The Usambara Mountains – Trekking with Teenagers!

The Usambara Mountains – Trekking with Teenagers!

If you love trekking and the great outdoors, Tanzania is a great destination. Mt Kilimanjaro is iconic, and having climbed here back in 2014, I can confirm that it is indeed the special experience its cracked up to be. Mt Meru, the second highest mountain in the country, is also worth a look. But to the southeast of these two peaks is a much less-visited range of peaks that is arguably every bit as rewarding to visit.

I visited these mountains for three days as part of an expedition to Tanzania with my workplace, a girls’ School in London. The primary purpose of this trip was to build a library for a School near Moshi, but with our mission accomplished there we had time afterwards to explore the beautiful country that is Tanzania, and visiting the picturesque Usambara mountains was too good an opportunity to pass up. Of course, the trekking experience of the majority of the group was comparatively limited, so it goes without saying that some challenges lay ahead…

We went with the Friends of Usambara group, an organisation that is run along eco-friendly, community-centred lines, and they based us in two separate locations. First was Maweni Farm, situated prettily among leafy gardens and framed by the mountains around, most notably the imposing weathered slab of Kwa Mungu. The temptation in a place like this can be to lie back with a book and relax to the backdrop of twittering birds.

Instead, we used it as a base to climb up to nearby Mongo Peak, named after, according to our guides, the rituals that used to take place here. The mercury was topping 30 degrees on the day, and some of the girls were undoubtedly struggling. But, in keeping with the general supportive, tight-knit group dynamic that was commendably on display all through the expedition, the stronger members of the group helped out those who were flagging, with a just reward of some fine, panoramic views from the summit.

All smiles once we reached the top…wasn’t always like this on the way up!

Next up was a drop-off to a point further east and a day-long hike to our next base, Mazumbai Forest Reserve. This involved another challenging hike up a very steep gradient, another thing to stretch the group to their limits! But when we reached the summit here, before descending to get to Mazumbai (via a tea plantation), we had a different sort of rewarding experience to the stunning vistas of Mongo Peak…

Much of the Usambara Mountains are more or less free of tourists, and where we trekked was one of them. The local village that sat atop this peak was full of children who had, quite clearly, rarely (if ever) seen a ‘Mzungu’ (white person) before, and as we sat and ate our lunches they stood and watched us, totally transfixed. The only way to break the spell, it would seem, was to get our cameras out and try to photograph them, at which point they would all run away…only to return straight away (they were clearly playing a game, here). Our guides informed us that the route we had taken, which had made some of the girls so tired, was one these children took every day. Pretty humbling stuff…

This was the only way I was able to get a picture of the kids who watched us eating lunch!

Our third and final trekking day saw us employ the services of a local park ranger armed with a machete, as we fought our way through dense rainforest. If the previous two days had been tough for the girls, then this took things to a whole new level – I for one certainly found myself having to offer plenty of encouragement, give step-by-step instructions on where to put feet, and even hold hands through some of the more difficult terrain!

It probably would have been OK if we hadn’t got lost. Or get attacked by a nest of angry ants, which I personally found hilarious, but then I only got bitten once or twice whilst those around me had swarms of them crawling over their bodies (allegedly). Still, there were those who kept their spirits and humour up, which pulled those who were really struggling through to the other side. I think this day was probably more of a character-building exercise than anything else!

With its lush and diverse terrain and sweeping vistas, the Usambara Mountains are well-worth a visit: as well as the obvious draw of the scenery, you get to see snapshots of traditional local life and, if you time it right as we apparently did, no ‘Mzungus’ in sight either. This all added up to make for one of the more authentic-feeling experiences during our time here, and, if you are a trekking sort, a highly recommended place to visit in Tanzania.

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29 Comments

  • Sheena

    February 20, 2017 at 7:23 pm Reply

    Alright, this looks amazing. I love a good trek and it looks like I may have to add this into my bucket list ? Nicely written!

    • Joe

      February 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm Reply

      Thanks 🙂 It’s not the most visited or well-know trekking spot in Tanzania, so you could certainly do worse if you want to escape the crowds a bit!

  • Amanda Keeley-Thurman

    February 20, 2017 at 7:25 pm Reply

    Wow what an incredible experience. I would love to visit obscure villages and have my children meet their children.
    Amanda Keeley-Thurman recently posted…How to Spend a Day in Grand Cayman with KidsMy Profile

    • Joe

      February 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm Reply

      That’s a lovely sentiment Amanda. The world sure could do with more meetings of cultures along these lines! 🙂

  • John

    February 21, 2017 at 5:27 pm Reply

    What an amazing experience! It sounds like a trip the will never forget. Your pictures are wonderful!

    • Joe

      February 21, 2017 at 7:11 pm Reply

      Thanks John 🙂

  • Cat | For Two, Please

    February 22, 2017 at 5:34 am Reply

    What a wonderful way to see the spectacular nature and experience traditional local life!! Thanks for sharing your adventure!
    Cat | For Two, Please recently posted…5 Tourist Attractions to Skip in MontrealMy Profile

  • Global Brunch

    February 22, 2017 at 3:22 pm Reply

    What a great adventure & interesting insight into local life! I love when a hike combines both local culture and stunning scenery.

  • The Spirited Sloth

    February 22, 2017 at 8:15 pm Reply

    Wow, this looks like a really great trek, and a super valuable experience for these teenagers to have! I love when you get escape, like lush jungle areas, mixed with true insight into local culture. Really amazing post, I hope to get there someday.

  • Sandy N Vyjay

    February 26, 2017 at 1:04 pm Reply

    The location is really scenic. Trekking is really arduous sometimes. With teenagers patience is needed. But it is always a thrilling experience and the joy you feel once you reach your destination is indescribable.
    Sandy N Vyjay recently posted…Review of Hotel Ibis Bangkok NanaMy Profile

  • Rashmi and Chalukya

    February 27, 2017 at 8:28 am Reply

    Trekking through lush green forests is adventurous and fun filled as much as its tiring. The forest your group hiked through pretty dense and rocky. The kids and family there look like they have a hard life in those forests. Kudos to you and your team for the social cause of building a library for the underprivileged. Keep up the good work and keep traveling 🙂
    Rashmi and Chalukya recently posted…Experiencing the Colors of Desert Life with Chokhi Dhani, JaisalmerMy Profile

    • Joe

      February 27, 2017 at 12:03 pm Reply

      Thank you very much. It was a fun experience, yes, but it certainly was equal parts tiring too! Which is part of what it’s all about, of course 🙂

  • Marlene Marques

    February 27, 2017 at 11:36 pm Reply

    What a wonderful experience! The route you traveled seems to be quite interesting, not only for the whole natural environment but for being able to interact with the local population. Undoubtedly a different and memorable challenge.
    Marlene Marques recently posted…TRAVELING TO SRI LANKA? CHECK OUT THIS SPA!My Profile

  • neha

    February 28, 2017 at 5:32 am Reply

    To trek while the temperature soars to 30 degrees … hats off to you guys!! The location is no doubt very beautiful. And the forests are refreshing. Hope they provided you relief from the sun while you trekked.

  • Ana Ojha

    February 28, 2017 at 6:09 am Reply

    Trekking through Usambara mountains must be an exhilarating experience to cherish for the lifetime! And many congratulations to you for being a part of such wonderful cause!

  • TravelPeppy

    February 28, 2017 at 8:20 am Reply

    Tracking is the best way to enjoy the scenery. This is very interesting that while tracking you get to know more about the culture and tradition of locals from the locals. 😉 You can enjoy there company and collect more knowledge.
    TravelPeppy recently posted…Rome Airport Guide: How to reach your hotel from Rome AirportMy Profile

  • Jitaditya Narzary

    February 28, 2017 at 12:46 pm Reply

    Wow, an African trek! Have not seen too many of them. But beautiful settings and a great experience through the rugged terrains. Hope the heat wasn’t unbearable.
    Jitaditya Narzary recently posted…Sivadol of Sivasagar: Nostalgia of a Doomed DomeMy Profile

  • Joanna

    February 28, 2017 at 2:58 pm Reply

    I love hiking but I never thought about going to Tanzania to do it. Your photos look so beautiful and I am happy to see how the mountains in Tanzania look like. It’s great that at the end of a steep hill you get to a tea plantation. What a great reward after a difficult hike!

  • Soumya Nambiar

    February 28, 2017 at 3:36 pm Reply

    wow I have never heard of Usambara in spite of growing up in Tanzania. It must have been an intense hike for you, especially considering that you had to manage so many teenagers with their allegations against the poor ants. Hats off to you for making it.
    Soumya Nambiar recently posted…Half Day Trip To Sintra, Cabo Da Roca And Cascais, PortugalMy Profile

  • Adam Biernat

    February 28, 2017 at 4:01 pm Reply

    It must be such an amazing feeling to see it! Absolutely magnificent scenery. I would love to go there too. I’ve never experienced trekking in the jungle because I’ve always chosen colder areas. Maybe it’s time to change it 🙂

  • Samarpita Sharma

    February 28, 2017 at 4:34 pm Reply

    The place looks beautiful, it must have been a lovely trek. The kids look happy too. Loved reading this.
    Samarpita Sharma recently posted…Filing For Indian Passport Just Got Easier!My Profile

  • Kristina

    March 1, 2017 at 2:46 am Reply

    Gosh, I’ve never had it in me to go on a trek, but this looks like it was lovely and you really enjoyed yourself. It’s especially hard traveling with a group and kids, but well done you! The entire area looks gorgeous!

  • Indrani

    March 1, 2017 at 4:17 am Reply

    What a trek! I can imagine the tiring feel. Been to one of them recently… I was panting all the way up only to be told that this path is taken by locals every day. Very humbling as you said.

  • Dane

    March 2, 2017 at 1:34 am Reply

    I remember doing similar trips to this when I was in high school. We never did anything as amazing as going to Tanzania and building a library though. I remember a huge percentage of the kids complaining when we had to climb this mountain one time. I thought it was great but not everyone agreed haha. Beautiful photos and it sounds like a truly special experience.

  • Ami Bhat

    March 2, 2017 at 2:13 pm Reply

    🙁 Ant attacks are so bad when hiking. It gets you so uncomfortable for the rest of the trip. I am sorry you had to go through it. The hike looks quite interesting and I sure would not mind doing it.
    Ami Bhat recently posted…Chasing Sunsets at Chidiya Tapu in AndamansMy Profile

  • Nadine Cathleen

    March 3, 2017 at 12:05 am Reply

    I love trekking in beautiful places like this. Your photos look stunning! Tanzania has been on my bucket list for a while now.. so pretty!

  • Suruchi

    March 3, 2017 at 2:50 pm Reply

    I like trekking and have never thought about trekking to Usambara mountains. Although this hike looks quite picturesque but sad to know about angry ants attack too. I really appreciate the cause you took up – setting up a library for underprivileged.

  • Parampara - Parichay

    March 3, 2017 at 7:26 pm Reply

    Tanzania is on my list. I don’t mind taking a trip to Usambara as well since they are less-explored. Just a question, as a traveler, how safe Tanzania is? 🙂

    • Joe

      March 4, 2017 at 7:50 am Reply

      It’s very safe. I’ve never had a problem there, and it’s certainly not as notorious as some of its neighbours for crime etc. That’s not to say it’s 100 percent guaranteed safe, of course, but if you take the usual precautions you would anywhere else then you will be fine 🙂

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