Almost everyone knows the distinctive African violet, but the Usambara mountains located in the northeast of Tanzania are a lot more than just the home of this well-known indoor flower. The Usambaras are part of the ancient Eastern Arc Mountain chain ranging from Lake Malawi to the Southeast of Kenya and are divided into two parts. Formed nearly two billion years ago the Usambaras consist of some of the oldest bed rock formations on earth. The eastern Usambara range is closer to the coast, receives more rainfall, and is significantly smaller than the western range. Due to a relatively consistent climate, the native mountain vegetation has gone through a very long evolution resulting in an impressive amount of endemic species and a largely intact coastal rain forest until today. Therefore the Usambaras rank among the 25 most valuable biodiversity hotspots in the world.
Coastal rain forest & a trekker´s paradise
Different from the classic picture of East Africa with its endless savanna plains the Usambaras are a lush and green area year-round. They feature literally thousands of plant and animal species that are found nowhere else on earth. There are more than 3,000 native plant species known, including 700 endemics of which the African violet with about 20 subspecies is the most famous. In the cloud rain forest euphoria’s, acacias, giant ferns, lobelias, palm, camphor, eucalyptus, and fig trees are common. Due to the dense population of the Usambaras no more large mammals inhabit the area. Local animal life includes some monkey species, a number of amphibians, and a large variety of birds and butterflies. The remaining rain forests are home to exotic and colorful animals such as the three-horned chameleon, the Usambara weaver, the green-headed oriole, the Usambara blue-bellied frog, or the red spot diadem butterfly.
A special recommendation for nature lovers is Amani Nature Reserve which was established in 1997 in order to preserve the unique flora and fauna of the last remaining rainforest on the eastern slopes of the East Usambara Mountains.
LOCAL LIFE AND CULTURE
Although densly populated, both sub-ranges are a real traveler’s paradise with wide vistas, a pleasant and malaria-free climate, winding paths, a species-rich environment, magic waterfalls, and picturesque villages. The Usambaras are a top destination for scenic drives, hiking, mountain biking, birding or just relaxing. Various directional viewpoints yield spectacular panoramas of the dry savanna below, and on clear days one can even see all the way to the coast or to Mount Kilimanjaro.
The western part is especially inviting with a huge network of fantastic walking opportunities. Routes weave among villages, cornfields, and banana plantations, and range from a few hours to several days. Travelers easily spend a week trekking from village to village which gives a great opportunity to get close to the locals´ everyday life naturally. Favored by the Germans and English during the colonial era, the Usambaras are especially rich in historical buildings from this period.
Best Time to Visit:
June to October
1,350 sq mi / 3.500 km2
Protected area as of today:
14,750 km2 (5,700 sqm)
3,300 ft – 7,503 ft / 1.000 m – 2.287 m
Typical vegetation type:
coastal rain forest
African violet (Saintpaulia)
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (Eastern range) & world biodiversity hotspot
Galapagos in the clouds
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