When you think about travelling in Tanzania, the first things that come to mind are the big bucket list destinations, like the Serengeti and Zanzibar Island.
But there’s a lot of other places to see too, so don’t forget to make some space in your Tanzania itinerary for the cities too.
Arusha is a bustling African city that often serves as the starting point for safaris to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks.Many people just stay a night or two here before moving on, but if you have time, I’d suggest staying at least a few days.
Arusha, locally known as ‘A-Town’, has a lot of charm of its own and is a great place to experience Tanzanian life. It also has a fun party scene which is probably one of the reasons it’s popular with the volunteer crowd (Moshi, a couple of hours away is the same).
I’d also suggest reading my post on Moshi day trips and activities, as the two cities are very close to each other and there are some great things to do there too. You can easily stay in one and experience some of the things on offer in or near to the other city.
So here are my personal recommendations on the best things to do in Arusha.
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Awesome Things To Do in Arusha, Tanzania
Book a Northern Circuit Safari
If you haven’t already booked your Northern Circuit safari before you arrive in Tanzania, then Arusha is a good place to do it as there are no shortage of safari companies offering trips to the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire.
Lake Natron is also another destination that you can travel to from Arusha.
If you’re on your own, you should also be able to find a group to join if you ask around, either through your hostel or hotel, or by asking the safari companies directly.
Climb Mount Meru
Arusha lies at the base of Mount Meru, which is a bit smaller than Kilimanjaro at 4,562m but is still a very challenging and rewarding hike.
The climb is usually done over 3 – 4 days, with a day either side to acclimatise and recover! As the mountain is over 3000m, I would suggest climbing over 4 days to help you acclimatise to the altitude.
On clear days, you’ll get incredible views of Mount Kilimanjaro, which sits around 50 miles away, near to Moshi town. I haven’t climbed Mount Meru yet, but I have climbed Kili and my prep tips would be the same…
Arusha National Park
If you don’t have the time to go further afield, then you can always take a day trip to Arusha National Park.
The park doesn’t have all of the ‘Big Five’, but it does have plenty of zebras, buffalo and giraffes and you may also see hippos, elephants, hyenas and leopards – although these last four sightings are more rare.
Walking safaris are also possible here and may be included as part of your package!
Go Canoeing on Lake Momella
Inside Arusha National Park, you will also find Lake Momella, where you’ll find Arusha National Park’s flamingos hanging out!
Lake Momella is a great place to take a canoe safari and again, this is often included in your safari package.
Take a Nature Walk at Lake Duluti
Lake Diluti is a volcanic crater lake in the foothills of Mount Meru, surrounded by a rocky escarpment and lush forests.
The area attracts many beautiful birds, including egrets, grey herons, kingfishers and fish eagles, as well as butterflies, primates and reptiles, making it a great place for nature walks and birders.
You can also take a guided canoe trip out on the lake with views of Mount Meru and Mount Kiimanjaro in the background.
Meserani Snake Park
If you’ve ever been overlanding through Tanzania, you’ve probably stayed at the famous Meserani Snake Park, located just outside of Arusha town. The camp, run by BJ and Ma, is more than just a campsite.
They also have an overland truck workshop, cultural museum, Maasai market and as you might imagine, a reptile house with a large number of snakes.
There’s also a fun and often raucous bar, which is adorned with all kinds of traveller memorabillia, including t-shirts and bank notes. I had a very fun night there some years ago.
Visit the National Natural History Museum Arusha
Also known as the Old Boma Museum, this old fort, which was built by the Germans in the early part of the 20th Century, is now home to the National Natural History Museum.
Divided into three parts, the museum houses an exhibit on the evolution of mankind, as well as displays of fossils, stuffed animals and plenty of historical photographs
Shop at the Maasai Market
In the centre of town, you’ll find the Maasai Market. It’s pretty touristy, but it’s still one of my favourite things to do in Ausha and you’ll find a great array of souvenirs on offer, such as paintings, clothing, jewellery and furniture – there’s a lot to spend your money on.
If you want to visit a ‘real’ Maasai market, you’re best heading to the Monday Maasai markets just outside of town, which you can get to by taxi or dala-dala (minibus). These are markets are that the locals visit and you’ll find a mix of good, not just souvenrs. You may be able to grab a bargain if your bartering skills are good.
The nearest ones are at Kisongo and Nanya, but there are also markets in Mto Wa Mbu Village (aka Mosquito River) near to Lake Manyara and Rudugai near to the hot springs.
Visit the Maasai Women Fair Trade Centre
If you’re looking to pick up some beautiful, handmade crafts, head over to the Maasai Women Fair Trade Centre on Simeon Road.
It’s an organisation set up to empower local Maasai women (MWEDO – Maasai Women Development Organisation) in the area through access to health and education .
They also have a coffee shop serving food and fairtrade coffee.
Shop at the Local Markets
This is one of my favourite things to do in Arusha and I always say that the best way to experience any African city is by visiting the local market.
In Arusha, there’s the Central Market (Soko Kuu) and the Kilombero Market where you can buy anything and everything from wood carvings, to food, jewellery, animals and household items.
Just always keep your wits about you as pickpockets are common in crowded places like markets.
Buy Precious Stones at the Tanzanite Experience
Tanzanite is a beautiful blue/violet gemstone found in Northern Tanzania. You can learn about the history of the stone in the museum at the Tanzanite Experience and buy certified jewellery.
For those interested in crystals and their healing properties, Tanzanite is a great stone for the throat, third-eye and crown chakras. It helps us with our communication, psychic abilities and facilitates communication with the spiritual realm.
Support Social Enterprise at Shanga
Shanga is a great initiative and social enterprise set in the grounds of Arusha Coffee Lodge that employs local Tanzanian’s with disabilities. Their mission is to support and empower people with disabilities to live independent lives.
In the shop they sell beautiful glassware, jewellery, homeware and clothing all made on site.
They also hold workshops where you can try activities such as glass blowing, beading and even learn sign language.
Empower Maasai Women by Shopping at Sidai Designs
Sidai Designs is another fair-trade initiative with the aim to empower Maasai women in the area by providing employment and support and by selling beautiful handmade Maasai crafts, like jewellery, wall hangings (I LOVE their chevron wall hangings – super stylish) and glassware.
Whilst you are there you can take a tour of the workshop and also have a go at making your own jewellery.
Swim and Chill at the Mount Meru Hotel
If you’re looking for a nice place to relax and unwind, head to the pool at the Mount Meru Hotel.
It’s free if you are staying there, but if you’re not, you can pay to use the pool facilities, it costs around $15 for the day and there are changing rooms and showers, plus a bar and restaurant (I recommend the pizza).
It’s where you’ll find a lot of the locals and expats hanging out at the weekends.
Visit the Cultural Heritage Centre
As you drive to the Serengeti, you’ll probably pass the Arusha Cultural Heritage Centre which is an entire complex housing a museum, art galleries, antique shops, gift shops, a cinema, a spice centre, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a spa…
This place has a lot of info about the culture of Tanzania’s many cultural groups so definitely worth a stop if you have time.
Refresh at the Machweo Wellness Retreat
Want to refresh and unwind after your safari or a trek up Mount Meru or Kilimanjaro? Then head to the spa at Machweo which is just on the outskirts of town on the way to Usa River and Moshi.
It’s located in Onsea House, one of the most upmarket hotels in Arusha with incredible views of the Monduli Mountains.
They have many different types of massage on offer including Swedish, D-Stress, Thai, Hot Stone or Chocolate (yes really), as well as manicures, pedicures, steam bath, sauna and a few other treatments too.
They also have an amazing restaurant (see below).
Swim at the Chemka Hot Springs
If you’re on a budget but still want to spend some time at a pool, head to the Chemka Hot Springs. Now, this one isn’t in Arusha and it’s actually a bit closer to Moshi than Arusha, but it would be wrong not to include it here as it’s a popular day trip from the city.
The Chemka (Kikuletwa) Hot Springs, also called Maji Moto, which is ‘hot water’ in Swahili, lie off the main road, in the middle of nowhere under the shade of fig trees. The water isn’t actually hot, in fact I wouldn’t say it’s even particularly warm, but it’s not cold.
It’s a beautiful oasis in an otherwise quite arid landscape and a great place to spend an afternoon, swimming, playing around on the rope swing and just chilling out.
There’s usually a mix of locals, tourists and volunteers here most days and it’s particularly busy at the weekends.
You can either take a picnic, or some companies can provide one for you or you can buy food and some drinks there (including alcohol).
You can also stay overnight, but you’ll need to bring your own equipment.
Take a Village Tour in Usa River
Outside of Arusha, on the way to Moshi, you’ll find the busy village of Usa River (said like Oo-Sa River, not U-S-A River). This is a great place to take a tour and learn about Tanzanian village life and the vibrant culture in this area.
Visit the Maasai Tribe
Northern Tanzania and Kenya is where you’ll find the majority of the Maasai people, so if you’re interested to learn how they live, then this is a good place to do it.
I’ve never been fond of the Maasai visits that most safari companies take you to on the way back from the Ngorongoro Crater. These always feel like you are just bussed in, shown around as quickly as possible and then guilted into buying things you don’t want by people who really don’t want you there.
But there are quite a few more authentic/welcoming Maasai villages than you can visit as a day trip from both Arusha and Moshi.
Three I would recommend are:
- Magofu Trails, a company run by my friend Frank. He can take you to his village, Engaruka, which is a few hours away from Arusha.
- Oserok Trips by my friend Alpha (above). His village is located nearish to Chemka Hot Springs, so can be combined for a day trip.
- Loiborsoit village located south of Arusha, find their info here.
Enjoy the Local Restaurants
There are so many nice restaurants and cafes in Arusha so you won’t go hungry! A few of my favourites include:
- Fifi’s: A popular cafe in the centre of town, with salads, omelettes etc.
- Africafe: Another cafe, with coffees, cakes, sandwiches etc and good wifi. If you’ve ever been to Nairobi Java House, it’s a bit similar.
- George’s Tavern: Greek, Italian European-style food.
- Bravo Pizza: Great pizzas.
- The Mulberry: Bar and restaurant, popular with locals, volunteers and the expat crowd. They also have good bbq.
- Fig & Olive: Mediterranean, Lebanese and Tanzanian fusion restaurant.
- Le Patio: Restaurant, bar & nightclub serving international cuisine.
- Pablo Picasso Cafe: Great little place serving a mix of cuisines, from pizza, to curry, sushi and burgers.
- Khan’s Barbecue: One of my favourite places to eat is the garage by day/restaurant by night Khan’s Barbecue which serves a great selection of roasted meats (nyama choma) and accompaniments. The Mr Khan’s are lovely!
- Street Food: There are lots of food stalls around town selling things like grilled chicken (Arusha has THE BEST chicken I’ve ever tasted in my life), chips mayai (chip omelette), miskaki (meat kebabs), samosas and mandazis (deep fried donuts).
- Machweo at Onsea House: French style cuisine with an African twist.If you arrive before sunset, you should get nice views of the Monduli Mountains.
- Rivertrees Restaurant: Gourmet restaurant at the Rivertrees Country Inn in Usa River (outside of town).
- Arusha Coffee Lodge: There are four different restuants at this hotel, The Garden Buffet, The Grill Room, The Bistro and Jikoni African Restaurant at Trader’s Walk.
Party at the Bars and Clubs
Like Moshi, Arusha has a great nightlife scene and there tends to be a certain place that’s popular on a specific night of the week. For instance, if you go to Via Via on a Wednesday, it’s usually pretty quiet, but on Thursdays, it’s poppin’. For the latest info on where to go on what night, ask your safari guides or hostel.
Some of my favourite places to go out include:
- Via Via: This is probably my favourite place to party in Arusha and gets busy, especially on Thursday nights. They also serve food and nyama choma bbq – the mishkaki (spicy beef kebabs) are awesome, especially after a night of dancing to Tanzanian ‘Bongo Flava’ and drinking a few Konyagis! There’s often theme nights, movie nights and karaoke.
- The Mulberry: This is a great place to have a few casual drinks, food and shisha. Occasionally they have band/party nights and often show sports and movies on the big screen.
- Lively Lady: A popular bar, which is always pretty fun and often very ‘lively’.
- Le Patio: I’ve been to Le patio a few times and there’s always a fun party.
- Rooftop at Grand Melia: Looking for a fancy place to have a drink? Then head to the rooftop bar at the Gran Melia and enjoy a cocktail with a view of Mount Meru. They also serve food.
- Empire Sports Bar: Located in the Nakumatt Food Court, they often have bands or karaoke on.
- Zeze Lounge: Popular bar in the centre of town.
- Twiga Brewery: This brewery/bar is a great place to hang out and they also offer brewery tours too.
There are lots more though, so ask around when you get there as new places open all the time.
Rest Your Head at One of the Hotels
- Waka Waka Hostel: Great hostel near to town with a good volunteering programme. Super-friendly and welcoming place to stay in Arusha – my home away from home. They can also organise safaris and activities. ($)
- The White House of Tanzania: Popular hostel with volunteering opportunities, now moved to a new location in Njiro, a quieter part of town, but great for meeting other travellers and away from the noisy town centre. ($)
- Mambo Arusha Hostel: Slightly outside of town but with great views of Mount Meru. Really nice, cosy and friendly place. ($)
- Banana Farm Eco Hostel: One of the cheaper options but really cute and comfortable. 25 minutes from the town centre. ($)
- Tulia Boutique Hotel & Spa: I’ved stayed here a few times and the rooms are nice and they also have a pool. ($$)
- Mount Meru Hotel: Bit more upmarket, business-type hotel in the centre of town with a nice pool and barbut quite expensive. ($$$)
- Gran Melia Arusha: Modern Hotel in town with great views of Mount Meru, pool and a rooftop bar. ($$$)
- Karama Lodge: Boutique chalet style accommodation with a pool. ($$$)
- Rivertrees Country Inn: Charming place with a nice restaurant and pool, a bit further away in Usa River. ($$$)
- Onsea House: Luxurious boutique hotel, wellness retreat and spa with a great restaurant. ($$$)
- Arusha Coffee Lodge: Upmarket hotel with a few different restaurants and on-site shopping. Great honeymoon destination. ($$$$)
Other Tanzania posts you might enjoy…
- 24 Awesome Things To Do in Moshi, Tanzania
- An Awesome Tanzania Itinerary (Plus Map, Tips & Things To Do)
- The Best Hostels, Guesthouses & Campsites in Tanzania
- How to Find a Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater Safari (to suit your budget)
- How to Get Around Tanzania By Public Transport
- 40 Amazing Things To Do in Zanzibar
- Climbing Kilimanjaro: How to Prepare & My Tips for Reaching the Top
- The Ultimate Kilimanjaro Packing List – Clothing, Shoes & Equipment
- The Perfect 2-Week Kenya & Tanzania Itinerary
- The Most Useful English to Swahili Words & Phrases for Travel in East Africa
- How to Get Your Tanzania Visa & Entry Requirements
- How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Tanzania? How to Budget for Your Trip
I hope you enjoy this list of things to do in Arusha! Any suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!