Amboni Caves Tanzania
Located nearly 8 km from Tanga town, the Amboni Caves are the most extensive limestone caves in East Africa. They are located 8 km north of Tanga City in Tanzania off the Tanga – Mombasa road. The caves were formed about 150 million years ago during the Jurassic age. It covers an area of 234 km². According to researchers, the area was underwater some 20 million years ago. There are altogether ten caves but only one is used for guided tours.
Amboni Limited, a company that was then operating sisal plantations in Tanga Region acquired the area in 1892. The company notified the British colonial government about the caves who in turn declared the caves a conservation area in 1922.
It is not known when the caves were exactly discovered but reports indicate that ethnic groups such as the Segeju, Sambaa, Bondei, and Digo who lived near the caves used it for prayers. In 1963, the then government of Tanganyika handed over the caves to the Department of Antiquities.
These caves have been the subject to local legends and a number of mythical and awe-inspiring stories have been attributed to the caves. To the local people, the caves are regarded as supernatural formations where supernatural powers commonly known as “Mizimu” are believed to have been residing since the formation of the cave. There are chambers treated as sacred chambers for worshipping some spirits. One of them is called “Mzimu wa Mabuvu”. Some believe that there is a powerful deity that can alleviate their sickness, sufferings, or increase their fertility.
These limestone caves are formed by a special nature of erosion. According to Mturi (1975:18-19), there are three theories that explain the formation of the Amboni Caves. The first theory is known as the vadose process. According to this theory, rainwater absorbs carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and forms a weak carbonic acid which is capable of dissolving calcium carbonate minerals of which limestone is formed. When this acidulated rainwater seeps through the limestone it is dissolved and cavities and caves are formed.
The second theory is that of phreatic origin. According to this theory, the caves are formed by erosion from the sub-water table. The rainwater with carbonic acid rapidly seeps through the limestone and reaches the water table before being a saturated solution of calcium bicarbonate. At this stage, it is still capable of acting as a dissolving agent for the calcium carbonate.
The Amboni caves are believed to be the most extensive limestone caves in East Africa, located in Kiomoni village. The caves, a one, and half kilometer stretch are a fascinating historical site, which was used as hiding places for the locals.
The Amboni caves are among the area’s most popular attractions that have attracted, over the years, a hundred thousand tourists both local and foreign.
The caves are very dark inside and potentially lethal. Nearly all tunnels or chambers are accessible to tourists via a guided tour.
The Amboni caves are among the area’s most popular attractions and feature vast below-ground halls with towering formations. Visitors are advised to wear comfortable shoes and to bring a pocket-size camera since it’s cumbersome to bring a camera with a large lens as walking is through tight squeezes. And before entering some tight spots, visitors are asked to leave large bags in an area to pick up later.
The views of towering formations in the caves are an admiration. Nearly all its tunnels or chambers are accessible to tourists via guided tours. Walking through squeezes while getting treated to views of incredible formations makes the visit well worth it.
The caves have religious significance to the local people who pray and make offerings in one of the shrines. For a section of locals, the caves have been long-known as the place to worship to pray for different needs. Chamber number one is used for the prayers, in what many people associate with superstitions. Different items are deposited here during prayers ‘gifts that the local villagers offer to the spirits.
The caves’ upkeep is under the Department of Antiquities in the ministry of natural resources and tourism.