Eco-Cultural Trips and Safaris

MESO offers a number of exciting trips to the Great Rift Valley region of Northern Tanzania. All aim to improve the economic well being of local communities; to preserve and conserve the environment; and to enhance cross-cultural exchange. Trips are tailored to the needs of clients of all budgets and nationalities, so there is a high degree of flexibility in itinerary, accommodation and transport options. The following are some of our more popular circuits, but please contact us so we can design the ideal trip for you! Also be sure to view the pages of our ecotourism partners.

NB: These trips can also be organized together with traditional wildlife safaris in nearby Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Tarangire, as well as with excursions to the Bagamoyo coast and Zanzibar.

Mbulumbulu/Karatu Circuit (2-3 days): A 2-3 hour drive from Arusha (via Karatu), our most popular trip features... 

- Rift Valley Escarpment Reserve (1-2 hrs.) - This area is abundant in baboons, plant and bird life, and offers stunning views of the basin and Lake Manyara. Hikes down the escarpment to the town of Mto-wa-Mbu can also be arranged.

- River Seay Nature Trail (1-2 hrs.) - An easy to moderate hike through a biophysical reserve on the slopes of the Ngorongoro/Karatu highlands. Expect to see an interesting human-ecological interface (we have hosted several rehabilitation projects here), as well as diverse vegetation, birdlife, reptiles, baboons and, with some luck, even elephants.

- Upper Kitete Wildlife Corridor (1-2 hrs.) - This beautiful valley connects the extended ecosystems of Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Lake Manyara National Park. At dusk, sightings of buffalo, zebra, gazelles, elephants, and others, are common.

- Kambi ya Simba Caves (1 hr.) - An exciting underground adventure featuring nine distinct chambers rich in nocturnal life. Best for the adventurous!

- Cultural Attractions - The main ethnic group in the area is the Iraqw; the Maasai also form a significant minority. We can arrange homestays in traditional houses (for a first-hand experience of daily life), visits to farms (for observing agricultural methods and traditional tools), market trips, storytelling, music and dance, and much more!

We also encourage visitors to check out our Information and Documentation Center, located in the village of Kambi ya Simba, to learn more about these attractions as well as local environmental concerns.

Mbulu Circuit (2-3 days): A 4-6 hour drive from Arusha (2-3 hours from Karatu), this is the heartland of the Iraqw people and a magnificent countryside of undulating hills. Features include...

- Hhaynu Waterfalls (2-3 hrs.) - Perfect for a lunchtime picnic, the falls are located along the River Mehhi in a lush valley with abundant birdlife.

- Mt. Guwang (3-4 hrs.) - An easy to moderate hike with rewarding views of the Mbulu and Ngorongoro highlands and Lake Manyara. Late afternoon trips are recommended, as there are numerous outcrops for watching the sunset.

- Diocese of Mbulu Cathedral (1 hr.) - The second largest cathedral in East Africa is an intimidating landmark built by volunteers from Tanzania and Germany.

- Cultural Attractions - This is the best place in Tanzania to learn about the Iraqw people and their customs. A unique form of agriculture is practiced (planting occurs year-round, rather than in expectation of the rains); trenches remain from tribal wars; and there is a very colorful, seasonal market which is not to be missed!

This trip is often combined with the Mbulumbulu circuit or a wildlife safari for 3-5 day excursions.

Dongobesh Circuit (1-2 days) - A truly remote area, with beautiful hills and a chance to observe the nomadic Datoga (Barabaig) people.

- Natural features include the Eight Standing Stones of Qandech (Mawe Manane), rock kopjes and inselbergs, and diverse plant and bird species.

- Day hikes can be arranged, some of which offer stunning views of the region and Mt. Hanang (at 3417 m, the fourth highest mountain in Tanzania).

- Cultural attractions include Dongobesh stone circles, the Qamatananat rock shelter (and associated folklore), ancient rock paintings, and visits/stays with the Datoga (and maybe even a chance to observe some local witchcraft!).

This circuit is rarely visited and truly off-the-beaten track!

Lake Eyasi Circuit (1-2 days): Located in a depression in the Rift Valley 50 km from Karatu, the area is rich in wildlife as well as tribal culture. Features include...

- The Lake Eyasi Basin - This soda lake rivals Manyara for its concentration of flamingos, and the walls of the Rift Valley form a beautiful backdrop. Bufallo, gazelles, zebra and other wildlife are abundant.

- Yaeda Chini - Part of the extended Tarangire - Manyara ecosystem, the valley is especially rich in wildlife and is the homeland of the Hadzabi people.

- Qang'dend Spring - The 'Eye of Water' in Datoga, this pool is one of the only areas in the region where fresh water is available year round. As such, it is frequented by many locals and their livestock.

- Cultural Attractions - There are many tribes in the area, including the Iraqw, Datoga, Hadzabi (bushmen), Taturu and Maasai. Walking tours can be arranged with local guides. There are also many historical sites, rock shelters, rock paintings and old burial grounds.

Eyasi is unique in that it is the only area in Africa where Bantu, Cushitic (i.e., the Iraqw), Khoisan (click-speaking; i.e., the Hadzabi) and Nilotic (i.e., the Datoga and Maasai) language families have coexisted for centuries.


All guides come from local communities and are thus very knowledgeable about indigenous plants, animals, landforms and customs. They speak English and all have been upgraded in a course organized by MESO. At your request specialized guides can be hired; these guides have been educated to at least first degree level and are fully conversant in English, ecology, history, etc.


Public and private (especially Land Rover) transport can be arranged to all destinations. There is also an airstrip at Manyara.

Accommodations are very flexible. In general, tourists have the option of camping, staying in guesthouses, or living in homestays with local families. In some places, namely Karatu, more luxurious accommodation can be arranged at the safari lodges.

For self-caterers, food supplies can be purchased in Arusha or at markets in other major towns. Local food is cheap and widely available (meat and vegetarian options). Lunch is usually arranged as a picnic affair when visiting destinations. Bottled water, as well as cold and hot drinks, are available in all towns and destinations.


It can be rather chilly in the early morning and late evening, as we are often above 1500 m, so bring a light jacket or fleece. A good pair of walking/hiking shoes is essential; a pair of sandals or slippers is also recommended. A small backpack is a good idea for day trips and hikes. Towels and mosquito nets are provided at most guesthouses; batteries and film are obtainable in Karatu and Mbulu, though at inflated prices. In terms of clothing, dress comfortably, but please keep local customs in mind (particularly women). Otherwise, the rest is up to you!


As our trips are customized for each group, standard prices vary based on the nature of the trip offered. If you send us an e-mail detailing the size of your group and your preferred itinerary (i.e., circuits, dates and transport/sleeping/dining preferences), we will happily provide you with a quote!


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Perched on a natural arch
Hhaynu waterfalls, Mbulu

On the edge of it all
Rift Valley Escarpment, Karatu

Mawe Manane
Qandech, Dongobesh

A late bishop's dream

Diocese of Mbulu Cathedral

The local route up the valley
Rift Valley Escarpment, Karatu

A well-deserved nap
Mt. Guwang summit, Mbulu

Hippos basking in a pool

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

A flamingo-dotted landscape
Lake Eyasi circuit

Looking down on the highlands

Climbing Mt. Guwang, Mbulu

A traditional Iraqw home

Mbulu highlands

...and Manyara in the distance
Views of the highlands, Mbulu

A leopard on the lookout

Serengeti NP

Ancient rock paintings
Qamatananat, Dongobesh

An underground world

Kambi ya Simba caves, Karatu

Stopping for a picnic lunch
Hhaynu waterfalls, Mbulu

Savoring the end of a long day
View from Mt. Guwang, Mbulu