Hiking in Udzungwa National Park
Udzungwa Forest Lodge’s main attraction is Udzungwa Mountains National Park, which is well known for excellent hiking, trekking, mountain climbing and forest walks. With no road access and the only way in being on foot along one of the many trails, the mountains keep their secrets from all but the most adventurous. Once you’ve gained a little altitude, the forest canopy shields you from the heat of the sun and you can enjoy the forest along with the monkeys, elephants, birds, duikers and elephant shrews.
There are several trails ranging from short 20min strolls, to 5 day expeditions. The most popular hike is up to Sanje Waterfalls, looking for monkeys, swimming in plunge pools, and enjoying the spectacular view. This is the prime attraction for this area and if you are a keen walker then taking at least one of these hiking opportunities is strongly recommended. Bear in mind, however, that it is very hot, particularly at midday, and this can have a considerable effect on even the fittest of walkers. We offer pack lunches, so make a day of it!
Hondo Hondo has everything needed for overnight hiking in the forest.. We offer a package deal which includes tents, mattresses and bedding, porters, a cook and cooking equipment, food and if required, transport to and from the start of the trails – in short, everything you need for a successful trek. We even provide tarpaulin shelter for hikers using our services so you’re not confined to your tent in case of rain.
Here is a brief summary of the trails in the Udzungwa National Park accessible from Hondo Hondo. For further detailed information see each individual page.
The most popular trail in Udzungwa is Sanje Waterfall. This 180m waterfall is very impressive, surrounded by rainforest with excellent views over the Kilombero floodplain and out to the Selous Game Reserve. At the top, there are two more waterfalls, both beautiful, and another half-way up, and you can take a well deserved break from your hike to swim in the cool waters of their plunge pools.
This trek can be done by an enthusiastic hiker in half a day, heading quickly up the escarpment and back down again. We usually recommend a more leisurely approach, heading up the mountain in the morning, taking lunch on the top of the waterfall with its breath-taking views of the valley, and taking time out to swim during the heat of the day. Then you can follow the trail around the side of the escarpment and head back down the mountainside, making more of a day of your hike.
The 2nd most popular day hike is Njokamoni Waterfalls, which is very similar to the Sanje trail except less well-known and therefore less used. As a result, it is common to see many troupes of monkeys and in particular you stand a better chance of seeing the endemic Sanje Crested Mangebey. You may also see red duiker, squirrels and other rare forest mammals.
This hike will usually take you between 2 and 3 hours with a rewarding waterfall at the top, and a short scramble over the rocks to the start of the path down. The trail passes behind Hondo Hondo Tented Camp, and Njokamoni waterfall is on the same stream as that which provides water to Hondo Hondo. You can start and end the walk from Udzungwa Forest Tented Camp without needing vehicular transport.
Sonjo is one of the shorter trails in Udzungwa and suitable for children and those who are not accustomed to hiking. With very little altitude climb, it is a good opportunity to get into the forest and see some beautiful waterfalls without having to handle a steep climb or too long a trail. The waterfalls on the Sonjo Trail are smaller but very pretty and there is opportunity to paddle and splash int he rock pools and enjoy every aspect of this remarkable rainforest. There is ample birdlife in the forest canopy and you may well spot some primates such as black and white or Udzungwa red colobus in the trees.
The longest, and arguably the best of the day hikes, the Hidden Valleys trail (known to TANAPA as the unromantic Campsite 3 Trail) takes you up to 1300m to explore the grassy valleys of the Njokamoni and Moyer rivers. This trail follows a big loop around the large peak rising behind Hondo Hondo Tented Camp. It starts from Campsite 3, just after the turning for the park HQ, and arrives back on the decent trail from Njokamoni Waterfall, right back into Hondo Hondo.
It’s a long, steep walk that climbs to over 1000m, so you should plan to leave early. It is necessary to take a ranger on this hike as there are large mammals deep in the forest. You will certainly see plenty of wildlife and flora on this hike. Once you’ve climbed the sometimes steep trail to the ridge, you walk through the flat grassy bottoms of some beautiful hidden valleys (hence our name for the trail) often frequented by elephants.
This is the shortest and easiest trail,and can be done while waiting for park fees to be paid. Circling out from the TANAPA Park HQ and back again, the trail passes by the Prince Bernhard Waterfalls, named by the man himself on a visit to Udzungwa in the 1980s. It is accessible to young children and the less mobile and makes a nice add on to any day in the park.
This is a brand new trail, approximately 1.5km round trip through the forest. The falls are nice, and this is a good trail to do on the way back from Udzungwa.
A great initiative of the park is conditioning a troupe of habituated Mangebys. You can take a hike “off-piste” into the forest just above Hondo Hondo and walk via radio direction straight to a troupe of Mangebys and observe them from very close quarters, undisturbed. It’s an excellent way to observe this endemic species/genus close up without disruption to their natural habits.
To get a true feel of the forest, spend a night under the canopy. Instead of taking half a day to complete the Sanje trail, head up and make camp in the forest overnight with the help of our skilled Hondo Hondo campsite team. Spend the afternoon in the forest and then a magical evening under the forest canopy, eating by firelight and sleeping under canvas to the sounds of the forest. Awake early to breakfast looking out over the Kilombero Valley from the top of the waterfall, and then spend the morning wandering down through the forest, spotting wildlife and splashing in waterfall pools on the way down. Hondo Hondo can provide everything you need for this trip – all you bring is yourselves, and a camera!
For the keen hiker, Mwanihana peak at 2150m is one of the highest peaks in the Eastern Arc and the second highest peak in the Udzungwa Mountains. The 38km hike takes 3 days and 2 nights at a leisurely pace, although for the very fit it can be completed in 2 days. For those who want to make the most of the hike we recommend that you take your time and enjoy the trek, as the trail passes through Miombo woodland, low-land forest, sub-montane forest, highland plateau and pristine montane forest. Just before the bare rock and grass of the summit, eerie glades of bamboo rustle in the wind. This is, in terms of habitat and associated wildlife, a very diverse journey. Much of the trek is alongside sparkling mountain streams with butterflies dancing through the dappled forest light. This is also the most successful route for spotting the elusive Sanje Mangebey. Although rarely encountered there are also elephant and buffalo up on the plateau so your trek will be accompanied by an armed ranger.
The Lumeno Trail is the longest, and most arduous trail in Udzungwa. You are transferred to the start of the trail, beyond Ifakara on the Lumeno river, and hike up into the hills for 4 nights, returning along the same trail as Mwanihana to the road not far from Hondo Hondo. This trail leads deep into the heart of the Udzungwas, to areas where few people have ever been and the wildlife there has had virtually no contact with humans.
Sanje Short Route
Usually people go up and down the short route – its the most straightforward and easiest route to the top. It is still quite a steep climb though, especially in the heat, so be prepared and take plenty of water with you. Put plenty of salt on your breakfast. The trail starts at the (no so) Grand Sanje Hotel and leas past a few houses and smallholdings to the park border and start of the forest. The well trodden and well maintained trail zigzags its way up a ridge until half way up you reach a picnic bench and view point with spectacular views of the falls. A short dip follows to the junction of the path to the base of the falls (see below) and then the path then ascends slightly steeper to the top.
At the top, you can follow a short path to the rocks on top of the falls, and have lunch, or maybe first continue up the path to enjoy a dip in the upper falls while you’re still hot and sweaty. Its only a short walk to the upper falls, the 2nd being the best for swimming. Beware in April/May if there has been a lot of rain – it wall be obvious if its not safe to swim.
Sanje Base Detour
Return down the short route until the junction in the dip before the half way view point signposted to the base of the waterfalls. A short decent gets you to the base of the majestic falls with spectacular views up, and excellent swimming/diving. You can cross the river here and continue down The Sanje Base Trail to the ranger post and meet your vehicle, or walk along the road back to the start of the Sanje Short Trail
An alternative and less used path either up or down is from the Sanje Ranger Post. When added to the usual route this forms a circuit. Don’t forget to let your transport know where you will be coming out if you plan to take this route down! (Although its not far to walk back to the start of the Sanje Trail). From the top, cross the river and ascend up to the camp-site following the trail round to the right and then descending with a few ups and downs to the ranger post. This path is also good for Mangeby.
Sanje Base Trail
A new trail has been established leading direct to the base of the main falls, where there is a great swimming and diving pool. its about 3km and only gains an altitude of 190m . However there is a lot of up and down, and in our view you are best off reaching this waterfall from the main trail and using this path as a alternative decent route.
Njokamoni is a trail similar in length and altitude to Sanje – around 6.5km and ascending to around 700m.
The trail begins at the park headquarters, and you can either set off from the bottom corner of the car park, or join the Njokamoni trail after visiting Prince Bernhards falls.
Njokamoni is less used, so its common to see several troupes of monkeys here, and possibly the troupe of habituated Mangebys.
Its a good climb with a few view points on the way, and Njokamoni waterfalls is an impressive 40m single drop into a shallow pool, ideal for sitting and splashing around.
The path crosses the river and descends to the road. There is a path off to the right that leads directly down to Hondo Hondo popping out of the forest to join our nature trail around the site.
Sonjo Waterfalls Trail
Sonjo is a short trail, taking on two waterfalls, both a cascade of water. Its a good option for less keen hikers as the path is not steep, and the trail is short, taking only 35 minute to reach the 3nd falls, but still passing through pristine rainforest.
This trail is also a popular 2nd hike for those who have done Sanje the day before, and can be done on the way out of the park.
It’s optional to “go and return” via the same path, or cross the water at the 2nd falls, and make a steep 30m up for a couple of hundred meters to the ridge and decend via a different path. Both paths meet the road withing 20m of each other.
The Sonjo trail is also the starting path for those ascending Mwanihana.
The Hidden Valleys Trail
The Hidden Valleys trail (campsite 3 trail) is the longest one day hike. We rec0mmend you start at the Hondo Hondo end of the trail as there is more tree cover to provide shade from the sun during the ascent. The trail takes about 6-7h, and ascends to an altitude of 1300m where its nice and cool with tall moss covered trees.
The trail follows the end of Njokamoni trail for a short way, then branches off up the ridge and climbs to just over 1000m where it meets the Njokamoni river just as it comes over the escarpment. This is the start of the Hidden Valleys as you follow the river upstream through grassy valleys with lots of elephants and buffalo tracks. It’s quite popular to have lunch at the Njokamoni river crossing. Look out for African violets on the side of the path, with their round furry leaves and little purple flowers (if in season).
The trail branches up a side valley and ascends to the watershed between Njokamonni and Moyer rivers. You’ll follow the elephant trails down the steep and sometimes slippery path to the Moyer river. There are several river crossing as you walk down the Moyer hidden valley, until you again come to the edge of the escarpment and begin the steep decent down – there is a short detour to Moyer waterfalls if you like.
Further down you’ll see the devastation caused by fires a few years ago, and with no tree canopy, there is a lot of ground cover riddled with elephant tracks – it’s easy to loose the correct path!
You eventually pass through TANAPA’s Campsite 3 near the road and pop out not far from Udzungwa Mountain View guest house. If you like, you can walk back to Hondo Hondo (about 1km) or have a vehicle pick you up.
Prince Bernhard’s Falls
Prince Bernhard’s falls is so named after Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands who visited Tanzania and opened the Udzungwa Mountains National Park aged 84. He was unable at that age to ascend to Sanje Waterfalls, so he hiked the short distance to these falls instead.
Only 500m from the park headquarters, these small falls are an easy stroll while park fees are being paid, and a good add-on to Njokamoni trail.
Slightly further up the track by campsite 2 is another, larger falls.
If you are not a keen hiker, but want a taste of the forest, this trail is for you.
Prince Bernhard’s Falls Trail
Msolwa Waterfalls Trail
Msolwa waterfalls trail is the newest addition to Udzungwa’s hiking. It’s a short (2.8km round trip) trail to a nice waterfall, similar to those at Sonjo. Being such a short trail, it is an ideal stopoff to hike when you’re leaving Udzungwa on the way to your next destination.
The path is fairly flat, but its not possible to swim in the plunge pool, only paddle.
Msolwa Falls Trail
A great initiative of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park staff has been working with a troupe of rare endemic Sanje mangebys, helping them to become habituated to people. Tracking them daily and observing their behaviour, the Park staff usually know where the troupe is and can find them given a day or two notice.
It is possible for visitors to arrange to take a hike “off-piste” into the forest just above Hondo Hondo and walk via radio direction straight to the troupe of Mangebys. This gives you the opportunity to observe them from very close quarters, undisturbed. It’s an excellent way to get close to this endemic species/genus without disruption to their natural habits. The Mangebys are very used to humans, and can come very close, allowing for the best photo opportunities and the chance to see this rare primate in great detail.
Mwanihana Peak Trail
Mwanihana is a one or two night trek, taking you on a 38km round trip deep into the forest, and up to 2140m. The trail passes through a number of habitats, from miombo woodland, through grassy plateaux, sub montane forest, montane forest, bamboo, and finally heather at the top. Its quite common to see elephants on this trail.
The path begins at Sonjo village, and passes the two falls on the Sonjo trail. There are a few steepish sections interspersed between a steadily rising path from 300m to the campsite at 900m.
On the way, you will pass 2 other campsites, one of which you will stay at during the decent of you choose 2 nights. There are often researchers at the 2nd campsite.
Much of the trail is in open grassland flanked on either side by tall forest. The campsite, Njia Panda (branching path) is near a stream for washing and water.
The next morning you’ll start the hike early to ascend the 1250m to the peak. The path goes up and down for the first section along a grassy ridge, but once it reaches the forest (1500m), it ascends very steeply through giant trees. Half way, there is a cool and tasty trickling stream for filling water bottles.
At around 1900m you suddenly leave the forest, and enter an area of bamboo – this zone has seen extensive depletion in recent years due to climate change and less rainfall on the mountain tops. From here, you can clearly see the three humps that make up the top of Mwanihana. The path circles around the tallest one, and after a fine view point on some flat rocks, tunnels through the heather to the trig point and weather station on the top.
After descending to Njia Panda campsite, its popular to hike either to the 2nd or 1st campsite (or if you’re on a 1 night hike, to hike all the way out). For those who have bought 48 of park fees, the following morning is an early start to cover the remaining few km to leave the park, or if you’ve opted for 3 days park fees and stayed a 2nd night at Njia Panda, a more leisurely stroll can be undertaken taking in more of the wildlife and surroundings.