Background Variability in stages of the HIV-1 epidemic and hence HIV-1 prevalence exists in different areas in sub-Saharan Africa. The purpose of this study was to investigate the magnitude of HIV-1 infection and identify HIV-1 risk factors that may help to develop preventive strategies in rural Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Methods A cross-sectional study was conducted between March and May of 2005 involving all individuals aged between 15–44 years having an address in Oria Village. All eligible individuals were registered and invited to participate. Participants were interviewed regarding their demographic characteristics, sexual behaviors, and medical history. Following a pre-test counseling, participants were offered an HIV test. Results Of the 2 093 eligible individuals, 1 528 (73.0%) participated. The overall age and sex adjusted HIV-1 prevalence was 5.6%. Women had 2.5 times higher prevalence (8.0% vs. 3.2%) as compared to men. The age group 25–44 years, marriage, separation and low education were associated with higher risk of HIV-1 infection for both sexes. HIV-1 infection was significantly associated with >2 sexual partners in the past 12 months (women: Adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 2.5 (95%CI: 1.3–4.7), and past 5 years, [(men: AOR, 2.2 (95%CI:1.2–5.6); women: AOR, 2.5 (95%CI: 1.4–4.0)], unprotected casual sex (men: AOR,1.8 95%CI: 1.2–5.8), bottled alcohol (Men: AOR, 5.9 (95%CI:1.7–20.1) and local brew (men: AOR, 3.7 (95%CI: 1.5–9.2). Other factors included treatment for genital ulcers and genital discharge in the past 1 month. Health-related complaints were more common among HIV-1 seropositive as compared to seronegative participants and predicted the presence of HIV-1 infection. Conclusion HIV-1 infection was highly prevalent in this population. As compared to our previous findings, a shift of the epidemic from a younger to an older age group and from educated to uneducated individuals was observed. Women and married or separated individuals remained at higher risk of infection. To prevent further escalation of the HIV epidemic, efforts to scale up HIV prevention programmes addressing females, people with low education, lower age at marriage, alcohol consumption, condom use and multiple sexual partners for all age groups remains a top priority. Care and treatment are urgently needed for those infected in rural areas.