The most accessible wildlife destination in northern Tanzania, Arusha National Park lies a mere 45 minutes’ drive from the eponymous town, and it’s even closer to the many lodges in the vicinity of Tengeru and Usa River, making it an easy target for a half- or full-day trip at the start of a safari. Despite this, the park remains somewhat neglected by the safari industry, largely because it offers limited possibitities to see the so-called “Big Five”. The one perceived failing aside, however it is quite an extraordinary conservation area. Eastablished in 1960 and recently extended from 137 km2 to 542 km2, it is dominated by mount Meru, which rises on the western boundary to an altitude of 4,566 m, making it Africa’s fifth-highest massif and a popular goal for dedicated hikers. For non-hikers, a cluster of attractive lakes can be explored by road or on organised canoe trips, with stirring views of Kilimanjaro looming large on the eastern skyline, while the spectacular forest-swathed Ngurdoto Crater is an intact caldera reminiscent of a smaller version of Ngorongoro.


Despite its relatively small size, Arusha National Park incorporates a diversity of habitats reflecting its wide altitudinal variations. Lower-lying areas suport a cover of moist savannah, but the slopes of Mount Meru and Ngurdoto are swathed in evergreen montane rainforest, giving way to alpine moorland at higher altitudes. The forest around Ngurdoto is one of the best places in Tanzania to see forest primates such as black-and-white colobus and blue monkey. Elsewhere, other common mammals include hippo, giraffe, zebra, buffalo and a waterbuck population intermediate to the Defassa and common race. Look out, too, for pairs of Kirk’s dik-dik, an attractively marked small antelope that seems to be less skittish here than it is elsewhere in the country. Around 200 elephants are more-or-less resident in the park, but they tend to stick to the forest zone of mount Meru, so sighting are relatively infrequent except along the road towards Meru Crater. The only large predators are leopard and spotted hyena. More than 400 bird species have been recorded, including a wide variety of aquatic and forest specialists.

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