If you’re going on safari to any of Tanzania’s northern conservation areas – such as the Serengeti, Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro National Park or Lakes Manyara, Eyasi, Duluti and Natron – then you will probably have at least one night in Arusha, a small town in the foothills of Mount Meru that acts as a gateway to the Northern Safari Circuit.
This short guide is for those travellers who want to make the most of their limited time in Arusha and venture beyond the leafy gardens of their overnight lodges. Of course, we won’t judge you if all you want to do after a long-haul flight or exciting road safari is simply flop next to the pool! But many travellers want to see a little more of Africa, so read on to see what Arusha has to offer.
If you love coffee…
Arusha is surrounded by coffee plantations, giving you some of the freshest coffee on the planet. Meander with a guide through the fields at Arusha Coffee Lodge to understand how pretty flowers become unassuming brown beans that end up in millions of cups every morning. Stock up on fresh coffee beans to take home and learn about ‘parchment roasting’ and traditional methods of grinding using heavy stones.
If you love golf…
If you’re a keen golfer, check into Kili Villas to tee off on a gorgeous course that attracts small wildlife like dik-dik and duiker antelope, guinea fowl and even an occasional aardvark.
If you love shopping…
There are a variety of markets in Arusha – our suggestion is to see if your lodge offers a guided tour otherwise they can be a bit bewildering if it’s your first time! Over 70 differentially abled people make a fantastic array of high-quality products using specialist weaving, metal-working, glassblowing, beading and paper-making techniques at Shanga, a busy workshop at Trader’s Walk in the grounds of Arusha Coffee Lodge. They use recycled materials wherever possible (human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has been spotted wearing a Shanga necklace). The Soko (meaning ‘market’ in Swahili) is a lovely boutique near Shanga for tasteful gifts for those back home.
Further afield, the Cultural Heritage Centre showcases African artists and is a collection of galleries and boutiques in Arusha’s most eclectic-looking building. There are beautiful wildlife sculptures in the grounds and hundreds of mementos from you to choose from.
Tanzanite is a precious blue stone found only in Tanzania – the deeper the colour, the more valuable the gem. All stones sold at The Tanzanite Experience are ethically mined and there is an adjoining tanzanite museum for enjoy before shopping for jewellery.
Run by MWEDO (Maasai Women Development Organisation), all the profits from the Maasai Women Fair Trade Centre’s funky jewellery based on traditional Maasai designs supports educational and other life-changing project for Maasai women and girls.
The Kilombero Market is where residents shop for fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, spices and hundreds of other things. It’s a sensory overload and probably better for sightseeing than actual shopping but it’s great fun!
A good place to shop is the Maasai Market, which is packed full of colourful clothes, beads, jewellery, paintings and all sorts of other goodies. A useful tip with all markets in Africa is to start at the back, with the traders furthest from the entrance: they see the fewest shoppers and so are grateful for your custom and may be more open to striking a really good bulk deal or ‘umbrella price’ if you buy more than one item.
If you love nature…
Because they involve transfers and guides, it’s important to book these activities in advance. Your personal Africa Safari Expert consultant will easily be able to make all the arrangements for you before you depart for Tanzania. This also means that payments are completed, leaving you to enjoy yourself without worrying about any paperwork.
A hike in Kilimanjaro National Park takes you near the highest mountain in Africa and tallest free-standing one in the world: the glacier-capped Mount Kilimanjaro. It lies 100 kilometres / 64 miles from Arusha so you need to have significant time in the town. You will explore the Shira Plateau and, depending on the route, see how Kili moves from lush rainforest filled with black-and-white colobus monkeys to heather and moor zones.
Arusha National Park covers Mount Meru, a dormant volcano that reaches 4 500m / 15 000ft in the air and looms over the town. Although ANP is small by African standards, it has three different terrains and is a good place to see elephants. This is an ideal introduction to your bigger safari or as a last game drive before you head home. If you want to leave the 4x4 game-drive vehicle behind, sign up for canoeing on one of ANP’s lush streams.
You can also go canoeing and even mountain biking at Lake Duluti, a classic crater lake that was formed as volcanoes along the Rift Valley left this part of the world studded with dimples that have filled with fresh water over the millennia since. Duluti is only a short drive from Arusha – be sure to look out for aqautic birds like pelicans and flamingoes.
If you feel fairly confident on a horse, then saddle up at Ngare Sero for a gentle ride on the easy-going piebalds, who pass their days when not on out-rides nibbling the lawn outside the guest cottages in the shade of massive jacaranda trees.
If you love good food…
Most travellers choose to take their meals at their lodges, which makes sense for breakfast and dinner when you don’t want to venture too far from the comfort of your room, especially after a long journey.
But lunch may be a different story and we encourage you to strike out. There are a few restaurants and bars on Haile Selassie Road that your guide may take you to for casual dining. Otherwise, hit a different lodge for pizza with a twist or tapas enjoyed under the trees, birds and monkeys playing in the branches above you.
Because the Arusha area is so fertile (hence all the delicious coffee), many lodges have thriving kitchen gardens where fresh produce makes it straight from the soil to your plate. Not only does this cut down on food air miles but it also creates awesome job opportunities and gives you real flavour.
From a Maasai settlement in the foothills of Mount Meru, the fifth biggest mountain in Africa, to a thriving and typical East Africa city, Arusha also offers an intriguing mix of jam-packed streets, colonial architecture, liberation monuments, old-fashioned museums and vibrant taxi ranks. We encourage you to choose an item or two – whether paddling on Lake Duluti or buying an amazing tanzanite keepsake – to make the most of your time here.