Tanzania’s Arusha region is the gateway to the country’s northern tourism circuit, complete with world class mountaineering on Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa.
Kilimanjaro area’s biggest city, Arusha is an idyllic all-year round tourist paradise that attracts tens of thousands of local and foreign tourists annually.
It also helps that Arusha is served by the Kilimanjaro International Airport and that the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi is in its backyard.
The Kilimanjaro area attracts both high-class tourists and local Tanzanian and East African visitors seeking to relax in the fresh mountain air and explore the historic and cultural attractions of the region.
With Mt Kilimanjaro visible from all corners of the Arusha region and even the plains of Kenya, tourists do not necessarily have to climb the mountain to enjoy it.
Those who cannot, can still enjoy the picturesque vistas of its Kibo and Mawenzi peaks, and enjoy hikes through the thick, natural rainforest around them.
Villages on the foothills of Kilimanjaro offer a diverse range of services and tourist accommodation for every class of visitor.
How to get there
Visitors can get to Arusha from Dar es Salaam either by road through Rombo district or fly in via the Kilimanjaro International Airport located a few kilometres outside Arusha or through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and then a two-hour drive to Arusha through the Namanga or Loitoktok border crossing.
Airstrips in Moshi and Taveta in Kenya also provide quick access to the resort villages on the mountain slopes.
Key services such as mobile phone and internet connectivity are easily available, as are potable water and electricity. This means the region has all the basic infrastructure to offer a memorable holiday.
To market and grow it’s tourism and tourist services, the private sector holds the annual KILIFAIR tourism exhibition, held in Moshi, the gateway to Kilimanjaro National Park near the border with Kenya. This year the fair was held on June 1-3.
Under the banner of “Your Gateway to East African Tourism,” the exhibition provided a networking platform for stakeholders from around the world to share experiences, establish new business relations and improve existing contacts, said Tom Kunkler, KILIFAIR Exhibition chairman.
The three-day event has become the biggest tourist fair in the country, attracting about 380 tourist companies and over 4,000 visitors, according to Mr Kunkler.
Cultural tourism has been on the rise too; Linus Lasway, the co-ordinator for Mkuu Cultural Tourism Enterprises told The EastAfrican, “We are looking to attract visitors, both local and foreign, to stay with us for a unique and authentic experience of the traditional Arusha lifestyles as lived by communities around here.”
The collapse of coffee and agriculture in general in the Kilimanjaro area has pushed up investment in tourism as an alternative economic mainstay for the small family-owned farms once thriving as coffee and banana farms — the local cash crops associated with the Kilimanjaro area.
Mr Lasway said he was happy that cultural tourism has taken root here quickly. His cultural tourism site is located in Mkuu area on the eastern slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro.
He said that tourists arriving from Nairobi headed for Moshi and Arusha through the Loitoktok border crossing on Tanzania’s border with Kenya, on their way to wildlife safaris in the Ngorongoro, Serengeti and other parks in northern Tanzania, make a stopover at his Mkuu cultural tourism site.
They offer a cultural tour of the traditionally built centre where they serve local foods and brew, run a permanent exhibit of traditional weapons used in long forgotten wars and also no-longer- in-use household item such as wooden utensils, grain grinding stones and calabashes and gourds used for serving food and fetching water.
Near the cultural site, visitors can tour the Chagga Bolt Holes, underground trenches dug to protect the Chagga community during invasions by Maasai warriors.
The Bolt Holes are up to 500 metres long, partitioned into different chambers for the purpose of hiding women and children as well as for storing food and livestock. They also served as observation points to assess the progress of the battle.
Mkuu Cultural Site attracts more than 600 visitors annually, mostly from Canada, the United States and Europe. Its vantage position also means it can host visitors who want to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, but even those who cannot, can still revel in the majesty of the snowy peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi.
“Our visitors are interested in the African way of life, history and cultural heritage. They stay with us to experience the re-enacted African traditional lifestyle and thereafter visit the national parks, climb Mt Kilimanjaro or visit other attractions in Tanzania and Kenya,” Mr Lasway said.
Day-long cultural tours are charged at $35-$45 per day depending on the visitors’ itinerary, places to be visited and number of days stayed.
Still in the Arusha Region but farther south is the Pare Mountains Cultural Tourism centre, which attracts holiday makers out for a relaxed atmosphere in a high altitude camp or village.
The mountains offer picturesque attractions from their different peaks with excellent views of the plains in Kenya across the border and the rolling hills on the Tanzania side.
Rising up to 2,000 metres above sea level, the Pare Mountains are part of the Eastern Arc ranges starting from Taita-Taveta County in southeast Kenya and traversing the northeast of Tanzania.
From the different peaks of the ranges, tourists enjoy hiking through trails in the cool mountain forests, plantations and villages that offer a fascinating impression about the history and traditions of the Pare people, said cultural tourism co-ordinator for South Pare Mountains, Mr Kimbwereza.
Established in 1998, Tona Lodge is a community-operated lodge offering accommodation in a village high up in the mountains. Accommodation varies from $15 to $70 per night.
Walking safaris comprise a visit to Maghimbi Caves that were used as hiding places during the slave raids of the 1860s when Arab slave traders invaded villages in the Kilimanjaro area.
In the vicinity too is the infamous Malemani Rock, a huge outcrop from which children were thrown as a sacrifice to appease the gods.
Mr Kimbwereza said the tourism here has been developed to attract visitors interested in nature, and cultural heritage. Part of the tourism earnings are allocated to the surrounding villages for community development programmes such as education, health and for the supply of clean water.