With Arusha National Park, you don’t have to travel too far after landing to find yourself surrounded by the African bush. Canoeing, walking safaris, and game drives are some of the best things to do here and make for the perfect start to any northern circuit safari.
Situated just a short drive from Arusha and Moshi, Arusha National Park is one of Tanzania’s most convenient parks and is a fantastic destination for a day trip and makes for a great beginning or end to any Tanzanian itinerary.
Arusha National Park hosts a wide variety of landscapes, ranging from vast savannah and rainforest through to acacia woodlands and up to alpine vegetation on the higher reaches of Mount Meru.
At just over 200 square miles, Arusha National Park has great wildlife densities, and it is home to the world’s largest population of giraffe. Cape buffalo, elephants, hippos, zebra are found here in abundance, and the occasional lion and leopard can also be sighted on a game drive.
Things to Do in Arusha National Park
Thanks to its vast diversity in natural habitats and small size, Arusha National Park has fantastic wildlife densities. Many game drives occur in the Ngurdoto Crater and the surrounding forest, where the largest densities of elephants, buffalos and hippos are found.
The Serengeti Ndogu, or little Serengeti, is a vast and golden savannah grassland where many of the plains game graze and is also a great addition to any game drive.Head out in the early morning for the best game viewing opportunities, and pack a picnic lunch for when you get hungry.
Accompanied by a park ranger, you will make your way through the various forest and savannah habitats, observing wildlife from a safe distance.
This is also a great opportunity to spot some of Tanzania’s wonderful birdlife.
One of the highlights on a walking safari is walking up to the top of Tululusia Hill, a former lookout point during Tanzania’s tribal wars, which has panoramic views of the lower reaches of Arusha National Park. You can join a larger group or opt to go privately on your walking safari.
Drift along the shallow waters of the Small Momella Lake in a canoe while enjoying scenic views of the surrounding bush and wildlife coming to the shores for a drink.
Canoe trips often last 2-3 hours and are a great alternative to the traditional safari experience.
The fibreglass canoes fit two people, and at the time of writing, cost $24 per adult and $12 per child (8-years old and above only).
Apart from Arusha National Park, only Lake Manyara (when the water level is sufficient) and Lake Duluti also in Arusha offer canoe experiences.
Where to Stay in Arusha National Park
The Kili Villa is a luxurious retreat situated on a golf and wildlife estate close to the park and only 30 mins from Arusha International Airport. On offer are three exclusive villas, as well as individual luxury rooms.
Each Villa is distinctively decorated to showcase the best local African design and craftsmanship combined with colonial-style furniture This lodge offers horse riding, Canoeing and Game drives.
Alternatively, The River Trees Country Inn is a charming country estate that was once an old coffee farm. It still maintains the nostalgic air of a well-loved homestead.
Sprawling across ten acres on Mount Meru’s sloping foothills, beautifully rustic cottages are dotted along the river and nestled under tall trees. Lush lawns and birdsong add to the tranquil surroundings.
The restaurant concocts tasty meals of garden-fresh ingredients, old family recipes, and oven-fired pizzas. Delicious candle-lit dinners are served by the warmth of the fireplace or under the stars on the patio.
When to Go & Getting There
The best way to get to Arusha National Park is by driving, it is only a 45-minute drive from Arusha, the beginning point of any northern circuit safari in Tanzania. The best time to visit Arusha National Park is from June to September and December to March during the dry seasons.
Wildlife spotting and other activities are the most enjoyable at this time of year, and it lines up with The Great Migration if you plan on doing the Serengeti too.
March and April, and October to December are the wet seasons, and it is advised to avoid these months, as rain can ruin or lead to cancellations of planned activities.
What to Expect in Arusha
Arusha is not a place most people know and, if we’re being honest, most people will never go there. But they should. Arusha is a frontier city, it’s a place of excitement, it’s a place of opportunity. It’s from this unlikely place that people from every corner of the planet converge, all there to partake in travel experiences so amazing and so unique that they truly live up to the moniker of once-in-a-lifetime.
What to Expect when Visiting
Overall though, Arusha is a great place to do very little. Whether you’re fresh off a flight, at the end of your safari or dirty and exhausted from Mt. Kilimanjaro, you will undoubtedly be in need of some down time. Both before and after our safari Arusha was our home base and I personally came to regard it affectionately.
I got to know the hotel, the staff and where to find a quiet corner to read a book and decompress. There’s plenty of nightlife all around town if that’s your thing and if you find yourself staying for a few days in Arusha, there are some amazing national parks nearby. If you’re willing to sacrifice a full day to the experience, there’s nothing better than trekking out to Tarangire National Park, famous for its elephants.
If you don’t have that much time there is also Arusha National Park, although I’m told that the wildlife experiences there pale in comparison to not only Tarangire, but all of the other amazing national parks throughout Tanzania.
One popular must-visit in Arusha is the 137km² Arusha National Park just north of town. The park offers great safari experiences and features habitats ranging from open savannah to acacia scrublands, rainforest to alpine vegetation and also the golden Mount Meru. The wildlife in Arusha National Park is also incredibly diverse, with leopards and hyenas being the major predators in the area. Bird twitchers will also not get disappointed as the park is home to a world-class avifauna of 400 bird species.
Aside from the taste of authentic safari within the outskirts of town, Arusha also provides ample opportunities for cultural immersion, local villages tour, farms, markets and so much more!
When it comes to receiving an influx of tourists, Arusha holds a large influx every year. It has a domestic airport which provides direct flight link to Dar es Salaam and it is also very near Kilimanjaro International Airport, where most safari-bound travelers arrive.
But, even though a lot of tourists often find themselves with a day or two to spare, Arusha always have something in store for them.
The Cultural Heritage Centre is the perfect place to begin your history expedition in Arusha. The building itself is a spectacle of beauty that beckons to be photographed. It is structured as a sword and shield. It serves as a symbol of the Masai people’s heritage.
Inside the centre, you will find artwork, statutes, and artifacts representing the past and present of over 120 tribes in Tanzania. You can explore gemstones, traditional dresses, carvings, masks, sculptures, and much more to learn about the way of the tribes.
The Arusha Declaration Monument is a landmark that represents the Arusha Declaration. The monument was constructed in 1977 (ten years after the declaration) when Chama Cha Mapinduzi was the ruler. The declaration represents African Socialism, known as Ujamaa. The towering structure is beautiful to capture, especially when the lighting and timing are proper.
Arusha is a captivating place for its location and historical significance in Tanzania. It represents the Tanzanian culture and the values of the 120+ Tanzanian tribes. Keep your camera gear ready to capture memorable shots.
Mount Meru (4,566 m) is an active stratovolcano and forms the centrepiece of Arusha National Park in Tanzania. The mountain is often referred to as Mt Kilimanjaro’s ‘little brother’. Although the mountain is not as high as Kilimanjaro, it is just as challenging. Known for its huge cliffs, beautiful green surroundings and abundant wildlife, Mount Meru is the sixth highest mountain in Africa and the second highest in Tanzania!
Climbing Mount Meru requires more technical climbing skills than the routes on Kilimanjaro. What Mount Meru ‘lacks’ in height, it makes up for in difficulty. Therefore, it is important to have some climbing experience.
Still, Mount Meru is sometimes used as warm-up for climbing Kilimanjaro, especially to acclimate the body to greater heights. If you have the time and budget to climb Meru, it is definitely worth it. The mountain isn’t climbed as often and it provides a truly unique experience.
Since Meru lies in Arusha National Park, there’s a great chance of seeing various animals while trekking. You’re likely to encounter giraffes, buffalos, antelopes and baboons.
The 5 Arusha must do’s
Looking for gifts or fabrics for family and friends? Arusha is a great place to start. Spend a morning at either the Central Market or the Maasai Market for some world-class bargaining. The farmer’s markets are amazing, too.
This is by far the best museum in the city. If no travel is complete without a museum visit, look no further. The Natural History Center boasts an excellent exhibit on human evolution, among other things. Tanzania is the geographic center of the human story, so this is pretty powerful!
No place in Arusha warms your heart like Shanga, a nonprofit employing over 70 Tanzanians with disabilities. Each worker performs tasks such as glassblowing, weaving, and textiles. Come meet the talented folks who work here and leave with some memories.
Legend has it, one day a local Masaai saw a bolt lightning strike and turn some nearby stones a magnificent blue, and now we have this: Tanzanite, a blue gemstone “a thousand times rarer than diamonds. Though the more scientific reason has to do more with tectonics and continental uplift than lightning, this much is true: you won’t find Tanzanite native to anywhere else on the planet so you better seek it out while in Tanzania. This ultra-rare (ultra-expensive) gemstone can be found at jewelers and stores in Arusha. The Tanzanite Experience offers the best tour in town.
Bird and boat lovers take note! Located only 10 miles from Arusha, this lake is set to a gorgeous backdrop of forest and volcanoes. Witness dozens of bird and reptile species, from lounging monitor lizards to nose-diving kingfishers. Renting a canoe is highly recommended.