The Arusha National Park, a small (137 sq km) but beautiful African park, is the closest Tanzanian National Wildlife Park to both the famous "safari town" of Arusha (29 km), as well as the Kilimanjaro International Airport, thus making it ideal for day safaris, even from Moshi (65 km). Not only is the wildlife in the Arusha National Park abundant, but it is also one of the most beautiful and topographically varied game reserves in Tanzania. The African Arusha National Park's three most significant features include the rugged Mount. Meru (Tanzania's second highest peak at 4566m), the notably different coloured Momela Lakes, and the 3km wide Ngurdoto Crater, which was formed about fifteen million years ago! The varied and beguiling animals and flora found in this game reserve are mainly determined by the different altitude and geography of these 3 "zones"
The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colourful turacos and trogons – the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.
Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each one a different hue of green or blue. Their shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes support a rich selection of resident and migrant waterfowl, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, while pairs of wide-eyed dik-dik dart into scrubby bush like overgrown hares on spindly legs.
Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon. It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, only 50km (30 miles) distant. But it is Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru - the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 metres (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern footslopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbour, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.
Passing first through wooded savannah where buffalos and giraffes are frequently encountered, the ascent of Meru leads into forests aflame with red-hot pokers and dripping with Spanish moss, before reaching high open heath spiked with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, as delicately-hoofed klipspringers mark the hike’s progress. Astride the craggy summit, Kilimanjaro stands unveiled, blushing in the sunrise.
What to see and Do
Places to Visit in Arusha National Park
Mount Meru is Tanzania's second highest peak (4566 m – 14,990 feet) after Kilimanjaro and the fifth highest in Africa, and also an active volcano. On clear days its neighbor, Mount Kilimanjaro, is visible. The peak can be ascended in 4-days. Mount Meru offers two huts for overnight stays, Miriakamba and Saddle hut. The climb not only offers spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro, but also wildlife on the forested slopes and the summit itself offers an amazing view of a small cones and craters, which are probably the results of numerous volcanic activities in the past. The climb itself is a rewarding experience. You first pass through a savannah where you have the possibility to spot buffaloes and giraffes. The foot of Mount Meru is forested with red-hot pokers and Spanish moss and at high open heath giant lobelias are visible. At reaching the summit one can spot everlasting flowers in this alpine desert. It is advised to book the climb in advance, because an armed ranger must accompany climbers.
Momella Lakes are shallow lakes made up of seven lakes, big Momela, small Momela, Kusare, Lekandiro, Tulusia, Rishateni and El Kekhotoito. Each of the lakes has a different green or blue color, which is due to the different algae growth in each of the lakes. The alkaline lakes are fed by different underground streams and they all consist of different minerals. Because of their alkalinity animals do not use them for drinking, but various African birds can still be spotted in the lakes, particularly flamingos. The lakes and their surroundings are also inhabited by water-bucks, waterfowl, giraffes, zebras, wide-eyed dik-diks, green grass frogs. Canoeing is also possible on these lakes.
Ngurdoto crater is an extinct volcanic crater. The length of the crater is 3 km in diameter. One can view the crater from five viewpoints: Mikindu, the Glade, Leitong (is also the highest point with 1824 m), the Rock Buffalo. The inside of the crater, a swamp, is inhabited by various animals, such as African buffaloes, elephants, birds, different monkeys and baboons, and warthogs. The crater is surrounded by Ngurdoto forest which comprises a large variety of different trees. The most prominent of these trees are Bersama abyssinica, Rauvolvia caffra, Wild mango, Olea capensis (Cape olive) and Tabernaemontana usambarensis. The forest is also the homeland of the Black and White Colobus monkey. The forest can be perfectly visible from the nearby Ngurdoto museum, a place with birds, mammals and insects found in the Arusha National Park. To the west of the crater lies an extensive grassland where Zebras are easily seen. This grassland is called Serengeti Ndogo or “Little Serengeti”.