Tanzania is many things to many people. Tourists flock to its Serengeti National Park, an international hub where safari lovers can gaze at big 5 (elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhino) in their natural environments. Others are attracted to Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, or the tropical islands of Zanzibar and Mafia, home to whale sharks and colourful coral reefs. And then there is Arusha National Park. Arusha National Park is not comparable to Serengeti, Tarangire and other parks in Tanzania but the park is great in its own way.
The park at 552 sq km, Arusha National Park is one Tanzania’s smallest very accessible location. It is easy to get to with some wonderful mountain scenery and has an abundance of wildlife if you’re prepared to spend some time to look around. An easy 40 minutes’ drive from Arusha and approximately 60 km (35 miles) from Kilimanjaro International Airport and can be visited throughout the year but is at its best in the dry season from late June to October. If you are visiting Arusha for other purposes than Safari (business/conferences) and do not have time for a long safari or If you have been in the other bigger parks and are tired of big plains and dusty roads, but still wants some wildlife and nature experience Arusha National Park is the place to go. It is a special tiny park, easily explored in a day, in that wondrously diverse day, one can glimpse black and white colobus monkeys in trees on crater’s edge. Cape buffalo graze the swampy crater floor, and flamingos pink the lake shores. It’s the only park in Tanzania you can do horse riding, bike riding, walking safari, canoeing, game driving and mountain climbing.
Activities and Attractions
Game Drive and Walking Safaris
Whilst the tour of Arusha is mostly driven, there is the opportunity to take a walking tour, which I think is worth it. You will get closer to some of the wildlife and see more of the beautiful landscape. Walking through a national park certainly puts things into perspective, especially the size of both the park and the animals. It feels very different walking paths similar to the ones you’ve already driven across and gives you a different appreciation for safaris as a whole. It also adds to the “bush vibe” of the entire country, because it tastes like it’s simply you and the animals. It’s definitely something totally different (and worth doing) as you sense more like being a part of nature than you would do sitting in a car. For obvious reasons, you cannot get very close to most animals on foot (which is a good thing, of course, you wouldn’t have wanted to be any closer to the herd of buffalos), but you can still manage to see a pair of buffalos, giraffes, pumbas in less than 50 m away. I have been to other parks in Tanzania and I can tell you there is nothing quite like the intimacy of walking with an experienced guide right up to the animals.
The Momella lakes within Arusha National Park are a series of seven shallow lakes to form Big Momella and Small Momella. Big Momella lakes, a breeding place of thousands of flamingoes this is quite unique in Tanzania, maybe even Africa, and although you can take the long drive to Lake Natron to see flamingoes the experience differs. Small Momella offers a nice experience of canoeing.
If you are interested in birds then Arusha is a paradise of abundance more than 400 bird species and my personal highlights include a crested eagle, hoopoe, kingfishers (nesting by the road), grey-crowned cranes and of course the thousands of flamingo. One of the highlights of this park is visiting the Momela Lakes where there are thousands of pink flamingos. The flamingos around Momella lakes will blow your mind (and are so much closer and easier to enjoy than at Lake Natron, the alternate famous flamingo destination).
Arusha National Park has an incredible diversity of landscape for its small size, ranging from Savannah to soda lakes, forests with craters, and the slope of Mount Meru (4566m a.s.l). An active volcano, Mt. Meru is a popular climbing destination for visitors to Tanzania and a good introductory mountain for those wishing to climb Kilimanjaro. The climb to Mount Meru’s summit is quite tough, but there are good cabins along the way which are warm and well kept. Much cheaper than Kilimanjaro and the view at sunrise of Kilimanjaro is stunning. A great experience for those who are looking for a unique hike.
Ngurdoto Crater (often nicknamed Little Ngorongoro) with its swamp-filled floor. Wildlife is present, but for the most part, it’s a sideshow to the scenery and the trekking and climbing possibilities. Visitors can expect to see the Cape buffalo, elephants, monkeys, baboons, warthogs, and a number of different antelope species here.
The Serengeti is unmatched, Ngorongoro is unique, and Tarangire provides amazing landscapes as backdrops to the many elephants in the park. The other three are better for seeing the big 5 and most of the animals you came to Tanzania to see, but Arusha is a good way to start your journey when you start there …you get a brief look at the bigger stuff to come.