by Mark Cosslett
The best way into and out of Tanzania is via Kilimanjaro International Airport. Nairobi is also close by, but the shuttle to Arusha inevitably eats up the better part of a day and crossing the border from Kenya can be a hassle.
Air France and KLM both have weekly flights in and out of Kilimanjaro International Airport (from Paris and Amsterdam, respectively). Bikes must be boxed and are allowed as one of two pieces of checked luggage at no extra charge. Check with your travel agent to make sure there is no 20 kilogram total weight restriction on your ticket.
Bike Rentals, Repairs, and Spares:
There are plenty of bikes in Tanzania, but they are mostly single-speed clunkers. You wonąt find any mountain bike rentals, and the closest place to find spare parts is Nairobi (Cycleland, Phone: 011-254-2-223-955, Fax: 011-254-2-212-778 or Kenya Cycle Mart, Phone: 011-254-2-223 417). Thorns can be a problem, and the local tubes use a different type of valve. Equip your bike with tire liners and bring a pump along. Plenty of spare tubes and a couple of patch kits are also a necessity. For security reasons, it is best to travel in large groups (especially if camping in the bush without a guard), preferably with vehicle support. Venturing off the beaten track alone, armed or not, is definitely asking for trouble.
The Lay of the Land:
All the national parks and game reserves are closed to bike and foot traffic due to dangerous animals. The only exception is Arusha National Park, where walking safaris are permitted with an armed guide.
Of all the big game found outside the parks and reserves, Cape buffalo are probably the most dangerous to mountain bikers. They are highly unpredictable, especially rogue bulls and females protecting calves. Lion, leopard, and elephant are but a few additions to the list.
All snakes encountered should be considered highly poisonous (they probably are). We crossed paths with a Black Mamba, a relative of the cobra. They are typically arboreal and are the largest poisonous snake in Africa, reaching lengths of 14 feet. With a maximum velocity of eight miles per hour, it is one of the fastest snakes in the world. Because of its speed, aggressive nature, and deadly venom (its victims nearly always die within three hours of being bitten); the Black Mamba is the most feared snake in Africa. Before venturing into the bush, visit “The Snake Park” in Arusha. They have a full collection of Tanzanian serpents in captivity, including a Black Mamba. The Snake Park is also a great place to make new friends over a glass or two of the local ale.
Other Things to Do:
Arusha is the center for traditional safaris (i.e., in vehicles). The Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, and Tarangire National Park are all international draw cards and thousands climb Mount Kilimanjaro every year.
Zanzibar, a vestige of the slave trade, provides a page from the past and a taste of life on the East African Coast. Flights to this small island are available from Arusha. Those with more time to spare can see more of the countryside by taking the train from Moshi to Dar es Salaam and the ferry across to Zanzibar.