From pristine beaches to challenging hikes, Tanzania is known for its wide array of must-see features. Crowds by the thousands are drawn each year to this exquisite country, visiting well-known spots like Mount Kilimanjaro or the beaches of Zanzibar. But an often-overlooked gem stands proud in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro’s ‘little’ sister mountain, Mount Meru, waiting for lovers of off the beaten path adventures to explore.
Enter: Arusha. This cultural hub serves as the jumping off point for most safaris, but while most people only pass through briefly, the array of things to do in Arusha is worthy of an extended stay. Bustling with history, culture, and plenty of adventure, this city has much to offer any traveler looking for an authentic Tanzanian experience. Make the most of your time in Arusha with these can’t-miss adventures.
Start with a safari
Arusha is the entry point for safaris to the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Arusha National Park, and Tarangire National Parks. No trip to Arusha (or Tanzania in general) would be complete without some sort of safari experience, and lucky for you, Arusha is the place to find a world-class safari company.
For a day trip length safari, consider Arusha National Park, which is the closest safari experience to Arusha. Home to a large population of giraffes, there’s plenty of wildlife to see, and the absence of lions in this area makes it an ideal place to walk around a bit. Scenic views of Mount Meru abound (more on Mount Meru later) and the park also includes the seven Momela lakes. These lakes (Big Momela, Small Momela, El Kekhotoito, Kusare, Rishateni, Lekandiro and Tulusia) are home to a wide variety of waterfowl – flamingos galore– and attract other wildlife, such as zebras and waterbucks. Depending on the safari company you book through, you can opt for a canoe tour for a more immersive experience.
Another must-see is the Ngurdoto Crater, a basin shaped caldera of an extinct volcano. Surrounded by dense rainforest, this 3km wide grassland plays host to elephants, monkeys, leopards and more. While you can’t enter the Crater because its ecosystem is protected, there’s a rim around it where you can observe the wildlife and take in the sweeping landscapes around. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Kilimanjaro!
For a longer, multi day safari, the possibilities are endless – the Seregenti obviously draws thousands of tourists annually, as does the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These classic destinations will have you on the edge of your seat watching wildlife – yes, lions! – and taking in the world around you. Which safari you decide to go with will depend on how much time you have, as safaris can be anywhere from one day long to over one week. A reputable safari company can help you decide which tour is right for you, so make sure you do your research into the booking process, offerings, and most importantly, reviews.
For the Adventurer: Hike Mount Meru
Tanzania attracts hikers far and wide looking to experience one of the world’s greatest climbs: Mount Kilimanjaro. If you’re the type of adventurer looking to hit the trails, then you might also consider hiking Kilimanjaro’s aforementioned ‘little’ sister, Mount Meru. As the fifth highest mountain in Africa and the second highest mountain in Tanzania, there are many reasons you might want to work Mount Meru into your trip. First and foremost, it has much less trail traffic than Mount Kilimanjaro, but without compromising the scenic views and full hiking experience. Another reason is that hiking Mount Meru is considered great acclimatization for Mount Kilimanjaro – a warm up, if you will. Plus, the views of Mount Kilimanjaro from Mount Meru are said to be unbeatable, so if you’re looking for the perfect camera shot to memorialize your trip, this is the place to get it.
Hiking Mount Meru consists of hiking 6-8 hours every day for 3-4 days. Everyone takes the same route up the mountain, which begins at Momella Gate. There are a number of adventure companies you can book a hike up Mount Meru through, through which you can expect “basic but comfortable” accommodations at a few campsites up the mountain. Expect to pay a pretty penny for this hike, as booking a trek up the mountain will usually start at around $650 per person, which includes food, accommodations, and guide fees (guides are mandatory for all hikers). Once again, make sure you vet the businesses you’re coordinating your hike through to secure the most comfortable, safe, and fun experience possible.
Immerse yourself in Arusha’s culture
One of the best parts of traveling is getting to see how people in cultures different from your own live, and with the abundance of nationalities in Arusha, it’s the perfect place to explore. Yes, there are museums, but beyond that, there are people and experiences you can tap into.
For example, an Adept guide can take you to a traditional Maasai village and show you’re their storied way of life, or join in on a hunting excursion with the Hadzabe bushmen of Lake Eyasi. For the souvenir enthusiast, visit a market where you can find handmade goods from the many cultures that reside in Arusha. And of course, no trip to Tanzania would be complete without mention of one of their main exports, coffee. Why not take a coffee tour, where you can see, taste, and smell this world-renowned product? When it comes to immersing yourself in Arusha’s culture, there’s no shortage of experiences. Whether you’re a foodie looking to try out the local cuisine or a history buff eager to learn about cultural traditions, Arusha awaits.
Before you go
As is the case with any international travel, it’s best to research customs and practices before you go. The benefit of an experienced tour company is that they can brief you with travel and safety tips as well as cultural norms to observe, so consider picking a Tanzania/Arusha native as your guide.