Up above and down below- Karatu Weekend Adventure

On 14 July 2012 after a week of consecutive  night duty, I needed a break. Being a little low on funds I made a personal challenge to have a weekend getaway that would cost me less than 80 USD which is equivalent to about 128,000 Tanzanian shillings(Tshs) if I’m to buy the dollars from a bureau. Initially I was to travel alone but had a last minute change of plans to include my nephew. So I would consider my trip successful if I stay on budget, have a great out door experience and entertain my nephew. After critically looking at the map in the kids room, we decided on going to Karatu, the land of the Iraqi people.

Saturday morning, 21 July 2012 at around 7:30 we set-off for Karatu. My Google maps powered with GPS, Places and Navigation calculated a total time of about 1hr 45 minutes from Arusha to Karatu, it takes about 2hrs from Moshi to Arusha so we expected to be in Karatu by around 12:00 and sure enough we were.

The swamp.

Transportation: 30,000Tshs (7500 Tshs per person one way)

The overall transport cost is the same whether you take a direct bus or connecting bus. There are several direct buses (Lakrome. Ngumuo, Saibaba) from Moshi to Karatu at a price of 7500Tshs but they almost all leave the main bus station at 6:00. We were late and had to take a bus to Arusha at 2500Tshs each and then a mini bus to Karatu at 5000 Tshs each, The good thing about connecting is that you get to break in Arusha and can have a meal or look around the city, we were fasting so we headed on. Despite spending about 30 minutes at the bus station waiting for the bus to fill up we arrived at around 12:15 give or take, right in time:-)

The tour: 32,000Tshs

On arriving in Karatu, we were lucky to find a tour guide called Richard, a great social guy with as much knowledge of Karatu as enthusiasm to show-off what the town has to offer and for a budget price of 10,000Tshs (it would normally cost around 10USD-30USD per person for a foreigner depending on the tour). There were  many options of things to do including visiting local brewers, watching a dance group, going to a Lake Eyasi for a game hunt and camping and a trek to Snake hill for the view f lake Manyara and lake Eyasi. After deliberation we opted for a trek to Snake hill followed by a visit to a local family to learn about the cultural houses and traditions. Because we were short of time it would cost us a total of  22,000 Tshs to take a taxi to as near as we can get to the foot of the hill and back to town. For the distance we covered it was a bargain price. It normally costs around 30,000  Tshs though but our driver, Leonce was more than generous to a young local female tourist in the company of her 9 year old nephew on the Holy month of Ramadhan 🙂

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The view of the landscape was breath taking even though both lakes were clouded and we couldn’t get a clear view. we managed to get a view of the Bushindi swamp (I hope that is the right name). In the end of the day we had to cancel the idea of going down to the local family to see the traditional home called Pembe because we would have had to take about 1/2 kilometer decent down the hill. we were exhausted and being on a fasting state I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to climb back up!

Accommodation: 20,000 Tshs

I have not seen a diverse option of accommodation in any of the places I have been as there is in Karatu. It is really a tourism friendly town. Accommodation ranges from as low as 10,000Tshs to as high as 1900USD a night. There are quite a number of luxury hotel but we were on a budget. So after our tour we asked Richard and Leonce to help us secure a safe, decent but budget friendly accommodation for the night. We started off at the Karatu Lutheran Hostel which was fully booked. It was such a late down because the place is beautiful. Made of red bricks, with a proper fence and good looking rooms ( just the place I was looking forward to). In the end of the day we settled for Msimbazi Annex Inn at a price of 20,000 Tshs for a single room which I shared with my nephew. The location was decent; the rooms were clean, spacious and self-contained with clean bathrooms and hot water shower. My nephew seemed quite content with it. We set our luggage and went off to take a look around town.

The experience:

The road trip from Arusha to Karatu was worth waking up early in the morning and sitting in the bus for hours. The landscape changes from plain golden fields of corn in Arusha to semi-arid zones with water puddles to lush green forests and plains as you enter Manyara region and back to semi-arid with red brown soil in Karatu town. There are quite a number of art galleries selling tinga-tinga art, cultures and modern Tanzanian art as you move from Mto wa Mbu. The most prominent of which is the African Gallery, it’s big with a variety of art works.

Even children help out in collecting fire-wood.

The weather of the town reminded me of Dodoma, dry heat or dry cold. By the time we left our room for the bus stop the sun was out but we couldn’t feel it’s heat. It was cold enough for my nephew to suggest that we buy gloves lest his hands freeze to ice. My weather app showed that the temperature was between 13-20 degrees Celsius.

Morning in Karatu, a cold sun.

Even though the inn only served breakfast, they were kind to recommend a local joint to buy our dinner which was 2000 Tshs for a plate of rice and beef stew per person, it was not an extraordinary meal but it was decent enough even for fasting travelers. What I love most about the inn is that they accepted to serve our breakfast as dinner.

The municipality has a small park for kids equipped with a castle swing set (better than we have in Moshi) and public bathrooms. The town has 3 banks (Exim, NMB and NBC) with ATMs that accept visa and master card as well as Tigo-pesa and M-pesa services and a bureau (Aqsa) so worry not about accessibility to money.

A park with a castle swing set.

Although Karatu is a small town and is an important connection to Ngorongoro and Serengeti national parks it is a destination of it’s own. If well planned, the trip will be rejuvenating, informative and entertaining for both children and adults with a love for out-door adventures. I’m looking forward to going back for a longer time and when I’m not fasting to sample out the food 😉

The total: 98,000 Tshs ( including transport, tour, accomodation, meals and snacks and transport back home).

So mission successful, we sxplored a new destination, learnt a new culture, had fun and were on budget!

Quick tips when going to Karatu:

  1. Pack some warmers including socks, gloves and sweaters for the chilly times.
  2. Have some light clothing and a hand-held fan for the hot times of the day.
  3. Have sun screen on because after mid-day the sun get’s horribly hot and it leaves you sun-burnt.
  4. Have enough bottled water because the tap water contains high levels of minerals.
  5. Be prepared to pay for a tour guide, they are worth it!

You can reach Richard at the following email, richardnjuga@yahoo.com and mobile number +255767612980







  1. Oooh. I love new adventures. Getting out and exploring new places. It sounds like it was very successful! Kim*


    1. It was more than I expected. I’m glad I found a great tour guide that made my time worth-while.

      1. Yes. That can make all the difference. Kim*

  2. DanteThePrince · · Reply

    Seems you had a quality time there. Great read! Thanks

    1. Yes, I did Dante but lack of time meant that I couldn’t explore all the attractions in Karatu including the lakes. so I will probably be going back over there in a more planned longer holiday.

  3. How fun! It seems some times having an awesome guide makes the experience that more enjoyable =D So I’m curious, what would you say is the biggest difference between Karatu and your home town.. food, landscape, culture, etc..? 🙂

    1. Yeah, A tour guide gives the whole experience an extra oomph. There is soo much difference between Karatu and my home town, Tanga. Karatu is semi-arid, has lakes but no ocean and is very cool in the morning and quite hot in the day with very little humidity in the air where as Tanga is at the ocean coast, several meters above sea level, usually warmer with humid air. The cultures are soo different, we are traditionally more of fishermen and farmers where as the people of Karatu are cattle herders and farmers. The way we cook is different.

      1. Interesting.. wow well thanks for all the info. I really want to visit Tanzania all the more now and experience not only the culture, but also the differences in the culture as it varies across the country. Thanks again for sharing!

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