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Arusha is hard to avoid on any trip to Tanzania, and fortunately, no one would want to: with a perfect climate year-round, friendly locals, easy access to its stunning natural surroundings, and a vibrant, diverse nightlife, you may never want to leave. Those who do, though, will be richly rewarded. Just outside the city lie Mount Meru, Mount Kilimanjaro, Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and a slew of traditional villages that you can visit through a guide or a “cultural tourism” program.
Tourists generally stay in Uzunguni, known to locals as “White People District,” and although the best accommodations are here, staying elsewhere may provide a more authentic experience of the city. The best thing to do, though, is to take advantage of the town’s gorgeous sur
roundings. If Kilimanjaro is beyond your skill level, consider climbing Mount Meru or a hike in one of the nearby national parks.
The Top 8: What to Do in Arusha
1. Mount Meru:
A good alternative to Mount Kilimanjaro, Meru, the second-highest mountain in Tanzania, can be climbed by climbers with very little experience, and offers spectacular views of Arusha and the surrounding countryside. Fairly deserted by tourists, it takes two days to reach the summit, and rental facilities are limited, so bring a warm sleeping bag and tent.
2. Via Via:
This café, located at the Natural History Museum, is an extraordinarily popular social space, where expats mingle with locals and enjoy live music, drinks, and dancing during the evening.
Although you are better off buying art and handicrafts in the villages or in one of Arusha’s upmarket specialty shops, the city’s open-air markets are worth visiting for the experience alone. Clothing, knickknacks, food, books, and electronics can all be had here, often sold by extremely aggressive vendors. The biggest and best market is at Ngarantoni on Thursday and Sunday.
4. Nane Nane:
This annual agricultural show attracts thousands to Arusha every August 8th; farmers use it as an opportunity to sell animals and crops, as well as exchange expertise and enjoy music and dancing.
5. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda:
Housed in the center of town, the trials of those responsible for the genocide during Rwanda’s civil war have been in progress since 1994. The hearings are free and open to the public on certain days of the week. Visitors can watch the proceedings from behind glass and headphones translate everything into a variety of languages. You must bring your passport.
6. Declaration and Natural History Museums:
Even by African standards, Arusha is relatively light on museums, but the Declaration Museum and Natural History Museums are good picks for those interested in learning some background about the city. The Declaration Museum hosts several displays about the history of Tanzania since independence. The Natural History Museum has several fossils and the popular café Via Via in the back of its grounds.
7. Masai Tours:
Although some may be uncomfortable with the voyeuristic elements of these guided tours of outlying villages, there is no better way to learn about the lives and customs of the Masai and Meru ethnic groups, who are very proud of their culture and traditions. Locals, who also serve as interpreters, usually lead tours. Roy Safaris offers excursions out of Arusha.
8. Century Cinema:
This cinema, part of a modern shopping complex, shows mostly Western films, and offers a break from the organized chaos of Arusha. The shopping area is a good place to observe Arusha’s wealthier set, if that’s your thing, and also offers several good restaurants.
When to Go
Although Arusha itself can be visited year round, the best time is from June to October, during the dry Tanzanian winter. If you want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, it might be wise to visit during the off-season, between December and March—temperatures in the rest of the country will be scorching, but the mountain will be slightly warmer.