Arusha – the gateway to wildlife safari in north Tanzania

Arusha, Tanzania is a city with a population of more than 400 thousand people, located in the north of the country.

Arusha is located in the center of northern Tanzanian attractions, including Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Lake Manyara. As such, all wildlife safaris in northern Tanzania start and end here.

Arusha city

The city of Arusha, named after the Masai tribe, was founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Initially, it was the administrative unit of the German colony. All that remains of the colonial past is the wall of the former fort in the south of the city.

Tanzania First President Julius Nyerere
Julius Nyerere

Perfectly coping with the functions of a tourist Mecca, Arusha is also the political and economic center of Africa. Bill Clinton aptly called Arusha “African Geneva”, implying its significance for the world.

Conferences and negotiations are held in the city, and important decisions of international importance are made here. It was here that the first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, introduced the Arusha Declaration, and in 1999 the Treaty on the Formation of the East African Community was signed. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was located in Arusha and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is still operating from Arusha.

Arusha is quite famous for its coffee plantations. Additionally jute, grain and coconut fiber is processed here.

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The city of Arusha in Tanzania was chosen by Catholic and Protestant bishops to host representative offices of its faiths. In a multinational city, followers of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc., coexist peacefully. Americans and Europeans, Indians and Arabs are thriving here, but nevertheless, among the inhabitants of the colorful Arusha, Native Africans still constitute the majority.

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What to see in Arusha

There is entertainment for everyone in Arusha

The past and the present exist together in the lively & rapidly developing Arusha city. Natives wearing bright national clothes can be seen alongside tourists. One can find women carrying heavy baskets on their heads in the same places where fashionable cars drive by.

Bazaars, souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs and casinos – in Arusha and the outskirts of the city there is entertainment for everyone and attractions for everyone.

Be sure to visit the markets

Here is a list of the best places to visit in Arusha.

Mount Meru

Mount Meru is one of the main attractions of Tanzania and the “mother” of Arusha, because it was at its foot that a settlement arose, which later turned into a city.

Today this giant (its height is more than 4000 meters) with a pliable character can be seen from anywhere in Arusha. Meru is considered a natural talisman of the Tanzanian city. It can be scaled by anyone who wants to climb it in just 3-4 days (depending on the health and physical fitness of tourists). Some adventurers treat Mount Meru climb as a stepping stone or preperation for the more difficult and longer Kilimanjaro climb.

Mount Meru

Meru is a strato-volcano. Its last major eruption was recorded at the end of the 19th century.

Climbing Mount Meru

Meru promises an interesting ascent due to its relief, incomparable views from the top and a safari during your trek. The mountain is surrounded by Arusha National Park, which has giraffes and zebras, elephants and antelopes, buffalos and warthogs to name a few.

Organized groups of travelers are always accompanied by professional guides and rangers with guns, so the adventure that Meru promises is absolutely safe.

Mount Meru is 50 km from Kilimanjaro Airport, almost 400 kms from Dar es Salaam and almost 300 kms from the Indian Ocean.

Arusha National Park

Another attraction – Arusha National Park – is located 30 kms from the city. It occupies a little more than 100 km², which makes it the smallest compared to other Tanzanian wildlife reserves, but no less entertaining.

Among the “entrails” are craters and lakes, views of Mount Meru, leopards and hyenas, rare colobuses and four hundred species of birds.

Arusha National Park

The Arusha national park has three zones with different types of vegetation: Mount Meru, Lake Momela (the birthplace of pink flamingos) and Ngurdoto Crater.

Note that in Arusha national park you can embark on walking tours accompanied by an armed forester. In most African parks it is strictly forbidden to leave the car to walk in an open area.

You can safely walk along a well trodden path that has thickets of shrubs,  through a cozy valley, to Ulyulyusya Falls. No attacks on people by wild animals have been recorded in this park.

Trips to neighboring villages

At the Tanzania Tourism Board or via the various tour operators, you can arrange excursions to villages near Arusha. Such journeys will help you see the ethnic groups of an African country and learn about their lifestyle, history and traditions.

It is an amazing opportunity to chat with the people of the villages of Ilkiding and Ngiresi (an hour on foot), as well as Monduli Yuu and Aldogno Sambu, Tengeru and Longido, Ilkurot and Mulala (an hour drive from the city).

Trips to neighboring villages

A cultural tour is a way to see with your own eyes how local residents are engaged in pastoral-ism and farming, listen to folklore, and admire the sights, including waterfalls, along the way.

In Longido, you will be offered a camel safari, in some villages you can set up a camp and stay for several days.

Note! If the guide accompanying the group during a cultural tour offers you to donate money to a charity, ask him how to transfer it directly to a trustworthy charity. Not all conductors are conscientious enough to send money to the needy!

Wildlife Safari

In Serengeti National Park

A few kilometers from Arusha, the world of wild savannah opens. The main attractions of northern Tanzania are its world famous national parks, and the main entertainment in them is wildlife safari.

If high prices do not bother you, you can visit the Serengeti, Tarangire, the Meserani snake park and Lake Manyara, and also descend into the Ngorongoro Crater along the way.

Hundreds of species of animals live in these reserves – wildebeests dot the plains, buffaloes walk slowly and zebras frolic, lions laze in the shade of bushes, cautious servals and caracals meet in the early morning and the  elephants graze, as if in slow motion.

Canoe safari tour

Among the African safari tours there are offers for different tastes: traditional jeep safaris, camel and horse riding, canoeing and mountain biking, as well as hot air balloons safaris. You can just walk through the woods or climb the hills, or you can arrange an adventure full of unpredictable dangers.

Where to stay in Arusha

Room at 3 * hotel Arusha Planet Lodge
Arusha Planet Lodge

Arusha has many hotels. There prices move with the season, benefiting from the influx of tourists. During the high season, which lasts from June to October and December, the room rates increase markedly.

Estimated price for accommodation in a three-star hotel (double room) is $50-150 per person. 4-star hotels and lodges can easily go upto $300 per person per night. 5-star options usually stay above the $500 mark during high season. In stark contrast to above, budget option for two is hostels and homestays costing only less than $50 per night.

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What to eat in Arusha

Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant serves traditional African dishes
Abyssinia Ethiopian restaurant

Arusha is not the gastronomic capital of Tanzania, but there are enough restaurants, cafes, taverns and street fast food here. You can find decent establishments with traditional African dishes (for example Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant on Nairobi Road), European (Picasso Café at Kijenge Supermarket) and even an Asian menu (Chinese Whispers on Njiro Road). The estimated cost of lunch or dinner for two in a mid-range restaurant is about $25.

Transportation options

You can explore the sights of Arusha and travel between the hotel and the restaurant, market or shops by taxi. Here this type of transport is quite accessible.

The main thing is to agree in advance with the driver about the cost of the trip, since there are no usual counters in a taxi. You can catch a taxi right on the road, and there are a great many of them near each hotel. A trip around the city will cost $1 – $2.5.

The main mode of transport in Tanzania is Dala-dala

The main mode of transport in Tanzania is Dala-dala. Minibuses, which are trucks with canvas roofs and benches for seats, ply along the main routes of Arusha, offering to transport anyone for just 0.25 cents. Dala-dalas will be crowded. Some tourists may even consider them a dangerous way of traveling. But you will reach your destination in a breeze.

Important: Watch out for your valuable items. Mugging is real on the streets of Arusha

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Useful Tips when visiting Arusha

  1. Arriving in Arusha, follow simple safety rules. Do not walk outside in the dark, do not use the services of taxi drivers on motorbikes, remember that in Africa tourists are often attacked in order to snatch a bag or backpack. Avoid street vendors that may try to get your attention or even grab your hands. If ignoring does not help, slow down, look into your eyes and say firmly: “Hapana asante” (“Thank you, no”). Take local professional guides with you whenever possible. In extreme cases, have a map of Arusha on hand so as not to get lost.
  2. The Arusha police station is located at the beginning of Mokongoro road, to the left of the clinic. There are several cafes with inexpensive Internet in the city (costs $1-2 per hour).
  3. Be sure to visit the markets and feel free to bargain with sellers. Here you can buy everything: from clothing to souvenirs for loved ones. Pay attention to batik and silk, jewelry, paintings, handmade items. Note that you will have to pay in cash. For shopping, it is better to set aside a whole day to compare prices and buy accordingly.
  4. There are very few ATMs in Arusha, so a crowd of tourists usually gathers near them. Cards here are practically not accepted, so even on a safari you will have to take cash with you. US dollars work almost everywhere, but also keep some Tanzanian Shillings on you.
  5. During outings in nature in Arusha, as in the whole of Tanzania, tsetse flies can cause a lot of trouble. There bite is quite painful. Earlier they some of them could spread sleeping sickness, just like some mosquitoes can spread malaria. However, Tanzania has been almost free from sleeping sickness infections in recent years. To not attract tsetse lies, avoid wearing clothes of dark colors, wear full sleeved clothes and be sure to stock up on a special spray. Usually the guides are informed enough to avod tsetse fly infested areas during wildlife safari.

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