Arusha National Park
Arusha National Park can be reached by means of an easy 40-minute drive north east from Arusha. Despite this closeness to Arusha, this National Park is probably one of the least visited, making it a wonderful and rewarding off-the beaten-track excursion.
Covering 137 sq km, the Arusha National Park has three major attractions which can all be visited in the course of a day outing.
From the prolific green swamps surrounded by thick forest in the Ngurdoto Crater, up through the tranquil beauty of theMomela Lakes, each a startlingly different shade of blue or green, through to the alpine climate to be found towards the summit of Mount Meru, Arusha National Park is a little discovered jewel in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.
On entering the park, you will become enveloped by the thick highland forests that surround the 3 km wide Ngurdoto Crater, which is a steep sided bowl with a crater floor of lush swamps. While passing through the forest many visitors stop to search for troupes of rare colubus monkeys playing in the canopy.
The crater with its many visible animal trails, has provided a natural haven to elephant, buffalo, warthog, baboon, reedbuck and duikers as well as birds like hamerkop, spur-winged geese and herons. Mosses, ferns, lichens and orchids thrive in the damp atmosphere of the crater, giving way to huge mahogany, olive and date palm trees on the drier crater walls.
You will then move on through the rolling grassy hills which enclose the peaceful beauty of the shallow Momela Lakes which get their water from underground streams. Due to the varying mineral content of these underground sources, each lake supports a different type of algae growth, resulting in uniquely differently coloured lakes. Because these lakes are alkaline, the water is not utilized by animals for drinking, but they do however attract a wide variety of bird life, and sometimes thousands of flamingos.
Game viewing around the Lakes is at a laid-back and quiet pace. African pochard, ibis, heron, egrets, colourful turacos and trogons, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds.
After this calmness, you will encounter Mount Meru (4,568m) which is the fifth highest mountain in Africa, and one of Africa’s most rewarding climbs. It offers spectacular scenery, and guaranteed wildlife encounters on its forested slopes. Along the lower slopes, paths to rivers and waterfalls make a relaxing day hike for visitors who don’t want to attempt the rather arduous climb.
The summit cone in itself, which features an asymmetric caldera complete with an ash cone in the crater, makes a climb to the summit worthwhile. Climbs should be booked in advance, as an armed park ranger must accompany climbers.
The rocky crags of Mount Meru see a large number of birds of prey and you may be lucky enough to spot lammergeyers, a large, rare bird of prey, floating on the up draughts from the crater.
Passing first through wooded savannah where buffalos and giraffes are frequently encountered, the ascent of Mount Meru leads into varied forests, before reaching high open heath spiked with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, as delicately-hoofed klipspringers mark the climb’s progress.
Although elephant sightings are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions absent altogether, hippo, antelope, blue monkey, klipspringers, leopard, and spotted hyena may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon.