TL;DR Emau Hill in Amani Forest Reserve, Tanzania offers lots of hikes through woods and tea plantations, night walks with chameleons, delicious dinners, and crazy safari stories.

If you go down to the woods today…

What is more magnificent than a spontaneous long weekend away in a cloud forest?

Luckily, in Tanzania, this isn’t such a crazy scenario. Towards the end of a tough week, a friend and I decided there and then to throw caution to the wind, chuck a few bags in the trunk and to leave our cares behind. We wanted to make a date with weird creatures, bond with the wonderful outdoors and restore our inner chi. Our mission: escape to Amani Forest Camp!

The camp (also known as Emau Hill) is located in the Amani Forest Reserve, over in the north eastern corner of Tanzania. It was set up in 1997 to protect the rich flora and fauna of the East Usambara Mountains. It is home to lots of species that are not found anywhere else, including beetles, crabs, molluscs and dragonflies.

After six hours of chewing tarmac, we headed up into the mountains and were greeted at the bottom of Emau Hill by one of our hosts, Gail. We were grateful for a lift; the road was pretty sheer and awfully gnarly in places, best tackled by a full off road vehicle. Immediately we could tell that Gail was going to look after us like one of her own. She had everything ready and gave us a full run down of camp information.

Upon arriving at the camp, we were taken aback by its pure beauty. Like the secret garden, a little nugget of heaven was ours for the next few days. A small covered deck poked out onto a grassy lawn, hugged by a dense duvet of bushes and trees, dotted with flowers and birds. Our large, green, tented accommodation, which lay further down the way, was cleverly concealed past the bar. We had found a perfect hideaway.

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View of the gardens at Amani Forest Camp

Paradise found

A chance to blow the cobwebs away..

Hiking was obviously the most fabulous way to enjoy the surrounding forest in all its glory. We could choose from short jaunts to find endemic African violets, sauntering to see the waterfalls or clambering up to viewpoints from hilltops. There were several routes to choose from but we decided on a fairly long ramble through the tea plantations.

It began in the lovely cool forest, the perfect space to clear the mind and fully let the sounds of nature fill that void. A full wall to wall of greenery, looming trees and babbling brooks surrounded us. Beautiful.

View from above the canopy on a walk from Amani Forest Camp

Spectacular vista

Coming out of the refreshing woods we meandered through sugar cane farms and out onto paths by the charismatic tea plantations. The steep slopes were perfectly decorated with rows of manicured bushes. Precarious leaf pickers were neatly plucking some plants clean of the freshest tips.

We bumped into the friendly local village chairlady as she walked her dog; we stopped briefly and said hello. Upon spying plastic tubs filled with mysterious goodies outside a little hut, we stepped inside for a special treat. There we snacked on fantastic fresh pakora and samosas, all washed down with an amazing cup of ‘chai’ (tea of course!).

The walk continued with a fair few more kilometers of tea plantations, wandering through small villages and a lunch spot on a natural fallen log ‘bridge over the river. At the end of the walk, the final hill back to camp was pretty brutal but ensured the walk was very gratifying. A cold beer was definitely well earned!

Finding forest friends…

After a stellar dinner we thought that a night walk would be particularly delightful. Under a huge barrage of stars, we took a little wander in a loop just outside the camp. Our guide had a special knack of spotting lots of camouflaged creatures. The ease at which he pointed them out was a little bit annoying!

There were chameleons galore, mainly the three-horned Usambara species (Trioceros deremensis). It was a great opportunity to get up close with these peculiar animals and do our best nature documentary presenter impersonations! There were other nocturnal critters too, including large furry moths, sweet mice and cute little frogs. However, not everything was sweet and adorable. We had to watch out for the cursed Siafu! Luckily I knew these ‘army’ ants have a very painful bite and managed to escape with a small infestation, otherwise, I would have to strip off all my clothes to remove them!

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Into the darkness…

After our mini night safari there was a treat in store. Over a lovely glass of wine, we were enthralled and astounded by the thoroughly entertaining stories from our other host, Carl. For decades he has been escaping from many wild and hairy situations in his various guises as a lawyer, chef and hunting guide. His knowledge and experiences were fascinating; from coming face-to-face with a lion to breaking down in the middle of the African bush, at sunset, with no water. He’s writing a book and it’s sure to be a best-selling page-turner!

He did tell us that the sheer density of vegetation around the camp causes a reduction in the amount of oxygen in the air and has an effect of making you feel tired and look old. I was definitely still worn out the next morning, and it was difficult to get up. I think that was perhaps due to the long walk, very comfy beds and a couple of glasses of wine! I did thoroughly enjoy those quiet moments, snuggled under the thick blankets, appreciating the cool ambiance inside the tent.

The next day we could choose to do another walk or venture out on a bicycle, take a village tour, visit the community butterfly farm or stay put and do a little bird watching. We opted for the latter, book and binoculars in hand, mainly laughing at the resident hornless silver hornbill chasing foes from his tree. Such a restful ‘activity’ is particularly soothing for the soul.

Soon it was time to be leaving and I was sorry to be leaving this oasis of calm, home away from home. I found the hospitality was just superb, the setting was so soporific and the entertainment just first class. This retreat offers a top-notch method to reset the internal battery by simply connecting with nature.

I did manage to catch a glimpse of a blue monkey as we exited the tranquil forest. I was jealous that he got to stay in the jungle paradise we had just visited. But! I was grateful that I could revisit the memories of the weekend in my mind; the earthy smells, leafy ambiance, eccentric creatures, serene sounds and utmost serenity of Amani Forest Camp that were all experienced so deeply.

Check out my other posts on fabulous places in Tanzania, including the Tides Lodge in stunning Pangani, the ultimate exclusive festival in Lake Natron and wasting time in Dar es Salaam.

Like this post? Subscribe to the Soulful Travel newsletter for Annie’s packing checklist plus travel related advice, news, competitions and more. Sign up here.

If you need travel advice, request a free 30 minute coaching session. In the chat Annie will help you choose a destination, create your itinerary and review safety precautions. Or she can discuss how you can incorporate more travel into your life by saving, making money, travelling for free or being paid to travel.

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