© Usumbara mountains. Lushoto District Council
Visit the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania and hike in ancient forests which are ecologically unique. The quaint German style town of Lushoto is the gateway to this beautiful area.
The Usambara Mountains are considered to be a biodiversity hotspot due to a high degree of endemism in the flora and fauna found there. This mountain range was formed millions of years ago and has remained relatively undisturbed for most of that time, which has given rise the growth of old forest and other treasures. The Usambaras and the Pare Mountains form part of the Eastern Arc Mountain Range.
Visitors come here to take a break from the heat and dust of the northern safari circuit and to just enjoy the lush green surroundings and champagne air. The Usambara Mountains offer amazing views, historic sites and idyllic trails to explore. The fertile mountain slopes are dotted with small villages and farms but for the most part they are covered with tropical forests.
This bustling town is the main centre in this region and set high up amongst the peaks which ensure a year round climate that is cool and refreshing. German colonialists in the 19th century were quick to notice the potential of the area and built the town. Wilhelmsthal as it was known at the time became a favourite holiday spot for officials from the German administration.
Lushoto has an excellent market, good amenities and a tourist information service. It can be reached on self-drive itineraries from Dar es Salaam (6 hours), Arusha / Kilimanjaro (5 hours) and the port of Tanga (3 hours). The closest national airport is in Mombo (1 hour drive) or further afield in Tanga. Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam have international airports. Mkomazi National Park has Kisima airstrip for charter flights. There are regular buses from Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Tanga.
There is a variety of accommodation offered in Lushoto and in the surroundings at popular spots. Mkuzi, just outside Lushoto is a small village near a waterfall at the edge of the Mkuzi Forest Reserve. Hikers on overnight trails will find accommodation at the villages of Mtae and Mambo which are close to the Mambo Footprints and Caves and the beautiful Shagayu Forest.
The Usumbara Mountains are ideal for scenic drives, hiking, biking, birding and just relaxing. Various directional viewpoints yield spectacular panoramas of Masaai lands below and the Pare Mountains, and on clear days you can see all the way to the coast and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Guided walks, hikes and tours can be arranged through the tourist centre in Lushoto. These walks and trails can take a couple of hours or you can embark on a variety of trails of between 2 and 8 days. Specialised birding safaris can also be arranged (at least 500 species in this area). Endemic birds include the Usambara Weaver, Usambara Akalat and the Usambara Eagle-owl.
GPS navigation is used on the fully catered guided hikes and overnights can be arranged at a variety of accommodation along the way, plus your luggage can be transported for you – ‘slack-packing’ at its best. For game drives and safari activities, Mkomazi National Park which is home to Big Five game, is only a 90 minute drive from the Mambo viewpoint.
Lushoto Waterfall and Mkuzi Forest – enjoy hikes to highest peak in Usumbara amongst other walks and trails. Colobus Monkeys and exotic birds including the Trumpeter Hornbill are found here. Irente viewpoint and farm – this is a great hike which takes about 2 hours and afterwards you can enjoy a picnic lunch at the farm.
Shagayu Natural Forest – this stunning and ancient forest covers about 10 000 hectares. It is a botanist’s heaven with an incredible range of endemic species recorded in a protected area. Day walks and overnight trails can be arranged into the forest and to the mountain viewpoint.
Mambo Footprints and Mambo Caves – these pre-historic sites are located close to each other. It is thought that the early humans who made the footprints also occupied the nearby caves.
Pottery making – in the village of Kilieti is the Namisfueli Nyeki workshop where visitors can watch the products being made and also join in.
Masumbae Forest Reserve – is a bird watchers haven located close to the village of Soni.
Mkomazi National Park – Mkomazi is located in the northern foothills of the Usambaras and borders Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. This park is home to the endangered Wild Dog and Black Rhino as well as Buffalo, Elephant, Lion, Leopard and Cheetah. Plains game includes Giraffe, Hartebeest, Zebra, Eland and Kudu. Rare species that can be seen are the Gerenuk and the Fringe-eared Oryx. This park is a less crowded alternative to more famous and expensive parks and almost all animals can be found while on safari.