Vista in Arusha National Park

Arusha National Park – An Easy One-Day Safari

Planning A Visit To Arusha National Park? Here’s What Can Enjoy In One Day

Arusha National Park is one of several parks on Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit, albeit one that is often neglected by visitors who are seeking the allure of the more popular parks like Serengeti or Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  And that is truly unfortunate. 

Arusha National Park is just 45 minutes from Arusha, the third largest city in Tanzania and the starting point for most of the country’s safaris.  It combines some of the best features of the other Tanzanian parks in an area of only 552 square kilometres (213 square miles). 

It makes the ideal starting or ending point for a longer Tanzanian Safari adventure and gives you a glimpse of what you will see in other parks. Below we detail our day in the Arusha National Park and the exciting experience we had.

Highlights of Arusha National Park

Despite its small size, there are lots of highlights in Arusha National Park.  Here are some that we think make it a place well worth visiting.

Our Arusha National Park Safari

Arusha National Park was the first stop on our 10-day Tanzania  North Circuit Safari Tour.  And it was a great introduction and teaser to what the next nine days would bring us.

We started our day by arriving at the south Arusha National Park Gate just after 9:30am.  After a short stop, while our guide registered our group, we began our tour with a driving safari through the south of the park.

Arusha National Park entrance gate
Arusha National Park

Our safari started with a drive through the south section of the park where the terrain was initially quite densely forested. It is this area that is well known for the black and white Colobus monkeys.

Black and white colobus monkey

We also saw large baboon troops including numerous families.

Baboons on the road
Baboon family

It wasn’t long before we encountered the first wildlife of our safari.  Off to the right of our safari vehicle, a towering giraffe appeared, munching on the leaves of the tallest trees around her. 

Giraffe

As we made our way past the giraffe, we could see a few others browsing on the nearby trees.  They were sleek and majestic and there is such a thrill about the first encounter that you make with large wildlife on safari.

After passing through the wooded area we arrived at an open plain that stretched out to the hills in the distance.  This is the area known as “Mini Serengeti”, because of its resemblance to the plains in Serengeti National Park.  Here we could see buffalo and zebra grazing on the grasses.

Buffalo and zebra

We continued driving north past the open grasslands along Momela Road spotting waterbuck, baboons and colobus monkeys amongst the dense brush of the woodland. 

Waterbuck

At just past 11:00am, we arrived at the Momela Gate, in the north section of the park. Here we disembarked our safari vehicle and were introduced to our park rangers who would be taking us on a walking safari for the next 1 1/2 hours through a marshy grassland to view some wildlife up close.

Ranger/Guide in Arusha National Park

It was a bit disconcerting to see that the rangers were carrying rifles, but it was explained to us that they are required to do so for all walking tours because they are responsible for the safety of the animals and the guests.  What’s more, they take great pride in using non-lethal methods to deter dangerous animals. The fact that they carry rifles is also a deterrent to potential poachers.

Walking safari

The walk took us along a narrow trail into the marshy grassland and we immediately saw a herd of buffalo off in the distance.  This area is quite well known for buffalo who love the lush grasslands here. 

Buffalo

We trekked along the trail at a pretty relaxed pace.  This allowed our guide to point out the vast array of fauna and flora in the area.  There were dozens of bird species, as well as interesting and peculiar insects both on the ground and on the plants.

Insider Tip

One thing to be cautious of when on a walking safari is the large number of ants.  They are easy enough to avoid if you are keeping an eye out. Long pants are necessary!

It is important not to stop and stand in an area where the ants are gathering as it won’t take them long to climb onto your feet and legs.  And they do sting! Just make sure to wear good walking or hiking shoes with socks and long pants.

After hiking for about 45 minutes, we ventured into a more densely wooded area, eventually coming upon a fast-moving stream. 

Rocky stream

A little further on, the underbrush separated into a clearing, and we could see mist and hear the thunder of a single waterfall tumbling into a rocky stream. 

Waterfall

After spending a bit of time taking photos of the waterfall, we headed back on the trail.

Continuing on, the brush became sparser and once again opened out onto a clearing, this time with a meandering river cutting through the grassy plain. 

We eventually found the dirt road leading back to where our safari vehicles were parked and walked about 800 metres (1/2 mile) to our starting point. 

From here we got back in our vehicles and drove about 15 minutes to a wooded area where makeshift tables and chairs were set up.  This is where we would be having our first safari lunch.  The local food was spread out on small tables covered in colourful cloths. 

Lunch in Arusha National Park

There were a variety of salads, samosas, barbecued chicken, and beef on a stick.  This was accompanied by rice dishes and followed by dessert and tea or coffee.  Quite a good spread considering we were in the middle of an African park.

Following our lunch, we loaded back into the vehicles and continued to drive toward the northeastern part of the park.  We passed by more grassland and observed herds of zebra, waterbuck, and buffalo. 

Eventually, we came over a rise and could see the outline of a lake in the distance.  This was one of the seven alkaline Momelia lakes in the park, and it was blanketed in a sea of pink flamingos.  As we approached the lake, their flapping and squawking could be heard above the sound of our vehicle’s engine. 

Flamingos in Momelia Lake

We had seen flamingos on a previous trip to Galapagos, but only a few at a time.  This lake was covered in hundreds of birds, the most we had ever seen in one place.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but we would have a similar experience when we visited Ngorongoro Crater a few days later.

Flamingos

Leaving the Momelia Lakes area we headed back towards the Arusha National Park Gate at the south end of the park.  In the open grasslands beyond the lake, we passed several groups of grazing zebra.

Zebra

Our last sighting for the day would be several giraffes tucked in amongst some tall trees pulling the dense foliage off the branches with their long tongues. 

Giraffe

We arrived in Arusha National Park just after 9:30am and departed at 4:30pm, spending a total of 7 hours in the park.  In that time, we had done two separate game drives and a walking safari.

We had passed through several different ecosystems including open grasslands, marshy wetlands, alkaline lakes, and a rainforest. And we had the privilege of observing a multitude of animals in their natural habitat.  What a way to start our Tanzanian Safari tour!

Arusha National Park Map

Map of Arusha National Park

What Is So Special About Arusha National Park?

As we’ve already mentioned, Arusha National Park, while not large, has a little bit of what some of the other larger and more popular parks on Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit have.  We would consider it to be a microcosm of The Tanzania Safari experience.  Here is a list of what makes Arusha National Park so special.

Mount Meru

Perhaps the most visible part of Arusha National Park is Mount Meru, which, as we mentioned earlier is the 5th largest mountain in all of Africa. 

While it is dwarfed in size by its sister, Mount Kilimanjaro (which, by the way, you can see from Meru on a clear day), it is still an impressive sight. Mount Meru is an active volcano which last erupted in 1910, leaving behind a caldera where the top once was. 

Mount Meru

There are specific tours of Meru that include a climbing safari where you will get spectacular views, see some unique wildlife and get a chance to walk along the rim of the caldera.

Ngurdoto Crater

While most people traveling to Tanzania for a safari may get a chance to visit Ngorongoro Crater, if you happen to be in Arusha National Park, why not visit its little sister Ngurdoto Crater?

In fact, Ngurdoto Crater is so similar to Ngorongoro Crater that it is referred to as “Little Ngorongoro”.  It is considerably smaller in size however, at only 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) across and 300 metres (1,000 feet) deep, compared to Ngorongoro’s diameter of 16 kilometres (10 miles) and depth of 600 metres (2,000 feet).

Ngurdoto Crater is an extinct volcano that is basin shaped.  Its steep sides are covered in rain forest and it has a soft, marshy floor blanketed in grasslands that make it an ideal habitat for the diversity of wildlife that inhabit its space.

Since the floor of the basin is so  soft, Ngurdoto Crater only hosts walking safaris, which makes for a unique and intimate experience.

Momelia Lakes

If you read our blog on Lake Manyara National Park, you might remember that the famous lake is noted for its alkaline nature due to the volcanic minerals in the ground.  Well, Arusha National Park has its own version of alkaline lakes.

Momelia Lake

The seven lakes that make up Momelia Lakes are located at the northern end of the Arusha National Park and are a key feature for the wildlife here.

Momelia Lake

The lakes were formed more than 200,000 years ago when Mount Meru erupted and blew volcanic debris into the valley.  Because of the different mineral content in each lake, they are all different in colour with hues of blue and turquoise.  The lakes are a major attraction and habitat for a variety of birds including the Greater Flamingo, Herons, African Fish Eagles and Egyptian Geese.

Serengeti Ndogo

If you want to get a taste of the Serengeti Plains but won’t have time to get there, then maybe a visit to Arusha National Park can give you a small taste of what you are missing. 

Serengeti Ndogo

Serengeti Ndogo, translated from Swahili to mean “Little Serengeti” is a grassland near the north gate of the park.  It is a haven for herbivores like buffalo, zebra, waterbuck, elephant and warthogs. 

Tululusia Waterall

Tululusia Waterfall is a scenic cascade of water falling 28 metres (91 feet) and dividing the lush vegetation on either side of Tululusia Hill on the lower slopes of Mount Meru.

Tululusia Waterfall

The area is home to colobus monkeys as well as elephants and the occasional tree climbing python! 

Ujambo Wa mbogo

If you are looking for a great spot to view buffalo then you can’t go wrong by visiting Ujambo Wa mbogo, literally translated to “buffalo glade”. 

Ujambo Wa mbogo

This marshy grassland in the northeastern part of the park is fed by winding streams and is dotted by bushes.  It is a prime feeding ground for buffalo and warthogs as well as a wide variety of birds.

How Long To Spend In Arusha National Park?

So, just how much time do you need in Arusha National Park?  Well, it really depends on what it is you want to do. Even though it is one of the smaller parks in Tanzania, there is so much diversity in this park that you could literally spend days here and not see everything. 

If you are looking for a safari type adventure in the park, then, like us, you can probably get that done in one day.  This will get you to most of the main areas in Arusha National Park allowing you to experience several different types of ecosystems.

On our day in Arusha National Park, we covered most of the central region from the South Gate (Arusha National Park Gate) all the way to the North Gate (Momelia Gate).

Arusha National Park

You will see the most popular and abundant animals including buffalo, zebra, giraffes, warthogs, waterbuck, flamingos, baboons and monkeys.

Baboon

If you want to experience Mount Meru or the Ngurdoto Crater, then you will need an extra day or two. 

Mount Meru is on the far western part of the park and for many it is a tour on its own.  Day hikes are available on the mountain, but for a more extensive exploration of Meru, there are four-day hikes available. In fact, climbers who are looking to prepare themselves for the ambitious Mount Kilimanjaro climb will often use Mount Meru to get acclimatized to the altitudes.

Ngurdoto Crater is a walking tour only because of the soft basin floor which isn’t suitable for driving. It is located on the far eastern part of the park.

So, in summary, you can get a good taste of the park and experience a real African safari in one day, or, you can spend two or three days to see the whole park and experience all it has to offer.

Does Arusha National Park Have The Big 5?

Most people who come on an African safari are hoping to see the elusive “Big 5” mammals – leopard, lion, buffalo, elephant and rhino.  These were the animals that were considered to be the most dangerous to hunt back when big game hunting was a thing. 

So, can you see the Big 5 in Arusha National Park?  Well, not quite.

You will certainly see buffalo in Arusha National Park, as they are quite abundant here.  In fact, Ujambo Wa mbogo, which literally means “buffalo glade” is the perfect spot to observe these impressive herbivores. 

There are also elephants here, although for some reason, we didn’t see any the day we were here. But you can see a lot in Tarangire National Park.

And if you are really lucky, you may “spot” a leopard in or near a tree, but leopard sightings are rare here, so if you do see one, consider yourself lucky.

You definitely won’t see rhinos or lions in the park.  Rhinos are an endangered species and there are only a few parks in Africa where they still exist, including Ngorongoro Crater, which is a five hour drive to the west.

The last lion sighting in Arusha National Park was in 1998.  The primary reason is the encroaching human population around the park.  Arusha National Park is only 45 minutes from the 3rd largest city in Africa.  The fact that there are no lions in Arusha National Park is one of the key reason that walking safaris are so popular (and safe) here.

Walking safari

Arusha National Park Fees

During the High Season, the current park fee is $50 USD per person.

During the Low Season, the current park fee is $45 USD per person.

Arusha National Park Things To Do

There are plenty of things to do in Arusha National Park, despite its small size.  Here are the ones that are most popular:

1) Game Drives

2) Walking Safaris

3) Mountain Climbing

4) Bird Watching

5) Canoeing

6) Guided Nature Hikes

7) Horse Back Riding

Arusha National Park Facts and History

The area around Arusha National Park was initially inhabited by the early Maasai pastoralists.  In the 17th century, the WaMara and then the WaChanga tribes migrated to the Mount Meru area.  They were followed by the WaArusha people.

The first Europeans to settle in the Mount Meru area were the Germans in 1862.  In 1890, they set aside the area as a Forest and Game Reserve, as the area was abundant in rhinos and hippos.

In 1920, under British rule, the Mount Meru area was designated as the Mount Meru Complete Game Reserve.

Start of the walking safari

The area to the east of Mount Meru, and what is now in the central region of the park was farmed and used as a cattle ranch up until the late 1950s.   One of the farmers, the Trappe family, set aside a large portion of their estate as a game sanctuary.

In 1960, the Ngurdoto Crater, in what is now the most eastern part of the park, was combined with the Trappe estate and designated Ngurdoto Crater National Park.

Finally in 1967, Mount Meru and the area around Momella were added and the park officially became the present day Arusha National Park.

Arusha National Park Animals We Saw

We spent just seven hours in Arusha National Park, but we were amazed at the number and variety of animals and birds that we were able to observe.  And on top of that, because of the walking tour, we got to see many of them up close and personal! Here is the list of 29 different species of wildlife that we saw in Arusha National Park.

White Necked RavenBlack Headed HeronRed Billed Teal
Masai GiraffeOlive BaboonWhite Faced Duck
Grey Crowned CraneBlack & White Colobus MonkeyBlack Winged Stilt
ZebraRed DukaBlack Smith Plover
BuffaloLittle Bee EaterSacred Ibis
African Hawk EagleSykes MonkeyFlamingos
WarthogHadada IbisWaterbuck
Egyptian GeeseBushbuckDik Dik
Little EgretHelmeted Guinea FowlCopper Sunbird
HammerkopOxpecker

Best Time To Visit Arusha National Park

Although you can visit the park all year round, the best time to visit Arusha National Park for animal viewings is the dry season, from June to October. 

Kim in front of the safari vehicles

If you are into bird watching, or want to see Arusha National Park at its most lush, then the wet season, from November to May is a good time to come. 

If you are here in the period from December to February, you will get the clearest skies and this is the best time to get a view of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru.

The Final Word…Arusha National Park – A Little Bit Of Everything

Arusha National Park was our first game drive on our ten day Tanzanian Safari adventure, and we were not disappointed. 

Even though the park is relatively small and doesn’t possess the allure that some of the larger Tanzanian parks have, it does offer a little bit of everything.  We liken it to going to a restaurant and ordering an array of appetizers instead of settling into a big entree.  

With its mountain, savannahs, marshy wetlands, lakes, woodlands, rainforest and its very own crater, Arusha National Park has a lot to offer.

While you won’t see Rhinos and Lions here, you will see pretty much all of the other popular African safari animals and you can do it all within a 45-minute drive of your Arusha hotel or the Kilimanjaro Airport.

If you only have one day to spend on safari, then make sure to put Arusha National Park on your bucket list!

Our selfie in Arusha National Park