I have never been one to sufficiently celebrate my birthdays but as I have gotten older the definite it has become to me that I would much rather invest in an experience than throw a party / have one thrown for me.
I can’t recall the first time I saw an image of Kikuletwa Hot Springs but the moment I did (the pictures looked incredible), I knew this is a must-visit-destination. Normally when I get such an epiphany, the destination is for the most part out of reach at least financially (oh how I look forward to the day when my pocket matches my travel wants), but this time I was determined to make it happen.
The original plan had been to plan everything ourselves (I was traveling with a group of friends) but it got to a point where we decided it would be easier (read less stressful) to book with a travel agent.
Itinerary set, we left Nairobi on cold Friday morning headed for Arusha which would be our base station and where we would be spending the nights. The excursion to Kikuletwa was set for Saturday afternoon. The skies were overcast and the weather not at all conducive for swimming. That was definitely not going to dampen our mood, after all, we had crossed the border for this. Kikuletwa also known as Chemka is a natural Oasis in the heart of Sanya plains, about 35 Kilometers from Moshi town.
The drive from Arusha to the springs took about 2 + hours, it was for the most part very smooth up until we got off the highway onto a dirt road. The ride though bumpy and sluggish was still a great way to take in all of the local sights and sounds through the smaller towns, farmland and quaint villages. The road is passable during the dry season but come the rainy season there are sections that would be hard to navigate through you’re in a vehicle that is not 4 by 4.
Once you get off the highway at Boma none of the roads are marked. I only spotted 1 sign on the way there, indicating the springs were 1.5KM away from our current location. You can try your luck with Google maps and also ask the locals along the way for directions. For the most part, our driver knew the way but at some point, we did stop to find our bearings.
Kikuletwa looks very unassuming from the outside, in fact, you wouldn’t even know the place exists if it weren’t from the noise and yelling coming from the visitors in the springs.
The facilities at the springs are pretty basic and by basic I mean B.A.S.I.C. There is a wooden shack that has no floor, not much privacy or anything really, that passes for a changing room. I ended up changing in the car so I didn’t use it. The only other semi-permanent structure is the little shack where they make food. We carried our own food (there’s a cafe right at the junction where you get off the highway) and I’d advise you do the same if you want to avoid eating what will probably be overpriced food.
I was too eager to get into the springs so I did not bother to inquire about the prices. It was also raining when we arrived and I was running through the rain to get some shelter when one of the locals asked me why I was running away from the rain yet I was going to get wet anyway.
There’s no paved path to the springs which means when it is wet you need to tread carefully. There’s a hastily constructed step ladder that you can use to get into the springs. Another option is to jump straight in. I recommend the latter.
Chemka in Swahili means to boil, an oddity as the temperature is anything but hot, it refers to the way in which the water appears to boil as it emerges from underground. The water is crystal clear and tepid – not especially warm, but refreshing. I’d read about this so I wasn’t disappointed. On the plus side, the water wasn’t absolutely freezing, so despite the gloomy weather, I was comfortable enough to stay in for hours.
The spring is split into 2 sections which are joined by a channel. The first section is the one you will see when you Google the springs. It is divided by 2 yellow thin ropes which you can use to support yourself. The water in the first section is remarkably clear, carry snorkeling gear to fully enjoy the underwater experience. The 2nd section of the springs is less clear but no less impressive, you, however, have to swim against a current. The current was especially strong on our visit making it hard to swim in certain places in the pool, but there are also inner tubes and life vests for those who cannot swim.
Little fish nibble at your feet when you first get in (as they like to eat away the dead skin from your feet). It’s actually pretty ticklish and may take some getting used to, but as you keep moving they eventually leave you alone.
Without a doubt, my favorite part of the springs is the rope tree swing. A treacherous walk barefoot through the mud will get you to the rope section. It is very basic, a rope and a twig and is advisable that your hands are dry so as to maintain a steady grip. I know it sounds like it is just jumping into the water, but the process is so much fun – swing, jump and repeat … somehow the rope swing makes it so exhilarating!
The locals are professional rope swingers (if such a thing exists). Some are crazy enough and do a lot of stunts with the rope and even jump off a tree branch.
A lot of tour operators organize daily trips towards the spring’s asking prices around $30-35 per person. However, it is easy to organize yourself: Find a taxi driver that is willing to take you to the hot springs and back (meaning that he will stay at the location for the duration of your stay). Negotiate before leaving and you should be able to get a taxi for between 80 000 and 90 000 Tz shillings (around $40 which you can share by everyone in the taxi). I would advise that you travel along with a person who knows the area in order to avoid getting lost.
If you organize on your own, you will have to pay an entrance fee the entry fees – the equivalent of Kshs 400 ($4) for East Africans and Kshs 500 ($5) for non-residents which is considerably cheaper than the organized day trips.
There is also the option of going with public busses and bodabodas (motorcycle taxis). It’s much cheaper compared to a taxi, but it takes a lot more time to get there.
There is also a bbq/cafe area selling food and cold drinks although my advice would be to carry your own food.
The water is so clear and comfortable. It is deep enough to jump in from the rope swing. I would recommend bringing a GoPro or other waterproof camera because you will have great photo opportunities.
My verdict about Kikuletwa, It’s a little bit off the beaten track but totally worth the journey!