Top Things to Do When in Arusha

Road descending into Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Road descending into Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania | © Liba Taylor / Alamy Stock Photo
Gill Lange

Set in the foothills of Mount Meru, bustling Arusha is a rough diamond set amid the glitter of Tanzanian wildlife. The city pulsates with the sounds and sights of Africa, holding a chequered past that is reflected in its eclectic mix of urban and rural landscapes.

Find your ideal roast

Coffee is Tanzania’s largest export crop and acres of picturesque plantations blanket its mountain slopes. The hilly landscape around Arusha boasts some of the largest and most productive coffee plantations in East Africa, and a tour will take you from seed to cup as you move from plantation to factory. Well known for its richly roasted arabica and robusta beans, this is one for coffee lovers to put at the top of their lists.

Design a beaded masterpiece

Shanga is a community-based initiative giving disabled Tanzanians employment and a chance to express their creative side. Shanga necklaces are beautifully crafted using recycled glass beads and the end products are shipped to retail outlets throughout Tanzania, as well as abroad. Workshops allow visitors to try their hand at bead crafting while also supporting an income-generating initiative for the disabled.

Travel through the evolution of mankind

The Arusha Natural History Museum is housed inside the old German compound and divided into three parts. The most interesting explores the origins of humankind, showcasing Tanzania’s rich evolutionary and fossil history. Other displays take visitors through the country’s German colonial area and the lives of insects. Look out for the great wildlife photographs, which are well worth a stop.

Bejewel yourself

The Tanzanite Experience explains the process of mining, cutting, polishing and grading tanzanite through an interactive tour and visual exhibitions. Learn more about the mystery and rarity of these uniquely Tanzanian gems before browsing the store and perhaps selecting a special piece of jewellery. The stones are graded in a similar fashion to diamonds, and The Tanzanite Experience offers high-quality gems at very reasonable prices.

Stock up on souvenirs

Arusha acts as the gateway to Tanzania’s northern safari circuit and souvenir markets abound. While identifying the good from the mediocre can be time-consuming, Maasai Market Curio & Craft is a great one-stop experience. Selling everything from antiques and carvings to beads, fabrics and gemstones, the market has a vast array of locally crafted goods to suit all budgets. Bring along your bargaining skills and never settle for the first price you’re offered.

Learn some snake etiquette

If you’re a reptile fan, the Meserani Snake Park is a great place to spend a few hours. The well-maintained facility is complemented by knowledgeable guides giving invaluable advice on what to do, and not do, when encountering a snake. Besides various snakes and reptiles, there is also a Maasai Cultural Centre and a shopping village at the park.

Support women’s empowerment

The Maasai Women Fair Trade Centre is an awesome spot to pick up gorgeous handmade crafts and special gifts to take back home. Proceeds from the sale of these intricately crafted beaded goods are used to help empower Tanzanian women through access to education and healthcare. Besides beautiful Maasai products, visitors can also enjoy a light meal and Tanzanian fair-trade coffee.

Soak up the mountain scenery

Some of Tanzania’s most spectacular landscapes are in the Arusha National Park; most prominent is the volcanic cone and crater of Mount Meru. Pretty to look at and pleasant to climb, it also offers amazing views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Another highlight is the Momella Lakes, often tinged in a soft pink hue due to the presence of hundreds of flamingos.

Get your trek on

If you’re not inspired, or fit, enough to contemplate summiting the highest mountain in Africa, then take the Marangu Route instead. This one-day Mount Kilimanjaro hike begins just an hour from Arusha. Beyond lies a forested wonderland of towering eucalyptus trees, birds and colobus monkeys. Adding on a side trip to the Maundi Crater will reward you with fantastic sights of Northern Tanzania and Kenya.

Treat yourself to a natural spa

While getting to the Chemka Hot Springs from Arusha requires a bit of a drive, this geothermal oasis is well worth the hour-and-a-half trip. The fresh, naturally warmed water does wonders for the spirits while the surrounding mountain scenery perks up the senses. Pack a picnic and chill out under the trees after a refreshing soak.

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