Test your grit on a double volcano trek in Tanzania

If the challenge of scaling one summit isn’t enough for you on a walking holiday, why not consider tackling two? Tanzania might be most famous for Mount Kilimanjaro, but the country is also home to Mount Meru, another volcano that it’s possible to climb.

At 4,562 m, Mount Meru is the smaller of the two, so it’s this volcano that you’ll trek up first. One of the big advantages of choosing to take on this walk ahead of your Kilimanjaro climb is that it will help you acclimatise to being at a high altitude, which means you will improve your chances of reaching Uhuru Peak (Kilimanjaro’s highest point) successfully.

Opting to do the Mount Meru trek before attempting to summit the Roof of Africa is just one of the ways to climb Kilimanjaro – as there are six routes up Tanzania’s tallest mountain, you have plenty of other options if you don’t have long enough to do the two treks.

Mount Meru – a warm-up for the Kili climb

Although Mount Meru makes an excellent warm-up for your ascent of Kilimanjaro, it is also worth climbing in its own right. There are excellent wildlife spotting opportunities in the early stages of this walk, with the likes of giraffes and elephants often seen on the grassland and in the forest that you’ll hike through on the first day of your trek.

The views across the crater of Mount Meru are spectacular, particularly as you climb higher. One thing you shouldn’t miss is the optional walk to the summit of Little Meru, from where you can see the crater’s sheer walls and the bed of the horseshoe-shaped crater below.

Reaching the summit of Mount Meru on the third day of trekking is really special, though, as you’ll hopefully arrive in time to see the sunrise behind Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance – a spectacular view that you’ll remember forever. After descending from Meru, you’ll typically have a half day of walking before you are driven to the starting point for your Kilimanjaro climb.

Mount Kilimanjaro – the big challenge

One of the best routes to follow to the summit of Kilimanjaro after successfully completing the Mount Meru trek is the Rongai trail. This will give you six days on the mountain (five for the ascent and one for the descent), so you won’t be rushing your hike. This particular track is less crowded than some of Kilimanjaro’s other paths and is the only one to approach the mountain from the north.

It still has a real sense of wilderness about it, which only serves to enhance your experience when climbing the mountain. There is some spectacular scenery on this route up Kilimanjaro, too, with the track leading you through vast swathes of moorland, verdant pine forests and a desolate lunar-type landscape as you get closer to the summit.

On the day that you push up to Uhuru Peak – Kilimanjaro’s highest point at 5,896 m – you’ll aim to reach Gilman’s Point on the crater rim, which is a little lower than the peak itself, in time to see the sunrise. Once the sun is up, you’ll continue to the top of the Roof of Africa, where you can admire the vast plains that spread out around the volcano, see Mount Meru in the distance and get a close-up look at some of the glaciers and ice cliffs that are found near the summit.

There’s no doubt that tackling Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro on one trip is physically demanding, but it’s an incredibly rewarding experience and an excellent way to really test yourself on a trekking holiday.

 

Adventures in Nicaragua

Once off-limits due to its extreme politics, military control of society, and high crime rates, Nicaragua now enjoys a substantial tourism industry and stands as a much more welcoming state. While it certainly still has its share of problems, it was third on a recent New York Times list of the 46 places to visit in 2013, and with good reason. Nicaraguans enjoy an excellent quality of life, and trips to their homeland are always worthwhile.

Of course, that’s excluding Managua, the capital. Managua is a pretty awful place—there really is no center of the city, no downtown, no cultural hub. It is just a sprawling mess, poorly served by police and sanitation and other government offices, and not much to look at. Visitors arriving in Managua are encouraged to escape as soon as possible. However, this poor introduction to Nicaragua shouldn’t dissuade you. The rest of the country is great.

Many people take in Granada when they visit, and are very pleased with the decision. This pleasant town 50 kilometers from Managua has great colonial architecture, a vibrant restaurant and live music scene, and plenty of art galleries spread around. There are colorful and artistic old mansions, great bars, and plenty of shady spots to cool off on cobbled backstreets. Granada stands on the edge of Lake Nicaragua, and there are excellent opportunities for renting kayaks and canoes on the shore. Small groups with local guides paddle around the hundreds of tiny islands forming an archipelago in the lake, some only large enough for one modest house. One isle is home to hundreds of monkeys that live in mango trees and offer endlessly entertaining animal watching. When you finish with the lake, there is a magnificent cloud forest on the opposite side of the city. Scaling the slope of a dormant volcano, Nicaragua 2the Mombacho Forest is a great place for treks. Dense mist at times obscures the line of sight down the mountainside, but it occasionally parts and rewards persistence with fantastic views. You can even peer down into the crater of the volcano, now overgrown with jungle. There are also several companies offering canopy tours and zip-line courses, which are a generally safe but still very exhilarating diversion. This is great for children as well as adventurous adults—my mom was brave enough to do it with me on my last visit, and she loved it.

Nicaragua 3Another great place to visit is Ometepe, an island made up of two dormant volcanoes within Lake Nicaragua. Crowded but fun ferries take you to the island, and an uneven road circles its perimeter. Ometepe is known for coffee plantations, hiking trails of various intensity on the volcanoes, and a little bit of ancient history. Large rocks inscribed with petroglyphs stand overgrown with foliage and date back thousands of years. There are also smaller islands within swimmable distance from Ometepe’s shore. Be careful though—this is one of a few places in the world where freshwater sharks have evolved (though they have been hunted almost to extinction at this point).

If you are more adventurous or have more time, you may consider making the trip out to the Corn Islands, or taking a boat down the Rio San Juan. There are tons of options within this underdeveloped country, and at least for now you don’t have to share them with too many other travelers. Enjoy!