Tanga: Amani Nature Reserve
Get There: While it’s a bit of a hike from the main drag, Amani is a perfect stopover between Dar and the Kenyan coast cities like Mombasa. A bus from Dar to Tanga is an uncomfortably warm but otherwise pretty easy experience, and from there all traffic to Amani goes via the little stopover town of Muheza. You’ll feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of nowhere, but just wander towards the smells of tea and burnt things and the main lodge has super clean, cheap rooms with breakfast included. Basically no one else ever goes there, from what we could gather, so the hosts will be pretty chuffed about your presence. Food options in the town are pretty limited, but you can pick up a basic Tanzanian-style dinner at most of the places along the road, which involves a lot of attempts at bad Swahili and you eventually getting given whatever the hell they feel like.
From there Amani is about 30k away from Muheza by open-back trucks. Don’t count on any strict timeframes with these, but the locals will direct you down to the place where they leave and if you wait long enough in the back you’re guaranteed a cheap, fun ride to the Amani gate. Sitting on the top bars of the trucks is a mind-blowingly free experience, just remember that if the other passengers start yelling Swahili at you it’s probably because a low-hanging branch is about to lop your dreadlocked head off. Get off at the main gate and the resthouse lodge is on your right – the rest is your call.
Cost: There’s a small fee to enter the park which seems to change constantly and lodge accommodation is about 10 bucks a night including food, but nothing likely to break the budget.
If the smogs of Dar are starting to suffocate your spirit, Amani Nature Reserve is the best place to get away quite literally from the beaten track. Right up in the East Usambara mountain range in Tanzania’s North-East, Amani is 350 hectares of centuries-old towering rainforest dreamland that it’s impossible not to get lost in either literally or existentially – whichever you prefer. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife in what we were told was the most biodiverse rainforest in Africa, but the wild landscapes around the park are enough to whet any wandering soul. The narcissistic adventurer inside of you will froth with every new hill conquered as you perch on a rock with no civilisation in sight and declare yourself a modern Christopher McCandless. Better yet, you’re likely only to be sharing the park with whichever smattering of muddy, wild-eyed botanists have ended up at the main Amani lodge watching butterflies and sniffing preserving fluid.
The information centre contains an alarming lack of information and signage is not Amani’s strong point, so aim to get back from hikes mid-afternoon and you won’t be caught out. Especially in the wet season, a lot of the trails are extremely slippery, so old clothes (not that we’re assuming you have anything else) good shoes and a willingness to cop a bug or two and some mud to the nostril are all necessities.
Hobo Tip: Speak to the lady who runs the lodge in the morning and she’ll have a simple and delicious African meal waiting for you when you get home for a couple of dollars – that and a couple of cups of super sweet tea will seem like heaven when you’ve been hiking all day. Bringing your own food for other meals is highly recommended: we spent at least eight hours a day wandering the park in the hope of finding the fabled Amani town and the mouth-watering delicacies it and the other wanderers promised, to no avail.