While it may not be the Tanzanian capital, Arusha is the undisputed safari capital of Tanzania, if not the world.A bustling city that acts as the gateway to such legendary parks as Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, Arusha is a sometimes dizzying but always charming mix of cultures, styles, and peoples that every safari enthusiast will someday pass through.
Serviced by both Arusha Airport and Kilimanjaro Airport, Arusha is the starting point and finishing point for most Tanzanian safaris.
Day Trips from Arusha
Whether you’re in Arusha for business or pleasure, the city offers a wealth of fun day trips and excursions. Maybe you’ve got a day to spare ahead of your Mount Kilimanjaro climb, or maybe you’re killing time before joining us on safari. Regardless of the reason, we’ve got a number of fun day trips and tours for you to choose from.
Arusha National Park:
The most accessible national park in Tanzania, Arusha National Park is just a short (1 hour) drive from Arusha proper.While the park is not home to any big cats or larger mammals, it is an ideal place to spot buffalo, zebras, warthogs, and a variety of primates. In fact, Arusha National Park is the best place in Tanzania to spot black and white colobus monkeys.
With fewer dangerous animals to worry about, Arusha National Park is the ideal place to take a canoe safari or walking safari. With a picnic lunch prepared by Shadows of Africa, this is the perfect way to start (or finish) a longer safari adventure. Ask your safari expert about canoe safaris in Lake Manyara National Park as a fun alternative.
Lake Manyara or Tarangire:
Located between 1.5 and 2.5 hours from Arusha, the twin parks of Lake Manyara and Tarangire offer the more quintessential safari experience.Home to four of the Big Five (rhinos being the notable exception), both parks are a terrific place to spot lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra, antelope, and a huge variety of other iconic African wildlife.
Tarangire is most famous for having Tanzania’s largest elephant population, so if seeing a Tembo in the wild is on your bucket list, this is the perfect place for it. Conversely, Lake Manyara is famous for being one of only two places in the world where you can see tree-climbing lions. It is also a great place to take a canoe safari or a quick walk on the treetop walkway.
Ngorongoro Day Trip
While the Ngorongoro Conservation Area lies approximately four hours’ drive from Arusha, it is possible for a particularly ambitious traveler to make the trip in a single day. While we don’t usually advise this due to the rushed itinerary, it’s a great way to see the World-Heritage listed Ngorongoro Crater when time isn’t on your side.
Departing early in the morning, you’ll arrive at Ngorongoro Crater in time for a picnic lunch and an afternoon game drive. Short of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro is the best place in Tanzania to spot the Big Five. Rhinos, elephants, buffalo, and lions are especially common sightings at the verdant floor of this stunning natural wonder.
You’ll return to Arusha after dark, so be prepared for a long day!
Marangu Village Tour:
Located in the Kilimanjaro foothills, the sleepy village of Marangu offers a fascinating window into modern Tanzanian life. A day tour to Marangu includes visits to a local coffee plantation, a chance to sample locally brewed banana beer, a tour of the Chaga tunnels, and a walk to a gorgeous local waterfall.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can speak to your driver about stopping off at a local restaurant to try some ugali, chips mayai, or fried chicken.
If taking a cultural safari is of interest to you, Shadows of Africa offers a number of cultural tours with a specific focus on learning more about the tribes of Tanzania.
Maji Moto Hot Springs:
Maji moto means ‘hot water’ in Swahili, but you’ll find the crystal clear waters of this natural hot spring to be quite pleasant.
A bumpy two-hour drive from Arusha, Maji Moto is a popular swimming spot with locals and tourists alike. Shaded by the towering trees that surround the oasis, Maji Moto is a perfect place to take a dip, layout in the sun, and enjoy a local lunch purchased from the vendors on-site.
Kahawa Coffee Tour:
Tanzanian coffee is famous around the world for its rich flavors, so why not go straight to the source and try it for yourself?
The Kahawa coffee plantation is located in the village of Nkoaranga, about 25 kilometers from Arusha. Here, you’ll have the chance to tour a working coffee plantation, roast and grind your own beans, and enjoy a hot cup of the freshest coffee you’ll ever have.
Couple this with a hot local lunch and your own bag of Tanzanian coffee beans to bring home and you’ve got the recipe for a delicious cultural experience.
Arusha City Walking Tour:
While Arusha cannot boast the same cosmopolitan charm as Nairobi or Kenya, there is still plenty to see in Tanzania’s safari capital.A half-day or full-day walking tour of Arusha includes visits to local markets, a chance to dine in a local restaurant, and the guidance of a guide with a fantastic knowledge of the city’s past and present.
Get off the beaten track on a thrilling quad-biking tour in the surrounds of Shadows of Africa’s very own lodge, Olerai Lodge.Located in the idyllic Mateves valley on the outskirts of Arusha, the lodge’s surrounds are home to bustling local villages and a startling array of wildlife and birdlife. Your guide will take you on a whirlwind tour of the area, teaching you a little about local life along the way.
For the more energetic and adventurous traveler, there are a number of cycling day trips to be taken in Arusha and the nearby town of Moshi.These can range in length from two-hour tours of villages on Arusha’s outskirts to half-day tours to Arusha National Park and Mt.
Meru, all the way up to full-day cycling tours to local landmarks such as Maji Moto or a full-day spent within Arusha National Park.If being active is a priority for you, our Nine-Day Adventure Safari is a great way to see a totally different side of Tanzania.
Working with our local partner, Kaskazi, Shadows of Africa is able to arrange a horse-riding experience that lets you see African wildlife from horseback! You’ll feel like one of the explorers of old as you spot zebras and bushbuck from horseback.
It can be a fantastic way to unwind after a long trip in a safari vehicle or as an add-on to begin your safari adventure.
Maasai Beading Class:
Shadows of Africa and Olerai Lodge have partnered with the local Maasai population in a number of ways, with many of the Shadows of Africa ground staff being Maasai.
If you’re staying at our Olerai Lodge, we can arrange for you to take a traditional beadwork class. Similar activities can also be arranged if you’re overnighting at the popular Africa Amini Maasai Lodge or Osiligilai Maasai Lodge, both of which offer Shadows of Africa preferential rates.
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.