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Motorcycling Around Kilimanjaro Is Not For Everyone

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Most tourists visiting Tanzania climb Kilimanjaro in an exhausting 6-day hike or gaze at it from a safe distance. But there is the chance to make your way to the foothills of this famous giant on the back of a motorcycle instead.

Snow on top of Kilimanjaro
Circling Kilimanjaro is one of the best motorbike rides in Tanzania (photo by Byrdyak, altered on Canva)

With stunning views of Kilimanjaro and its unvarnished backyard world across the 250 km circuit, it’s a ride worth talking about.


Silence clutches me and my bike like a cushy cloak


Africa’s highest peak towers above the town of Moshi in northern Tanzania. On a clear day, I can spot Mt. Kili with its distinct snow cap from all corners of this bustling place.

But the moment I head out on a 150 cc Boxer rental bike, and away from Tanzania’s busy East-West motorway, it gets quiet. With barely any traffic across the sparsely inhabited plains, I share the road with no more than a few motorbikes, cars, and goats but primarily have it to myself.


a single motorbike rider stopping in the middle of red dirt track butting through dense srubs
The landscape around Kilimanjaro is ever changing

I stop and listen to the land. What transpires is soulful food.

The mighty silence echoing off Kilimanjaro's barren slopes keeps flooding the very corners of my singing spirit. It carries the vibration of Mother Africa and her unsung children drumming underneath the spinning wheels and in my heart.


It’s so quiet even the soaring of the bike is dwarfed by the majestic dark mass of this rock.


When dusk settles at the foothills, magic happens

This glow around the foothills of Kilimanjaro is so mellow and gentle that even the most talented painter in the world could not capture it. It envelops and penetrates every crevice with its blissful contentment, in which humans and nature bask in a cozy hug.


And as I gaze at the fading savannah, intoxicated by the velvety beauty that unfolds, I feel utter wholeness.

a row of hills is shimmering in the velvety light of the setting sun
The sunsets at the foothills of Kilimanjaro are filled with the colors of love

It’s the melting point when the sun sinks and darkness descends upon the land in no time. It engulfs everything except the glittering celestial bodies that softly trickle down the dense night sky.

Gradually, the sound of nature drifts away as I park up my motorbike and head over to the farm’s spacious patio for a scrumptious dinner.

A homely feeling settles in, suggesting nothing is missing.


The rawness of the land captivates me


The circuit cuts right through Tanzania’s backcountry along rolling farmland, savannah, forest canopies, and thick scrub. It’s July and bone-dry at this time of year. I keep spotting young herders in the vast plains who need to drive their cattle further and further to find the waterholes. Those still too young and with spare time at their hands play along the tracks with whatever life has to spare. An old tyre, a discarded plastic container, the remnant of a shell necklace.


Or stop a random motorbiker coming by.

A red dirt road passing trough a number of make-shift  wooden houses
Most villages along the Kilimanjaro circuit don’t profit from Tanzania’s tourism

I pass through inconspicuous, makeshift-looking settlements on red dirt tracks that perfectly match the sun-fed plains. Yet, it is an arduous existence and a grinding plight many people face out here at the foothills.


Whenever I can, I pull over at a village store that offers a bit of everything, including hearty chats with friendly locals. It’s a welcome relief from the dusty road and the bland services of coffee shops along the busier motorways.


a motorbiker woman with a group of Maasai in front of a wooden hat
Local stores are a must for cold drinks and local chats (photo by Bryan Pannell, private)

And a great way to share a unique moment.


There is a perfect spot to watch the giant’s other face


The views of Kilimanjaro change as I ride on alongside the Kenyan border, which is now a stone’s throw away. Gone is its famous snow cap to reveal the barren north face towering above an unusual pine tree line.

A peace arises that is difficult to describe.

Kilimanjaro without snow cap
Most visitors don’t get to see Kilimanjaro's barren north face

It may be the purity of the air or the proximity of Kilimanjaro while I sit around a fireplace in a quirky resort whose name Snowcap Cottages doesn’t quite match what I am looking at.


But with or without the snowy top, it’s the perfect place to be and watch the bold giant go to sleep.


When the church bells ring, I pull over


What stuns me is how fast everything jumps to life when the church bells ring and the devotees flock to Sunday mess in masses.

Even though I am not a church-goer, I feel the humming vibes.

Church day is work-free and time to air the best attire — a brilliant hodge-podge of crazy-color outfits and fancy hairdos that move along the roadsides. And as if there were no pressure to reach before the bells fall silent, people of all ages pause, wave, and stare at me and my motorbike with jolly curiosity.

a woman with a motorbike helmet talking a group of children on the sidewalk
A women motorbike rider doesn't go unnoticed around Kilimanjaro

We share smiles and whatever else we can, which turn these fleeting moments along the roadside into everlasting memories.


And as I slowly wind back down the hills into Moshi, I promise myself I will return to Kilimanjaro with my bike as soon as I can.

 

Despite Kilimanjaro’s notoriety, its surroundings do not receive much attention. But it is precisely here where from the back of a motorbike, I experience a part of Tanzania that is entirely unvarnished. And calmly coiled up underneath its majestic snowcapped guardian—a unique mix that makes this ride an adventure like no other.


Thank you for your precious time reading. I hope you find a reason to return.


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