We approached Mt Kilimanjaro from Marangu Gate, where hikers start their five to seven days of climbing to reach Uhuru Peak, the summit on Kibo’s crater. A different way to enjoy the mountain is from the bottom.
On a trip there last month, when we reached the town of Moshi, the mountain was covered in mist most of the day.
Despite being just 330km south of the Equator, the areas surrounding the mountain are cold, with temperatures dropping to freezing on some nights.
The mountain covers a surface area 4,000 square kilometres. A round-up trip covers 248km, starting from Marangu Gate through Tarakea, Kamwanga, Sanya Juu, Bomang’ombe then Marangu.
I was taking part in a social event in Marangu town, over a weekend, giving me time to make a two-day tour around the slopes. The day we arrived, it was foggy and chilly, with almost zero visibility of the peak from Marangu. But we could see Mawenzi peak with its rugged features clearly after driving about 30km to 40 kilometres to Rombo.
We set off on our drive in the morning, passing through lush banana and coffee farms, tourist hotels, lodges, guest houses of all classes, and recreational facilities.
We reached the Marangu gate, which is under the management of the Kilimanjaro National Park, and had breakfast at the Nakara Hotel, a boutique tourist accommodation.
Located about 2km from the main gate, Nakara Hotel hosts climbers, and those like us on a day tour. The hotel is owned by local entrepreneur Aloyce Kimaro, and is located on a small coffee farm.
This is the last point to check if your clothing is warm enough, and I decided I needed a heavy jacket because the cold was unrelenting.
After breakfast, we were off in our four-wheel drive vehicle that would take us up the slopes easily. We drove past farms until we came onto montane forest, which covers the mountain. We were headed to Tarakea town.
In Rombo, we met Linus Lasway, a cultural tourism entrepreneur. He told us he was in town looking for tourists who did not want to climb the mountain, either for health reasons or they could not afford the high fees for climbing and porters.
“Tourists can drive around the mountain to enjoy its beautiful scenery while staying with local communities,” he said.
Before getting to Tarakea, which lies at the border with Kenya, our driver/guide took us for a quick visit to Lake Challa, a volcanic lake on the border.
The Lake Challa Safari Lodge offers beautiful views of Mount Kilimanjaro.
From Tarakea, we drove to Kikelelwa, Rongai then Kamwanga on the eastern tip of the mountain. We still had a clear view of Mawenzi, and Kibo could be seen in the distance.
From Kamwanga, we drove on a new road, still under construction, which links Tarakea and Loitoktok to the Arusha-Nairobi highway.
On the western foothills of the mountain, we visited Enduimet Wildlife Management Area, which is on Maasai community land.
Oshumu Olombaayai, the manager, told us that Enduimet is best for photographic safaris since it lies on the Kitendeni migratory corridor for wildlife moving between Tsavo West, Mkomazi, Kilimanjaro and Amboseli national parks in Tanzania and Kenya. The area is teeming with giraffe, Thomson gazelle, zebra, wildebeest, elephant, oryx, lion, buffalo, leopard, eland and hyena.
It is from here that pictures of elephants with the snow-capped mountain in the background are taken.
Visitors to Mount Kilimanjaro can access its slopes from Arusha or Dar es Salaam either by road through Rombo district, or fly in through Kilimanjaro International Airport located a few kilometres outside Arusha.
They could also go through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, and then a two-hour drive to Arusha through the Namanga or Loitoktok border crossings.