Arusha National Park, the closest national park to Arusha town in northern Tanzania, is a hidden gem often overlooked by safari enthusiasts. Despite being overshadowed by more famous destinations, this park offers a diverse range of habitats within a short drive from Arusha.
Upon entering the park, you’ll find yourself in a shadowy montane forest inhabited by curious blue monkeys and vibrant turaco and trogon birds. It’s the only place in the northern safari circuit where you can easily spot the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey. Nestled within the forest is the stunning Ngurdoto Crater, known for its steep rocky cliffs surrounding a marshy floor where herds of buffalo and warthog graze.
Arusha National Park is a popular destination for day-trippers who are about to embark on longer northern circuit safaris from Arusha town. This compact park encompasses the slopes, summit, and ash cone of Mt. Meru, the Momela Lakes, Ngurdoto Crater, and lush highland forests. Game viewing around the Momela Lakes is leisurely and tranquil. While passing through the forest, many visitors pause to watch troupes of rare colobus monkeys playing in the treetops.
For adventure seekers, climbing Mt. Meru or exploring the smaller trails on its lower slopes is a popular activity in Arusha National Park. The three-day trek to the crater’s summit is a quieter and, some say, more challenging alternative to nearby Mount Kilimanjaro. The lower slopes offer paths to rivers and waterfalls, providing a relaxed day hike option for those who prefer not to tackle the demanding ascent. Ancient fig tree forests, crystal-clear mountain streams, and opportunities to spot colobus monkeys are some of the highlights of Arusha National Park.
Heading north, rolling grassy hills encircle the serene beauty of the Momela Lakes, each displaying a different hue of green or blue. Sometimes, the shallows turn pink with thousands of flamingos. The lakes support a rich variety of resident and migratory waterfowl, as well as shaggy waterbucks with large lyre-shaped horns. Giraffes roam gracefully across the grassy hills, mingling with grazing zebra herds. Dik-dik pairs dart into the scrubby bushes, resembling oversized hares on spindly legs.
While elephants are not common in Arusha National Park, and lions are entirely absent, leopards and spotted hyenas can sometimes be seen in the early morning and late afternoon. It is during these times that the cloud cover on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, just 50km (30 miles) away.
Although Kilimanjaro is often the star of the show, Mount Meru, its unassuming cousin, stands as the fifth highest mountain in Africa at 4,566 meters (14,990 feet). Meru’s peaks and eastern foothills are protected within the national park, offering unparalleled views of its famous neighbor and a rewarding hiking experience in its own right. The ascent begins in wooded savannah where buffalo and giraffes are commonly sighted. As you ascend, you’ll pass through forests adorned with red-hot pokers and draped in Spanish moss. The open heathland, graced by giant lobelias, marks the journey’s progress. Alpine desert areas boast everlasting flowers, and delicate-hoofed klipspringers may be seen. At the craggy summit, Kilimanjaro reveals itself, blushing in the sunrise.
Reaching Arusha National Park is convenient. It’s just a 40-minute drive from Arusha or approximately 60 km (35 miles) from Kilimanjaro International Airport. Visitors can explore the lakes, forests, and Ngurdoto Crater in a half-day trip, either at the beginning or end of an extended northern safari.
Arusha National Park is often overlooked by visitors who worry they won’t see much wildlife. However, the park offers a perfect blend of diverse flora and fauna and varied landscapes. While on a game drive through the “small Serengeti,” you’ll likely encounter peaceful herds of buffalo, shy bushbucks on the forest’s edge, as well as warthogs and zebras. Heading towards the Ngurdoto Crater, you’ll enter a lush rainforest, an excellent place to spot the athletic black-and-white colobus monkey and the graceful mitis monkey. The Ngurdoto Crater is essentially a miniature version of the Ngorongoro Crater, boasting a 3 km diameter. With a bit of luck, you may spot buffalos in the swamps on the crater floor.
Due to the low number of predators in the park, walking safaris are permitted. This is a must for anyone wanting to get a closer look at the moss-covered trees and the occasional red-hot pokers, as well as for those wanting to get up close to wildlife. Most common sightings on walking safaris include buffalos, warthogs, giraffes, and a variety of birds such as the silvery-cheeked hornbill, little bee-eater, and the occasional long-crested eagle. The walk takes visitors to the refreshing Tululusia waterfalls before returning to the Momella gate.
En route to the Momella Lakes, visitors are treated to common waterbucks and reedbucks often found along the lakeshore. An array of water birds, including cormorants, kingfishers, and vibrant flamingos, are frequent sights. There are seven alkaline lakes, each with different salt concentrations. Visitors also have the option of going on a canoe trip on the small Momella Lake.
Arusha National Park is home to a small number of African elephants, although their constant movement makes them rarely spotted. The same applies to leopards, which roam the extensive misty forests of Mt. Meru.
In the morning, we will pick you up from your Arusha hotel and transfer you to Arusha National Park. The park boasts an incredible variety of wildlife and flora, sure to leave a lasting impression. Your day trip includes a visit to the Ngurdoto Crater. Throughout the year, you can observe buffalos, waterbucks, giraffes, warthogs, zebras, and numerous bird species. At the Momella Gate, an armed ranger will await you to accompany you on a walking safari, providing an opportunity to experience wildlife up close. Few other Tanzanian national parks permit this, making it an unmissable experience. Lunch will be enjoyed at a picnic area, followed by an afternoon tour of Arusha National Park by safari vehicle, allowing ample time for wildlife observation. We will then return you to Arusha.