Head into Tanzania’s Usambara Mountains and there, 1,700 metres up, lies Mtae. A small village precipitously placed atop a long, thin cliff, its setting brings to mind some long-forgotten outpost jutting into the infinite savannah below. Beyond its boundaries stretches a vast plateau: in the distance looms mighty Mt Kilimanjaro, brethren to Malawi’s similarly majestic Mulanje, while Lake Kilimawe provides a much closer, but no less striking, landmark.
Mtae is a quiet, peaceful place. Best-known as the start/endpoint for treks to nearby Lushoto, the village creates the impression of a temporal bubble. The trickle of tourists who make it there finds a place content to move at a trickle’s pace (Limbic Editor: As opposed to a snail). Nothing is surprising about the scene, and one can expect the usual Tanzanian tropes: inquisitive youngsters, colourful clothes, offers of tours, the hustle and bustle of village life.
What makes Mtae special, though, is its ambience. The surroundings emanate a spectral, elemental atmosphere. Due in part to the horizon-spanning flatlands, the cold and bracing nights and the hazy glow of the sunset, one feels as though they are sitting on nature’s doorstep. To watch the sunrise piercing the clouds is to see Tanzania at its most lowkey and magical, and it is sure to be a view never forgotten.