Mbeya is a small city in the southwest of Tanzania, close to the borders of Malawi and Zambia. It was originally established as a gold mining town, but is now an agricultural centre. Mbeya sits in the shade of Loleza Mountain (2,656m), in the lull between the Mbeya mountain range to the north and the Poroto Mountains to the southeast.
Hiking is popular, with several mountain ranges and numerous peaks all available for those seeking a challenge. The most accessible hikes from Mbeya are Loleza Mountain and a trek to the top of Mbeya Peak (2,835m). Other hikes, for example to Mount Rungwe (2,960m), are a little further away. For those hikes, Mbeya is still a good starting point.
The volcanic Mount Rungwe (2960m high) is an unspoiled scramble via thick forest, through bushes, and up the rocky terrain to the rim. This superbly untouched area is home to the endangered Abbott’s duiker antelopes and the recently discovered and critically endangered Highland Mangabey monkeys. You will need a full day to scale this giant. For all these hikes a guide is recommended.
But although the hiking is popular at any time of year, it is especially scenic during the wet season from November to April when Kitulo NP explodes with wildflowers. 350 species blossom, including 45 types of orchid. Two of the highest peaks in the Southern Highlands are also located in Kitulo NP: Mount Mtwori (2,961m) and Chaluhangi Dome (2,929m).
For a less challenging but still rewarding meander, take an hour’s walk up the footpath to the magnificent view of the caldera that is Ngozi Crater Lake, situated just south of Mbeya. The alkaline waters shimmer in the light and a Loch Ness style multi-headed snake is said to live there.
If you are heading towards Malawi from Mbeya or are keen for a bit of beach and relaxing at the end of your hiking trip, Lake Nyasa is the most obvious spot. Also known as Lake Malawi across the border, it is full of cichlids, the fish most of us know very well from every aquarium we see. Snorkelling is the best way to see them. You can also go kayaking on the lake, or visit the village where the famous Kisi pottery is made.
All pots are made by the women of the Kisi tribe who learn to make around 12 different types of pots as they grow up. They are all adorned with ochre patterns before being fired on top of banana leaves.