Iringa is a town in the Southern Highlands, Tanzania.
You can get to Iringa by bus. There are many bus companies but many are dangerous. The best are Scandinavia and Hood (maligned by Lonely Planet but much improved in the past few years)
Iringa is the perfect 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 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 Scandinavia 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.
- Gangilonga Rock (or 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 itself is covered in grafitti from wazungu tourists.
Isimila Stone Age Site. About 15 kilometres 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.
Chief Mkwawa’s skull at Kalenga
- Mkwawa Golf Course. Why not have a round of golf? 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…
- 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 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, I find shouting “Inatosha” (it is sufficient) stops him for a few minutes and eases the headache. I am currently in the process of applying for a PC05 grant from VSO to buy the thing from him so he can focus his attentions on finding himself a more productive role in society… development in action. Remember, they are used to American tourists in Iringa so you’ll have to bargain hard for the best price!
- Neema Crafts is a project run by Anglican missionaries (keep reading, it’s not that bad really). The workshop employs deaf people who produce Elephant Dung Paper products (Cards, Albums, etc), Beaded Bits and Bobs (Bracelets, Earrings, Flip Flops), 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. Along with the obvious benefits of providing employment to people that Tanzanian society has rejected, the products are excellent and make great presents! The Christian girls who help to run the workshop will be happy to give you a guided tour, and they have a café selling proper coffee and home made cakes, ice cream and sorbets if that tickles your fancy.
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 2,500/= for kanga and 4,000/= for vitenge. Real Wax vitenge comes in at about 10,000/= if you are a purist. Always demand a punguza for multiple purchases though they are tough negotiators!
There are several duka opposite the Posta selling batiques, carvings, paintings and painted tins. Laugh at the first price they offer you… and then punguza them to within an inch of their lives.
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. Currently you will pay 10,000/= for four medium sized baskets – an absolute bargain for the Iringa style they will bring to your bare, soulless volunteer accommodation.
For food based 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.
- Iringa Bakery (next to Lulu’s). Sells amazing bread. Opening hours are bizarre – 4 out of every 5 visits ends in disappointment, but when you are successful it makes it all worthwhile! Usually between 5 and 6 on weekdays is the best time to capture the bakers in their natural environment.
The Consellata 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 homemade pasta, pasta sauce, and Kiti Moto (pork) which they raise themselves and then cruelly slaughter on the premises (who would think such mild mannered nuns could have such cold, blood thirsty hearts?)
- Neema Crafts. The craft shop hosts a coffee shop with cafe food: sandwiches, muffins, etc. The coffee shop is staffed by the deaf staff and have adapted the ordering system accordingly.
- 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 and is the unofficial focal point for the ex-pat social scene. Specialities are the Chick Pea Curry (kali sana please), Rolled Chappatis, Samosas (Veg or Beef), Egg and Meat Chops, Fruit Juice, Milkshakes and Cakes… If you have something special to celebrate, get Shaffin to make you a cake… awesome artistry. 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.
- Lulu’s - One of the highlights of Lulu’s is the Soft Scoop Ice Cream, In addition they have the usual range of Indian, Chinese and western food. Beware the strange opening hours!
- Jacaranda – Don’t eat here if you are in a hurry. Good standard fare, possibly the cleanest restaurant to be found in Africa, and sports spotless bathroom facilities. If you have been on the bus for 10 hours and have been crossing your legs, the choo will seem good enough for the Queen. Some diners have reported long waits for food.
- Bottoms Up – Bottoms up has a restaurant and also serves food in the bar… Egg Biriani is a personal favourite. Reasonably expensive but great if you are already holed up there for the drink or football (or both). Indian, Chinese and Western dishes served alongside Tanzanian “food”.
- Twisters – Much the same as Bottoms, 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 haemorrhage…”). Cheap Tanzanian food is available along with the aforementioned Indian/Chinese/Western trinity which is almost the law in this town.
- 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, theatre style watching 3 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. If you are looking for a little more comfort for your football, Bottoms Up is probably a safer bet.
- Bottoms Up. A great meeting point and the night time social hub of Iringa. It has two pool tables (one of which is of a curious shape) and many, many sports channels. The place is run by Walid, an avid Liverpool fan, and his excellent staff, clientele is a mixture of Tanzanians (watch out for hand guns), SPW volunteers (watch out for the smell of the villages), depressed VSO and Peace Corps volunteers (watch out for boring life stories), and assorted kipepeo (as per SPW volunteers). Be careful not to get involved in childish tequila based drinking competitions with Walid and the many missionaries, it can only end up in a big hit to your ego…
- Twisters. Has a similar vibe to Bottoms 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 2,000/= at the weekend if they are opening late and have a disco.
- Miami Beach. Classic Tanzanian bar and dance hall… Grind me now! The place to go for a little Tanzanian “culture”.
No visit to Iringa would be complete without a visit to the Ruaha International Disco. It’s open from about 10pm until 4am when you will get kicked out and then molested by Taxi drivers desperate for your business. Ruaha is definitely the place to be if you enjoy the music of 50 Cent, and if intimate dancing with members of both sexes is your thing (though of course in Tanzania this is terribly inappropriate, Ruaha Disco seems to have rules of its own!) Word to the wise – don’t go to Ruaha International Disco on your own… normal rules apply, watch your valuables and don’t get blind drunk… safety first!
- Bankers Academy. 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 12,000/= and double ‘suites’ at 18,000/=. For the spendthrifts amongst you there is a cheaper choice accessed further down the Dodoma road at the college itself, rooms about 4,000/=.
There is a plethora of other smaller guestis in Iringa, some good some not so good. Feel free to try them and let me know of any successes you may have.
CRDB has a branch near the market which provides all the usual money changing services. It also has an ATM if you get desperate. Useful to note is that they are open until 1pm on a Saturday. There are also branches of NMB and NRB in Iringa
There are many internet cafés in Iringa, the most reliable being IringaNet at the top end of town. It will cost you 1,000/= per hour though you can bulk buy, to use as and when you need to, and get a small discount. Another option is to take your own wireless enabled laptop and use their wireless hotspot for the same price. The connections are relatively quick for Tanzania and stable.
Iringa is a good starting point for a visit to Ruaha National Park, transport and accommodation arrangements can be made through Shaffin at Hasty Tasty – You are looking at $120 per day to hire a 4x4 to get there and drive round the park (this includes a driver and the cost of the fuel).
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