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Arusha National Park (ANAPA) is a gem of varied ecosystems and spectacular views of Mt. Meru, the crater that gives the region its name.
It is a popular destination for day trip visitors who are about to embark from the town of Arusha on longer northern circuit safaris. The small national park includes the slopes, summit, and ash cone of Mt. Meru, the Momela Lakes, Ngurdoto Crater, and the lush highland forests that blanket its lower slopes. Game viewing around the Momela Lakes is at a laid-back and quiet pace, and while passing through the forest many visitors stop to search for troupes of rare colubus monkeys playing in the canopy.
Climbing Mt. Meru or enjoying the smaller trails that criss-cross its lower slopes is a popular activity for visitors to Arusha National Park. The three-day trek to reach the crater’s summit is a quieter, and some say more challenging alternative than the famous peak of nearby Mount Kilimanjaro. Along the lower slopes, the paths to rivers and waterfalls create a relaxing day hike for visitors who don’t want to attempt the rather arduous climb. Ancient fig tree forests, crystal clear waters cascading from mountain streams, and a chance to spot colobus monkeys are the attractions and pleasures of Arusha National Park.
The closest national park to Arusha town – northern Tanzania’s safari capital – Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, often overlooked by safari goers, despite offering the opportunity to explore a beguiling diversity of habitats within a few hours.
The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colourful turacos and trogons – the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.
Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each one having a different hue of green or blue. There are shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos. The lakes support a rich selection of resident and migrant waterfowl, and also shaggy waterbucks that display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, whilst pairs of wide-eyed dik-dik dart into scrubby bush like overgrown hares on spindly legs.
Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions are absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon. It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, which is only 50km (30 miles) away.
But it is Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru – the fifth highest mountain in Africa at 4,566 metres (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. With its peaks and eastern foot slopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbour, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.
Passing first through wooded savannah where buffalos and giraffes are frequently encountered, the ascent of Meru leads into forests aflame with red-hot pokers and dripping with Spanish moss, before reaching highly open heath spiked with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, as delicately-hoofed klipspringers mark the hike’s progress. Astride the craggy summit, Kilimanjaro stands unveiled, blushing in the sunrise.
Things to do:
Birding Safaris, Cultural Tourism, Mountain Climbing, Walking Safaris, Wildlife Safaris
Make time to do these things when in Arusha:
- Looking for gifts or fabrics for family and friends? Arusha is a great place to start. Spend a morning at either the Central Market or the Maasai Market for some world-class bargaining. The farmer’s markets are amazing, too.
- Go to National History Center, this is by far the best museum in the city. If no travel is complete without a museum visit, look no further. The Natural History Center boasts an excellent exhibit on human evolution, among other things.
- Bejewel yourself! Legend has it, one day a local Masaai saw a bolt lightning strike and turn some nearby stones a magnificent blue, and now we have this: Tanzanite, a blue gemstone “a thousand times rarer than diamonds. Though the more scientific reason has to do more with tectonics and continental uplift than lightning, this much is true: you won’t find Tanzanite native to anywhere else on the planet so you better seek it out while in Tanzania.
- Day trip to Lake Duliti, bird and boat lovers take note! Located only 10 miles from Arusha, this lake is set to a gorgeous backdrop of forest and volcanoes. Witness dozens of bird and reptile species, from lounging monitor lizards to nose-diving kingfishers. Renting a canoe is highly recommended.
Source: Tanzania Tourism Board