A dormant volcano that rises to 4,566m (14,980ft) some 50km (31mi) west of Kilimanjaro, Mount Meru is Africa’s fifth-highest massif.
The three-day hike to its summit could be viewed either as a budget alternative to Kilimanjaro or a tempting aperitif for hikers who want to acclimate to high-altitude conditions.
Protected within Arusha National Park, Meru supports a similar sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones to Kilimanjaro. Wildlife is far more prolific, and hikers regularly see the likes of elephants, buffalo, and giraffes.
The trails are far less crowded than the more popular routes up Kilimanjaro.
There’s less risk of altitude-related health issues, and the spectacular scenery includes views of snow-capped Kilimanjaro.
For those who aren’t keen on an overnight hike, it’s also possible to undertake a day walk into Meru’s partially-collapsed caldera and stand below the spectacular 1,500m (4,921ft) high cliff that forms its western wall.
Kinukamori and Kilasia Waterfalls
Measuring about 15m (49ft) and 30m (98ft) high respectively, these two waterfalls can easily be visited on foot from the small town of Marangu, which forms a popular overnight stop prior to climbing Kilimanjaro.
In addition to offering an excellent opportunity to acclimate to medium-altitude hiking, the waterfalls are enclosed by forests that harbor a wealth of birds, troops of blue monkeys, and black-and-white colobus.
The pool at the base of Kilasia Waterfall is considered safe for swimming.
One of northern Tanzania’s most underrated scenic gems, Chala lies nestled within one of the subsidiary volcanic cones that stud the eastern foothills of Kilimanjaro. Invisible until you stand on the crater rim, the near-circular lake has a diameter of 3km (2mi).
Its translucent turquoise water is hemmed in by towering cliffs draped in tropical vegetation.
A steep footpath leads down to the shore, which is filled with birdlife. Swimming is inadvisable due to the presence of crocodiles.
Amboseli National Park
A highlight of Kenya’s safari circuit, the 392km2 (151 square mile) Amboseli National Park lies at the northern base of Kilimanjaro. Cloud permitting, it offers perhaps the finest views of the iconic mountain.
There’s also an excellent opportunity to photograph elephants, giraffes, and other wildlife below its snow-capped peak.
Amboseli is well-known for its outsized tuskers, the subjects of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. The project was established in 1975 and retains exhaustive records of most births, deaths, and relationships within an extended community of around 50 families.
Other wildlife includes lions, cheetahs, hippos, and large numbers of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle.
Two permanent swamps, fed by underground streams that rise on Kilimanjaro, support many aquatic birds, including long-toed lapwing, great white pelican, and grey-crowned crane.
The wedge of Tanzania land that divides the northwest base of Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park comprises several blocks of Maasai community land that recently amalgamated as the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area.
Generally referred to as West Kilimanjaro, this 1,800km2 (695 square mile) tract of dry savanna is one of Tanzania’s most underpublicized and exclusive safari destinations, serviced by two small upmarket tented camps. A major attraction is the in-your-face views of Kilimanjaro.
It also offers good wildlife viewing. You’ll see wildebeest, zebra, eland, impala, Grant’s gazelle, hartebeest, the remarkable stretch-necked gerenuk, and low densities of cheetahs and lions.
The resident elephant population is dominated by lone bulls, except over June and July, when large matriarchal herds cross through en route between Amboseli and the forests of Kilimanjaro.