Iringa is a town in the Southern Highlands, Tanzania. It’s a district capital, an important agricultural center, and the gateway for visiting Ruaha National Park or other Southern circuit safari parks. Once away from the main street, with its congestion and hustlers, it’s also an extremely likable place, with an attractive bluff-top setting, healthy climate, and bracing highland feel.
Perched at a cool 1600 m on a cliff overlooking the valley of the Little Ruaha River, Iringa was built up by the Germans in the late 19th century as a bastion against the local Hehe people.
You can get to Iringa by bus from Dar es-Salaam, Dodoma, and Mbeya. There are many bus companies but some are dangerous. The best are Sumry, Sutco, and Hood.
The road from Dar is being upgraded into a very decent road so once the roadworks have gone the ride will be very good. The journey passes through beautiful scenery and a national park.
Iringa is a great stop-over point on the way down through the Southern Highlands or if you are off to visit Malawi and Zambia. If you are going back the other way towards Dar es-Salaam it is definitely a much nicer place to stop than Morogoro. It would be all too easy to just see Iringa as a blur as you hurtle past in a Sutco coach sipping your complimentary soda, but is definitely worth breaking your journey for a day or so to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this bustling little town.
It is also the gateway to the jewel in the crown of Tanzania's game parks: Ruaha. Ask at Iringa Info opposite Hasty Tasty for top of the market tours or at Neema Crafts for the smaller companies to arrange your trip. Get a bus or taxi to Tungamalenga village near the park gate and stay at Chogela campsite, where they can arrange a cheaper vehicle hire (this is the cheapest way to visit the park). Ask at Neema Crafts for Chogella campsite details.
- Gangilonga Rock (talking stone). This large rock gives you great views over Iringa. To get to it you have to walk out past Lulu's/bakery/Ruaha Club way through the well-off suburb where all the rich NGO and government workers houses are. The rock is covered in graffiti from local youth. Reports have indicated that criminals may lurk here.
- Neema Crafts Centre is a great place to visit with cafe with great cake and fresh ground coffee, a tour of the workshops is great to see all the different crafts being made, especially paper from elephant dung!
- Isimila Stone Age Site. About 15 km from town towards Mafinga, easily accessible by daladala or taxi. This is one of the most interesting stone age sites in East Africa and is well worth a visit.
At Kalenga, you can go and see Chief Mkwawa’s skull which was returned by the Germans after many decades.
- Iringa Swahili School. Take Swahili courses with Iringa Swahili School. Classes are at Rivervalley Campsite (formerly Riverside Campsite). This Swahili school is used by many NGOs, humanitarian and missionary organizations. It is considered one of the best Swahili courses in Tanzania. Visit Iringa Swahili School [dead link] for more information.
- Mkwawa Golf Course. Brown greens and more caddies offering unwanted advice and mirth than you can shake a stick at... hilarious... watch out for the donkey- and goat-based green keeping team.
- Learn about the AIDS pandemic first hand. Iringa region has the highest infection rates in the country. The Amani Orphanage in Mbigili (around 25 km from Iringa, in Mbigili 2 km away from the Dar es Salaam Highway) is run by a German-Tanzanian NGO and offers a nice round guesthouse in traditional style with 2 double rooms for a small donation - very lovely, an ideal spot for hikes through the surrounding area or visits in the very beautiful Ruaha National Park, 100 km away. Trips can be organised by the helpful staff. The food there is awesome and the kids are also always very happy to see new playmates! Bookings through email@example.com or facebook: Amani Orphans Home Mbigili.
- Masai Market – Go and visit Sengai (the unofficial leader of the Iringa Masai) in the Masai market between the Posta and Sokoni. All manner of beaded things, katenge bags, herbal medicines, and second hand shoes available. You will also get lots of souvenir traders bothering you outside of Hasty Tasty – They are selling cards, carved wood items, and musical instruments. One of them has a nasty habit of playing his terrible violin-type device. Shouting Inatosha (that's enough) stops him for a few minutes and eases the headache but it does make sitting on the outside tables a bit annoying and not the best place to relax.
- Neema Crafts. The workshop employs deaf people who produce elephant dung paper products (cards, albums, etc.), beaded bits and bobs (bracelets, earrings, flip flops) including stuff from their beads they make from recycling glass bottles (ask to go and see their cool mud kiln), cushions, vitenge patchwork blankets, lamps and lamp shades, and more recently have employed disabled folks who are weaving rugs, hammocks, and various other interesting textiles. Their projects include micro solar panels for lighting, radios and charging phones, very useful if you are camping, and a physiotherapy unit for disabled children. You can help the physiotherapy unit by having a fantastic hour long massage for Tsh 25,000 from their bubbly physio Beatrice and you can lie there and relax in your pampering knowing the money you are paying is going to allow more disabled children to get treated for free! Along with the obvious benefits of providing employment to people that Tanzanian society has rejected, the products are excellent and make great presents! Haruna, a hilarious character, will be happy to give you a guided tour, and they have a café selling proper coffee and homemade cakes, ice cream and sorbets if that tickles your fancy; Their panini bacon and avocado sandwiches and the carrot cake draw expat volunteers from all over the south of Tanzania who also stock up on their reading materials at the book exchange in the cafe. Also they are the center for a great project to bring safe drinking water to rural villages using the sun, (SODIS.ch) so drop off any empty 1½-liter drinking water bottles you may have and they can make use of them.
There are dozens of shops selling vitenge and kanga. The best are located around the Dala Dala stand near the market and down “Indian” street. Expect to pay TSh 2,500 for kanga and TSh 4,000 for vitenge. Real Wax vitenge comes in at about TSh 10,000 if you are a purist. Always demand a punguza for multiple purchases though they are tough negotiators but don't worry too much about going as low as you can as these guys are the middle men not the producers whatever they may claim!
The duka opposite the Posta selling batiques, carvings, paintings and painted tins have now all been moved on (they were illegally there in the first place). You can now find them scattered about town.
In the corner of the main market you’ll find the basket market - several stalls selling straw mats, baskets, kitchen bits and pieces. The hand woven baskets are a signature of Iringa and well worth getting for keeping your mchele and maharage in. You will pay Tsh 10,000 for four medium sized baskets – an absolute bargain for the Iringa style they will bring to your bare, soulless volunteer accommodation.
For postcards try the post office for the usual Tanzanian variety, or try Neema Crafts. They have their own postcards, cheaper than the post office and much more local. They sell stamps there as well and have a post box outside.
For food retail therapy, take a walk to Premji’s and/or Raju’s on “Indian” street, two mini-supermarkets heavily stocked with wazungu luxuries; wine, Marmite, Coco Pops, olives, etc. Not what you would describe as cheap but when you are desperately in need of a yeast extract based hit, beggars can’t be choosers. (also Neema Crafts does take away giant chocolate chip cookies and fudge, which are great when you need a lift).
The Consolata Fathers and Sisters live on two sites up in the Gangilonga suburb. The fathers sell their own cheese (well, that of their cows...) including mozzarella (amazing), the sisters sell excellent homemade pasta, great pasta sauce and various pork products which are from pigs they have raised themselves.
Banks and ATMs
- Barclays Bank. Has a Mastercard/Visa Card ATM.
- CRDB. Takes Interac bank cards.
- NBC. Also takes Interac cards.
- Neema Crafts. A great restaurant in a great centre. Good food, large portions at a good price. Amazing coffee and cakes. European and Tanzanian dishes to suit all tastes. All the staff are deaf which adds a twist to ordering and the service is great. Games available, a great kids corner and play house, sofas, book exchange for your holiday reading and a useful library of development literature for those who have an interest in this area. Voted the best restaurant in the world by the UK Telegraph newspaper in 2010! Not bad for Iringa! Often stage evening events, concerts etc, keep your eyes open for these, always great fun.
- Saivilla Sai Villa [dead link]. In a bit of a remote location. It is Indian run and offers authentic Indian food along with a variety of other dishes. Its on the expensive side with many main courses ranging around TSh 10,000. You can find it off Kawawa Street about 500 m east of the Lutheran Centre, you will see a path way to your right, leading to a white gate. Free wifi.
- Hasty Tasty Too. Run by Shaffin and his mum, who will happily stand in for your own mother if you are in need. You usually find a lot of wazungu in Hasty, it is next to the SPW (Student Partnerships Worldwide) office. Specialities are the chick pea curry (kali sana please), rolled chappatis, samosas (veg or beef), egg and meat chops, fruit juice and milkshakes. If you have something special to celebrate, get Shaffin to make you a cake... awesome artistry a bit dry at times. They also do a mean cooked breakfast if you are suffering after a heavy night in one of the drinking establishments. MTV (proper MTV and not the rubbish Hip Hop version) plays on the TV alongside BBC News 24... nice! If you are having a bad day, Shaffin is arguably the best person in Iringa to go to for a comforting hug.
- [dead link] Riverside Campsite, ☏ . Out of town on the way to Dar Es Salaam you will find a great campsite next to the Little Ruaha River. Serving a Western/Tanzanian blend of locally sourced food and open to bookings for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Booking recommended. Day visitors are also welcome to bring picnics and enjoy the woodland and hills next to the river.
- Twisters – Service is slow! Twisters has food in addition to drinking facilities (Vegetable Jalfrezi here is good)
- Sajuu’s Home Restaurant – It feels homely and you can amuse yourself with Tanzanian soap operas (“Camilla is having a hemorrhage...”). Cheap Tanzanian food is available along with the aforementioned Indian/Chinese/Western trinity which is almost the law in this town.
- Aashiana Restaurant - Here you will find a mixture between Indian and Tanzanian food. It is not to expensive but you also won't get amazing food.
- Greek Club Iringa, Lumumba Street, Gangilonga, Iringa. Quality Greek and European cuisine. Playground facilities and garden. Perfect spot for families.
- Luxury Bar. The place to go for watching football. It is impossible to describe the atmosphere. Anything up to 500 avid Tanzanian fans crowd into the bar, theater style watching three small TVs in cages. Be prepared for very un-Tanzanian displays of emotion and deafening verbal abuse aimed towards everyone's friend Jose Mourinho. On Friday nights they have a reasonable live band.
- Neema Crafts. Will often be showing the big matches on the biggest screen in town (but no alcohol there).
- Shooters. A great meeting point and the night time social hub. Has sports channels, a pool table and plays fairly loud hiphop and rap. Clientèle is a mixture of Tanzanians, SPW volunteers (watch out for the smell of the villages), depressed VSO and Peace Corps volunteers (watch out for boring life stories), and assorted vipepeo (as per SPW volunteers).
- Twisters. Has a similar vibe to Shooters but has a lot less SPW volunteers and is a little more Tanzanian. It also has a pool table and sometimes has live music. You may find a cover charge of Tsh 5,000 at the weekend if they are opening late and have a disco. Food a bit of a risk and service very slow.
- Miami Beach. Classic Tanzanian bar and dance hall. The place to go for a little Tanzanian “culture”.
- Bankers Academy. (Known to locals as "Ruka"). Close to Hasty Tasty and offers clean, en-suite rooms varying in price depending on facilities. There are two types of accommodation – cheap (situated around the back of the college) and expensive (accessed from the main road). The more costly option offers single en suite rooms at TSh 18,000 and double ‘suites’ at TSh 25,000. For the spendthrifts among you there is a cheaper choice accessed further down the Dodoma road turning up the side road by the NMB bank at the college; rooms about TSh 12,000.
- Neema Crafts (yes this really is the heart of Iringa). A fantastic guest house in their centre. It is the first disabled-run guest house in the world as far as they know and definitely the first in Africa! Rates: single TSh 25,000 a night B&B, double/twin Tsh 45,000 and family room (double and bunk bed) TSh 65,000. The rooms are large & all ensuite with pressurized water and electric showers so a good hot high flow shower, a rare luxury and the views great and it will have WiFi and a great internet cafe on site as well as their great restaurant. Safe parking too. Turn off the main road at the clock tower roundabout just past the post office.
- Wazo Lodge. 2½ km from town along Mkwawa road, two streets opposite Mkwawa university college, an ideal place for those looking for a peaceful place out of the busy town life. A bed and breakfast facility at the price of TSh 24,000. Good self-contained rooms with TV, dinner can only be provided if ordered before hand. A customer hot line +255 755338033 is available for those that need to book their place before hitting town.
- [formerly dead link] Lutheran Centre. Down the hill from Neema crafts, just been refurbished and reopened, much above the old style backpackers haunt, now one of the most comfortable places to stay in Iringa. TSh 25,000 a night.
- Staff Inn: There are two Staff Inns. One is next to the bus station, called white house, another on the main road, called annex. They offer similar kind of rooms, USD20-28. Annex has strange odour and restaurant is just average.
- Central Lodge Near Bankers Academy and opposite Hasty Tasty. The place is in old German hospital building, has single and double rooms with breakfast and TV. USD25-35. Rooms are big and run down but service is friendly. Beds are short with high end boards so beware if you are tall and like to stretch out, that is taller than 5'9".
- Embalasasa Motel On main road, near bus station has modern rooms with TV and bathroom, USD30-35. they close their door at 9PM. After that you may be in trouble to get in, even you are the guest!
- [dead link] Riverside Campsite. Out of town on the way to Dar Es Salaam you will find a great campsite next to the Little Ruaha River. With Ensuite Banda and Tented Banada accommodation and serving a Western/Tanzanian blend of food. Booking recommended +255 787 111 663. Day visitors are also welcome to bring picnics and enjoy the woodland and hills next to the river.
There is a plethora of other smaller guests in Iringa, some good, some not so good.
- Ruaha Executive Lodge. Across the street from Hasty Tasty and Jacaranda. Offers clean, en-suite rooms with hot water for TSh 30,000-40,000. basic breakfast is included but dinner must be ordered ahead of time.
There are also now several higher price hotels on offer, such as hilltop and a few others but generally they do not offer much more than places like the Lutheran centre or Neema Crafts except a bigger hole in your wallet.
Mbigili: The Amani Orphanage in Mbigili(around 25 km from Iringa, in Mbigili 2 km away from the Dar es Salaam Highway) is run by a German-Tanzanian NGO and offers a nice round Guesthouse in traditional style with 2 double rooms for a small donation - very lovely, an ideal spot for hikes through the surrounding area or visits in the very beautiful Ruaha National Park, 100 km away. Trips can be organised by the helpful staff. The food there is awesome and the kids are also always very happy to see new playmates! Bookings through firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook: Amani Orphans Home Mbigili.
Riverside Campsite has very romantic nice chalets for resting and tents near the river with nice rooms to pass the night. It's outside of Iringa town but its a place you shouldn't miss it if you are a birder or like walks or a swim in the river (only one very shy hippo to worry about evidently!) They also do good food and run a very good language school.
- Doctors with Africa CUAMM Guest Hose, Tosamaganga village (14 km from Iringa town, along the road to the Ruaha National Park), ✉ email@example.com. Non-governmental organization Doctors with Africa CUAMM (60 years of sanitarian development projects in different countries in Africa, in Tanzania since the 1970s) offers accommodation in a really comfortable mixed Italian-African style guest house. Staying here you also support their projects.
CRDB has a branch near the market and provides all the usual money exchange services. It also has an ATM, in case you get desperate. They are open until 1PM on Saturdays. In Iringa, there are also branches of NMB (across the street from Jacaranda) and NBC.
NMB has an ATM at its branch. It also has an ATM in the town center. However, CRDB and NBC take only Visa cards. The Barclays has a bit of an unreliable cash machine and they only change foreign currency if you are an account holder.
Nowhere takes travellers cheques.
Neema Crafts is taking credit cards in their shop and if you ask you can pay for the fabulous restaurant as well by card. They sell postcards and stamps and have a postbox by the front door. You can find cards a bit different from the standard Tanzania-wide fare here as well.
Immigration has an office in CRDB - bank building.
There is a very good language school in Iringa mainly based at Riverside campsite. The SIL Bible translators use it which is a pretty good recommendation for it's quality.
If you are coming to Iringa for a while there is a very good international school (Iringa International School) which mainly has expat teachers and runs the IB primary years programme, IGCSE and A-level. It is a very well run pleasant school with great kids and has some of the best exam results in Tanzania. It also has excellent boarding facilities for families based further out of town.
There are many internet cafés in Iringa. The one at Neema Crafts Centre is probably the fastest in town (they use the new high speed TTCL connection), turning off the main road at the clock tower roundabout past the post office. They have fast internet and also unlike the other cafes are virus free as they run on open source software (don't worry, you can use and access all your normal documents etc there). They also have WiFi in their restaurant which is fast and it is a great place to sit and relax with your laptop. The chocolate cake and coffee is great!
Another well-known internet place is IringaNet at the top end of town. It will cost you TSh 1,000 per hour, though you can bulk buy and get a small discount. Another option is to take your own wireless enabled laptop and, for the same price, use their wireless hotspot. The connections used to be considered quite quick for Tanzania, but they now lag behind the internet cafes using the new high speed fibre optic cables from TTCL, the main phone company.
The internet cafe by the post office is also half decent but can be a bit slow and is riddled with viruses so don't plug in your memory stick or camera.
There are several other smaller places around which are much of a muchness. Prices are the same everywhere, Tsh 500 for half an hour and Tsh 1000 for an hour with Wifi rates a bit higher.
Iringa is a good starting point for a visit to Ruaha National Park. Transport and accommodation arrangements can be made through Iringa Info, which is opposite Hasty Tasty. You are looking at around US$200 per day to hire a 4x4 to get there and drive round the park -- this includes a driver and the cost of the fuel.
Ask at Iringa info for cars but they are a bit pricy. Neem crafts is a good spot to pick up info on independent smaller operators and also local tourist gems like guided walks and the newly found rock paintings. Tatanca offer a very good service. their office is on the Dodoma Road heading away from town.
Sumry, Sutco, and Upendo have morning departures to Dar Es Salam around 8AM. Scandinavian Express does not go any longer, despite what their internet site indicates. Instead Taqwa and Falcon do so and arrive from Dar to Iringa around 1PM. Those buses do not come to Iringa bus station but roadside. Normally they overnight at the border.
Heading in the other direction Chaula bus run the best service towards Mbeya, with 2 buses leaving every morning.