Maji ya Moto: A hidden Paradise
You have just completed a grueling Kilimanjaro climb, you reached the summit and avoided succumbing to altitude sickness, and you have one day until you either fly back home or head out on a Serengeti safari. You are still too amped to spend all day relaxing at your hotel, so what do you do? Moshi, the tourist town at the foot of Kilimanjaro is not the most exciting place on the planet. It takes about an hour to explore the town. Once you have bought some Maasai beadwork, tried on flip flops made from tires and looked at countless brightly-colored tinga tinga paintings, you have done it all. What many Kilimanjaro-tourists don’t know, is that relatively close by is a hidden paradise. Close in distance, but because of the roads, a 90 minute drive away.
Imagine a perfect oasis in the middle of nowhere with water so pure and so clear it will blow your mind. Imagine warm geothermal waters bubbling up from the underground to soothe your tired, sore muscles. Maji ya Moto means ‘hot water’ in Swahili and is how the locals refer to it. It is also called the Chemka Hot Springs and Kikuletwa Springs. This is a secret spot, an entry to a mystical world. One can almost picture Merlin the Magician suddenly appearing from between the lush trees overlooking the pond, and peering into the turquoise blue water that is so clear, you can see the rocks at the bottom. Even in places where it’s 10m deep.
This hidden paradise is so perfect, you almost don’t want to promote it. There is a rope swing and a zip line if you want a little more action. Otherwise, just relax and enjoy the warm water and little fish nibbling on your dry skin. There are strong currents in places and it is worth noting that the water never stagnates. While it is referred to as a hot spring, the water is not very hot like other hot springs you might have been to. Think of Maji ya Moto as following the Goldilocks Principle. The water is neither too hot nor too cold. It is luke-warm, which makes it just right.
There is nothing touristy and commercial about this secret gem. There are no fancy change rooms, showers, waiters serving you cocktails and free towels. What you will get, is unspoiled lush forest filled with chattering monkeys and exotic birds, and the most magnificent body of water you can ever imagine. So, if you are wanting luxury, then this is probably not the place for you.
How to get there
There are several options for getting to Maji ya Moto. It depends on how confident you are of driving on rough roads and finding an oasis in the middle of nowhere without GPS. You can hire a car and drive yourself. Alternatively, there are tour operators in Moshi who offer a tour ranging from $40 to $150. Remember, if the tour operators can exploit the fact you are a tourist, they will. If you are the adventurous type, you can catch a minibus taxi known as a dala dala from Moshi to Boma N’gombe, a small town on the road to Arusha. From Boma N’gombe you can take a motorbike taxi, called a piki piki, to Maji ya Moto. This will cost you about 30 000 TSH, but it will depend on your driver. You can also hire a taxi from Moshi to drive you to Maji ya Moto. The taxi will cost you about 80 000 TSH for the day. Always try and negotiate the price. However you get there, with a taxi or piki piki, know that there is no transportation available there to get you back to your hotel, absolutely nothing. You will have to arrange with your driver to wait for you otherwise you will literally be stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Depending on the driver, it will take anything from 1-1 1/2 hours from Moshi, and 2 hours from Arusha. You can expect to be bumping around on dusty dirt roads for 30-45 minutes. The bonus is you’ll be going off the beaten track and seeing the real Tanzania. You will drive through tiny villages, witness extreme poverty and the stark dry landscape will make you think that you are driving in the wrong direction. In the villages, random men will try and stop your vehicle and offer to be your guide. For a hefty price of course. Decline their offers as you’ll be ripped off.
Just when you think you’ll never get there, you’ll suddenly spot a lush forest teeming with life. On a side note, if you can go on a weekday it will be much quieter. Some weekends can get busy. However, every time I’ve gone there, my group have been the only people there. Guess, I am just lucky
Besides your transport, the only cost is 10 000 TSH entry per person that you’ll have to pay to a little old lady sitting next to the side of the road. You can take your own food, have a picnic, set up a barbecue. Just remember to take all your rubbish back with you. There are sometimes locals selling food and drink, especially on weekends. If you are wanting to buy beer or Chips Mayai, the local street food, then it is best to get your driver to negotiate on your behalf. Locals get much cheaper prices than tourists. If you want to take a short hike to a nearby waterfall, then hiring a local guide to show you the way would be an extra cost that you would have to negotiate.
The Urban Legend of Maji ya Moto
There is an urban legend that a young woman who had come to Tanzania as a volunteer for an NGO was eaten by a crocodile at Maji ya Moto. This made people too scared to go to Maji ya Moto. No crocodiles have been seen at the pool where people swim. Maybe this rumor was started to put people off from visiting the pool. However, an expat living in Moshi for close on thirty years told me that she heard there was an isolated incident where a group of young volunteers went to Maji ya Moto for the day. They consumed vast amounts of beer and got very drunk. In no state to drive home, they decided to spend the night sleeping next to the pond. During the course of the night, a young, highly intoxicated lady decided to wander in the forest to a remote channel and take a swim. She was apparently eaten by a crocodile. Nobody really knows if this story is true or not. But one thing is sure, if you find yourself in Moshi after climbing Kilimanjaro, then you can’t miss out on experiencing the hidden paradise at Maji ya Moto.