Stopovers are sometimes unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be confined to your hotel with Sky News on repeat and a room service burger for company. Arusha is the gateway to Tanzania’s legendary northern safari circuit and chances are, you’ll find yourself here at some stage on your bush adventure. It might not be as sophisticated as some of the larger cities in East Africa, but we rather like the dusty town with its colourful markets, vibrant stalls and hidden oases. Here’s what we would do with 24 hours in Arusha…
Breakfast at Rivertrees
Kick off your day in Arusha with a cup of the good stuff and a bite to eat at Rivertrees. The sprawling grounds were once an elegant coffee plantation and the estate takes great pride in serving rich brews grown locally in the volcanic soils. Before breakfast, potter around the pretty gardens and watch the birds flittering by or meander down to the stream and enjoy your coffee accompanied by the gentle burbling of the water…
Visit Lake Duluti
After breakfast, escape to Lake Duluti, a little-known gem in the foothills of Mount Meru. An ancient, volcanic crater, the lake is surrounded by plush forests and rocky escarpments that attract reptiles, water birds and land birds from near and far. Book a guide and meander around the forest canopy, spotting wildlife and admiring the views of Kilimanjaro in the distance as you go, or glide across the glassy surface of the water in a canoe and see how many birds you can tick off your list.
Stop for lunch at Arusha Coffee Lodge
Hop in the car and drive through town to Arusha Coffee Lodge for lunch. A working coffee estate, there are no less than three restaurants dotted around the emerald plants. Tickle your tastebuds with a three-course feast in the elegant Plantation House, grab a sandwich and a cold drink in the chilled-out café, or find a shady spot in the garden for a picnic.
If you can’t quite bring yourself to leave, pop in to Shanga Shangaa, a wonderful organization in the grounds of the lodge that employs local people with disabilities to create beautiful pieces of jewellery, glassware and artwork, or embark on a ‘Bean to Cup’ coffee tour and discover how the humble beans are turned into world-class coffee.
Explore the town
After lunch, head into the centre of town and discover what makes Arusha tick. First on the list is the Tanzanite Experience, a state-of-the-art museum that illustrates the origins of this rare turquoise gemstone and its history. Learn everything you need to know about Tanzania’s history, geography, flora and fauna in the Natural History Museum, then get your shopping fix at the colourful Maasai market, a one-stop shop for beautiful handicrafts made by local artisans. If you’ve got time to spare, add the Cultural Heritage Centre to your list too and delve into the life and history of Tanzania’s 120-plus cultural groups.
Some light retail therapy…
A favourite in our 24 hours in Arusha guide is a visit to Sidai Designs, located in a quiet, leafy courtyard just off the main road. The fair-trade projects empower Maasai women through design-led craft and provides a space for the ladies to drop in, bead, and chat to friends. The stunning accessories are inspired by traditional Maasai jewellery and the designs are breathtaking in their intricacy. Take a tour of the workshop, join a beading class and create your own piece, or simply shop till you drop – or until your suitcase can’t take any more!
Dine at Machweo Wellness Retreat
End your day in Arusha the gourmet way at Machweo Wellness Retreat. Owned by Dirk and Axel Janssens, two food-loving Belgian cousins, the open-air restaurant at the boutique hotel is considered one the finest in Arusha, with dishes to rival even the best in Europe! Expect vibrant local flavours (Chef Axel scours the veggie markets every morning and buys herbs from neighbouring farms) mixed with a touch of Belgian refinery – and make sure you get there early enough to enjoy the exquisite views across the Monduli Mountains.
Where to stay?
If you’re departing from Kilimanjaro airport:
Machweo Wellness Retreat
Perched high up on a ridge of very luscious-looking tropical vegetation, this boutique bolthole has views across the Maasai Steppe to the Monduli Mountains that seem to last forever. The lodge is within easy reach of the international airport, as is sister hotel Onsea House (which is just as chic), allowing you to dodge the traffic in the morning.
Rivertrees Country Inn
This mid-sized, short-stay lodge is set on the banks of the Usa River, just east of Arusha town. On a clear day, travellers staying at this large property can see distant Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro from the inn and its lovely, colour-filled gardens.
If you’re flying out of Arusha airport:
Legendary Arusha Lodge
It’s a bit of a drive to this beautiful lodge but you’ll be conveniently close to the tiny airport in the morning and when you arrive in the luscious gardens, inhale the scent of frangipani and fall into sheets softer than a cloud of cotton wool, you’ll forget all about the bumpy roads…
Arusha Coffee Lodge
As the name suggests, coffee is a running theme at the colonial-style Arusha Coffee Lodge, nestled as it is into the lush emerald bushes of Tanzania’s largest plantation. Radiating warmth and charm, this is an elegant and relaxing stopover choice and possibly the freshest cup of coffee you will ever taste.