There are several reasons you may find yourself wanting to know about some things to do in Arusha. There is a lot to do in this city, as it is a nice mix of busy Dar es Saalam and relaxed Moshi. This many-sided city is the place to start a safari trek through Arusha National Park, prepare to hike up Mount Meru or catching a quick flight to Zanzibar to soak up the island life. Question is what to do while waiting for these once in a lifetime adventures to start? Hang out time in between can be spent enjoying some local daily life or exploring nature’s gifts. These activities give you a chance to see unique features of Tanzania.
Getting Around Arusha
The easiest, cheapest, and most prevalent way to travel around Arusha is using the dala dalas. Dala dalas are small shuttles, with interesting and colorful decals, that transport the residents of Arusha down the main streets of the city. They run from early morning until late at night, but I wouldn’t suggest riding after night fall. Most rides are under 1000 Tsh. It is a fun way to get up close and personal with the locals. They are always packed with riders and I’ve had great conversations while being smushed onto a bench riding through the busy streets. Every place mentioned in this article is accessible using dala dalas, except Themis Falls. They will stop any time along the route, just get the attention of the guy who collects, “conda”, the money, and tell him you want to get off. Taxis are also available, and drivers are willing to negotiate for reasonable price prior to the trip. Only use taxis with white license plates, as they are registered with the government and will be safer.
Downtown Arusha Sightseeing
A romp through Arusha must start at Kilombero. That’s the name of Arusha’s equivalent to Grand Central Station. You can take a dala dala, taxi or shuttle from where ever you are. This is the central meeting area for all the dala dala’s routes. It’s a large gated field that the dala dalas drive through to drop off and pick up riders. You can catch any dala dala heading in any direction. I always looked for a guy who seemed to understand the madness, told him where I wanted to go and I was always lead to the correct dala dala. This area is shared with an open air market frequented by locals. Wandering through, I liked to smell the sweet pineapples, roasted corn and sweet potatoes. Pick up a treat and exit the grounds on the South side, onto Sokoine Road, and head East. After a few blocks you will encounter a roundabout with a visible landmark of the clock tower. This is where Tanzanite Experience, Africafe, other restaurants, small shops, and Masai Market are located.
I was delighted to learn about Tanzanite. This is a rare gem found only in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Tanzanite Experience offers a free thing to do in Arusha. Enjoy a museum tour and shopping experience catered around the unique story of the Tanzanite gem. The stones are acquired locally and through ethical means, making them a wonderful and significant treasure to take back home. I’m hoping to get one from my future husband.
Places To Eat In Arusha
After exploring the Tanzanite museum you may want to get a bite to eat at the Africafe. Here you will find wonderful treats and amazing local grown specialty coffee drinks. Around the clock tower area are several restaurants where I enjoyed many savory local dishes. Follow your nose and the crowds to find a tasty local spots for a quick bite.
Souvenir Shopping In Arusha
Before leaving this area, you must check out the Masai Market. Every time I went I had a memorable experience. Be prepared to bargain and negotiate for those interesting souvenirs. To get there from the clock tower roundabout, take Fire Road about 3 blocks and the entrance is on the main road. Each vendor has their own stall, and although some items repeat in many stalls, each seller has at least one item that you won’t find anywhere else. The stall owners are very excited to receive tourist and you will be greeted with friendly Swahili calls for your attention. “Rafiki” = friend, “Dada” = sister, or “Kaka” = brother. To get the best deals buy several items from one vendor. You can even ask for an item from another stall and they will work a deal to get you exactly what you are looking for.
After the excitement of Masai Market it’s a good time to head back toward Kilomberu, to catch a dala dala, for a relaxed lunch and feast for the eyes at the art displays at the Cultural Heritage Centre.
Before entering Kilombero, across Sokoine Road from Kilombero is an area they call Muzungu square. Its where there is a concentration of foods, services, and gifts that mostly appeal to tourists. Mexican, Greek, American and Italian fares can be found here. Money exchange, photo printing, public washrooms, and internet cafes are all located in this secure and clean compound. There is also a Nakumatt, a super market that contains just about anything you might need. A taxi stand is located just outside of Nakumatt, if you prefer to take a taxi to the Cultural Heritage Centre or another destination.
The Cultural Heritage Centre is the place to see Tanzanian culture through art and artifacts. Beautiful exhibits tell the past and present stories of Tanzania and its people. There are lots of items for sale from the local artist, giving you the opportunity to contribute to the ever growing artistic expression you will find throughout the country. The restaurant serves some of the best food in Arusha, offering both buffet and menu dining options. The food here is outstanding and is another way to experience local culture.
That’s a full day of shopping and experiencing lots of culture. Next day is all about the hidden nature of Arusha.
Nightlife in Arusha
If you would like some nightlife action, there are several place to go to, depending on the night, different activities take place at different venues. Muzungu square has a sports bar, a great place to go to catch up on your home teams. There is also a salsa night at the Mexican restaurant, sometimes bringing international dancers for a show and lessons. Outside of Muzungu Square three night clubs seem to be pretty popular, offering a mixes of karaoke, hip hop dance music, live local music, ladies night and even big screen movie parties. It all depends on day and season for these activities. Ask around or contact these clubs Via Via, Triple A, and Blue Heron.
Rejuvenate Just Outside Arusha
I would recommend a full day in any of the following places, to fully enjoy the unique nature of each place.
Themi Falls Leisure Park is located downstream, on one of the creeks flowing from Mount Meru. The park showcases tranquil beauty, with colorful gardens of indigenous plants and flowers. You can enjoy hiking trails thru the lush green forest and river beds, always coming across picturesque views. Make your way toward the waterfall and enjoy the hidden treasure. There is also a restaurant and bar on property, after the trek back to refresh and experience local foods and drinks.
Lake Duluti: A short ten minute dala dala ride East of Arusha, you will find the beautiful Lake Duluti. It’s a perfect place to canoe and take a nature walk. Lake Duluti Lodge has a wonderful restaurant and lounge for lunch. The lake is very peaceful and offers several ways to enjoy its beauty. Renting a canoe and paddling around the lake can be one to two hours or complete serenity. The area also has trails that border the lake and allow for beautiful views.
Arusha is also the gate way to Tanzania’s ancient national parks. You can embark on a day trip through the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera, where I saw wildebeest, zebra, ostriches, and lions. The views from the top of the crater are awe inspiring. Even a short day trip to Arusha National Park is great if you want to get up close with giraffes, warthogs, buffalos on a 2 hour walk through the bush.