Arusha is a city of approximately 400,000 people in Northeast Tanzania, East Africa. It is regarded as the gateway to the popular Northern Safari Circuit.
Arusha, also known as "A" Town by the locals, is situated at the foot of Mount Meru, Africa's 5th highest mountain. The altitude gives the city a pleasant climate and lush green environment.
Arusha is not a particularly attractive city in itself and is regarded by many visitors as little more than a necessary stopover before their safari starts in earnest. However, the natural charm of the Tanzanians and the buzz of a fast-growing city mean that Arusha has plenty to offer for those who are prepared to see beyond their air-conditioned safari trucks and satellite-TV hotel rooms.
Arusha is home to the UNICTR, the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda . It is also the site of the signing of the Arusha Declaration.
Arusha is served by two airports. Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) has regular flights to Amsterdam with KLM, and to Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Nairobi. Kilimanjaro Airport is approximately 60km (45 minutes) from the city center. A taxi ride costs $50 US but many airlines run a shuttle service for free or $10. Arusha Municipal Airport (ARK) is on the outskirts of the city but only runs domestic flights, mostly to Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, and charters.
Visas-on-arrival are available at Kilimanjaro International Airport for $50, or $100 for U.S. nationals.
Arusha can be reached by express coach from Nairobi (Kenya, 6 hours), Dar es Salaam (12 hours), and Kampala (Uganda, 17 hours) with direct services also available from Mwanza, Tanga, and Lushoto. Some companies offer first-class tickets which are slightly more comfortable although it is worth noting that standards are generally comparable with most African bus services. Moshi can be reached in about one hour. There are various shuttle buses between Arusha and Moshi which are more comfortable than coaches.
The crowded interior of an Arusha minibus
The main mode of public transport is daladala, the ubiquitous minibuses which ply their trade on all the main routes in town. Although very cheap (typically Tsh 200 ($0.15) for any trip within town) they will become very cramped and safety is a serious consideration. Accidents involving daladalas are frequent and usually with serious consequences for the passengers.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap. It is best to agree a price before leaving for your destination.
Car hire is possible though most companies prefer to provide their own drivers.
See and Do
Elephants as seen from a safari truck
- Climb Mount Meru (4,667 m). It can be done in 2 to 4 days, depending on your condition. You are not required to take guides and porters up Mount Meru, but you must be escorted by armed rangers. Temperatures can be freezing, so prepare for warm clothing and sleeping bags.
- Tanzania Tourist Board can arrange cultural excursions to nearby villages for 15000- 50000 TSH. Keep in mind your guide will probably hassle you for donations to their school or orphanage- more than likely that money will never go beyond your guide's pocket, so it is advisable to give money to a reputable charity.
- Century Cinema has movies for 5000-7000TSH ($3-5). It is part of a modern complex on Njiro road, which also houses modern and upmarket restaurants including popular Indian restaurant "Khan's" and steak outlet "McMoody's". However, Njiro Road is not safe to walk on at night, so get to the complex by another form of transport rather than by foot. A taxi to/from the town center shouldn't cost more than 4000TSH ($3).
- Safari is definitely something to try, if you can afford it. There are multiple types of trips for multiple budgets; usually the pricier ones get you out farther into the Serengeti, to places that are a little less touched by man. But even the cheaper excursions to reserves and parks are worth doing. If there's one trip that will change your perspective on life, it's an African safari.
- Bramwel Safaris, . Offers camping safari tours to Manyara, Tarangire, and Serengeti.
- Tanganyika Film & Safari . A luxury safari company, owned and operated by an experienced Anthropologist. Definitely worth the money.
- The Markets: The markets in the center of town are not to be missed. Bargaining is required, meaning prices will range from dirt-cheap to tourist-expensive, depending on the goods and also on how sharply you pay attention.
- You can find almost anything at these markets, from food to clothing to little trinkets to take home to friends and family. The batik and screened cloths in bright colors are highly recommended. They're usually sold just as bolts of cut cloth, but you can do pretty much anything with them when you get home. Also, the Kikoys that the women of Tanzania wear make wonderful and original wrap skirts.
- Maasai women make beautiful hand-beaded jewelry that they sell to tourists, frequently to pay for their children's schooling. If you come across this you should definitely purchase a few items, as they are extremely beautiful and make wonderful, unique gifts.
Arusha has a wide variety of restaurants and informal eating places, with a predominance of Indian cuisine. Meals range from US$ 0.40 for street fare to $15 for main courses at the high-end hotels.
A typical lunch of chicken and potatoes
- McMoody's. 7am-10pm, 7 days a week. Has a little bit of everything in a fast-food-y setting right in the center of town. They also have a branch in the complex in Njiro Road near the cinema. Prices are reasonable. Breakfast including eggs, bread and coffee/tea is 1400TSH ($1). Their steak is a must, as are their desserts.
- Big Bite. Indian restaurant. The food is great, genuinely Indian. TSh5,000 ($3.75)/=.
- Cafe Bamboo Restaurant. Higher end cafe/restaurant, but inexpensive for foreign travelers. Great snacks such as samosas, chips and kebabs. Also serves western, Indian and traditional African dishes. Popular amongst tourists.
- Dragon Pearl, (Old Moshi Road just past the Impala Hotel Roundabout). A good place for Chinese food in Arusha, moderately priced. Say hi to Louie for a special deal!
- Khan's Chicken on the Bonnet. Pakistani BBQ, includes chicken, beef, mutton, assorted salads, and nan. Arguably best BBQ in town (rivals with Nick's Pub in Njiro). Two locations, one in town center which serves as a car repair shop by day and bbq venue by night, newer location at cinema in Njiro. 4500-9000Tsh ($3-7)/person.
- Onsea House Restaurant, ☎ +255 787 112 498. Renowned as best French/Belgian restaurant in Arusha. Recommended for a romantic candle light dinner or special celebration. Reservations recommended.
- L'Oasis Lodge, Close to idara ya maji, Sekei Arusha (Access road Moshi/Nairobi Rd.), ☎ +255 757 557 802 ([email protected]), . 7am - late. A favorite with guidebooks and expats. Go for a mountain of Kili nachos, or just grab a cold drink in the garden or by the pool. Finish with the renowned chocolate pot. No reservations needed for groups below 10.
The ring—Arusha's city center
Arusha has many interesting bars and restaurants. As a rule the best food is Indian, thanks to the large sub-continental community in the city. Liquid Blue in Njiro and Big Bite on the Swahili Road are among the most popular Indian restaurants. For 'Nyama Choma', or Tanzanian roast meat, Nick Bar in Njiro is also popular. There are uncountable local bars which are generally welcoming to adventurous foreigners. The less adventurous visitors stick to Via Via, in the grounds of the old German fort, which is an interesting cultural center and part of an NGO which trains locals in the hospitality industry.
There are plenty of options for bars and restaurants for those who for some reason seem to wish to avoid locals altogether; these places are very easy to find.
For nightclubs, the Colobus Club, Maasai Camp, Triple A, 777 and Polygon Triangle are popular with locals and foreigners alike. They start late and finish very, very late (or early). Pickpockets have been known to operate and all these bars are popular with the local sex workers so the usual discretion should be applied.
Arusha has plentiful accommodation to cater to all ends of the scale. There are many hotels in the center of the town, including the international-grade Impala Hotel and the Arusha Hotel (see below). You won't get any surprises in this sort of accommodation. At the highest end of the scale there are numerous luxurious lodges in and around the city, some of which offer stunning scenery and the best standard of accommodation.
Be sure to avoid touts (people hired by hotels/hostels to get travelers to stay there). If you are traveling as a couple, a good idea is for one person to sit in a lobby or restaurant with the bags, while the other scopes out rooms. You are likely to get a cheaper price without the bags, and not be targeted by sneaky touts (they signal reception or hang around behind you) which will raise the price $5-$10 for you for their commission.
For budget travelers, many recommend the Maasai Camp (about 45 minutes walk from the city center) or the Snake Park (which is in a village called Meserani, about 16km out on the Dodoma Road). These are both lively locations with popular bars and good services at a very low price. For a quieter stay, Centre House, run by nuns is located a few minutes walk from the clock tower and offers basic rooms, both dormitory style and smaller rooms. Food and drink (including beer!) is available from the sisters. Meru House Inn located in the center of town is another budget option with double rooms going for 7000 Tsh ($5) a night, clean rooms with shared toilet and showers - it also has a great, very reasonably priced Indian restaurant on the ground floor. However, Meru House Inn have been plagued by thefts recently, several guests have gotten things stolen from their room by staff.
Make sure to put your valuables/passport in a safe.
- Onsea House. A luxury B&B with only 5 rooms, Arusha's only boutique hotel, recommended as hip, relaxing hideaway just 7 km out of the center. $185.
- Kigongoni Lodge. run by an NGO. All the profits go to support a local school for mentally handicapped children so that you can stay in luxury while helping the nearby community.
- Annexe at L'Oasis Lodge, Close to idara ya maji, Sekei Arusha (Access rd Moshi/Nairobi Rd), ☎ +255 757 557 802 ([email protected]), . 12 twin bedded rooms in the gardens surrounding the main lodge in the village Sekai, including access to lodge facilities. About 10min drive from the town center. Bookings not essential but much appreciated.
- The African Tulip, 44/1 Serengeti Road. A small, well-liked luxury hotel for a reasonable price. $230.
- The Arusha Hotel, Main Road. A 4-star hotel with modern, well-decorated rooms and lovely staff. $160.
- The Impala Hotel, Old Moshi Road. A 3-star hotel with mixed reviews. Some rooms are lovely and spacious, while others disappoint. Ask to see your room before committing. $145.
- Mount Meru Hotel, Moshi Nariobi Road. Set in a wildlife sanctuary, so you can sip your coffee ten feet from ostriches and monkeys. $90.
- Arusha Naaz Hotel, Sokoine. A good option for travelers on a budget who still want a private room in a safe, central location. Don't expect luxury, but it's a good, basic place to stay. $50.
- Caanan Hotel (+255 732 975 127), Mianzini (Nairobi Road next to the white petrol station), . checkin: 12:00; checkout: 11:00. A midrange (3 star equivalent) 18 bed hotel. All rates include breakfast, dinner is available and you can give a half days notice, the hotel will arrange free transport for you from any where in the City Centre. Ideal if you just jumping off the Shuttle bus in Arusha. $19.
Arusha is a moderately safe city by African standards, though all normal precautions should be observed. Caution should be taken when walking around the central, tourist district during the day as bag-snatching and camera thefts have been reported. Increasingly, tourists are being held up at machete point, even during the day. It is not advisable to walk at night, alone or in groups - cabs are plentiful but fares should always be agreed upon at the start of a journey. When walking in any part of the city beyond the central district, it is advisable to take a guide.
Avoid street hawkers and sellers by ignoring them completely. Do not even say hello or make eye contact. Ignoring them is the most efficient way of getting rid of them, and you should be aware that some may be dangerous.
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