Exploring Pugu Hills in Tanzania

When a race I’d planned for on Saturday in Pande Game Reserve near Dar es Salaam in Tanzania was postponed, my first thought was to go for a long run, followed by a relaxing day on the beach. But my ever-adventurous spirit, something I inherited from my mother, had me Googling ‘Hiking in Dar es Salaam’. Pugu Hills came up repeatedly and then came the big questions – how would I get there? How much would it cost? Was it safe to go alone? I soon noticed one name kept popping up – Safari 56. I initially dismissed them for a number of reasons, 1) It’s a Thursday, they are probably already booked for Saturday, 2) I likely can’t afford it. But I took a chance and sent a message around 8pm. Within minutes, I had a response and after a few questions back-and-forth, my Saturday morning was sorted. I didn’t know it then, but my day would turn out to be amazing – hiking through one of the oldest forests in the world, viewing Dar from above, and eating ugali and T-Bone steak at a local restaurant. But let me not get ahead of myself…

What I Loved About My Hiking Experience in Tanzania

Connecting with Safari 56. Yonafika Akida established Safari 56 in June 2016 to “share his love of Africa’s natural wonders and beauty” to the world. On the drive to Pugu Hills, Akida shared that he left a safe career in IT and with his mum’s blessing, followed his heart and set up this tour company. He has now travelled all over Tanzania, hosting guests from as far afield as the USA, France, Australia, China and South Africa, to name just a few. The drive through Dar es Salaam to the forest reserve took us 75 minutes and we chatted about everything from his recent trekking adventure up Mount Kilimanjaro, the secrets to getting more blog views, the world’s crashing economy, and I even quizzed him on local politics. When we arrived at the Pugu Kazimzumbwi Forest Reserve, I first signed a registry in the small office before taking a look around the place. I spotted two big yellow buses from the Tanganyika International School with excited children, a washroom and a small green kiosk selling drinks and snacks.

Knowledgeable and Experienced Guide. We soon met Benjamin who was to be our guide. Benjamin had such a calm and positive demeanour, and throughout the hike showed an immense knowledge of the reserve. The walk through the entrance was on a wide road and Benjamin explained that it could get extremely busy on some days with cars and bajaj scooters.

On this day, it was quiet, and we soon turned off onto one of the trails. We worked our way up a concrete staircase. It was a tough climb to the top and when I indicated my shock both Benjamin and Akida were quick to say this was only the “warm-up”! Throughout the hike, Benjamin shared information on the different trees and what was most interesting to me was that two trees, the Mpugupugu (Milletia puguensis) and the Minaki, were endemic to this reserve. The pugu tree has a unique look, growing in the form of a vine. I was also very impressed by the tall green smooth bamboo trees in a remote section of the reserve. I had never seen real bamboos in the wild and as they brushed against each other they made a curious rustling sound.

Benjamin’s knowledge went beyond the trees and plants – he explained the history of the reserve, the developments around the dams/lakes, and shared information on creatures such as moths, the black and white colobus monkeys, and the Tanzanian native grasshopper (panzi), the rocks and soils, the old Kaolinite mining industry in the area as well as the significance of the spiritual cave, and the importance of some of the meditation nooks.

Hiking to Msolo Peak. The hike was such a lovely experience – it was strenuous in parts especially where they had built (or were building) concrete steps. Benjamin and Akida explained these steps were to make it easier to climb during the rainy season when those sections become extremely muddy and slippery with ropes needed for support. But we also discussed that it took away the fun and unpredictability of hiking where you learn to balance and navigate your way on tricky and uneven terrain. It wasn’t all hard work – there were some forgiving flat or gently sloping sections and many opportunities to rest on benches and admire the views.

The final staircase to the peak looked quite daunting but the “Congratulations” sign was encouraging!

Somehow, I survived this last big push with Benjamin saying “Pole Pole” (slowly in Swahili). We soon heard the sound of the school children so quickly pushed for the peak so we could escape the craziness when they finally ascended. It was extremely peaceful at the top and although quite hazy, it was still great to see the city from above.

As we descended, we met the school children, their patient-looking guide as well as some flustered teachers! To get down, we took the trail to the spiritual cave and in it, Benjamin shared its significance to the Mavoga Tribe and pointed out the spring which fed the dam we had seen earlier. He also spoke of the importance of showing respectful behaviour in this sacred area. Towards the end of the hike, we got to the Minaki Dam, and spotted two black and white Colobus monkeys in the trees across the dam. I was extremely excited as this was a first sighting for me. Shortly afterwards we were back at the start for a total of 6km in about 3 hours.

Bonus Sightseeing Tour of Dar es Salaam. Upon learning that I had not left the hotel for a week to see the city, Akida threw in a bonus city tour. I got to see the newly built Tanzanite Bridge, the huge Fish Market, the President’s State House and other Government buildings, as well as the public Coco Beach lined with several kiosks selling cassava products. We drove up to a viewing point where I was able to see the city on the other side.

We continued our tour through the different areas of the city – Masaki and Oyster Bay were high-income suburbs with luxurious homes but he also took me past the more disadvantaged areas, jostling with tuk tuks and boda bodas, bicycles adapted to carry coconuts and other produce, as well as hustling and hardworking hawkers selling their wares.

Lunch at a Local Restaurant. Close to lunch time, we stopped at a local restaurant, Nyama Choma Joint, serving ugali (maize porridge/pap) and beautifully grilled T-Bone steak. Sipping on my cold 7Up soda, I watched as the chef grilled the steak on a huge contraption in the corner and observed the chatter and movement around me. My meal came within 10 minutes, served on a wooden board with no utensils, warranting me to eat the traditional way with my right hand. Although not my usual method, it was the method I always used when visiting my grandparents in the village. Having spent a week eating great food, this was honestly the best meal I had all week. Maybe the hike had increased my appetite, but I polished it off very quickly!

When you’re in a foreign country (especially on your own and for work), it’s easy to remain in the comfort of your hotel. But taking time to explore is an extremely rewarding experience – there’s so much to see and learn in a new environment. This was one of, if not, THE best hiking experiences, I’ve ever had. Both Akida and Benjamin ensured that I had a memorable experience (and patiently took several photos for the blog, ASANTE SANA!) They showed incredible passion, love and pride for sharing Tanzania with the world. And to think this forest exists fairly close to one of Africa’s busiest cities is amazing. So, if you’re visiting Dar es Salaam, or live in the area, please do consider this adventure with your friends and family, or like I did, on your own!

Do you enjoy hiking? Have you seen a black and white Colobus monkey before? Have you been to Dar es Salaam? Have you ever been on a solo adventure?

I’m linking up with Kooky Runner and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the link-up, Runner’s Roundup with Mile By MileCoach Debbie RunsConfessions of a Mother RunnerRuns with Pugs, and Running on Happy! Hop on over to their blogs and others and be inspired!

20 thoughts on “Exploring Pugu Hills in Tanzania

  1. What an excellent trip, thank you for sharing it with us! And you had ugali, I read about that all the time, so it’s exciting to see it. I am guilty RIGHT NOW of being in a hotel for a week and not exploring, however it’s our first holiday since March 2020 and we were both exhausted. We will return here and see more some time soon, promise!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugali is also what we eat here in southern Africa, only we call it pap or phaletshe – different name but exactly the same product and taste! You can make it softer and have it as a breakfast porridge (Thiwa’s favourite!) or harder when having it as a main meal.

      Sometimes you do need those chilled hotel stays, so I forgive you…this time! 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have been doing sunrise runs along the coastal promenade at least. And we got a bus to a town that had NOTHING TO DO except for walk around and end up back at the bus stop today. So there’s that! I’ve read a massive book about African and Caribbean People in Britain I’d have been reading for EVER at home so all is not lost!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. his is fabulous, Shathiso! I’m so happy your day was so successful after the trail race didn’t happen.
    I would have certainly loved that hike – I love exploring forest areas that are completely different to what I know. And then that bonus tour! You are now a Dar-Expert!

    Will you get to go again? I hope so!

    Liked by 1 person

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