Arusha is the gateway to most safari destinations in Tanzania. Arusha is approximately 30 miles from Kilimanjaro International Airport and sits at an altitude of some 4100 feet above sea level. The town is at the base of Mount Meru and is a wonderfully fertile area producing coffee, wheat, sisal and maize. Just a short distance from the town of Arusha is the Arusha National Park, which was described by Sir Julian Huxley as “a gem amongst parks”.
It consists of three spectacular features, the Momela Lakes, Meru Crater and the Ngurdoto Crater. On clear days magnificent views of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru can be seen from almost any part of the park. The vegetation and wildlife varies with the topography, which ranges from forest to swamp. The park is famous for its 400 species of birdlife, both migrant and resident, and the black and white colobus monkey. Other animals frequently seen are baboon, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, leopard, hyena and a wide range of antelope. Because of its proximity to Arusha, it is an ideal park for a day excursion.
Arusha National Park’s climate is normally pleasant and mild. The Dry season is from June to September, and there are two Wet seasons: the ‘long rains’ (March to May) and the ‘short rains’ (October to November). The rainy season consists of afternoon thundershowers, but it would be rare for it to rain all day. Arusha NP incorporates Mount Meru and the area at the base of the mountain and tends to get slightly more rain and clouds.
Average yearly temperatures are consistent: cool to cold at night and in the early morning, while rarely getting hot during the day. It is important to pack warm clothing for use in the evenings and game drives in the early morning.
Arusha NP is only a 45-minute drive away from the town of Arusha. In fact, some of the town’s accommodations lie on the road to the National Park. Since Arusha is the starting point of any safari in northern Tanzania, it is easy to include a visit to this little park.
There are several ways to get to Arusha. The easiest is to get a direct flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA), which is situated about 46km/29mi from Arusha.
Alternatively, you can fly to Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR), near Dar es Salaam and get a connecting domestic flight to Arusha Airport (ARK) or Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA). Less obvious, but often cheaper, is to fly to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), just outside of Nairobi in Kenya, and take a shuttle bus to Arusha. In most cases, your tour operator will pick you up from the airports around Arusha and take care of further transportation. Depending on your time of arrival and departure, you might be able to fit in a half-day visit at the beginning or the end of your safari in northern Tanzania or, time permitting, you can schedule a full day.
The forest in Arusha National Park is home to species not often encountered in other parks in northern Tanzania, including blue monkey and black-and-white colobus. If you are lucky, you might also spot a shy red duiker. More common is the even smaller Kirk's dik-dik. Giraffe are very common in the area around the Momella lakes.
Best time for wildlife viewing
The Dry season from June to October is the best time for wildlife viewing in the park. Wildlife is easier to spot because vegetation is thinner and animals gather around predictable water sources.