The Usambara's are a part of the ancient Eastern Arc chain which mountains stretch in a broken crescent from the Taita hills in southern Kenya down to Morogoro and the southern highlands. They are estimated to be at least 100 million years old and the rocks forming them may be as much as 600 million years old. The mountains are home to an exceptional assortment of plants and animals and represent one of the highest degrees of biodiversity on the continent.
The range is accessible from the towns of Lushoto in the west, and Amani in the east. The Usambaras are commonly split into two sub-ranges, the West Usambara and the East Usambara. The East Usambara is closer to the coast, receives more rainfall, and is significantly smaller than the west.
The East Usambara mountains belong to Eastern Arc Mountains, which is a chain of isolated mountains stretching in a great arc from Southeast Kenya to Southwest Tanzania. Geologically the mountains are very old - at least 100 million years. The total area of African rain forests diminished due to cold and dry periods which started about 2.5 million years ago. The Indian ocean maintained the moist climate required by the rain-forests. The individual Eastern Arc Mountains became isolated from the large African rain-forests and finally from each other.
The Climate of the East Usambaras differs from much of the rest of Tanzania. Rain can and does fall at any time of the year although there is a seasonal pattern. Tanzania has a hot, dry season in December-March, and a cooler, dry season in May to October. The ‘short’ rains occur in November and ‘long’ rains in April-May. The climate on the coast can be hot and humid, however, because of the altitude (800-1400m), the East Usambaras are cooler and wetter than the surrounding lowland. The rainfall averages over 1,500mm a year with an average temperature of 20C.
The East Usambaras are fairly densely populated, and lie within the more densely populated North of Tanzania. The area contains some 18 villages with a total population of about 15,500. An additional 4,000 people live and work on tea plantations in the area. The population is growing rapidly through a combination of natural increase and in-migration.
Different from the classic picture of East Africa – savannah - this is a lush and green area. The natural vegetation of submontane forest supports a wide variety of flora and fauna, much of which is endemic and for which the area is renowned both nationally and internationally. It is considered an international ‘hot spot’ for bio-diversity. The East Usambaras are particularly well known for bird life, with over 350 recorded species. The Usambaras are a bird-watching paradise. Abundant and diverse species can be spotted and according to experts, the Usambaras is one of Africa ’s best bird-watching locations.
There are many endemic plant and animal species in the Eastern Arc Mountains - more than 2000 plant species of which about 25% are endemic. Out of the 276 tree species 50 are endemic! The East Usambara mountains are the closest to the sea (only about 40 km) and due to moist climate the number of endemic species is remarkable. There are 16 tree species which can be found in the East Usambaras only. The forests of the East Usambaras have many rare species in all groups of animals, except mammals. High level of endemism are found amongst molluscs, amphibians and reptiles. The East Usambaras have been compared to Galapagos Islands with regard to diversity of endemic species.
The genus Saintpaulia, or African violet as it is commonly known originates from North-East Tanzania. During the year 1982, Baron Walter von Saint Paul Illaire, then District Commissioner of Tanga Province, found wild plants with small blue flowers. The species was introduced to horticulture and since then it has enjoyed spectacular and ever increasing popularity as indoor plant. Nowadays, the East Usambaras is one of the few places where Saintpaulia still occurs - there are eight species growing in the area.
Visitors come to the Usambaras to enjoy its nature, relax and hike. The main centre for visitors in the Western Usambaras is Lushoto town. In Lushoto, you can walk through the arboretum, hike in the forest, look for old buildings
Lets hike on Mountain Usambara
Usambara are situated in the northeastern part of Tanzania between Mount Kilimanjaro and the Indian Ocean Region of Tanga. It has been dubbed the “Galapagos” of the plant world. This incredibly beautiful and lush area is a welcome retreat from Tanzania’s Game Parks and cities. Because of its pleasant climate, the mountains were favored by the Germans and the English during colonial times, as is evidenced by the numerous historic buildings from the past. The mountain region is ideal for hiking as well as some spectacular driving.
From a distance the mountains are a colorful mosaic. On the fertile slopes around Soni and Lushoto farmers cultivate small plots but further away from the towns large areas are still covered by dense tropical forests.
The viewpoints on the southern and western side of the Usambara are well known for the spectacular views of the plains of Mkomazi and Handeni. Kilimanjaro can be seen on the horizon and at the end of the day the sunset turns the area into a tremendous pallet of unforgettable colors.
the following day tours we do not organise ourselves, but encourage you to join a local tour operator, which supports a community project.
Walking tours from Lushoto(daytours)
IrenteView point tour ( 4-6hrs)
This most famous viewpoint in the Usambara Mountains is just an hour’s walk from Lushoto. From the viewpoint you see the village of Mazinde almost 1,000 meters below you. On the way back you pass the village of Irente juu, where you will visit the crossbreeding and soil conservation projects at Mr. Mwindadi’s hamlet. The trip can be extended with visits to a nearby waterfall and the viewpoints of Kambe and Kwa Mkeke.
Usambara farm and flora tour (4-5hrs)
Starting from Lushoto you walk through one of the most fertile parts of the Usambara mountains to the village of Vuli. On your way you will visit a cheese factory and learn about the different trees and plants in the area. In Vuli you visit some farms where people are just starting soil conservation and irrigation projects. After an extensive explanation about farming in the Usambara mountains, you return via another route to Lushoto.
Day tours from other places in the Usambara Mountains
Growing rock tour (4-5hours)
Starting from Soni you walk through the villages of Shashui and Kwemula to the foot of Kwa Mongo. In half an hour you can climb this mountain which has a colorful variety of butterflies on top, and oversee the Southern Usambara Mountains, including Soni and Lushoto, and the Handeni plains. From here you descend to Magila, situated on the foot of the growing rock, where you visit two irrigation projects and the tree nursery of the primary school. The farmers and schoolteachers will tell you all the ins and outs of their development projects and explain, before your return to Soni, why the rock is growing.
Bangalariver tour (5-7hours)
Walking along river valleys, sometimes wading through the water, you descend to the village of Bangala. On your way you have a beautiful view over the Maasai plains, you will see a traditional irrigation system and can visit a Wasambaa farm. In Bangala you can visit the tree nursery at the primary school and afterwards take a bus back to Soni or walk back via Vuga hill.
Via the villages of Lukozi, Manolo and Sunga you reach the former German settlement of Mtae. On the way you pass through tropical forests, trek over mountains, go to several superb viewpoints and visit various development projects. If time permits you can also trek past Mlalo
Via Kwa Mongo and Magila (irrigation and soil conservation projects) you go to Bumbuli mission (historic German settlement). From there you make a tour through the Masumbae forest reserve, famous for its many birds, and return to Soni.
Potter Traditional Adventure tour
Via Magamba tropical rain forests, trek towards Klaizi village. Located near Mloala village lies the village of Kilieti, where you can find Namisfueli Nyeki developing pottery workshops. Visitors can observe and participate in the age-old tradition of pottery making.
All Fees and Taxes
Entry/Admission - Uluguru Mountains