Maasai People of Arusha: This is possibly Africa’s most famous ethnic group,the Maasai people aresemi-nomadic people located primarily in Kenya and NorthernTanzania. They are considered to be part of the Nilotic family ofAfrican tribes, just like the Schilluk from Sudan and theAcholi from Uganda.
According to their own oral history the Masai people originated in theNile Valley in Northern Africa and migrated south around the15th century with their cattle. Why they did this is not known,however historians believe it was simply out of need for bettergrazing land. In their southward expansion, the Maasai foundsuch land and satisfied their desire for more cattle by wagingdevastating warfare and continual cattle raids on other tribes.They quickly spread south through the Rift Valley where thefertile grasslands were ideal for their cattle and around the 18thcentury, reached the present-day territories in Kenya andTanzania.
Once considered fierce warriors and feared by all tribes in thearea, the Maasai lost much of their power in the 19th century. Intribefighting was detrimental to the growth of the tribe as awhole and combined outbreaks of human and cattle disease,followed by severe droughts, decimated both the herds andpopulation of the Maasai. As a result, the masai tribe lost lands theyhad already conquered and when the British and Germancolonisers arrived, the Maasai were in no position to avoidcolonial conquest and their lands diminished.
Nevertheless, the Maasai turned their backs upon the prizesand temptations offered by the West, and despite education,civilization and western cultural influences they remainedfaithful to their ancestry and traditional way of life, making themthe strong symbol they are today of East African culture.
Way of Life
In spite of their reputation as fierce warriors, Masai tribes revolve around their cattle. One of their spiritual beliefs is thattheir God, Enkai, created cattle for the Maasai and that all thecattle on earth belong solely to them. This bond has led them toa nomadic way of life following patterns of rainfall over vastlands in search of food and water for their cattle. Traditionally,all of the Maasai’s needs were met by their cattle; they ate themeat, drank the milk and sometimes blood. Animals wereslaughtered for ceremonies, and all their clothing, shoes andbedding came from the hide, whilst cow dung was used forbuilding.
The Maasai have managed to retain many of their traditional ways, however, this becomes morechallenging every year. The ability to graze their cattle over large areas has diminished considerablyover recent years due to increased urbanization and the declaration of the Maasai Mara and theSerengeti Game Reserves, which were former Maasai grazing land. The Maasai have now adapted amore sedentary lifestyle that includes growing and buying cultivated food. Today raiding cattle hasalso become a crime so in order to increase their herds the Maasai must buy cattle, which meansseeking employment in order to earn money to do business.
There are numerous traditions and ceremonies performed by Maasai men. Perhaps best known is the‘warrior’ jumping dance where young Maasai moran (youth) leap into the air from a standing positionin order to demonstrate strength and agility.
Traditionally, in order to earn the right to have a wife, a Maasai moran was required to have killed alion. Officially this practice has stopped although there is evidence that it continues in the moreremote areas. In earlier times groups of young boys were also required to build a new village and livein it for lengthy periods of time, often years, as part of their passage to manhood. This practice is nowdying out due to lack of land.
As pastoralists never having had to hunt wild animals, the Maasai have always been an extravagantlycoloured and beautifully adorned tribe. The tribesmen would dye their clothing red to distinguish fromother tribes who usually wore white, and so that if a man was injured in battle the blood would notshow on his clothes and the enemy would not realize his weakened state. Today blue, black andcheckered cloths are also worn. Beadwork done by the women has a long history among the Maasaiwho define their identity and position in society through body ornaments and painting. Tribesmen ofall ages including tiny babies will wear jewellery.
The Maasai speak the Maasai language, an Eastern Nilotic language closely related to Samburu (orSampur) the language of the Samburu people in central Kenya, and to Camus spoken south andsoutheast of Lake Baringo. Most Maasai also speak Swahili, the language of East Africa.
Arusha City Map
Arusha Mini Guide
Located in north eastern Tanzania, Arusha is the capital of the Arusha Region. The city is situated under the towering giant Mount Meru, and Mount Kilimanjaro is just 82.6km away.
Arusha was first settled in the 1830s by the Arusha Maasai. These agropastoral settlers belonged to the Arusha Chini community who lived south of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Arusha is the safari capital of Tanzania, and a popular stopover for adventurers who are preparing for a Kilimanjaro trek.
It is possible to rent a car in Arusha but parking costs $0.50 per day throughout the city. It is far more common to hire a driver, and this is particularly useful for daytrips to Arusha National Park. If you are renting a vehicle, make sure that there is no charge for ‘extra kilometres’, as this can become expensive.
Dala dalas (small minibuses) are common throughout Tanzania and these only depart when they are full. They cost 400 TSH/person and they operate along the major roads throughout the day. You will find a large station on Stadium Street.
You can also take a bajaji (tuk-tuk) for a one-dollar ride to the city centre. None of these options are particularly comfortable or safe, but they do offer an authentic Tanzanian experience.
Taxis are available and they can usually be found parked in front of hotels. A ride across town should not cost more than $2.50.
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.
No, you cannot see Kilimanjaro from Arusha. Mt Kilimanjaro is situated 82.6km away from Arusha.
There is more to Arusha than initially meets the eye. With impressive museums, cultural heritage programmes, crafts, and curio markets galore, there is plenty to explore before you start your safari.
The city is multinational, with Iraqw, Hadzabe, Maasai, South Asian, and European residents.
The streets are bustling, with Maasai women sat on the sidewalks selling their beadwork, Maasai men wandering through town in their traditional red swathes, enterprising businessman trying to sell batiks, and tour guides offering various exciting 4WD adventures.
Despite this intensity, the city has a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Matching the ambiance of the city, the architecture and infrastructure is chaotic, with hectic traffic and old colonial buildings mixed with modern conveniences.
There are some excellent authentic street-food options in Arusha. At Discovery Restaurant, you can sit beside Maasai men and enjoy a Myama choma (roasted meat and maize), chapati, pilau, or biryani.
Alternatively, try out Khan’s BBQ on Mosque Street, which serves great chicken dishes, Indian style chutneys, naans, and salads.
More upmarket options can be found in the Eastern side of town. Some of the best dining options are found outside of the city. The Themi Living Gardens is a leafy spot where you can eat at the eco-restaurant, Eat Wild. The Mulberry is another outer-city oasis where you can sit back and enjoy cocktails as you watch the sunset. For travellers who like to party, this is an excellent spot for pre-drinks.
The city has a lively nightlife, with several bars and nightclubs (we recommend Via Via) and a growing live music scene. There are weekly acts at the Mount Meru Game Lodge, Blue Heron, and the Fig and Olive.
In the City
There are several budget options in Arusha, including The African Tulip and the Impala Hotel.
The Impala 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.
In the Suburbs
Some of the best accommodation options in Arusha lie outside of the city. The less expensive options include Onsea House, Rivertrees, and Arumeru River Lodge.
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. The guesthouse also has a restaurant which serves delicious food.
The guesthouse is only an hour away from the airport, making it an excellent place to relax before or after a safari. Onsea House offers 2 double suites and a family suite that overlooks the Meru Valley. The adjacent self-contained cottage is perfect for families.
Arumeru River Lodge: A peaceful lodge which offers great access to Kilimanjaro International Airport. It has vast gardens which are home to dik-diks, monkeys and countless bird species. On a clear day, the lodge has exceptional views of Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro. The lodge organises horseback safaris and it is tastefully furnished with traditional dhow furniture.
Rivertrees Lodge: Located on an old coffee farm and with views of Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro, the lodge is an excellent base for trekking. The delicious food matches the high quality of the coffee, and its oven-fired pizza pit is popular with its guests.
Arusha Coffee Lodge: Just a 25-minute drive from Arusha, this old plantation brims with luxury. The exquisitely decorated rooms are spread across the grounds and each room has its own indoor fireplace. Given that the lodge is a former coffee plantation, it offers tours of the old plantation house and coffee-making process. The theme of coffee runs throughout the hotel – in the bar, restaurant, gardens, and even the spa.
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.