Maji Moto- Heaven in Tanzania (Chemka Hot Springs)
Have you ever seen a movie, where a weary traveler is riding though the desert on a camel, and in the distance they spot an oasis? A beautiful sparkling body of crystal clear water, surrounded by lush tropical greenery, Maji Moto is the real life version of that!
Maji Moto translates to “hot water” in Swahili. Although the water isn’t really hot, it is a really nice temperature with pockets of hot water here and there rising from geo thermal pockets below. The water is heated naturally deep in the ground. And comes to the surface creating a river of crystal clear water. Before it turns into the river though, it collects in a beautiful pool with a gentle current. The hot springs are really a beautiful place to spend the day. People of all ages can enjoy it. The water ranges in depth of about 4-20 feet. For non swimmers, there are tree roots and large rocks you can sit on and dangle your feet in the water. But beware.... there are tiny fish in the water that love to eat your dead skin (delicious I know). So if you keep your body static while submerged you will get a tickling, exfoliating experience. They don’t hurt at all, but it’s quite the sensation. Especially if you are ticklish!
Maji Moto is located off the beaten track. From Arusha take the T2 about 45 minutes east (toward Moshi) and turn off to the right at the small town of Chemka. There are no signs or directions through the town to reach the Hot Springs. So I would suggest having someone with you who knows the way, or hiring a company to take you. Maji Moto has become extremely popular since the last time I was here 5 years ago. Lots of companies offer tours or day trips here! I suggest going on weekdays to avoid big crowds. You still won’t have the whole springs to yourself, but it won’t crawling with other people. If you want to try and find it on your own you can always ask the locals “Maji Moto?” And they will point you in the right direction. The hot springs are located past the town and down many dirt roads. I wouldn’t suggest driving it in something that doesn’t have good suspension. You will drive past an office at some point for Chemka Hot Springs. Don’t worry about stopping there unless you need more directions to the springs because you don’t have to pay your entry fee until you arrive at the actual springs.
When you arrive at the hot springs, it will look like a grouping of trees in the middle of no where. But follow the trees to the left and you will find the parking lot and entrance.
I am unsure of the entry fee. There was signage saying 5,000TZS per person but Greg and I were asked to pay 10,000TZS each. But I think we were covering some other people in our group who didn’t have to pay because they are local. It’s not a huge deal. 10,000TZS is close to $5CAD and totally worth the experience.
When you walk into the springs you are instantly shocked with the vividness of the water and the trees. Cameras just can’t capture the amazing colours. The water is a hundred shades of the most amazing blues and the trees play with the light that filters down into the water. There are many amenities available here now. There are water gear rentals (floaties, snorkels, goggles and even swimsuits...) as well as a massage parlour, food stand, washrooms and change rooms. There are plenty of places you can setup a picnic spot. The area is vary shaded by the large trees that grow from the fresh water source but beware there aren’t many benches or chairs so be prepared to sit on the ground or bring your own blanket/chairs. The food stand serves local BBQ cuisine. It takes a while to get the food but it’s pretty delicious! As with all places in Tanzania there is a local price and a mzungu price. If you are really keen on saving a dollar or two, you can ask a local to go up and order the food for you. But be aware that even when they order it for you, you don’t pay till you pick it up. So send your local friend back to get your food for you and ask them to pay for you. But honestly you’re only saving yourself a couple dollars at the most. We ordered chips mayay (probably spelt that wrong) and a local told us his cost 5,000TZS. We asked our friend Nelson to order it for us and he did. We sent him with money to pay but he came back saying you pay when the food is ready. When the food was done Greg went up and tried to pay 5,000TZS, he was told it would It would be 8,000TZS. The employee didn’t clue in that Nelson ordered for Greg and had already told him the real price. Nelson was standing nearby and heard this go down and stepped in to correct the price, which wasn’t necessary but it’s always nice to have someone there for you. You sometimes have to beware of being charged the mzungu price. Usually its a harmless difference but remember you are expected to barter for most of your purchases in Tanzania (unless you are in a real store) and sometimes people try to get the most out of you because they are used to getting away with it. Us mzungu’s are used to paying whatever price we are told so if the price seems a little high to you, that means it probably is.
There was a group of local male teenagers who I assume spend their days there wowing the tourists with their daring tricks. They would do acrobatics from the rope swing and jump through an inner tube from the trees 40 feet up. The interesting thing is they aren’t really that great of swimmers. They doggy paddle around and kick with their feet out of the water. One got into some hot-water (excuse my pun) while we were there and needed to be rescued from the water, he was fine, I think he just ran out of breath and couldn’t surface again. They play around with inner tubes and goggles, befriending the tourists and just having a good time. A couple of them were really nice to our two friends Sabrina and Neema who joined us on the trip. Sabrina and Neema haven’t spent much time swimming, like most Tanzanians. So the boys spent most of our time there with them, pulling them around in inner tubes and showing them how to paddle their way around.
We swam, played and relaxed at the hot springs for over 3 hours. Tiring ourselves out with floating and swinging from the rope swing.
Greg and I both agree, Maji Moto is one of our favourite spots in the world and it holds a place close to our hearts. I highly encourage anyone in the Arusha/Moshi area to check it out! It’s a beautiful place for a picnic and a realxing day out of the sun!