Karatu, Tanzania, has long been the cheap option for independent travelers and budget safari companies visiting Ngorogoro Crater, but it is starting to garner some interest as a destination itself, owing to the Ganako Karatu Cultural Tourism Program initiatives.
Although Karatu appears on the surface to be a humdrum, uninteresting, typical Tanzanian town, a few days here will reveal quite a lot bubbling under that surface. Karatu is, of course, an ideal gateway to the Ngorogoro Crater, but walks in the surrounding forest could yield sightings of elephants (there is a salt lick), buffaloes, baboons, and plenty of bird life. The Ngorogoro Conservation Authority requires you to take one of their licensed guides, which can be arranged at the park gate near Gibbs Farm.
Located on an escarpment, Lake Manyara National Park is just thirty kilometers east of town, and can be visited on a day trip, or there's plenty of accommodation in and around the park entrance. The park is famous for its tree-climbing lions as well as large populations of wildebeest, buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, and excellent birding opportunities.
Lake Yasi is just under fifty kilometers southwest of town and is known for its massive population of water birds during the breeding season June to November. There is also a cultural tourism program here centering on the local Hadzabe people.
In Karatu itself, there is Iraqw market every seventh and twenty-fifth day of the month; the Iraqw is the main ethnic group living in Karatu. The cultural tourism program also has a long list of activities in and around Karatu, such as visiting a brickmaking factory, a local brewery, and Iraqw villages, and you can hire bikes and guides for getting out into the countryside.
There are many camps in the area and some guesthouses in the town itself and around the two lakes. Budget travelers will find dorm beds in a Karatu, Tanzania hostel that is part of an eco-tourism initiative. Your Karatu, Tanzania hostel is located in the southern part of town, in an area full of tented camps. All the activities listed here can be organized either at your Karatu, Tanzania hostel, or by visiting the cultural tourism program office in the east of town.
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