The Kondoa Rock Art Sites include over 150 natural caves or shelters that have been used for rock paintings over at least two millennia. The paintings have high artistic quality and were made with a brush-like instrument. They depict elongated people, animals, and hunting scenes. The rock art of Kondoa belongs to the distinct rock art traditions of central and southern Africa.
The Rock Art is located nine kilometres off the main highway from Kondoa to Arusha, about 20 km north of the town of Kondoa. The paintings are found high up on the hills. Some of the sites are related to living traditions of the local Hadza and Sandawe peoples.
The existence of the paintings was first reported in 1908 by missionaries. The first scientific explorations date back to Louis Leakey in the 1930s. The Leakey Family also developed a small visitor center in the village of Kolo, which is now run by the Tanzanian government and supplies also guides to the sites.
Map of KondoaLoad map
I like to focus on the practicalities of reaching this rather remote WHS by public transport. It is not too difficult. Buses go from either Dodoma or Arusha, and they leave early in the morning in either direction for a couple of dollars. Shabiby is by far the best. Dodoma is about an hour closer than Arusha to the Kondoa rock art sites. The visitor center is actually in Kolo, right on the main road, and this is the place where you have to get off the bus, register and pay your fees. About USD 13 for the guide who accompanies you, and we also paid about USD 21 for 3 motorbikes bringing us on a rough road to the foot of the hill where the caves are located. We chose the B group consisting of 3 caves, about 90 minutes walk uphill and down again. I was told that normally it is possible to rent a car from the visitors centre, but that it was in repair during our visit. There is also an entrance fee. The main headache was to catch an onwards transportation from Kolo as most long distance buses have passed already in the afternoon, and we had to wait almost an hour, but then found a smaller local bus all the way to Arusha.
Babati would be an option to sleep in case there are no more buses, but this is highly unlikely. We reached Arusha before sunset after about 7 hours on the bus from Dodoma.
Visiting the popular Tanzanian WHS has the disadvantage that it is difficult to organize it yourself - the best, and sometimes the only option, is to buy a safari. This is not my favorite sightseeing style, and when a travel agent offered me $ 500 for a 2-day trip to Kolo from Arusha, I had no hesitation in renting a car and driving there on my own. The rental itself is also not the cheapest - the standard rate for the smallest Toyota Rav 4 variant is $ 80 per day, but it gave me the freedom I wanted.
The road to Kolo is about 250 kilometers, which I covered in less than 4 hours. Even though the road is very nearly perfect, it is not worth going too fast, especially in residential areas - the Tanzanian police love to catch drivers in the least expected way. I paid fine twice - once caught by a policeman sitting in a truck, the second time when he took a picture of me perfectly on the line of the speed limit sign. "This is Tanzania, man," one of the drivers caught in the limitation told me. The fine is 30k TZS (approximately $ 12), regardless of the offense.
The Visitors Center is right on the Arusha-Dodoma road, it is impossible to miss it. There are supposedly a few guides waiting on site, so you don't have to book anything in advance - especially since, as I saw in the book of visits, there aren't too many tourists. My guide was honestly surprised to see mzungu without a driver and thought that I live permanently in Tanzania. If it was true, it would entitle me to a considerable discount on the fee.
The guide explained me how to get to all inscribed places, but I got the impression that he discouraged me from visiting sites other than the nearest ones, ie B1, B2 and B3. Considering the time constraints and not wanting to come back after dark, I decided to only go there. B-sites are a few kilometers from the Visitors Center, on a very poor road which, although it doesn't look, can be traveled by a normal car (I saw how the park rangers did it). Sites B1, B2 and B3 are located in caves on the hills, requiring a bit of climbing (quite demanding, but not too much - I did the route in flip-flops with terribly sore feet after trekking in Kilimanjaro NP the previous day). Nice views of the surrounding area are a reward.
As for the rock art itself, I got what I expected but didn't get the wow effect. The drawings show standard animals, hunting scenes and everyday life. Though they appeared clearly visible, they appear rather pale in my photos. Compared to the wonderful (and much older) drawings from Serra da Capivara in Brazil, seen by me a month earlier, they are definitely weaker. But overall this is a nice site worth visiting.
We visited the Kondoa rock art site from Arusha with a rented car. The archaeological museum where guides to visit the site(s) can be found is actually in Kolo, a little village 25 kilometres on the main road before you reach Kondoa. The whole stretch Arusha – Kolo is in very good condition and took us about 3.5 hours.
As we were told that the Thawi sites have the most varied paintings, we opted for these sites (more specifically sites D4A, D4B, D14 and D15). The downside is that these are probably one of the most remote sites which can be visited and a 4x4 is required – no way the area can be reached with a standard car. Taking this into account, the 20 kilometre drive (one way) took about one hour.
As mentioned above, you can first pick up a guide at the Kolo archaeological museum and he/she accompagnies you in your car to the sites. Not only is this useful for background information about the paintings, but also absolutely necessary to find the sites since the (Thawi) sites are not indicated in any way. Once arrived in the area, also a 15 minute downhill walk is required to reach the paintings.
The drawings in red paint show mostly animals (giraffes, rhinos, a bird’s head, ...), but also human figures. The absolute highlight is a very detailed painting of a rhino which still is in amazing condition. Since these sites are so remote and located under a rock overhang, there are little traces of damage or vandalism.
We also intended to visit the Kolo sites (B1-B3) but had to pass taking into account the long time it took us to reach the Thawi sites and the fact that the sun was going down. We spent the night at the basic but beautifully located Amarulla campsite and while driving there we passed signs to the B1-B3 sites. We don’t know how much further it was to actually reach them but looking at the map, it seems that they – like the Pahi sites – are much more accessible than the Thawi sites. So unless you really are a rock art ‘connaisseur’ and/or like to do a couple of hours offroad driving, it might be better to opt for the Kolo sites (potentially adding the Pahi sites).
Ps: a couple of years ago, we also visited the White Lady rock paintings in Namibia’s Brandberg National Monument Area (part of the Namibia Tentative list) and would recommend these paintings in case one had to choose since instead of the uniform red paint the White Lady paintings are quite colorful (but this might have to do with the fact that the Kondoa paintings are older and color techniques were less advanced?)
Kolo is a small village along the 'highway from Arusha to Dodoma (Capital of Tanzania) The road is very bad although they say the Chinese will be paving the road in the next couple of years (2016?)
It takes about 3 hours to get to Kolo from Arusha by 4 wheel drive (224km) and another 3 hours to get from Kolo to Dodoma (180km).
There are 185 sites with rock paintings in the Kondoa region but only a few are accessible for tourists unless you intend to hike out in the bush. Mary Leakey began documenting these rock paintings in the 1950s and when she was done, the conclusion are that these were the second most extensive rock painting sites in Africa next to Tassili N'Ajjer in Algeria. There is now a small museum in Kolo right at the only junction in town. It has a couple of rooms with some stone tools and artifacts and pictures of some of the the rock paintings.
The problem is that the most popular site (B1, B2 and B3) is 9 km out of Kolo. It is also very bad road to the site and requires a 4 wheel. You pick up a guide at the museum to go with you. There is a bus that runs between Arusha and Dodoma and can drop you at Kolo. The problem is that there is no transportation to the site. I was told you can try to get a motorcycle taxi to get you out there or some people walk and it takes 3 hours each way.
Once you get to the B sites, there is a sign pointing to a path up the hill. Its a steep climb and the circuit takes about two hours, so bring water. We started with the B2, then B3 at the top of the hill and finally B1 at the bottom.
All the paintings here are dated to about 5-10,000 years ago and are done with red ochre by ancestors of today's Sandawe people. The paintings are painted on the rock walls under a deep overhang rock. The B2 site is still used for local rituals. There are low walls built around the sites and I am not sure to protect it from. We used the walls as seats to admire the paintings.
The other sites that get visited are called Pahi sites but its across the valley and visiting both sites takes a whole day. The problem is that the roads are unsafe at night to drive and so you have to stay the night in Kondoa. The facilities are very basic in Kondoa and so if you want a decent hotel room, you need to get back to Arusha or Dodoma. As such we decided to skip the Pahi sites and head on to Dodoma. Besides I read that the Pahi sites were done in white clay and were painted as recent as 600 years ago.
A long day but probably worth it.
To provide a site record system, conservation plan, site manager, buffer zone etc.
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