The majority of Tanzania’s wildlife concentrates in the Northern Circuit, where the likes of Serengeti and Ngorongoro attract millions of tourists every year. The closest town Arusha is known as Tanzania’s safari capital not only because of these famous national parks but also the Arusha National Park with the backdrop of Mount Meru, the second-highest peak in Tanzania after Kilimanjaro. Although the wildlife in Arusha is not abundant as in the other national parks in the area, you should still consider visiting this park for a tranquil day in nature and a closer look at various animals.
Arusha National Park was first explored by a Hungarian explorer, who visited and was immediately fascinated by the number of black rhino and hippo. The wildlife in the area was incredible; however, the cattle farming activities forced the animals to migrate elsewhere over time.
In 1960, the government proclaimed the area under the name Ngurdoto Crater National Park, including the Mt Meru. The management later changed the name to Arusha, which comes from the Waarusha people who used to live in the vicinity.
Mount Meru lies in the west, with its peak is at 4566 m along the Ngurdoto Crater. The crater has a similar form to Ngorongoro, with a much smaller diameter. The northeast of the Ngurdoto Crater is home to a set of shallow alkaline lakes called Momella, with a high concentration of algae, while the southeast section is mostly grassland. The lower slopes of the Mount Meru are abundant in highland forests and ancient fig trees. The Jekukumia River gets its source from the springs around the crater.
Mount Kilimanjaro is only 60 km from the park and becomes visible from the eastern end on a clear day.
The advantage of Arusha National Park is its central location just outside the town Arusha.
Let’s start with the bad news; you won’t see many predators in Arusha National park besides elusive leopard that are hard to spot in their habitat in the vast foggy rainforests near Mt. Meru. There are no lions and rhinos in the park, either. Although there are cheetah and hyena species in the park, they are also rare. It is possible to spot elephants, but not as frequently as in the other national parks in the northern circuit, because they are mostly on the move between parks due to unfenced borders.
The most populous member of the big five is buffalo, which you can spot roaming around the swamps in the crater in large herds.
The highlight of Arusha NP is the abundance of some primates that you wouldn’t see in the other Tanzanian parks. The rainforest around the Ngurdoto Crater is home to many black and white colobus monkeys, and the mitis monkey (a.k.a the blue monkey). So, we suggest that you keep your head up to look at the branches to see the hyperactive monkeys as they climb.
Other common species include zebra and giraffe, especially around the Momella lakes. Reedbuck, waterbuck, warthogs, and the rare antelopes like red duiker and Kirk’s dik-dik are also regular visitors of the lake.
The nutritious content of the Momella Lake makes Arusha one of the best spots for bird watching in Tanzania. Among the 400 species recorded in Arusha, there are numerous flamingos, pelicans, kingfishers, and a great variety of raptors.
The absence of predators in Arusha gives visitors a lot more freedom to move around.
While the span of walking safari is limited in many national parks, it is possible to explore Arusha NP entirely on foot. There will be a ranger to accompany you for almost four hours, as well as small breaks at picnic sites that overlook the lakes and the rivers. These tours cost only 25 USD per person and usually include breakfast and even lunch sometimes.
Self-driving is possible in Arusha. Although driving with a sedan is possible, we recommend that you rent a 4×4 to access all the gravel roads easily.
One of the most popular activities in Arusha NP is canoeing, which is not found in any other park in Northern Tanzania. Paying 60 USD per person for a 2.5-hour tour, you can paddle in Momella Lake. This provides a unique insight into the colorful bird population and other mammals coming to drink water.
There are several hiking and trekking routes at Mt Meru. While some of them are short hikes – such as the one leading to Njeku Viewpoint, there are overnight hikes along the Ngurdoto Crater rim trail. Keep in mind that the multiday hikes require booking a guided hiking tour.
Climate & Best Time To Visit
Arusha National Park experiences the typical climate of Northern Tanzania, with a dry season from June to September, a wet season with short rains between November and December, a dry spell in January – February, and long rains between March and May.
Due to Mount Meru, the clouds get trapped more easily, which brings more rain in return. This also affects the average temperature, which is slightly colder than the rest of Northern Tanzania. It can be especially cold at night, with temperatures between 8 and 11 degrees.
Due to the thin vegetation and the need for water resources, animals congregate around Momella during the dry season. On the other hand, bird watching is much more exciting in November & December due to the arrival of migratory birds. That said, Arusha NP is ideal for wildlife viewing all year round.
Arusha NP is only 45 minutes from the town of Arusha, which is easily accessible from many airports in Tanzania. The closest airport is Kilimanjaro International Airport that is only 46 km away. Many International flights to Arusha will have a layover at Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport.
From the airport, you can either self-drive or book a tour that will arrange your transfer.
Tips & Things You Might Need To Know
- Arusha National Park is in a high-risk malaria zone, so you must take the precautionary antimalarial pills before your trip.
- For a detailed description of the hiking trails in the park, visit here
- Rangers accompanying overnight hikes will appreciate a tip of 10 USD per person.
- When self-driving in the park, remember to explore the Outer Rd in the west for spectacular views of Mount Meru, and the Park Rd in the east for wildlife.