Moshi Day Trips — Cultural Visit and Kikuletwa Hot Springs

by Elizabeth

Between the time we spent in Moshi before and after our Kilimanjaro climb, we ended up spending an entire week in Moshi — a town in which most tourists typically only overnight before starting their Kili climb, safari, or heading back to the airport.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t so much the sights that kept us there for so long.  Nor was it because we found some awesome or relaxing place to stay that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to tear away from.  We largely spent so much time in Moshi because it was convenient and we used it as a base to plan our Kilimanjaro climb (and wait for Michael to hopefully get better before starting our climb).  In total, we spent 4 nights/3 full days in Moshi before our climb, and another three nights/two and a half days in Moshi after our climb and before our safari.

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Walking into town — Tanzania loves its traffic circles.  Note that even the paved roads end up covered in dust.

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Carrying things on your head is definitely a thing.

Our guesthouse in Moshi was almost three kilometers outside of town, so much of our town time was spent walking back and forth on the dusty backroads to get to and from town.  Moshi itself does not have any “sights” in the traditional sense.  We found going into town necessary for food and errands, but we didn’t really find any places in town where we enjoyed spending significant time.  The culinary highlight was Milan’s — an Indian restaurant where we had a couple great meals (and a third that was a bit of a disappointment, so choose wisely).  We also enjoyed our dessert at Union Cafe, but found the slow service tiring.  It took two hours to grab lunch . . . and we wondered how it was that we could do nothing all day and still feel like we had a full day.  Because our guesthouse was associated with a hostel in town, we also tried hanging out in their bar a couple times to see if we could get any intel on other places to visit in Tanzania.  Unfortunately, the curse of the smart phone was ever present; even if there were people there, they were all staring at their phones 😦

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A glimpse of Michael’s favorite minivan (“public transportation”) — advertising Arsenal (a British “football” team).

While hanging out in Moshi, we managed to take two day trips outside of town.  The first was the “free” cultural visit that was offered by our Kilimanjaro climbing operator.  The second was a visit to the Kikuletwa hot springs outside of Moshi.

Cultural Visit, Waterfalls, and a peek at Kili

As part of our Kilimanjaro climbing package, we were offered free transportation for a day-trip.  We ended up opting for their generic cultural visit/waterfalls tour after our original plan to visit Chala Lake was rejected.  We met our driver and guide at the climbing office and were driven around for the day in a fairly nice vehicle (much nicer than I was expecting).  We drove out to a local waterfall before visiting a cultural center centered around caves historically used by a Chaga tribe (and protected by the Maasai). 

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When I heard that we would be visiting a cave, I had assumed that these would be natural formations.  Instead, they were manmade and designed for the tribe to hide in case of invasion or attack by another tribe.  We were led through part of the cave system by a local woman, and much of her descriptions were of the ways in which the Maasai would attack the invading tribe (very gruesome). 

Note: Michael thinks I have who attacked and defended mixed up. We have agreed to disagree.

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Cave entrance.

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Heading down into the caves.

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Traditional Chaga house.

After visiting the caves, we continued on to the entrance gate for the popular Maragu route up Kilimanjaro.  While there, we were walked around by (yet another) local, who talked with us a bit about the mountain (and also led us around to the various signs and commanded that we read them).  He was very insistent that we get our picture at the starting point and various congratulatory signs, even after we tried to explain that we would be starting our very own climb the next day at the Machame gate. 

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Obligatory photo at the entrance gate (we would be using a different entrance gate the next day).

Unfortunately, despite the photo op, Kilimanjaro was no where to be seen.  We grabbed a nice lunch at a local spot before heading back to Moshi to prep for our climb the next day.  Overall, it was a pleasant diversion and a good use of our half-day, but not a “must do” for a visitor to the area.

Kikuletwa Hot Springs

After returning from our Kilimanjaro climb, we were both tired and sore.  It seemed like the perfect time to visit the local Kikuletwa hot springs that we’d been hearing about.  Thus far, we had only heard of people hiring taxis to take them on the hour plus journey to the springs.  When we asked around about this, it turned out that hiring a taxi through our the tour company associated with our guesthouse would run around $50 (not including entrance fees).  This was more than we wanted to spend.  We tried to see if there might be someone interested in joining us, but to no avail.  As we were leaving our guesthouse’s downtown location, we ran into a Spanish couple that had been staying at our out-of-town guesthouse’s location the prior night and they told us that they had visited the Kikuletwa hot springs that day with the manager of our guesthouse via public transportation.  They also warned us that the term “hot springs” was a bit of a misnomer — while the water wasn’t cold, we shouldn’t expect it to be hot either.

Armed with the information that we gleaned from the Spanish couple and the internet, we set off to visit the Kikuletwa hot springs using public transportation.  We started by taking the bus from Moshi to Boma — we’d been told that it should be 1000 tsp each ($0.50), but the driver was demanding 3000 tsh and we ended up paying 1500 tsh each (part of the continuing trend of foreigners’ pricing).  The bus to Boma took about 45 minutes.  Upon arrival at the Boma bus station, we were immediately approached by a young man driving a bajaji (like a tuk tuk/rickshaw in Asia), and negotiated that he would take us to the hot springs and back (with waiting time) for 30,000 tsh (about $15).  The bajaji ride took about 45 minute over bumpy, dusty dirt roads.  It was interesting to see the small villages (including Maasai) and farms that we passed and to wonder how it was that a lush hot spring could be anywhere nearby this dry, dusty landscape.  Sure enough, out of nowhere we arrived at a group of trees.  We paid our 10,000 tsh each to enter the springs, where we were greeted by the small oasis. 

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Clear blue pools were tucked away beneath the large banyan trees.  Luckily we had been warned that the springs were anything but hot — I would classify the water as pleasantly cool, but not cold.  Upon sinking into the water, we soon found our feet tickled by the garra rufa fish.  These are the fish found in “pedicure” fish tanks throughout Asia — most people pay to have them nibble away at their dead skin, but for us it was a free (and very weird) service.  We enjoyed an afternoon of lounging in the springs, jumping from the rope swing, and sampling our first “chips my eye” (french fries cooked in an omelette, which we topped with lots of hot sauce).  As it turned out, our bajaji driver was quite the show-off on the rope swing — now we know why he was so quick to approach us to offer a ride to the springs!  We left after a few hours feeling relaxed and happy to have gotten away from Moshi for the day — it was well worth the effort (and lower cost) of figuring out the public transportation route!

Overall, despite having chosen to spend a significant amount of time in Moshi, it wasn’t really a city that we enjoyed.  The town is very dusty and most of the nicer accommodations are located outside of the city, meaning that you’re either stuck eating at your guesthouse or have to trek into town for meals.  We weren’t huge fans of the food offered at our guesthouse and found the process of going into town to eat to be time consuming and tiring.  It was great to get out of town for a couple of days without having to pay for day tours (of which there are many), but we ideally would have spent less time there overall.

[We’re making yet another attempt to get caught up on our blog posts.  This post describes our visits to Moshi, Tanzania between August 5 and August 15, 2016.]

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