Best Tanzania outdoor activities
Tanzania is a paradise for lovers of the outdoors. The country provides numerous opportunities to stretch your legs and get out of that car! World class mountain biking, hiking and climbing are possible in the regions of Kilimanjaro National Park, Arusha National Park, Mt Meru, Usambara Mountains and the tropical forest of Udzungwa and Uluguru Mountains. You just need to hire a car and drive your adventure.
Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
At the heart of the National Park is the 5896m Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and among the highest free standing mountains in the world. Gazing at the snowcapped peak from the tropical town of Moshi is an astonishing site. A trek up Kili lures around 55,000 trekkers each year, in part because it is possible to hike to the summit without ropes or technical climbing experience and because being on a highest mountain of Africa does well on people’s bucket lists. However, non-technical does not mean easy. The climb is a serious and expensive undertaking and only worth doing with the right preparation, meaning a good level of fitness, waterproof, cold-weather clothing and gear and choosing a good operator.
There are a daunting number of options when choosing a Kili trekking operator, ranging from costly to those offering cutthroat prices and similar services, and everything in between. Bear in mind that the fixed costs for going up the mountain are the same for all operators, and these fixed costs are steep. Budget tour operators typically economize on the fees they pay to their porters, making them dependable on the generosity of their clients, so chances are fair you end up with porters that tell you sad stories about their families. People often note that the enthusiasm, support and confidence of the guide and his team make all the difference in reaching the top. So you are better off going up the mountain with a team that enjoys their work and are treated well by their employer. An indicative price for a mid-range tour operator is around $ 2,000 per person, for 2 people, Marangu route. This excludes tipping (ca $ 250 – $ 300 for the entire crew / pp).
Cycling around Mount Kilimanjaro
You go up the mountain, or you go around it!
Having the freedom of your Roadtrip rental car, there are also many opportunities to explore the mountains' lower slopes, by foot or mountain bike, and learn about the Maasai and Chagga, two of the main tribes in the area. The village of Marangu, 40 km of Moshi and 5 km south of the main entrance gate to Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, is a good place to base yourself. Unlike lower-lying Moshi, Marangu does have an alpine feel. Popular excursions from Marangu are to the Kinukamori and Kilasia waterfalls and coffee plantations. Excursions are organized by the local community and offered by the hotels in Marangu. Day trips organized by Kahawa Shamba to the Mongyoni waterfalls and coffee farms of the Chagga tribe receive good reviews. Book with and start from Union Café in Moshi. Nomadic Experiences prices are around US$20/pp. SENE organizes 3-day Tanzania bicycle tours that start at Mbahe Village and go around the mountain counterclockwise to finish at Simba Farm in West Kilimanjaro. It’s a 160 kilometer route. Contact SENE for more information on mountain biking in Tanzania.
Choose your operator, Kili expedition tips by Roadtrip Tanzania
- Do they organize the expedition themselves or outsource?
- Guaranteed trekking date
- Possibility of deciding, whilst being up the mountain, if you need an additional acclimatization day before summiting the peak
- Group size maximum (up to six is very good)
- Re-supply of fresh food half way into your climb?
- Do they have a separate mess dining tent?
- Porters trek ahead to ensure your tent is set up?
- Hot water for washing?
- Safety measures
- Certifications: Main Guide, High Altitude and Wilderness First Responder?
- Guides TNPA Licensed?
- Get a detailed overview of what is included and what is not
- Ask tipping guidelines from the company
Some guidebooks make an attempt to asses Kili operators, but it’s impossible to provide an all-embracing overview of such a crowded and competitive market. We know that Nature Discovery, Fai Travel, Marangu Hotel and Bush2Beach continuously receive good reviews and treat their staff well.
“Every mountaintop is within reach if you just keep climbing.”
Arusha National Park
Only 45 minutes from Arusha town, this is the most accessible park of Tanzania’s Northern Circuit, yet the most neglected by the safari industry, largely because it does not contain much big game like elephants, or predators like lions. However, Arusha National Park is a perfect park for outdoor enthusiasts and a recommended destination in its own right. In addition to game drives, there is also the option to do hikes, canoeing, mountain biking and of course climbing Mount Meru. A highlight of any visit to Arusha National Park is the Mount Meru Crater Drive and Hike. The first part, up to Kitoto at 2,500m is a scenic roadtrip, a climb through a beautiful stretch of forest. From the car park at Kitoto, it’s a 2 to 3 hour hike through the crater. You need to take an armed ranger from the entrance gate if you want to hike. Wayo Africa organizes cycling trips and canoeing at Lake Duluti. They have good bikes parked at Rivertrees Inn. The best place from which to explore Arusha National Park is at Usa river. This are many nice (upmarket) lodges to stay. You can read more on our accommodation page.
Mount Meru - Great alternative to the Kili climb
At 4566m, Mount Meru is Tanzania’s second highest mountain. It is often overlooked by trekkers though, because it is "only" the fifth highest mountain in Africa and no substitute for Kilimanjaro for achievement-orientated travelers. On the other hand, those who climb both mountains generally enjoy Meru more...
For when you're looking for a genuine mountain experience but you don't have the time nor the budget to climb the big brother in the East. On top of that, Mount Meru is much less crowded than Kilimanjaro. The route to the summit is tough though, and almost as cold as Kili. There is only one route up the mountain - the Momela route. The best time to climb is from October to February. It is a four day trek and you need to go with a professional operator. Trekking companies in Arusha and Moshi organise treks on Meru from around $500 to $800. Same tips as mentioned before apply (see Kilimanjaro above) on what to look out for when choosing your mountain expedition operator.
The Eastern Arc in Tanzania, the Galápagos of Africa
The Usambara Mountains are well suited for the independent traveler and a Roadtrip paradise: winding mountain roads passing through colorful villages, affordable accommodation and campsites and plenty of opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts. Rent your car with Roadtrip Tanzania and explore this pretty mountain range at your own pace.
There is a series of forested mountain ranges rising at the right side of the main road between Moshi and Tanga. The largest of these mountain ranges, and most developed for tourism, is the Usambaras. It forms part of the Eastern Arc formation, famous for their high levels of endemism.
The center of community tourist development is in the villages of Lushoto (Western Usambaras) and Mambo (Northern Usambaras).
Did you know that the Easter Arc, containing the Usambara and Udzungwa mountains, is classified as a top 20 biodiversity hotspot in the world?
Birders and biologists, get your pen and paper:
- More than 2,850 plants species, of which 680 types of tree. A number greater than that of North America and Europe combined
- 23 regional endemic bird species, including several species found nowhere else. Ever heard of the rufous-winged sunbird or Udzungwa forest partridge?
- The Sanje crested mangabey - unknown to Western scientists till 1980
The Northern Usambaras
Mambo is more remote but worth the detour. It is the most scenic part of the Usambaras where the high escarpment offers breathtaking views over the Mkomazi Plains deep down (1.3 km!) below. The owners of Mambo Viewpoint Eco Lodge are a good source of information on things to do in the region. They have developed a number of itineraries, which can be undertaken on your own with a GPS or with a guide, going from birding routes, to visiting a cave, cooking with the local community, to hiking routes with overnight stays in monasteries. The grassroots organization Friends of the Usambaras and the Bradt Travel Guide that comes with the Roadtrip rental car also provides detailed information about the region.
The Westen Usambaras
Lushoto resembles a Swiss Alpine village, yet set in an African context. The town peaked during colonial times, and many of the buildings on the main street date to the early 20th century when Lushoto, then known as Wilhelmstal, provided weekend relief for German settlers farming the dry, dusty Maasai Steppes below. The area is fantastic for (multiple) day hikes and biking, passing through villages, colorful markets, farmland and some scenic lookout points. Some farms, mostly still run by Germans and Swiss, cater to day visitors and provide delicious lunches of produce from their own farm.
Contact Roadtrip Tanzania if you want to explore the Usambaras by foot or bike, and we will connect you to our local guide, Abu. A snapshot of the activities on offer: walk from Lushoto to Irente viewpoint (12 kms, $20pp incl. lunch at Irente farm); full day walk ($35pp), biking to Mkuzi waterfall ($35pp), 2 day bike trip from Lushoto to Mtae in the Northern Usambara’s or to Mazumbai forest ($110pp, incl bike and accommodation).
The scenic Udzungwa National Park is the most biodiverse forest habitat in Tanzania. The park was gazetted in 1992 and covers around 2000 km squared, which is almost 20% of the 100 million years old Udzungwa Mountain range. Famous for its many endemic species that were naturally preserved, the area has a huge ecological value. Birdwatchers and primate enthusiasts consider the area one of Tanzania's biggest treasures. For other safari-goers it’s a great opportunity to spend some safari time outside a car, as the park is only accessible by foot. Several well maintained trails form a network that enables you to explore the park. Though the trails are easy to follow, it’s prohibited to walk on your own. The trails vary in length from a few hours to three days. Expect to pass streams, beautiful waterfalls, thick forest vegetation and steep climbing parts. Though the climbs are not technical, your avarage speed will be low due to the humid atmosphere. A dive into one of the natural pools under the waterfalls is a true reward after getting hot and sticky.
Amongst the larger attractions are 10 species of primate, three of which are endemic: the Uhehe (aka Iringa), red colobus, the Matunda galago and the Sanje crested angabey. The last of these is amongst the world's 25 most threatened primates. Usually the red colobus is easy to spot, along with the black and white Angola colobus. Blue and vervet monkeys and yellow baboons are also common.
More than 400 species of birds live here, including many regional endemics like the Udzungwa forest partridge, which was new to science in 1991. With more scientific research, further new species are bound to be discovered. A quarter of the plants here are endemic, including some Saitpaulia species, closely related to African violets. There are also endemic amphibians, reptiles, and butterflies.
Setting off in walking shoes, with water and snacks, you'll explore the park's walking trails with a National Parks guide. You can arrange for your guide ($20) at the main gate where you also pay for your entrance fee ($30/pp). Fees can be paid by Visa, Mastercard or a Tanapa Smartcard.
Also part of the Eastern Arc chain and worth a visit when passing Morogoro, are the Uluguru Mountains (2,150m-2635m). The area is not protected (except for some small patches on the upper slopes) but still supports around 500km squared of the oldest natural forest and hosts some unique species (Uluguru bush shrike and Loveridge’s sunbird). The slopes of the mountains are cultivated by local farmers, making the park a great low-cost hiking destination combining nature and culture. A variety of low-key Uluguru excursions are offered by the well run Chilunga Cultural Tourism, a community-based organisation situated opposite the hospital.