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Activities to Do in Karatu Tanzania

Activities to Do in Karatu Tanzania

karatu Activities to Do in Karatu Tanzania

Karatu, Tanzania is a colorful  town which serves as a relaxing pause after wildlife safari. Located along the northern safari circuit, Karatu serves as gateway to the Ngorongoro Highlands and is located between Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater.

Due to its location, many safari goers end up overnight or stopping here for a quick break earning it the nickname “Safari Junction”. The busy downtown of Karatu is a mix of old and new with safari vehicles, local buses, and brightly colored  tuk-tuks riding alongside Maasai herders and ox-carts, while just outside town cultivated Iraqw farms and villages merge into the green vegetation of the Ngorongoro Forest.

Whether you are looking for cultural tours, hiking and biking opportunities, a chance to enjoy a slice of peaceful rural Tanzania, or simply a break from the dusty safari game drives, we think you should consider a stop in this underrated town. Here is our list of the top 10 things to do in Karatu Tanzania based on our visit. 

Top 10 Things to Do in Karatu Tanzania

As we noted, there are few guides written on things to do in Karatu. In fact, here is Lonely Planet’s description of Karatu: “This charmless town 14km southeast of Lodoare gate makes a convenient base for visiting Ngorongoro if you want to economize on entry fees” and the popular guidebook lists practically no suggestions for things to do.

We would not say Karatu is charming exactly (not sure we’d describe any of the towns in Tanzania as “charming”), but we found Karatu to be a delightful bustling town that serves as a great stop for a bit of relaxation between game parks and an excellent place to engage in some cultural tourism.

We chose to explore the area with a local guide and specifically arranged a few different guided tours with friendly and knowledgable Richard Njuga, coordinator of the Ganako Karatu Cultural Tourism Program. Proceeds from the cultural tours are used to support local environmental, educational, and health projects through KCECHO, a non-profit organization in Karatu. Almost all the listed experiences in this article can be arranged through Ganako Karatu and your hotelier who might offer additional options as well. Below is our top 10 things to do in Karatu in no particular order.

Take a Karatu Town Tour

A great way to  spend a couple of hours is to take a stroll around the town of Karatu. Visit the marketplace where you can explore rainbow-colored stalls and small shops that sell a bit of everything from vegetables and spices to Tinga Tinga paintings and carved wooden ornaments. This is a great place to barter for souvenirs and mingle with the locals. Along the way you might want to stop at a street vendor for a local snack such as fried cassava, chapati (fried flat bread), or fried bananas.

Keep a look out for the little mobile kiosks alongside the main road which have some colorful American namesakes such as the Mrs. Obama and John Kerry gift shops (there is also a Obama Hotel in town) which were featured in the The Amazing Race. In addition to the marketplace, we’d recommend venturing to one of the local brickmaking sites as brickmaking serves as a major industry in the area and the process is interesting to watch. If you are interested in a richer exploration of the town, consider booking a guided tour which can likely be arranged from your hotel or through the Ganako Karatu Cultural Tourism Program. 

Drink the Local Coffee

Tanzanian coffee may not have the international recognition of coffee from nearby countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya, but coffee has been grown in Tanzania for centuries and is one of the country’s largest exports. Karatu is an ideal growing area because of the mineral-rich volcanic soil and the altitude of the northern highlands.

There are a number of coffee plantations in the area, including the plantation at the well-known Gibb’s FarmShangri-La Estate  which produces NgoroNgoro Mountain Coffee, Blackburn Coffee Estate, and Ngila Coffee Estate. You can decide your level of interest in the local brew from simply sipping some of the local coffee at your lodge, buying a bag of beans to take back home, visiting a coffee plantation to learn the coffee production process, or actually staying on a working farm and coffee plantation such as Gibb’s Farm or the Shangri-La Estate.

Visit a Local Brewery

Travelers should try the local coffee while in Karatu; however, we also found out that Karatu has another type of brew for those wanting to be a bit more adventurous. It is probably best to visit with a guide but almost any local can also point you towards the brewery. We followed our guide Richard away from the market and through a maze of streets to the local brewery. The beer is boiled in one smoky room and stirred, fermented, bottled, and drank in another large room.

For less than a dollar, you are welcome to sample a cup of the beer. Richard asked that they give us beer that had been recently boiled to avoid any gastrointestinal issues (the safety and sanitation standards are not exactly up to par with Coors). A woman used a ladle to scoop a plastic cup full of beer from a plastic bucket of warm beer. The beer was warm and chewy as there were grains still remaining, but surprisingly it was mild and smooth in flavor. We made some quick (and tipsy) friends at the brewery before parting who seemed amused at our visit. We also walked by some other local people nearby who were grinding corn and other grains to be used for beer and spirits.

Volunteer your Time to a Worthy Project

There are a number of potential volunteer and charity opportunities in and around Karatu where you can benefit the local schools and orphanages, community centers, churches, or environment. Such opportunities can take place over the course of a day or last months depending on your interests and background. Remember that while you may want to work directly with kids, unless you can devote a significant amount of time (e.g., be a steady presence), it is less disruptive to children to help in other ways such as building school furniture, putting up a fence at the local orphanage, collecting school supplies, or painting a classroom.

It is best to commit to a project in advance so that the organizer can be prepared for your visit. Even if you don’t want to volunteer your actual time, you can still donate to a local project by donating money or supplies (e.g., school or medical supplies). Given our healthcare background, we took the time to visit the non-profit Foundation for African Medicine and Education (FAME) clinic and hospital founded and run by American husband-wife team Dr. Frank Artres and Susan Gustafson. Our visit here and discussion with both “Dr. Frank” and Susan was really inspiring and the clinic is an amazing example of what people can do when they dedicate their time to making a difference! Free guided visits to FAME can be arranged but must be done so in advance.

Explore the Karatu Iraqw Market

On the seventh day of each month a large market springs up in Karatu with a smaller version also taking place on the 25th of each month. This bimonthly market with local Iraqw vendors sells handicrafts, livestock, food, spices, clothing, household goods, pottery, and other items. A visit to the market is a great opportunity to pick up some unique souvenirs and stretch your legs. If your visit doesn’t correspond with the dates of the market, you can still visit the marketplace in Karatu town. 

Learn about the Iraqw culture

The Iraqw people are a Cushitic-speaking ethnic group who are well-known for their agricultural skills. The Iraqw have a large presence in the Karatu region and you can learn more about the Iraqw culture by interacting at the local markets, visiting a village, or even arranging a homestay. We took a hiking tour with Richard at Ganako-Karatu to an area studded with small Iraqw villages, farms, and homes just outside of Karatu. While many Iraqw now live in more modern housing, some Iraqw still live in traditional Iraqw houses made of mud, sticks, and straw.

Historically, the Iraqw and Maasai were warring tribes (there is still some animosity between some members of these groups) and the Iraqw devised a way to keep the Maasai from being able to steal their cattle by building their homes up against hillsides and keeping the animals inside the home. At night Maasai raiders would not be able to locate the homes or animal pens as they’d walk right along the roofs without realizing the Iraqw were dwelling inside with their goats and cattle. Along the hike we were able to see some of the traditional homes, meet some locals tending to their animals and crops, and even got to both try our hands at grinding and pounding maize.

We also visited a homestead of a lovely Iraqw woman who lives with her eight children and her mother in a traditional home. Sadly the husband/father ran out on the family several years ago, making it very difficult for the family to earn a living. We were offered seats on wooden stools and cups of hot tea. While no one in the family speaks English, we were able to converse a bit with the family with Richard serving as a translator.

Chickens, goats, and dog walk in and out of the home with a goat pen located in the center of the home and a cattle pen outside. It was very humbling to see how simply the family lives and it is clear that they sometimes struggle to be able to feed and clothe themselves. There was definitely something voyeuristic about the visit akin to slum tourism, but we learned from Richard that this family depends on the supplemental income from visits (Richard provides them with some money from each tour and they often receive tips from visitors) to be able to provide for the children. If you visit a homestead, it is appreciated if you leave a small monetary (preferably in Tanzanian shillings) or food donation to the visited family if you enjoyed their hospitality.

Search for Elephant Caves and Waterfalls in the Ngorongoro Forest Highlands

Nature lovers will want to consider a walk in the Ngorongoro Forest Highlands which is a nice compliment to a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater. With a guide, you’ll learn about medicinal plants, view a number of bird species, watch waterfalls tumble down a cliff, and see the elephant caves. If you are lucky, you may also see a number of animals who live in the forest such as elephants, buffalo, baboons, and various reptiles. The so-called elephant caves are where elephants, as well as a number of other species, come to extract salt and other minerals from the soil.

We saw lots of evidence of elephants and buffalo along the paths in the form of dung, vegetation destruction, and footprints, but the only animals we spotted were baboons and birds. The entrance to the trail is located near Gibb’s Farm and while you can come here independently or with a local guide, you’ll be required to have one of the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority guides with you once you pass the entry booth. The Endoro Gate Post is open from 7:30am – 4:00pm (7:30-16:00) and the hike is best done in the cooler morning hours as it requires some moderate exertion. Come prepared with sun protection, good walking shoes, and insect repellent and remember that while your chances of seeing a buffalo or elephants aren’t high these animals walk these same paths every day.

Hike or Bike in the Countryside

If you need a break from being cooped up in a safari vehicle all day, Karatu is a place where you get out and explore on your own two feet. Whether you want to bike along a dirt country road to take in pastoral scenery, hike inside the lush Ngorongoro Highland Forest, or climb a hill for some great views, you can find something that will appeal. Tours catering to specific interests such as medicinal plants or ornithology can also be arranged with a local knowledgable guide.

Also, just because you are outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area doesn’t mean the animals stick to the boundaries, and buffalo, elephants, baboons, hyena, bushback, and other animals are often spotted around the countryside of Karatu. Ask your hotelier for help in arranging for bike rentals (consider if you’ll need regular bikes or mountain bikes) and to find out about scenic walking and hiking opportunities.

Use Karatu as a Base for Day Trips

Many budget and camping safari operators use Karatu as a base for visits to the nearby Ngorongoro Crater as the town is located not far from the gate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and a stay in Karatu may save money on entrance fees and lodging. In addition to visits to the amazing Ngorongoro Crater, Karatu can also be used as a base for day trips to Lake Manyara, Lake Eyasi (where the Hadzabe Bushmen reside), Mlima Nyoka (climb “Snake Hill” for some great views), Oldean Village (a historical German settlement), and hikes along the Rift Valley. It can also be used as a base to visit Tarangire National Park, but we would not recommend it as it is a long drive. Depending on the day trip, you’ll want to take into account the extra time you might need to spend driving back and forth in relation to any cost savings or added convenience of staying in Karatu. 

Relax and Recharge 

Most travelers arriving in Karatu have been riding along dusty, bumpy roads, standing in Jeeps to observe the local wildlife, and eating lunches out of a box. Some are only a day or two into their safari while others have been at it for a week or more. Karatu is a perfect place to relax and recharge your traveler batteries. It can be the perfect place to enjoy a soft bed, a day without a full safari sightseeing schedule, and the peace of rural Tanzania. Karatu offers a range of accommodations from basic campsites to luxury lodges.

We stayed for two nights at the Karatu Simba Lodge and enjoyed having two full days to sleep in, relax by the pool, do some reading and blogging, go hiking, and take in cultural activities. If you are looking for some extra luxury, consider booking a lodge with massage and spa services such as Gibb’s Farm or Kitela Lodge. As amazing as seeing lions and elephants every day can be, sometimes you need a break to better appreciate the experience and to give your back a break from those bumpy roads!

So there are our top 10 things to do in Karatu Tanzania! We found Karatu to be a delightful bustling town that serves as a great stop for a bit of relaxation between game parks and an excellent place to engage in some cultural tourism. Those traveling through Karatu may want to spend a day or two exploring this often overlooked town.

Do you agree with Lonely Planet’s opinion or would you consider a stop here to explore this colorful town? If you’ve been, we’d love to hear about your visit and opinion on things to do in Karatu. Any questions about visiting Karatu, just ask us!

Africa Tales About Animals of African Savannah

Africa Tales About Animals of African Savannah.

Marangu Market Africa Tales About Animals of African Savannah

History shows that before the coming of colonialists in Kilimanjaro, the Chagga were well organised under small chiefdoms ruled by local ruler called Mangi or Wamangi. These chiefs ruled their subject using forces which were blessed by history, culture and traditional believes whereby the African leopard was regarded as spiritual symbol of the ruling class.

It said the pre-colonial traditional way of life in many parts of Tanzania including Kilimanjaro rain forests was a favourite home to big mammals of the savannah including African leopards which wander freely around villages in the whole area.

Different factors contributed to conservation of wild animals including the flourishing of the African leopard inside forest around Mount Kilimanjaro which was enabled by customary laws and traditional beliefs protected these big cats.

In Kilimanjaro those days, the leopards thrived in tropical rainforest which stand from 2,800 to 1,300 meters above the sea level through the Agro forest which today is found between 1,600 to 1,200 meters above the sea to the savannah forest which is on 1,600 to 700 meters above sea level.

It’s also said that due to the public support, during those days leopards of Mount Kilimanjaro were big but not dangerous although it is believed sometime they were able to break into a house to snatch a sheep or goat.

In those days the number of African Leopards grew bigger in the forest around mount Kilimanjaro because rules of pre-colonial Chagga did not allow anyone to hurt the spotted cat because it was regarded as sacred animal of the land.

In those good old days it was common to see a leopard during day time, not only that the big cat was allowed to wander into a house whenever it feels threatened by uncouth people.

From Machame, Rombo, Kibosho and Marangu it is believed that every clan had its own spiritual leopard which is believed to be responsible to protect members of the whole family at night.

Lake Chala a crater in the shadow of Kilimanjaro

Lake Chala a crater in the shadow of Kilimanjaro

Lake Chala Lake Chala a crater in the shadow of Kilimanjaro

Lake Chala a crater in the shadow of Kilimanjaro is a unique caldera lake, and is thought to be the deepest inland body of water in Africa. This lake is fed by underground springs from Mount Kilimanjaro.

The lake has a great diversity of life. From lush lake shore forest to stunning volcanic savannah; from river beds marvelously carved through ancient rock, to thick bush or open ‘mbuga’. Walking at Lake Chala is a magical experience that will put you back in touch with nature.

The lake is fed by groundwater flows, which come from Mount Kilimanjaro, fed and drained underground with a rate of about 10 million m³ / year. Depending on the time of year, it ranges in colour from deep blue to turquoise and green, it is surrounded by a 100 metres high crater rim.

Chala has a huge variety of amazing trees, grasses and plants; some are unique to the area. According to the time of year there are hundreds of species of butterflies and birds, including spectacular birds of prey. The African Fish Eagle, with its haunting techniques, Verreaux’s Eagle, Augur Buzzards and many other species of birds can be seen around the crater walls. Wild mammals do vary including Blue Monkeys, Colobus Monkeys, baboons, dik-dik, kudu and elephant. Chala is an untouched part of a truly ancient land and a must visit place.

Activities at this lake: walking safaris, canoeing, swimming and fishing.

In the early 1900’s crocodiles were introduced to the lake. However, over the years local fishermen have killed them and it is highly likely that none exist there today.

Local fishermen can be seen in their dugouts drifting silently along, they come to fish there almost daily.

Lake Chala Boat Lake Chala a crater in the shadow of Kilimanjaro

Myths and legends surround the lake and the local people believe a whole Maasai village disappeared into the lake. It is said that the spirits of those people still haunt the lake today…

Lake Chala and the surrounding area is spectacularly interesting, not just because of Kilimanjaro that can be seen on clear days towering in the background but also because it thrives with life. Walking around you can spot plenty of birds (about 200 species) and small mammals such as blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, baboons, dik-dik and kudu. Being so close to Tsavo National Park you might be able to see large herds of elephants that migrate back and forth between Kenya and Tanzania.

Probably a must-do when at Lake Chala is to go on a walk down the steep crater walls to the water. The walk is very scenic with great views of the lake and vegetation. Swimming is possible but it is advised to stay close to the shore. 
Another interesting walk is the river bed tour. There is a seasonal river nearby where the water has eroded the walls into beautiful shapes.

1 1 1 Lake Chala a crater in the shadow of Kilimanjaro

This is also a good place to spot baboons and other wildlife.

Accommodation is possible at Lake Chala Safari Camp. There are luxury tents and well-equipped campsites with hot water ablutions. Visit Lake Chala on a day trip or stay overnight to experience the tranquility of the lake and wake up by birdsong. A visit to Lake Chala makes an excellent day trip.

SUPERMOON Extraordinary Sight

SUPERMOON Extraordinary Sight
 
The supermoon will look especially big because it’s so close to Earth at the moment it reaches its fullest point. Share this sight with someone special, because we won’t see a supermoon this close until 2034.
 
About the Supermoon-From NASA
15042033 247913262289971 3146914286578467899 o SUPERMOON Extraordinary Sight

supermoon

NASA/Bill Ingalls
 
The moon is a familiar sight in our sky, brightening dark nights and reminding us of space exploration, past and present. But the upcoming supermoon—on Monday, Nov. 14—will be especially ‘super’ since it’s the closest full moon to Earth since 1948. We won’t see another supermoon like this until 2034.
 
The moon’s orbit around the Earth is slightly elliptical, so sometimes the moon is closer and sometimes it’s farther away. When the moon is full as it makes its closest pass to Earth it is known as a supermoon. At perigree—the point at which the moon is closest to Earth—the moon can be as much as 14 percent closer to Earth than at apogee, when the moon is farthest from our planet. The full moon appears that much larger in diameter and 30 percent brighter.
 
The biggest and brightest moon for observers in the United States will be on Monday morning just before dawn.

Arusha Day Trips

Arusha Day Trips

Arriving into Tanzania from anywhere that requires many lines of latitude to be crossed, or several plane changes, an intelligent strategy is to allow a day or two’s leisure in Arusha prior to your climb. The reasons for this are:

  • Around 1 in 7 people have their luggage delayed. Most delayed luggage arrives 24 hours after it’s supposed to
  • Prolonged airline travel tends to dehydrate and tire people. Having a day at leisure allows rehydration / revitalisation
  • A day getting used to Arusha’s elevation (around 1,450m) and the dry air, helps with adaptation to Kilimanjaro
  • Those who do not have time to go on safari after their climb often appreciate the opportunity to see a little of the local (non-alpine) environment and culture

Other than safaris, there are several day-trip options available to be enjoyed from Arusha. We briefly summarise the seven most popular options for Arusha day trips below.

Arusha Town Tour

This is a popular day trip, requiring only some three hours and little or no transport. Those interested to see the main features of Arusha will begin somewhere around the Clock Tower, on foot, with one of our guides and will usually begin walking northwards in an anti-clockwise direction, taking in such sites at the Natural History Museum, various monuments celebrating independence, the local market, and some craft shops. A town tour typically takes some 2-3 hours and covers around 4km.

Tours are completed on foot with one of our guides. The cost is USD 20 per group, regardless of how many people are in the group. However, it is customary for each person to tip the guide, with the amount being purely at the climber’s discretion, but generally being around USD 10 per climber for small groups, and some USD 5 per climber for large groups.

Hot Springs

This is probably the best place to swim. Emanating from within the earth, the geo-thermally warmed water is constantly renewed and is therefore very fresh, clear and clean. It’s a very pleasant place to spend a couple of hours with family, or to relax before or after a climb.

The distance from Arusha to the hot springs is 69km and the journey normally takes around 1 hour 20, so one should allow at least 5 hours for this excursion.

Costs for visiting the hot springs include lunch and transport:

  • USD 189 per person when solo
  • USD 114 per person when 2 subscribe
  • USD 89 per person when 3 subscribe
  • USD 88 per person when 4 subscribe
  • USD 87 per person when 5 subscribe
  • USD 86 per person when 6 subscribe
  • USD 79 per person when 7 subscribe
  • USD 75 per person when 8 subscribe

Meru Waterfall

This is a beautiful little waterfall, with its principal advantage being its proximity to Arusha. The journey from Arusha is just 7km and takes only 15 minutes. Having parked, there is a short walk that involves some steep ground and some clambering, but is quite manageable, even for young children.

Once we reach the waterfall, it is usual to enjoy the environment with a picnic, included in the price. Costs include transport:

  • USD 114 per person when solo
  • USD 74 per person when 2 subscribe
  • USD 60 per person when 3 subscribe
  • USD 59 per person when 4 subscribe
  • USD 58 per person when 5 subscribe
  • USD 57 per person when 6 subscribe
  • USD 54 per person when 7 subscribe
  • USD 52 per person when 8 subscribe

Cave Falls

This option is suitable for those who want to spend more time walking as, following a 30 minute / 13km vehicle transfer to the area, access to the waterfall requires a 2km walk along a river bed. The walk to the falls takes a little under an hour and some 40 minutes to get back to the vehicle, if completing a circuit. Bear in mind that to get back to the car requires a height gain of 60 metres, so while not strenuous, one should be prepared for this.

  • USD 104 per person when solo
  • USD 69 per person when 2 subscribe
  • USD 58 per person when 3 subscribe
  • USD 57 per person when 4 subscribe
  • USD 56 per person when 5 subscribe
  • USD 55 per person when 6 subscribe
  • USD 52 per person when 7 subscribe
  • USD 50 per person when 8 subscribe

Lake Duluti

Two options are possible on this excursion: either one may walk around the lake or canoe across it. Depending on which hotel we start from, the drive is around 15-20 minutes to reach the lake. The walk around the lake covers some 3.5km, however, we normally have a picnic along the way and may stop regularly if we encounter birds, monkeys or monitor lizards.

Costs for the lakeside walk include the government conservation fee walk and are as follows.

  • USD 121 per person when solo
  • USD 91 per person when 2 subscribe
  • USD 81 per person when 3 subscribe
  • USD 80 per person when 4 subscribe
  • USD 79 per person when 5 subscribe
  • USD 78 per person when 6 subscribe
  • USD 76 per person when 7 subscribe
  • USD 74 per person when 8 subscribe

Please note that use of canoes is extra with hire fees being payable direct to the local government office.

Maasai Crater

This is a dramatic topographical feature with steep falls that fall away into a lush green crater. The attraction of this walk is threefold: the exercise, the awesome views, and the opportunity to meet authentic Maasai villagers. If walking around the crater rim, we cover around 4.2km, however, climbers will often want to descend to the crater floor, which may add another 3km or thereabouts. Bear in mind that if descending to the crater floor, the return to the rim requires an ascent of 257 metres, which will normally take somewhere between 30-50 minutes and is quite strenuous, dusty and exposed to direct sunlight with virtually no shade.

The following costs include transport, lunch, local entrance fees and a small gift to Moita village.

  • USD 134 per person when solo
  • USD 89 per person when 2 subscribe
  • USD 74 per person when 3 subscribe
  • USD 73 per person when 4 subscribe
  • USD 72 per person when 5 subscribe
  • USD 71 per person when 6 subscribe
  • USD 67 per person when 7 subscribe
  • USD 65 per person when 8 subscribe
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