Mountains & Volcanoes
Mountains & Volcanoes
Although Mt. Kilimanjaro tops the list as Africa’s most famous and highest mountain, Tanzania boasts many other mountain ranges and attractive peaks. Most of the country’s mountains and volcanoes are located in the north and east of the country. They vary from the dramatic crater of Mt. Meru and the active volcano of Ol Donyo Lengai to tamer options like the Usambara Mountains and comparatively gentle slopes of the Crater Highlands. Hiking trips and mountain climbing in Tanzania is becoming a popular option for visitors taking advantage of the many trails and peaks Tanzania has to offer.
Some visitors to Tanzania treat Mount Meru as an acclimatization trip before attempting Mount Kilimanjaro. A visit to this spectacular mountain, located within Arusha National Park, is an unforgettable experience. Its lower slopes are covered in dense highland forest, where colobus monkeys play and buffalo graze concealed beneath the thick foliage. The mountains vegetation is similar to Kilimanjaro’s though the high altitude glaciers and ice fields are absent. The extinct volcano’s extensive base gives way to a perfectly formed crater, and another internal crater whose walls are sharp, sheer cliffs. The Momela Lakes and Ngurdoto Crater are visible from Meru’s slopes.
Rising up from the floors of the Rift Valley, the Crater Highlands form a lush chain of mountains and volcanoes that includes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Hiking safaris take visitors from Ngorongoro Crater to the foot of Ol Donyo Lengai and offer visitors a chance to see some of the most spectacular and stunning scenery in Tanzania. Exploring this little-visited wilderness is the hiking adventure of a lifetime, an exciting if hair-raising prospect.
Stretching from the Taita Hills of southern Kenya to the southern highlands of Tanzania, the Eastern Arc Mountain Range has isolated ranges of ancient massifs on the continent. The range includes Pare Mountains, East and West Usambara, the Ulugurus and the Udzungwa Mountains. The current ranges were formed some 100 million years ago, with some formations up to 600 million years old. The relative stability of their climate means that the area hosts a surprising array of biodiversity, from plant and insect life, to spectacular bird species.
North of Meserani lie the Monduli Mountains, which acts as a condenser for rainfall providing year-round water and pasture. Only a few hours’ drive from Arusha, the Monduli Mountains make a lovely day trip or can be part of a longer hiking itinerary. Masaai pastoralists herd their cattle along the slopes and cultural tourism programmes give visitors the opportunity to learn about traditional medicines and local Maasai culture. The Maasai village of Emairete occupies a crater that was once considered sacred.
Remotely located on somewhat bumpy tracks 200 km south-west of Arusha is Tanzania’s fourth-highest mountain, Mt. Hanang. This almost perfect volcanic cone and extinct volcanic crater makes for a stunning feature above the otherwise undulating plains. A two- day climb takes trekkers through numerous tribal areas, including the land of the semi-nomadic Barabaig, recognizable by their goatskin garments.
Rising over 5km from the surrounding plains to a peak of 5892m, Kilimanjaro, a national park, and a World Heritage Site since 1989, is Africa’s highest mountain. Kilimanjaro is located north of Tanzania near the town of Moshi and is a protected area, carefully regulated for climbers to enjoy without leaving a trace of their presence. The mountain’s ecosystems are as strikingly beautiful as they are varied and diverse. On the lowland slopes, much of the mountain is farmland, with coffee, banana, cassava, and maize crops grown for subsistence and cash sale. A few larger coffee farms still exist on the lower slopes, but much of the area outside the national park has been subdivided into small plots. Once inside the park, thick lowland forest covers the lower altitudes and breaks into alpine meadows once the air begins to thin. Near the peak, the landscape is barren with rocks and ice the predominant features above a breathtaking African view.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is the highlight of most visitors’ experiences in Tanzania. From the peaks there are breathtaking views of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, the Rift Valley, and the Maasai Steppe, that belongs to Kilimanjaro.
Rising up at the south end of Lake Natron and the bush land of Kenya to the north, is East Africa’s only active volcano, Ol Donyo Lengai, whose Maasai name means ‘The Mountain of God’. The volcano erupts sporadically, sending small streams of grey lava down the crater rim and spitting hot ash high into the air. The climb, undertaken overnight so hikers can experience sunrise over the Rift Valley escarpment, is highly challenging.
To the southeast of Kilimanjaro rise the much older and equally beautiful Pare Mountains, part of the Eastern Arc range in north-eastern Tanzania. Pare Mountains are extremely rewarding to the avid trekker searching for hiking trails off the beaten path. Home to the Pare tribe, agriculturalists and pastoralists who have largely retained their traditional way of life, a hike through the Pare Mountains takes visitors through local villages and beautiful forests, and offers the chance to see a little-visited part of the country.
Located west of Dar es Salaam are the Udzungwa Mountains, an immaculate forest-cloaked wilderness whose 1900 square kilometers are among the most biodiverse on earth. Vervet monkeys play high in the forest canopy, and small forest antelope can be viewed at the right time of day. Botanical diversity is exceptional, and the park is host to a large number of endangered bird species. Views from the peaks of the mountains, towards the Selous Game Reserve and the distant Indian Ocean coast, are incredible and well worth the effort. The Udzungwa Mountains offer visitors the opportunity to view several species of primates and endangered birds in a beautiful African rain forest. Five distinct trails cover the forests and mountain peaks within the park, and offer varying levels of difficulty for everyone from novices to experienced trekkers. Better yet, there are no roads through the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, so hikers have the area all to themselves.
Overlooking the agricultural area around Morogoro and rising to over 2600m, the spectacular Uluguru Mountains contain some of the most luxuriant indigenous rainforests in the country. The Uluguru Mountains are part of the Eastern Arc range and are named after the Luguru tribe, a matrilineal group that farms on its verdant slopes. The area has some of the oldest forest in Africa, and because the ecosystem has remained undisturbed by climactic and geographical changes for an estimated 25 million years, hiking in the area is particularly rewarding. A plethora of endemic bird and insect species are found here, but permits are required to reach most of the peaks and permission must be sought in advance.
Southwest of the Pare Mountain, and also belonging to the Eastern Arc chain are the craggy and mist-shrouded Usambaras. Their western and eastern ranges are divided by a 4 km wide valley of small villages and farms, and hiking trails cover the foothills and larger peaks. Day walks and overnight treks take visitors through some of the most concentrated areas of biodiversity in Africa. Bird watching is especially rewarding, and the views from the mountaintops stretch over the Masaai Steppe and, on a clear day, as far as the Indian Ocean.