Arusha National Park rolls out like a patchwork quilt of contrasting landscapes, verdant forest where Black-and-White Colobus Monkeys chatter and play, Savannah and moorland, the Momella Lakes with acid pink flamingos, wallowing hippos, delicate herons, and shaggy waterbuck. Giraffe, elephant, and zebra roam the green foothills. Eagles and buzzards soar above Ngurdoto Crater, buffalo and antelope wander through the forest fringed rim. Bushbuck pick their way through the ancient cedar trees, volcanic cones lead the way up towards Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro stands proud and majestic on the horizon.
Mount Meru is Africa’s fifth highest peak, a dormant volcano, once worshipped as a rain god by the Arusha and Meru people. The mountain provides challenging climbing and breathtaking scenery as an affordable alternative to Kilimanjaro.
The town of Arusha grew from a German settlement on the Boma Road, built by Maasai labour. Plantations of sisal, tea and coffee thrived and the city flourished. Known as the Geneva of Africa, Arusha is home to the International Human Rights tribunal and several NGOs. The Kilimanjaro airport
provides local and international transport links, making Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and remote safari camps only a plane ride away.
If you need to do souvenir shopping, Arusha is a noted crafts centre. The Cultural Heritage Centre in town boasts an array of superb Makonde carvings, Tingatinga paintings, gifts and souvenirs. If you’re looking for a more exclusive gift, Arusha is the best place to buy Tanzanite, a brilliant blue gemstone found in the hills surrounding Arusha and Moshi.
The gemstone is used by the Maasai to celebrate birth and gained international prominence after a Tanzanite was featured in the movie Titanic as the centre jewel to the Heart of the Ocean necklace.
There’s a relaxed atmosphere to Arusha in the evenings, with a good choice of restaurants offering Swahili, Indian and international cuisine. There’s live music in the evenings, with everything from jazz and salsa, to local hip-hop, traditional music and full moon parties in the bush.
So, if you’re heading out on safari, or returning from days of game driving, Arusha is well worth a visit.