Karatu Town Tour | Cultural Tourism
A great way to spend a couple of hours is to take a stroll around the town of Karatu. Visit the marketplace where you can explore rainbow-colored stalls and small shops that sell a bit of everything from vegetables and spices to Tinga Tinga paintings and carved wooden ornaments. This is a great place to barter for souvenirs and mingle with the locals.
Along the way you might want to stop at a street vendor for a local snack such as fried cassava, chapati (fried flat bread), or fried bananas. I’d stick to cooked hot items for food safety reasons.
Keep a look out for the little mobile kiosks alongside the main road which have some colorful American namesakes such as the Mrs. Obama and John Kerry gift shops (there is also a Obama Hotel in town) which were featured in the The Amazing Race. In addition to the marketplace, we’d recommend venturing to one of the local brickmaking sites as brickmaking serves as a major industry in the area and the process is interesting to watch.
If you are interested in a richer exploration of the town, consider booking a guided tour which can likely be arranged from your hotel or through the Ganako Karatu Cultural Tourism Program.
How to get to Karatu
Karatu is within the Arusha District. It is best reached by car or bus from Arusha. The 150 km on a decent road will take just over two hours. The international airport for Arusha is Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO), about 45 minutes away from the city.
A cheaper option is to take a bus or dala dala. This can take up to three hours and should be between 5000-7000 Tsh. These can often get crowded and for the cheap price you often miss out on comfort. It is generally advisable to take a bus that arrives before night falls for safety reasons.
If you are willing to splurge a bit more money, a small plane to the Lake Manyara airstrip is also recommendable. Coastal Aviation and Air Excel both fly from Arusha to Manyara for around 100 US$ as a stopover on their way to the Serengeti. Watch out because this flight is most likely leaving from Arusha Airport, a small local airport, rather than Kilimanjaro Airport, which you might have arrived from via an international flight. From the Manyara airstrip, it is about a 30 minute drive to Karatu, either by taxi or through a transfer arranged by us.
Where to stay in Karatu
Karatu is perfect for a few days to visit surrounding national parks, Lake Eyasi and learn more about the local cultures. Many tourists choose to stay in Karatu as it can be cheaper than staying within the National Parks. Accommodation in Karatu can be cheaper than in the national parks, and thus many people opt for staying in the town. If you are strapped for time, this means however that you will need to do more driving everyday, possibly being quite tiring for you. We recommend to consider whether the reduced driving and time this consumes is not worth staying in a lodge on the crater directly. Karatu has excellent accommodations for all budgets. These are some of our favorite recommendations:
- High-end options: Plantation Lodge and the boutique hotel Oldeani Safari Lodge are definitely pricier but the beautiful ground and colonial style architecture is sure to make your stay worthwhile.
- Medium-priced options: Karatu Simba Lodge and Octagon Lodge still offer comfortable lodgings as well as beautiful gardens around your cottages.
- For a more unique experience, stay on a coffee farm: Gregg’s Farm and the Shangri La estate of Kifaru Coffee are two exceptional possibilities of staying on a coffee farm, experiencing the business first hand and enjoying beautiful views and the opportunity to relax in the tranquil lodges. Gregg’s Farm is a high-end option, offering luxury and a spa, while the Shangri La estate is much more budget friendly but only has a few rooms to offer. If you are interested in staying here, make sure to book ahead!