Arusha National Park

This is the closest national park to Arusha town and covers Mount Meru, a prominent volcano with an elevation of 4566 m, in the Arusha Region of north eastern Tanzania. The park is small but varied with spectacular landscapes in three distinct areas. In the west, the Meru Crater funnels the Jekukumia River; the peak of Mount Meru lies on its rim. Ngurdoto in the south-east is grassland. The park is just a few kilometres north east of Arusha, though the main gate is 25 km east of the city. It is also 58 km from Moshi and 35 km from Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA). Arusha National Park has a rich variety of wildlife, but visitors shouldn’t expect the same game-viewing experience they find in other national parks of Tanzania’s northern circuit. Despite the small size of the park, common animals include bushbuck, warthog, giraffe, zebra, elephant, Cape buffalo, the blue monkey black and white colobus and many African animals. Leopard populations are present, but rarely seen. Birdlife in the forest is prolific, with many forest species more easily seen here than elsewhere on the tourist route like the Narina trogon, starling birds, turacos, bar-tailed trogon, flamingos and many others.

The Park’s rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, their shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes support a rich selection of resident and migrant waterfowl, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, while 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 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, only 50km (30 miles) distant.
But it is Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru – the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 metres (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern footslopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbour, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.

How to get to the Park

An easy 40-minute drive from Arusha. Approximately 60 km (35 miles) from Kilimanjaro International Airport.

When to visit the Park

Wildlife viewing in Arusha National Park is good throughout the year but is at its best in the Dry season, from late June to October because it is then that the park animals gather in one place to drink in boreholes and rivers. Vegetation and less hence allowing for better wildlife viewing. The wet or rain season is in March to May. However, it is important to note that the rainy season brings life to the national parks and the scenery can be breathing. It is also in the wet season when migratory birds arrive from Europe and other parts of the world. It the breeding period for the birds and the parks have less crowds hence allowing for a more private tour. Unfortunately, the rain season causes park roads to get muddy and sometimes impassable in some areas.

Attractions in the Park

Ngurudoto crater

This is one of the five beautiful volcanic calderas located inside the northern Tanzania region of Arusha, along with Ngorongoro, Maasai, Empakaai and Olmoti with an approximate depth of 300 metres and a diameter of 3.2km. However the floor of Ngurudoto is softer and otherwise unsuitable for driving on, leaving walking safaris as the only way of exploring it.

The crater is surrounded by a rainforest that is teaming with wildlife. This extends to cover part of the crater floor, with the rest being an evergreen swamp – which serves as a grazing ground for the onsite herd of buffalos. Other animals include several species of monkeys, birds, dik diks and even elephants that inhabit the forest, with the latter being the hardest to find.

Momela Lakes 

Momela Lakes are a chain of lakes found in northeast region of Arusha national park, this chain of lakes consists of 7 spectacular alkaline lakes formed as a result of volcanic debris from a huge explosion which blew away the top of Mount Meru about 250,000 years ago. Momela lakes are a great sites for Tanzania birding safaris as they are a habitant for numerous species of birds including the migrant greater pink flamingoes. Other bird species include; herons, shoe bill, pink flamingoes, Egyptian geese, guinea fowls, African fish eagles, African jacanas among others. Momela lakes include Big Momela, small Momela, El Kekhotoito, Kusare, Rishateni, Lekandiro and Tulusia. Momela lakes are fed by water from underground spring water and each lake has different water color ranging from green to turquoise. The different color of the lakes is because of the different mineral content in each lake, each lake has its own mineral composition making them different from each other and also different algae growing on the lakes.

Uwanja wa mbogo (buffalos glade)

The buffalos glade is located a short distance west of the Momela gate on the north eastern part of Arusha national park. It is also on the foothills of Mount Meru and is one of the first attractions that hikers to its summit get to see, provided they began hiking at the gate. A large natural glade consisting of marsh, bushes and streams that is located approximately 500 meters west of Momela gate and serves as a feeding ground for buffalos, giraffes and warthogs as well as a destination of walking safaris. One of the amazing things about the glades is how the buffalos and warthogs coexist, each depending on the other to ensure survival. The warthogs use the buffalo biomass to ward off some of its natural enemies, in return they use their good eyesight to warn the buffalos of an impending enemy threat by running while holding their tails up in the air, a phenomenon that can be observed as one walks towards the glade. Buffalos also tend to feed on long grass, making it shorter and more accessible to warthogs who are adapted to feeding while resting on their knees.

What to do there?

Hike to the place and take a picture with the animals in the background OR take a picture of the animals themselves, nothing says you’ve been to the wild more than this. There also are several plant species in the same field that you could find including flowers such as jasmine, the fig tree and the famous acacia that giraffes love to feed on.

Best time to visit?

Any time of the year, with more emphasis towards the drier season of July to February. Although the trek can still be made in the rainy season, other areas of the park may be less accessible, with the possibility of unexpected showers hindering your hike.

How to get there?

The field is less than 500 metres from Momela gate, with the only means of getting there being a walking safari with an armed TANAPA ranger accompanying you. Regardless of your point of entry, you normally would be required to get to Momela gate, where they would check your permits and give you any further instructions along with a ranger who would also be your guide.

Mini serengeti 

Locally known as ‘Serengeti ndogo’ (swahili), the mini serengeti – is an open grassland inside Arusha national park where various animals come to graze including elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, Zebras, Warthogs, Waterbucks etc. It is the first attraction that you would see if entering the park using the Ngongongare gate especially if using the road to Momela. It is one of the few places inside the park where you would find an open grassland and its larger size and presence of animals is more than enough to give you that feel of being in Serengeti plains.

What to do there?

View the different animals that you would find grazing there, most of whom would spot you well before you see them and also this is the only place where you would see such a large collection of animals in the whole park.

Best time to visit?

The mornings of any day of the year, as no hiking is needed, most of the viewing is done from the comfort of a car and the roads are well. However, it is best to visit the park during the dry season (July to February).

How to get there?

First of all you would have to get to Ngongongare gate, which can either be done by public transport (buses to Momela), a rental or a private car. If you prefer to visit the place by vehicle, then this would make it possible to visit the other parts of the park as well but you may be required to pay a permit fee for the vehicle at the gate before proceeding to the field.

Kilimanjaro view point (Arusha)

The Kilimanjaro view point is located on the slopes of mount meru, of Arusha – Tanzania and also within the Arusha national park. Found in the early stages of the journey to Maio waterfalls, the site sits on a patch of ground contoured like a natural observation deck, protruding from the mountain’s side and with a rapidly sloping hillside on all but the entrance side. Thus making it one of the rare spots in the montane forest zone where one could enjoy a 360 degree view of the park, including the peak of mount Meru.
The site is more of a natural evergreen lawn, half as large the public campsites, with an entrance road on one end and two concrete benches on the other.

What to do there?

Hike or drive to the place, have a picnic, animal watching and enjoy the sights. When done, you could also visit the fig tree arch nearby, the Majo waterfals of any of the other attractions in the park.

Best time to visit?

Any time not in the rainy season or during the night time. For the latter, TANAPA does not allow moving around the park during the night time, while the rainy season would surely limit any view you may enjoy by visiting the place.

How to get there?

By hiking or driving, it takes about a half an hour drive to get there from Momela gate, taking you past all the public campsites and continuing up the mountain, until finally reaching the turning point on the right hand side of the road. Self-driving is allowed provided you pay for the respective permit. For hiking, you would need to get an armed ranger from Momela gate, as well as pay for a walking safari fee. The fees for visiting the view point by driving are included in those of the entry permit, meaning that you do not have to pay extra to visit it unless if you are hiking there.

Fig Tree Arch 

Fig Tree Arch in Arusha national park is an arch-shaped tree with an arch large enough for a tree or an elephant to pass through, fig tree is a spectacular photo point in Arusha national park offering many angles of amazing pictures such as standing under it or with your head of your safari vehicle while under the tree. Fig Tree grew from parasitic tree dropped by foraging birds and it is visited while on a Tanzania hiking safari to the Tululusia waterfalls.

Ngurudoto museum

The Ngurudoto museum is located on the eastern part of Arusha national park, next to the Ngurudoto crater with much of the vegetation around it consisting of that which is found in a rainforest. This museum was dedicated to showcasing the different types of animals that are found inside the Ngurudoto crater. It contains taxidermy, skeletons, remains along with other information about these animals and serves as a good place to learn about them before actually heading out to the crater.
The museum also has a souvenir shop, modern flushing toilets, a small car park as well as a rangers post next to it, complete with quarters. The area around it is avhome to several plant species, with some of these having a plaque on them detailing their information. Animals that might be seen there include the Colobus monkeys, baboons and a few bird species.

What to do there?

Enjoy the sights and learn about the animals that can be found in the Ngurudoto crater, as well as the crater itself – before heading out to it. Or you could just use it as a rest stop on your way to or from the crater.

Best time to visit

Any time of the year as the roads leading up to it are all seasonal dirt roads. However, the rest of the park may not be as fun to visit during the rainy season of March to June as views are limited, and hikes slightly harder.

How to get there?

By vehicle, it’s approximately half an hour’s drive from the Ngongongare gate and twice that from Momela gate. The Museum can also be reached from areas south of the park, such as Arusha Moshi and other suburbs between them. The conservation fee is TSHS 10,000 or USD 45 for East African and non-East African citizens respectively.

Wildlife 

Arusha National Park is ranked among the best destination to visit during a Tanzania wildlife safari in the northern safari circuit of Tanzania, the park is a home to a variety of wildlife species found in the various regions of the park such as the Ngurdoto crater (Little Ngorongoro), along the banks of Momella lakes, little Serengeti (Serengeti Ndogo) and Ujambo Wa Mbogo “buffalos glade”. Animals found in Arusha national park include giraffes, waterbucks, dik-diks, duikers, zebras, leopards, lion, spotted hyenas, elephants, bush pigs, red duikers, warthogs, hippos, black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys among others.

Cave waterfall

The cave falls are located just a short distance inside the Arusha national park and thus a TANAPA – zone. They also are just a short distance from the city of Arusha and in a rural area on the slopes of mount Meru, although there is no climbing route on this side (yet). Nearby are a few villages, a pine tree plantation as well as a water treatment plant for AUWASA and as it is at a high altitude, most mornings are foggy and the vegetation is almost always evergreen. They also serve as one of the tourist attractions in the region but there are some strict regulations regarding visitations to the area – requiring a special permit from AUWASA or the use of a tours and travels company. The water comes from a small river that originates higher up in the mountain, before reaching the top of the cave and falling over 30 metres into a small plunge pool, before being carried off down the mountain. These falls are narrow, much like water from a tap making a constant but loud gushing sound as it hits the plunge pool.

What to do there?

Hike to the place and admire it’s beauty. As it is a valuable water source, no swimming or any kind of activities which may contaminate the water is forbidden – one of the reasons as to why you need a special permit or a tour company to take you there.  If you do take the longer hiking method of getting there, then this would put you in touch with the locals, taking you through several rural homes and villages where you could have a bit of extra activities depending on your tour guide or company. One interesting thing to see would be how the farming as well as animal husbandry is done in this areas.

Best time to visit

Any time not in the rainy season of March to June. Although its still possible to visit this area during this time – especially by hiking, the trails through the village would most likely be muddy and the views limited.

How to get there?

There are two ways to get to the falls, by hiking or by vehicle, although there still will be some hiking regardless of which method you choose. By vehicle you would have to first head east from the city of Arusha, along the Arusha – Moshi highway then turn left at the Saiteru petrol station – located just about 200 metres before the snowcrest hotel. From here, use the map to get there.
The roads to the place are all seasons dirt roads, so no worries about the type of vehicle to use; However, the last bit is does require a good 4×4 vehicle and may be impassable during the rainy season.

Birds 

This park is an outstanding Tanzania birding safari destination boosting over 400 bird species recorded to live in the park, the birds in the park include forest species, raptors, water birds and migratory bird species. Birds found in Arusha national park include pink hued flamingoes, African fish eagle, African olive pigeon, Silvery-cheeked hornbill, Egyptian goose, Augur buzzard, Bar-tailed trogon, Bearded vulture, Black saw-wing, Cinnamon-chested bee-eater, Great crested grebe, Hammerkops, white browed coucals, bronzy sunbirs, pied Avocet, red billed oxpeckers, great headed bush shrikes, pelicans, golden eagles, yellow billed storks, Hartlaub’s turaco, Little grebe, Narina trogon, Peregrine falcon, Red-fronted parrot, Scaly francolin, Southern Pochard, Tawny eagle, Verreaux’s eagle among others