Both the Marangu and the Machame villages are starting points for climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Both of these villages are high up in the mountains, full of bananna trees, have some coffee plantations, are green and quite cool, and have quite a few options for tourist accommodations, although many are difficult to find. There are usually no street signs and you have to ask around, to find the hotel you plan to stay.
The Marangu village is perhaps the most popular, and is filled with tourists, those beginning on the easy Marangu (coca-cole) route. The Marangu village is touristy for sure, but from the looks of it, it’s not the kind of tourism that is in your face. Yes, people do hound you to buy their carvings, t-shirts, safaris and children ask for pens and candy, but the beauty of the village (despite the coke signs) still remains. The people of Marangu have been tainted by tourism a bit since they have had thousands of people coming to their village each year. Because of this, this village is actually quite prosperous compared to other villages.
If you show up in Marangu on a bus, you are bound to have people trying to take you to their friends hotel or guest house. It’s best to get in a taxi, and have them take you to your destinations (if you know it). If you just have a backpack, I would go to a local restaurant, relax, have a beer, leave your backpack, and spend a few hours wandering around the mountain, checking out prices.
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Machame village is less like a village, and more like a big area known as Machame. It’s less developed than Marangu and you can actually feel a little less like a tourist dollar here, but the accommodations are must less, and you would only have a few options food, most likely at your hotel. This area would make a good base for village trekking.
If you are looking for a little bit more action, spend your time in Moshi or Arusha and either do day trips to Machame or Marangu (more interesting for a day trip)