Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro attracts thousands of trekkers every year from around the globe. Residing in the north of Tanzania near the Kenyan border, its easy accessibility, amazing views and unique challenge make it a world famous trekking destination. A Kilimanjaro trek is an amazing experience, but the mountain isn’t the only once-in-a-lifetime attraction in its surroundings. For trekkers who can spend a little extra time on their trip, in this article we’re going to look at the exciting other things to experience on a Kilimanjaro trek holiday.
East Africa, where Tanzania lies, is famous for its safaris. This region is home to iconic big game animals such as lions, rhinos, elephants, buffalo, zebra, giraffes, hippos and many more. It boasts an incredible amount of animal and birdlife protected by huge National Parks. In Tanzania alone nearly a third of the entire country is made up of protected wildlife reserves!
Elephants huddle in a herd, Tanzania. Photo by Steve
Safaris allow you to get into the parks to view the wildlife up close in their natural habitat. A safari is an unforgettable experience and with such large and dense animal populations in the protected zones, you are guaranteed to see plenty of them! Most Tanzanian safaris can be booked in advance from home and are frequently included in Kilimanjaro package deals. Or they can be arranged via accommodation and tour agencies in the nearby towns such as Moshi, Arusha and Karatu. For more details about the safaris below, you can read the Kilimanajaro Trek and Safari article.
In the Kilimanjaro region, Arusha National Park’s gate is only 25 km from the main Kilimanjaro trekking town of Arusha. Here you can see a varied landscape and common animals include giraffe, buffalo, zebra, warthogs and monkeys. There’s also a large variety of birdlife in the forests. Guided walks are popular here allowing you to get very close to the wildlife! Although there’s not as much or varied wildlife as other Tanzanian parks, this is still a good option for people with little time aside from their Kilimanjaro Trek.
Giraffes in Tanzania Africa. Photo by Pim
Slightly further to the east is Lake Manyara, a few hours drive from the town of Arusha. This big lake is home to thousands of pink flamingoes and you can see local fishermen in their wooden canoes here. On the shores of the lake you can find animals such as zebra, hippos and sometimes elephants. The lake lies on the road east to Ngorongoro crater (which we talk about below), and is therefore a good stopping off point. It’s worth checking Manyara out for the flamingoes alone, and a bicycle tour over the plain is an amazing way to get out to the shore. A day or less is long enough to spend at this park so it’s a good little addition to your trip.
Tarangire National Park just below Lake Manyara is a quiet, much larger park with lots of wildlife and is best known for its many bulbous boab trees and giant termite mounds. Its one of the best places to see elephants in the area due to their large population in this park, and other animals include buffalo, giraffe, baboons, gazelle, zebra and wildebeest. Tree climbing lions are occasionally seen here, and there are over 350 species of bird.
Ngorongoro Crater, 3.5 hours drive east from Arusha is a world famous safari spot. The plains at the bottom of this huge volcanic caldera are home to over 25,000 animals. It’s the last place you can see endangered black rhinos in the wild. The crater hosts one of the densest populations of lions in the world and the thousands of other animals include herds of zebra, wildebeest and gazelles, elephants, hippos and monkeys, as well as a variety of birdlife including flamingos on the lake. The crater rim boasts amazing views and houses a variety of accommodations. Ngorongoro can be explored in a day or two and is a great way to see many of the animals that East Africa has to offer in a short time period. The downside is that it is always busy due to its smallish size compared to the number of visiting tourists.
The Serengeti is known for it's incredible wildlife migrations. Photo by Marc
The last major Tanzanian National Park close to Kilimanjaro is the Serengeti. This huge park covers over 14,000 square kilometers, but most tourists will be visiting the southern park. These are mighty flat savannah plains, stretching endlessly into the distance (which is where the Swaheli name of “Serengeti” derives), punctuated with patches of woodland and lone trees. The Serengeti is home to a huge amount and variety of wildlife and is world famous thanks to many documentaries and the Great Migration, when annually over a million wildebeest and zebra cross the park to find new feeding grounds. The Serengeti plains has a large population of lion and you can see almost every other East African animal here including giraffe, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, gazelles, hippos, hyenas and birdlife. The plains take around a day to reach from the Kilimanjaro area but offers a unique experience with amazing views and brilliant wildlife spotting opportunities.
Kenya safaris are often packaged with Kilimanjaro tours. The Ambolesi National Park is very close to the mountain and is one of the best places in the world to see elephants and many other animals can be found here such as lions, elephants, giraffe, zebras and wildebeest. It also has some of the best views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Maasai Mara National Reserve is another popular destination, adjoining the Serengeti along the Tanzanian border and shares the same wildlife. In the north of Kenya you can find other good National Parks such as Meru, Lake Nakaru and Samburu.
Maasai tribe welcoming the tourists to their village in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Photo by William
The local tribespeople in and around many of these parks are the Maasai. These nomadic people in their trademark colourful robes live a basic pastoral lifestyle, traditionally living in villages consisting of mud huts. They have a vibrant and interesting culture and there are many tours offering visits to their villages, where you can learn about their lifestyle, see traditional dance and buy colourful souvenirs. Although these effectively exist for the benefit of tourists and are not a true reflection of how the people live today, it’s still a fun and interesting experience. Just be aware that you will usually get the hard sell to buy, buy, buy whilst you are there! The parks near Kilimanjaro are home to a number of Maasai villages you can visit, including on the main road to the Serengeti and in the Ngorongoro crater area. Kenya also has plenty of Maasai villages you can visit.
In the Ngorongoro region, Olduvai Gorge is a hugely significant archaeological site with amazing panoramic views out over the plains and the interesting rock formations of the gorge. Many tours stop off here for photos. The site is so famous in history terms as it was one of the first places where archeologists found ancient remains of human life in the form of fossils and tools dating from millions of years ago! This allowed them to fill in a gap in mankind's history of evolution with bones spanning thousands of years found in the gorge. But if none of that interests you, just enjoy the spectacular views!
The first Human Fossils were discovered in Olduvai Gorge.
Aside from the other things we’ve listed in this article, the trekking town of Moshi has a number of extra nice little spots. The Kikulweta hot springs could be the perfect thing for your tired body, or a relaxing trip to the beautiful waters of the crater Lake Chala to bathe, canoe or just appreciate its awesome views. There are a number of nice waterfalls near Kilimanjaro which can be visited from the nearby towns as well. This area is also good for nature walks and scenic hiking which can be a good way to warm up for your Kilimanjaro trek.
Mt Meru lies just 70 km from Kilimanjaro. Photo by Jukka
So, one mountain isn’t enough for you? Not to worry, only 70 km from Mount Kilimanjaro and just north of Arusha is Mount Meru, another volcano and the 5th highest mountain in Africa. Some Kilimanjaro tours combine with a trek up Meru, often for acclimatization before the Kilimanjaro hike. Treks at Mount Meru take around 3 to 4 days. This is a very quiet mountain with amazing views and great wildlife spotting opportunities at the lower levels - in fact an armed ranger will accompany you at this point to protect you from any roving beasts! Accommodation is usually in the mountain huts along the route, and as on Kilimanjaro, Mt Meru porters will carry gear up the mountain for you. Many Kilimanjaro trekkers speak very highly of Mount Meru and it is an excellent way to prepare for the “big one” whilst soaking in the spectacular panoramas that this trek offers.
If you fancy a beach holiday after all that trekking, head to the east coast of Tanzania, where you’ll find the islands of Zanzibar. These islands are famous for their mind-blowingly beautiful beaches with turquoise water, and the sea is home to coral and spectacular sealife. Stone Town on Unguja island is a historical trading city full of attractive and interesting reddish architecture, coming from the coral it’s made from, and the city is a UNESCO world heritage site. This is a top tourist attraction in the country, visitors love to explore its maze of alleys, bazaars and mosques, soaking in the culture and history of the place.
The lower slopes of Kilimanjaro are used by the local Chagga people to farm tea and coffee, with Kilimanjaro coffee being well known in the west for its high quality. A nice cultural experience is to take a tour visiting these plantations and villages. You’ll learn a bit about the local culture, see how they farm and process coffee, and of course you may want to buy some for yourself! There are also Chagga tribe tours available where you can visit Chagga villages and learn more about their culture. The trekking towns of Moshi and Arusha have loads of coffee and tribe tours to offer. Tripadvisor is a good way to filter out the best ones, such as Kahawa Shambani-Africa.
Coffee grown on the slopes of Kili is highly sought after. Photo by Victoria
If you have the energy, there’s plenty of other activities to enjoy in Tanzania and Kenya. These include horse riding, cycling tours, climbing and canoeing. Agencies often bundle activities like this into Kilimanjaro package tours.
Of course, there is so much more to do in Tanzania and Kenya than we’ve listed here, but we’ve covered most of the most popular things that people combine with their Kilimanjaro trip.
So as you can see there’s tons of great stuff to do on a Kilimanjaro trekking holiday, aside from the trek itself. We hope you found this information useful for your Kilimanjaro trip. If you can, add some extra time to your holiday and try and experience some of the amazing wildlife, scenery and culture of this inspiring part of the world. If you are going all the way there for Kilimanjaro, you may as well make the most of it. Doing something exciting or relaxing like a safari or trip to Zanzibar’s beaches is also a great reward to give yourself for conquering the highest mountain in Africa. Have fun!