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Moshi & Marangu

Most of Kilimanjaro's dedicated climbing operators are based in the small town of Moshi, a 45-minute drive south of the entrance to the Kilimanjaro National Park. Located in the heart of Tanzania's predominantly coffee-growing region, and surrounded by wheat, maize, sugar, banana, and coffee plantations, Moshi is the scene of vigorous bidding as international buyers vie for the region's seasonal wholesale coffee. Despite being the gateway to Tanzania's most visited national park, it feels less dependent on tourism dollars than nearby Arusha, with fewer tourism operators and foreign exchange bureaus, and only the occasional tout hawking tat to irritated tourists. Moshi's peaceful atmosphere can also be attributed to its relatively tiny population -- a mere 150,000 strong, with a harmonious mix of Muslims, Hindus, and Christians providing a low-key but bustling street scene.

Given its proximity to Kili, Moshi is surprisingly hot and humid, with the run-down charm and laid-back atmosphere typical of subtropical climates. Surrounding Moshi's small shopping and business center (don't miss a wander through the vibrant African market, located on the double roads near Chagga St.) are leafy suburbs, their pavements periodically covered in carpets of purple jacaranda blossoms.

While Moshi is a one-horse town in comparison to Arusha, it remains a great deal more urban than Marangu, the sprawling village located at the foot of Kilimanjaro (40-50 min. from Moshi), above and below the main entrance to the national park. Fed by numerous streams that gush down from the mountain, Marangu (meaning Land of Water in the local Chagga dialect) is perennially lush and cool, with mornings shrouded in mist and doused with overnight rainfalls. It's a great deal more romantic than Moshi -- ideal if you prefer a more rural atmosphere, with most of the accommodations options conveniently within a 5km (3-mile) radius of the park entrance. This makes it an ideal base for those who wish to explore the foothills and forests of Mount Kilimanjaro. If you don't wish to fork out for park fees, it's worth noting that there are also a number of walks to waterfalls that fall outside the park, which can be reached on foot from Marangu lodgings.

But be warned: You are likely to be rather disappointed by the food on offer at Marangu lodgings; despite the fertility of the soil that produces much of the food on your table, the old-school colonial training that prevails in most kitchens means that much of it reaches your plate nutrient-depleted and stripped of flavor. Climbers, so focused on conquering (or celebrating) their ascent, appear indifferent to the bland cuisine and predominantly spartan sleeping quarters that most Moshi and Marangu hotels offer; if you're not one of these, it's worth looking into basing yourself at one of the rated options in and around nearby Arusha, where the well-heeled are fed and watered before flying or driving onward to their Northern Circuit destinations.

Essentials

Getting There

By Air

The closest airport to Moshi is Kilimanjaro International Airport (referred to as KIA locally, but JRO is the official abbreviation), 45km (28 miles) from Moshi (more or less halfway between Moshi and Arusha) and 90km (56 miles) from Marangu. Facilities include a post office, bank, and bureau de change. International carriers KLM, Air Tanzania, Air Kenya, and Ethiopian Airways land here daily; others land at Dar es Salaam International Airport, from where visitors need to charter a flight to KIA or Arusha Airport (the latter servicing light aircraft only and located on the western outskirts of Arusha). Unless traveling to the south, it makes more sense for visitors to Kili and the Northern Circuit to fly to Nairobi airport (NBO) and then catch a connecting flight to KIA. Kenya Airways, in partnership with a Tanzanian airline called Precision Air, operates four or five flights daily on this route; it is designed as a connector flight, so if you are arriving on an international flight, you should check to see if you can remain, in transit to avoid paying for a Kenyan visa. You can book directly with Precision (pwreservations@precisionairtz.com). Another option is to connect with AirKenya (note that this is different from Kenya Airways), which offers a daily flight that leaves from Nairobi's Wilson General Aviation Airport (at press time, around 12:30pm). The drawback is that this means going through immigration and getting at least a one-way transit visa for $20 (full visa for most nationalities is $50), as well as a $20 taxi ride to Wilson. To book, e-mail resvns@airkenya.com. Expect to pay around $220 one-way for these connector flights.

It is worth prearranging your airport transfer with your lodgings, particularly if you are heading for Marangu. A taxi from KIA to Moshi should cost around $60; transfer from KIA to Machame should cost $70. Moshi to Marangu costs around $40, around $80 to $120 (depending on hotel) for transfer to or from KIA to Marangu, and $130 from Arusha Airport to Marangu.

By Road

Moshi is an important transport hub, well connected by bus with both Arusha (which, in turn, is well connected with Nairobi) and Dar es Salaam. Marangu is a bit trickier, and you'd be well advised to prearrange this transfer before arrival, either with Davanu Shuttle or direct with your lodgings.

From Dar es Salaam: The bus ride from Dar es Salaam is a rather grueling 8 hours, with one 20-minute stop more or less halfway. Toilets at this designated stop are squat-style pit latrines and are extremely daunting for anyone with sensitive olfactory senses. If you're at all squeamish, fly. That said, the savings are rather substantial -- it costs a mere $30 for a one-way bus ticket from Dar to Moshi (versus around $200 for the flight), and it's a more adventurous way to get to know the country. Make sure you book well in advance (this holds even more true when departing the Moshi bus station, known for its ruthless touts), and try to book the front row seats (1-4) for the best views. The only bus operators I'd recommend (don't expect much in terms of condition of the bus, but the drivers are known for their safety-first approach) are Scandinavia (tel. 0722/286-1947; www.scandinaviagroup.com) and Royal Coach (tel. 022/212-4073 in Dar, 0754/88-5778 in Arusha, or 0754/29-8274) in Moshi; Royal Coach even has a toilet on board. If you are bound for Marangu, you could wait for one of the unscheduled buses.

From Nairobi: Several companies operate shuttle bus services daily from Nairobi to Arusha, with some going on to Moshi. Buses depart Nairobi at 8am and 2pm from the main depot (Parkside Hotel). Shuttles pick up at a number of Nairobi hotels and the International Airport and arrive at Arusha 4 to 5 hours later; the full journey to Moshi is 7 hours (or longer, depending on how long the stop is at Arusha). You will cross the border at Namanga, where you can buy a Tanzanian visa for $50 to $100, depending on your nationality .

Impala shuttles (tel. 800/221-9000; www.impalashuttle.com) transfer from Nairobi to Arusha for around $20; Arusha to Moshi is around $4. The Marangu Hotel has a long-standing relationship with Davanu Shuttle, which charges $80 from Nairobi to Marangu (a great price, but, with many stops and a few bus changes, it can take as long as 9 hr.). In Arusha, contact MD Emmanuel (tel. 0715/40-0318; emkessy@yahoo.com); in Nairobi (here Davanu operates as Destination Shuttle), contact Samuel (tel. 0722/72-9100) or Nathan at Nairobi International Airport (tel. 0722/31-0234). Riverside (www.riverside-shuttle.com) is another reputable shuttle company. Book at least 1 day in advance.

Visitor Information

There is no visitor information office in Moshi or Marangu. Kilimanjaro National Park Headquarters (www.tanzaniaparks.com) is located at the park entrance gate in Marangu. Office hours are from 7am to 7pm (though you can obviously leave after hours for altitude reasons). At present, you need to prebook for only the Marangu route; on camping routes, you can simply turn up, with no limit on climbing numbers.

Vaccination Alert -- Travelers arriving at KIA direct from Europe (such as the daily KLM flight from Amsterdam) do not need a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Any traveler who transits through an endemic country (such as arrivals on Ethiopian Air via Addis, or arrivals via international flight to Nairobi such as British Airways, Swiss Air, Kenya Airways, and so on) who then connect onward to KIA by charter or other connecting flight will, however, need a yellow fever vaccination certificate. It is preferable (and far cheaper) to have the vaccination done at your local travel clinic or private doctor back home, but the vaccination is available at Kilimanjaro Airport at a cost of $50 per vaccination (as are visas, which are $50 for most nationalities, $100 for U.S. and Irish citizens).

When to Go

The park is open year-round. January, February, and September are considered the best months to climb, followed by July and August. It is most difficult to ascend in the rainy months (Apr and May), when visibility is not great; on the upside the flowers are out and there is far less traffic during these months, so you may even get to savor your ascent in relative solitude. Bear in mind, however, that April and May are not ideal if you want to add on a Serengeti safari.

Getting Around

Moshi is small enough that pretty much anywhere can be reached on foot. The same holds true for Marangu. Buses run between Moshi and Arusha, as well as between Moshi and Marangu. There is no scheduled departure time for these; the bus leaves when it is full. A transfer between Marangu and Arusha costs around $120, between Moshi and Marangu $40. If you're here to climb, note that most standard packages include transfers to and from the starting point of your ascent.

Fast Facts -- There are several Internet cafes, charging around Tsh1,500 per hour. Twiga, the first Internet cafe in Moshi, located on Old Moshi Road, is still a good choice. (They also rent out novels, movies, and trekking/camping equipment.) Alternatively, head for the Tanzanian Coffee Lounge on Chagga Street, where you can enjoy a cup of Tanzanian coffee (Tsh900) or cappuccino (Tsh1,200) while checking or sending e-mails (Tsh500 per 15 min.). But be warned: Moshi suffers from regular power outages.

NBC is located directly opposite the Clock Tower; several more banks (and ATMs) are located along Boma Road leading from the Clock Tower. They all accept international debit cards accredited with the Plus logo and Visa credit cards.

Money Matters -- Credit cards are not very welcome in Northern Tanzania, with many places refusing to process a payment under $50 (or even $80); there will also be a 5% to 7.5% surcharge on the bill. Visa is more accepted than any other card, MasterCard less so, and American Express seldom. Absolutely everyone accepts U.S. dollars as payment (parks will accept only U.S. dollars, though not in cash), so it's worth bringing a certain amount in cash and/or traveler's checks. If you bring euros or sterling, you will have to convert it to shillings and then to dollars -- far from ideal, so change into dollars before leaving your country of origin, and try to pay for major expenses via credit card or EFT before arrival. Note that most street vendors and even some hotels take a very relaxed attitude to actual conversation rates and will simply knock off three zeros (for example, Tsh1,000 = $1).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.