Arusha Safari City
Welcome to Arusha, the Safari City! Surrounded by rolling green farmland and enjoying a temperate climate, Arusha lies at the foot of Mount Meru, Africa’s fifth highest peak and is the undisputed gateway to the Northern Tanzania safari circuit. Essentially an Arusha safari is the start to some of the greatest wildlife adventures in East Africa.
Arusha does have an airport and provides a direct flight link to Dar es Salaam but most safari-bound travellers arrive via nearby Kilimanjaro International Airport and head into Arusha to connect with an onward flight or road transfer to the Serengeti, Tarangire or the Ngorongoro Crater. In order to safari from Arusha, many travellers who arrive too late to catch their connection will overnight in the town though few spend more than a night here.
However, don’t worry if you need to overnight in Arusha: not only is there some very good accommodation on offer (often located on scenic coffee plantations and with views of Mount Meru) but with the 137 km² Arusha National Park just north of town, an Arusha safari can also be organised.
Largely designed to protect Mount Meru, this under-rated and under-visited park features habitats ranging from open savannah to acacia scrublands and from rain forest to alpine vegetation. The range of wildlife is accordingly diverse: wetlands are home to hippo, the forests to colobus and blue monkeys whereas the wooded grasslands support elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and many species of antelope.
Leopard and spotted hyena are the major predators and with a species list of nearly 400, the bird watching is excellent. Add to that the opportunity to sample one of the area’s cultural experiences and tour local villages, farms and markets, and Arusha becomes a whole lot more appealing than at first glance.
How to get to Arusha
There are two airports near Arusha. Arusha Airport is a domestic airport with only a few daily flights. It is 15 minutes from the town centre, and it is often the starting point for safaris.
Kilimanjaro International Airport receives daily flights from domestic, African, and international airlines. This airport is around 45 minutes from the centre and a taxi to the airport will cost around $50. Some drivers may accept a cheaper fare, but you will need to haggle.
If you are travelling from Kilimanjaro Airport to the local Arusha airport, allow at least one hour for the journey.
Places to stay in Arusha City
There are several budget options in Arusha, including The African Tulip and the Impala Hotel.
Kibo Palace Hotel: A large hotel with a pool and restaurant, and it is a great option if you are looking for a place to stay after an international flight or the night before a safari.
The African Tulip: A quaint boutique hotel which offers an airport shuttle. Most of the upmarket hotels can be found in the eastern area of Arusha. The Gran Melia Arusha offers fantastic views of Mt Meru, a well-stocked bar, a spa, and a pool.
Onsea House: A charming boutique guesthouse that was originally a farmhouse. It has two swimming pools, a sauna, a steam room, and a jacuzzi, and its gardens are tranquil.
What to do in Arusha & FAQ's
Cultural tourism programmes are organised in several nearby villages to introduce visitors to the indigenous Wa-arusha and Maasai tribes. They are great alternatives to the safari scene.
These programmes are built around village activities and they can be half-day tours or overnight trips. If you stay overnight, expect basic accommodation – either camping or staying in a traditional homestay.
Some excellent tours include Mkuru, Mto wa Mbu, and Longido. Located north of Mt Meru, Mkuru stands out from the other villages as one of the only camel riding communities.
You can explore the local culture by arranging a camel riding safari guided by Maasai warriors. You can choose between a short safari that lasts for a few hours, or a longer trek to Lake Natron or OI Doinyo Lengai.
Longido town offers splendid walks around the village, with rare wildlife like gernuk, lesser kudu, and klipspringer antelopes living in the bush. Mto wa Mbu is a very interesting tribe with a diverse population, and many residents were attracted to the area by the fertility of its soil.
Each community farms its own produce according to the tradition of their tribal backgrounds. In this village, there are some basic guest houses for accommodation.
With any cultural tourism programme, there is a fine line between community empowerment and simply empowering the entrepreneurs that run them. Nevertheless, the programmes still provide employment for locals, and many of the programmes near Arusha raise money for projects that will benefit the local communities.
For example, the Longido village tour is raising money towards a new cattle dip to protect the herd, which suffers around 1,000 deaths per year.
Other projects fund education, irrigation, or ecological work. Moreover, these programmes are an excellent chance to educate yourself about other people, cultures, and history.
Learn about the history and rarity of tanzanite. This precious gemstone is unique to Tanzania and you can visit the small museum and makeshift mine on India Street.
Here, you can learn how this coveted stone was created, named, mined, cut, polished, and graded. And of course, you can purchase one of Tanzania’s proudest exports if you wish.
Arusha is filled with craft and curio markets to satisfy travellers who are looking for souvenirs and unique gifts. This is one of the best places to buy Maasai beadwork and jewellery, either from street venders or from the curio shops.
The Arusha central market is a good place to start, and it sells traditional Maasai fabrics, hand-woven baskets, exotic fruit, coffee, nuts, and spices.
The town is home to several interesting museums, including the Boma Museum, which chronicles the fascinating colonial history of the town alongside the tribal history of the area, and the Cultural Heritage Centre, which is dedicated to Tanzania’s culture.
The Cultural Heritage Centre explores Tanzania’s history, wildlife, and culture, and has an excellent shop which sells unusual souvenirs. This shopping experience is hassle free and you will find some truly unique experiences, although the prices are a little higher.
The Mt Meru Curios and Crafts Market, sometimes referred to as the Maasai Market on Fire Road, is another popular shopping destination. It may take some confident bartering and time to pick out the best items, but this has some of the best options in the city.
Other shopping options include the Maasai Women Fair Trade Centre, Shwari, Shanga, and Jamaliyah.
The area has a strong coffee and café culture. Numerous coffee plantations surround the town, and many have small guesthouses on the property, including Arusha Coffee Lodge.
You can either stay overnight and enjoy a ramble across the plantation or take a ‘Bean-to-cup’ tour to learn about the coffee-making process.
Thanks to the abundance of coffee in the area, the town also has a surprisingly good café culture, with shops selling a selection of flat whites and iced lattes.
Some of the best options include Africafe and Jambo Coffee on Boma Road, or Café Barrista on Sokoin Road.
There are several day trips available from the town centre which showcase the surrounding landscape and wildlife.
One of the most popular experiences is a tour of Arusha National Park. You can visit for a half day or full day game drive. Although there are no predators, this hidden gem has some beautiful scenery and excellent bird-watching opportunities.
Another option is to go canoeing in the lake within the park. Remember to pause and enjoy the remarkable views of Mt Meru.
As well as Arusha National Park, you can reach Tarangire National Park for a chance to see the Big Five. This trip takes 8 hours, but it is a great chance to tick the Big Five off your bucket-list.
Mt Meru is a popular alternative trek to Mt Kilimanjaro. Although it is a more technically challenging climb than Kilimanjaro, it is often used as a warm-up. Hikes begin in the middle of the night so that you can enjoy the sunrise from the summit.
Alternatively, you can hike the lower slopes for a less strenuous option. And if that sounds too taxing, you can just admire this dormant volcano from afar.
For a really challenging hike, we recommend the OI Doinyo Lengai. This is the only volcano in the world to emit ‘cool’ (950°C) lava. This is a rather unforgiving hike as there are no flat areas, but most adventurers claim that it is worth the early start and physical effort.
A Maasai guide will escort you to protect you from hyenas and leopards.
The popular Meserani Snake Park is located 25km west of Arusha. Travellers can take a guided tour and learn about some of the most venomous snakes in the world, including the Green and Black mamba and the Egyptian cobra.
The park is a great day out for families. There are also crocodiles and monitor lizards, and you will get the opportunity to hold a tortoise.
You can also take a tour of the Maasai Cultural Museum with a Maasai guide.
There are some Bureaus de Change in Arusha clustered around the Clock Tower, and some ATMs in the city centre. It is a good idea to stop by these before your safari to take out some notes. There are not many other options during the Northern Circuit and it is good to have cash to buy souvenirs or tip drivers and guides.
Arusha is relatively safe for tourists, but it is wise not to wear too much jewellery. The risk increases at night, and we do not recommend walking the streets after dark. But in general, the city is known for its welcoming atmosphere, and the people are very pleased to have such a thriving tourism economy, meaning the locals treat tourists well. We recommend that you travel the city by taxi since dala dalas (small minibuses) and bajajis (tuk-tuks) are more dangerous. A taxi ride across town should not cost more than $2.50.
On the one hand, you must visit Arusha on any trip to Tanzania – this is the starting point for some of Tanzania’s most famous sites, including Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater. So, should you stay more than one night in Arusha? There is certainly plenty to do in the town – from cultural programmes, to museums, to shopping to day trips – there is enough to spend at least two days. If you already have a full itinerary, including hiking, safaris, and beach work in Zanzibar, then perhaps it is best to only stay one night in one of Arusha’s attractive plantation guesthouses.
Arusha is known for being the safari capital of Tanzania, and a popular stopover for adventurers who are preparing for a Kilimanjaro trek.
No, you cannot see Kilimanjaro from Arusha. Mt Kilimanjaro is situated 82.6km away from Arusha.
- Lake Manyara National Park.
- Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God)
- Meserani Snake Park.
- Mount Meru.
- Olduvai Gorge.
- Arusha National Park.
- Amani Children’s Home.
NO! Avoid public affection
Hugging, kissing and holding hands is something that should be done only in private in Tanzania, and especially the island of Zanzibar, which is home to a largely conservative Muslim population. So even if you’re on a romantic honeymoon, leave the PDA for your hotel room!