Is Arusha worth a visit? What to do in the safari capital in northern Tanzania
Arusha is the safari capital of northern Tanzania. You will not only find our operations office here – the heart of our operational activities to take you on an unforgettable journey – the city and its surroundings are also very interesting for tourists in other respects. Is Arusha worth a visit? We share tips on what to do in Arusha.
Admittedly, our headquarters near Arusha would be a tourist attraction in itself. Even though I’m not a regular guest there. And even if our team on site is too humble to read anything about themselves on a blog like this. But for me, this international team of nice, highly committed people is an example of what Arusha is all about: A colorful variety of life concepts that come together to make the best of one’s own existence and at the same time give travelers a good time.
Arusha is not an attractive city by European and American standards. At least not for those who think of architecture like you see it in Amsterdam or have a city as diverse as New York in mind. Arusha stands more for a special African vibe. It is not for nothing that the locals proudly refer to their own city as A-Town. But first things first – let’s take a look at what makes Arusha worth a visit.
Is Arusha worth a visit? – Its history
The name Arusha goes back to the agro-pastoral Arusha Maasai who settled in the area in the 1830s. In the decades that followed, the town developed into a trading center in the region. A dramatic turn of history followed in 1896:
The Germans conquer Arusha. They justify it by saying that two missionaries who wanted to settle at nearby Mount Meru were murdered.
Four years later, the German ‘Schutztruppe’ builds a military fortress here. For their construction, they forcibly evict the locals from their ancestral lands, forcing them to dig lime and carry stones. In 1916, the British take over and throw the German civil servants, police officers and soldiers out of the country. After World War I, the British introduce civil administration and move the seat of regional administration to Arusha. That gives missionaries from the United States an opportunity to move here and to convert “lost souls” among the African population. At the same time, British and Greek settlers occupy the former German farms. Once again there is nothing left for the locals.
In the years that follow, Arusha initially develops into a polyglot, perhaps too westernized, small town. It later becomes a significant place in the history of modern Tanzania. Here, in 1961, representatives of the kingdom and the newly independent Tanzanian government signed agreements for independence. In 1967, the Arusha Declaration led to the nationalization of the banks. IThen in 1994 the UN Security Council established the International Court of Justice for Rwanda in Arusha. In 2015, the Arusha Agreement creates the framework for the reunification of the fragmented ruling party in South Sudan.
Today, Arusha is a city with well over 400,000 inhabitants (2012 census). It is the center of Tanzanian tourism and is therefore often jokingly called “Dar es Safari” in reference to the capital Dar es Salaam.
Is Arusha worth visiting? – City life
It suits the city that from 21st to 27th May of this year the “FESTAC AFRICA 2023 – DESTINATION ARUSHA” will take place. It is Africa’s largest cultural festival in 2023 and aims to highlight and nurture the burgeoning talent from and within Africa. The organizers see it as a celebration of cultures, sharing African heritage in the form of art, fashion, music, dance, storytelling, poetry, film, tourism, hospitality, and gastronomy. In addition, artists from different countries in Africa and around the world present the richness of their cultures in live performances.
Arusha shows that a place can be interesting even without beautiful buildings, because of its people and street life. In this sense, A-Town is an atmospheric, picturesque, and also contradictory city that promises a variety of impressions.
Here we look at those who roam about in the mere struggle for survival, begging or foraging for food in garbage cans. There we see the vast majority of those whose work-life balance means spending most of the day at the curb or in a market, selling goods. And then we look towards those who seem to have managed to get a certain lightness into their lives. They sit in cafes and restaurants or get into taxis. But in the end, it quickly becomes clear: life is different here. This is Africa. And people welcome us tourists again and again. We have become a part of their life.
The city is colorful and lively, sometimes chaotic here and then orderly there, sometimes dirty on this side and clean and well-groomed on the other. Minibuses, motorcycles, painted houses, and people’s clothes bring a lot of color to everyday life. And if you go to the city’s markets, there is an extra portion of exoticism. It fascinates me in such a way that sometimes I want to stop and observe and sometimes I just enjoy being in the “flow”.
What to do in Arusha? – Sightseeing attractions
When it comes to sightseeing, a city like Arusha is best explored on a guided city tour. You will experience a multifaceted and historic safari metropolis. If you travel without a guide, have a look at these things to do and see in Arusha:
- Arusha Clock Tower
It seems a bit out of place, but the Clock Tower landmark is a meeting place for locals and tourists alike. It is said to be halfway between Cairo and Cape Town. However, a look at the map does not seem to confirm this.
- Cultural Heritage Center
More on the outskirts than centrally located, but somehow different – that’s the Heritage Center. The design of the building’s exterior with a drum, a shield, and a spear, represents classic African symbols. They stand for Africa’s cultural heritage, which is materialized inside the center in the form of jewellery, antiques, local handicrafts, an art gallery and more.
- Arusha National Natural History Museum
This museum is housed in the old German fort, also called “Boma”. It conveys interesting facts about German colonial history and the independence movement in the country, appropriate to the location. In addition, there are exciting exhibitions on the history of the evolution of humans and animals. After taking in the sites at the museum, you can reflect on humanity in the museum’s coffee shop.
- Declaration Museum
The museum is housed in the building where the 1967 Arusha Declaration was promulgated. It points the way for Tanzania’s new independence and socialist politics. The intention of the museum is to convey an understanding of this period in time, of the political decisions and challenges and their impact on the present.
- The Tanzanite Experience Museum
Here, everything revolves around the luxurious gemstone tanzanite. The museum provides a great overview of the mining, history, and processing of the blue-violet jewel, which can only be found in this quality in Tanzania.
But if visiting museums is not on your list of things to do when travelling, you will definitely like two very special markets:
- Kilombero Market
It is Arusha’s largest market. Perfect for strolling and being amazed. Watch out for vendors pushing bulging handcarts through the crowd without regard for your feet. They carry fresh fruit and vegetables from the region. But the stalls also offer all the usual market products: meat, fish, spices … a real paradise for gourmets and to seduce your senses.
- Maasai Market
Not far from the Clock Tower you will find Arusha’s hip Maasai Market, a highlight of Tanzanian handicrafts: masks, pictures, jewellery, shoes, clothes and Maasai spears. In addition, colorfully wrapped Maasai vendors who invite you to haggle.
And for those who want even more of that special Arusha feeling, I recommend the busy bus station.
Day trips from Arusha – The surroundings
In the area around Arusha, the Arusha National Park, which is not far from the center, deserves a special mention. Elephants are not as plentiful here as, for example, in the Serengeti. And you won’t find lions at all. But the park is the “natural” counterpart of civilization in “Dar es Safari”. On a guided day trip in a 4×4 safari vehicle you can experience in only a few hours a beguiling variety of habitats and enjoy breathtaking panoramas of Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro. Open savannas, forests, lakes, and swamps to rocky peaks offer a range of extraordinary landscapes.
At the entrance to the southern part of the national park, giraffes and zebras welcome you on the grassy savannas of the “Little Serengeti”. From there the landscape changes into a shady mountain forest inhabited by curious monkeys and colorful turacos and trogons. Nowhere else on the Northern Circuit are the sleek black and white colobus monkeys so easy to spot. In the middle of the forest stands the Ngurdoto crater, whose steep cliffs shelter herds of buffalo and families of warthogs. To the north lies the Momella Lake District. The different shades of blue and green of some lakes turn into a soft pink when thousands of flamingos come to visit. A color flash for the hippos living here.
Mount Meru is part of the national park. With its varied trails and paths, along streams and past waterfalls, Mt Meru mountain climbs are one of the country’s trekking highlights.
Arusha is worth a visit. And we are happy to answer any questions and help you plan your trip to Tanzania. Tanzania-Experience is the reliable partner by your side. So, get in touch with us!
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