Top 5 Cultural Activities In and around Ngorongoro

Having wonder what to do after an amazing wildlife trip to Ngorongoro Crater or Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania?

Look no further, there are couples of cultural activities a traveler can do as an add on to the main itinerary that can make the trip a memorable one. 

Participating in cultural activities such as weekly or monthly markets, eating and cooking local food and participating community projects to mention just a few activities as part of cultural tourism provide tourists a platform to learn new cultures and values. These activities help tourists to immerse themselves in rural life and help better understand the rhythm of local communities.

The following are five cultural tourism activities a tourist visiting Ngorongoro Conservation Area or nearby National park can participate as part of the safari program.

1. Karatu Town Tour

Karatu town in Tanzania. Photo By Jonas Gerald

Karatu is a small town located in the north of Arusha region, it’s between Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara National park. Karatu town offers a relaxing point either after visiting Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Tarangire or Serengeti National park. Due to its location, it can also serve as the junction for a new tour/safari.

While in Karatu town there are several things one can do, ranging from exploring the town itself, visit the local Iraqw homestead or visit development projects in the area, it all depends on the visitor interest, here is the list of top things one can while in Karatu town.

Before one can start a town tour in Karatu it’s a good idea to arrange for a local guide to guide you around the town for the best experience, it’s also recommended to learn a few local language words, such greetings a simple saitaa can make huge difference and joy to your adventure. 

The best way to explore Karatu is to visit the market, where you can see varieties of products, ranging from foods, clothes, spare parts, etc. it’s a small town but it offers every possible necessity one needs. 

While on the town tour you can stop by to taste the local food, there is plenty of African food to taste such as Ugali, Chapati or fried cassava. It’s always recommended to take cooked and hot food for hygienic reasons.

Karatu is famous for the art gallery, there are plenty of curio shops, where you can buy colorful local fabrics called kanga, kitenge, carvings or trinkets. A nearby art gallery can offer the best of Tanzania’s fine art including painting and sculpture. 

2. Visit Iraqw seventh day market

on the seventh day of each month, there is a large market in karatu where buyers and sellers from almost every corner of karatu town meet, it’s where you can get almost everything, through its dominated by livestock, foods, clothing, school items, and Household necessities.

Visiting the market or locally known as mnada provides an opportunity to admire unique products available in karatu, it’s also a place where you can buy a gift or products for a cheaper price compared to the karatu market.

3. Visit Bashay village cultural tourism

While in karatu you can visit Bashay village, there is a center to display the traditional culture of the Iraqw people. The center was established to compile records of the lifestyle, traditions, history, and culture of the Iraqw people. The income accrued from the program helps the community. The program offers the following activities
  • Walking tours in the villages, mountains, and bush organized according to the interests of the visitors, and vary from several hours to several days (Walking tours can be extended to include the Hadzabe and Datogan in Lake Eyasi.)
  • Visits to development projects schools, dispensaries, hospitals, historical sites like German and British settlements, coffee plantations, and graves in Oldeani on the rim of the Oldeani Mountain and Ngorongoro Crater.
  • Traditional Iraqw meals – ugali (stiff porridge) with meat, vegetables, milk, fresh honey, kande (maize and beans) and more.
  • Camping in a rural and natural traditional environment or stays in Iraqw traditional houses
  • Displays of traditional wares -weapons, garments, gourds, baskets, mats, day pots, and stone tools; some of the items are for sale and others are part of a permanent collection
Getting there: The Centre in Bashay village, Karatu, is about 155 km from Arusha town (to the west) 7 km from Karatu town (to the west) and 1½ km from the main road to the south of Arusha-Ngorongoro tarmac road. Karatu town is easily reachable by public bus from Arusha (3 hours) or by private car (2 hours). From Karatu town to the Centre (about 7 km), local buses are available.

4. Visit Maasai Boma

Maasai are the largest and famous tribes in East Africa, they are famous for their lifestyle and fascinating culture. In Tanzania, the Masai are especially prominent in and around Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, while Kenya’s Masai Mara takes its name from these proud people.

 The Masai are predominantly cattle breeders, eating meat and milk that they produce themselves. Cattle products are a central part of the Masai diet, with other animals such as sheep being more for special occasions than day to day use.

 Ngorongoro is the home of the pastoral Maasai, who have been allowed to live in the conservation area, a pioneering experiment in multi-purpose land use where people, their livestock and wildlife coexist and share the same protected habitat. Other tribes also occupied Ngorongoro, some as cattle herders, like the Datoga, and others as hunters, like the Hadzabe; and then moved on, sometimes forced out by other groups.

The Maasai managed to live in Ngorongoro in substantial numbers, their traditional way of life allowing them to live in harmony with the wildlife and the environment.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority supports and initiates community-based projects, such as ecotourism in the form of these cultural bomas. In partnership with the Maasai council known as Ngorongoro Pastoral Council, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority oversees the progress of these cultural bomas and also enables Maasai guides to conduct walking safaris and other part-time work at the lodges and the headquarters of the Conservation Area.

Visitors to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area can learn about the culture of the Maasai and take photographs or buy original Maasai handicrafts at designated areas known as cultural bomas, there is an entrance fee to be paid before visiting the designated boma.

There are several designated Maasai boma along Northern Tanzania Safari circuit, the most common ones include the following;

  1. The Seneto Maasai Boma on the western slopes of the Ngorongoro Highlands about two hundred meters off the main road to Serengeti is one of the most famous cultural visitor points for guests
  2. Kiloki Senyati Cultural Boma; Situated on the main road to Serengeti, 7 km south-west of the Olduvai Gorge Information Center
  3. Irkeepus which is located in the Ngorongoro Highlands and a visit can be combined with a trek of Olmoti or Empakaai Crater.
  4. Loonguku Cultural Boma; Situated on the main road to Serengeti, 10km before the turn-off to Olduvai Gorge.

One in the designated boma, visitors will be shown around the Maasai Boma, and are welcome to explore the huts where Maasai families live and learn a few things about their way of living. The huts, normally built by women, are made of wood, mud and cow dung. It’s advised to arrange with the local guide or tour operator before deciding a visit to the Maasai boma, having a local guide will help you choose the best cultural boma.

5. Lake Eyasi – the Hadzabe

Lake Eyasi is a very scenic soda lake found on the southwest of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the floor of the Great Rift Valley just south of Serengeti national park. Lake Eyasi covers an area of about 1,050 square km (400 square miles). It’s about 50 km from Ngorongoro and a couple of hours’ drive from Karatu.

The Hadzabe are believed to have lived here for nearly 10,000 years and continue to follow hunting-and-gathering traditions. Their language is characterized by clicks and may be distantly related to that of the San (Bushmen) of South Africa. The lifestyle of the Hadzabe still centres on hunting and gathering traditions. They shelter in rough huts made from the surrounding plants, and when the rains come they move to the nearby caves or cut into the hollow trunk of a giant Baobab tree to keep dry.

Originally Hadzabe lived in the Ngorongoro region of Tanzania but around 300 years ago the Maasai arrived, having moved south from Sudan and through Kenya. They fought with the Hadzabe and pushed them off the fertile land of the Ngorongoro crater into the inhospitable terrain of Lake Eyasi.

Their community is endangered because most of their land has been taken away from them for commercial production and they are forced to join the civilization. Also in the area are the Iraqw (Mbulu), a people of Cushitic origin who arrived about 2000 years ago, as well as the Datoga also Cushitic, the Maasai and various Bantu groups including the Nyakyusa, Nyamwezi, Chaga, and Meru.

What do in Lake Eyasi: Learn about Hadzabe traditions and their daily life, hunt with them, practice your bow and arrow skills, walk with the women as they gather wild plant foods, and purchase crafts made by the families.

Watch as the Datoga smelt metal and form it into arrowheads, utensils, and jewelry using age-old techniques, and visit their homes where the women will talk about their way of life.

 Bird watching: the lake attracts vast numbers of birds of all sizes and colors. Some of the birds found in the area include; Africa spoonbill, flamingos, gray-headed gulls, great white pelicans, pied avocet, and yellow-billed storks.

When to visit: Almost any time of the year is a good time to visit Lake Eyasi, with only April and May being questionable due to long rains.

Visiting Lake Eyasi can be arranged as a day trip, an add-on excursion or a one or two days safari. 

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