Located just a short drive from Arusha and Moshi, the Arusha National Park is Tanzania‘s most accessible national park and the perfect place for a day trip or as the first or last stop on a longer itinerary. At just 552 square kilometres, it’s a small park with a lot to see.
While it can’t boast the big game of Tanzania’s flagship parks, with the absence of lion and rhino, it’s got more going for it than one might think. First, it’s an easy day trip destination just a short drive from the town of Arusha, which also makes it a good bet for Kilimanjaro climbers who might not have time to fit a proper safari into their itinerary before flying home again.
Visitors will still see the likes of zebra, buffalo, giraffe and various antelope. Leopard and elephant are shy but evident.
But the real drawcard is the magnificent Mount Meru. A prominent active volcano with an elevation of 4566 metres and the second highest peak in Africa it sets a grand backdrop to the national park and the diverse habitats that form on the slopes. Thick forests provide a home to the black-and-white colobus monkey – a rare treat that isn’t readily found in other reserves and then the forests give way to the Momella Lakes
Each one a different hue of green or blue, the Momella Lakes in the north-east of the park were formed by depressions in the drying mud. These lakes are mainly fed by underground streams and are not very deep. They are alkaline, meaning they are salty and animals do not use them for drinking. They contain few fish, but many micro-organisms can grow in alkaline water. It is this reason, why these lakes’ shallows are sometimes tinged pink with thousands of lesser flamingos, as seen on postcards and guide book photos.
The park is just a few kilometres northeast 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 NP is only a 45-minute drive away from the town of Arusha, the starting point of any safari in northern Tanzania.
There are several ways to get to Arusha. The easiest is to get a direct flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), 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 (JRO).
In most cases, your tour operator will pick you up from the airport and take care of further transportation.
Arusha National Park is the 'odd one out' in Tanzania's northern safari circuit as it doesn't offer the usual range of wildlife. Of the Big 5, only buffalo are regularly seen, and lion and rhino are completely absent. Its appeal lies in the scenic beauty and the unusual animals that live on the slopes of Mount Meru. The charismatic black-and-white colobus monkey is one such animal and is the flagship species in the national park.
If you are lucky, you might also spot a shy red duiker or the more common smaller Kirk's dik-dik in these forests.
What is probably the most iconic site are the incredibly large herds of giraffe. The park is home to the largest concentration of giraffe in the country.
Arusha National Park should be on every bird watcher's itinerary in Tanzania. Over 400 species recorded in such a small park is quite an impressive count! Momella Lake is one of the best places to see waterbirds in particular Flamingo that congregates in their thousands. Pelican, little grebe, a variety of heron, duck and wader are also common. Augur Buzzard, Verreaux's eagle and other cliff-associated raptors can often be seen flying above Ngurdoto Crater. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
Arusha National Park can be visited throughout the year, but the Dry season from June to October is the best time for wildlife viewing. Wildlife is easier to spot because vegetation is thinner and animals gather around predictable water sources. In the peak of the Wet season (March to April), some of the roads might become difficult to navigate, which can interfere with your wildlife viewing.
The park is good for birding year-round. From November to April, migratory birds from Europe and north Africa are present, and resident birds have their breeding plumage.
Precautions against malaria and certain vaccinations are advisable. It's also a good idea to cover up exposed skin in the evening.
Like all national parks, guided game drives are also available in the little Arusha National park. However, while the wildlife may not be as diverse as other reserves, it does offer unique ways to explore the area.
Encompassing Mount Meru and with big game rarely seen, guided walk and hikes are an absolute must here.
An active volcano, Mt. Meru is a popular climbing destination for visitors to Tanzania and a good introduction for those wishing to climb Kilimanjaro. Not only does the climb offer a spectacular view of Kilimanjaro, but the hike itself is also an incredibly rewarding. The hike takes you through multiple habitats where you can encounter giraffes, elephants, antelopes, and more
And even more exceptional, is the ability to do a canoe safari in the middle of a land locked reserve.
The Momella Lakes within Arusha National Park are a series of seven shallow lakes: Big Momella, Small Momella, Kusare, Lekandiro, Tulusia, Rishateni, and El Kekhotoito. Alkaline lakes with considerable algae growth, each of these lakes is a different shade of green or blue.
While the water is not suitable for drinking, it is possible to see a variety of birds (including flamingoes) and animals in the surrounds. It is on Small Momella Lake that canoeing safaris are possible.
There are no accommodations inside Arusha National Park but it's only a stone’s throw away from the town of the same name. Arusha town has a wide variety of accommodations for any type of budget. Luxury exclusive lodges can be found with every amenity mixed with simple hotels, campsites, hostels and more. All are set in the beautiful forests surroundings and of course have the incredible view of Mount Meru.