 2
Kilometers Hiked: 15
Time on Foot: 3 hours, 30 minutes

The second day was light, but no less beautiful. We hiked through the different small villages of Manolo and Sunga, landing in Rangwi. We stayed at a sisters' convent in the hills, which was one of the areas used by the Germans when they first came to Tanzania. We imagined the building where we slept had been used as a bunker in World War II, given its particularly haunted character, but actually, it was built sometime in the 1970's.

Day 3
Kilometers Hiked: 15
Time on Foot: 3 hours, 30 minutes

We woke up on the third morning ready to get out and move again. We were stunned by the beauty of a huge forest of pines, cared for by the government. Every ten years, the entire forest is cut down and re-grown, as the type of pine harvested there grows and matures in just ten years!

Lucky for us, we had no idea what would meet us at the end of our hike. We were more than pleasantly surprised when Richard stopped us at the Mambo Viewpoint Lodge and told us we'd be staying there for the night. The rest of the evening was spent staring out at the Pare Mountains in the distance and looking up at the stars that night.

Day 4
Kilometers Hiked: 15
Time on Foot: 5 hours

Although we're always sad when vacation is over, we were itching to call it quits by the last day. Our route backtracked us by foot for a few hours until we were picked up by car and shuffled back to Irente. It was humbling seeing how quickly we drove the many, many kilometers we had hiked!

We ended with the last great lookout, known as Irente Viewpoint, and headed back to our lodging. With one more night spent in Dar, eating good food and using ridiculously fast internet, we flew back to our house in Mwanza.

If you like to hike and find yourself with some time in Tanzania, please don't pass up this beautiful region of the country! In addition to how nice it is on the eyes, it's a very nice trip on the wallet as well. For those who are interested in more of our details and budget, please leave a comment below.

Our four-day hike in Lushoto and its surrounding village concluded our Tanzanian trips for our first year! We've said it before, but we are so thankful that we've had the opportunity to explore this country we now call home.

Recommendations & Non-Recommendations

Epi D'Or - This cafe and restaurant is one of my newfound favorites, located on the Masaki Peninsula in Dar es Salaam. It's a little pricey, but please don't pass it up. Especially the chocolate croissants.

Q-Bar & Restaurant (My TripAdvisor Review)

AirBnB - We stayed at Vickie's place in Dar es Salaam (after an unfortunate stay at Q-Bar) and were so thankful we did. We'd recommend it to anyone. Please see Michael's review on the linked page for more details.

Friends of Usambara Society - As I mentioned above, we were very pleased with the service and hospitality we received from the Friends of Usambara Society. Yassin, the manager of the tour company, spoke great English and was concerned with every detail of our trip. He even made sure that our guide, Richard, was at our bus to meet us when we arrived from Dar!

Unique Restaurant - We stopped in at a small Indian restaurant for dinner one night and enjoyed the food, though the atmosphere was a bit awkward. (We were the only patrons in the restaurant for most of our meal.) Nonetheless, prices were good and the food came out quickly. This restaurant has no TripAdvisor page but is located on Alykhan Road in the East Upanga neighborhood.

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