Most travellers to Arusha use it as a jumping off point to visit famous safari destinations such as the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, or Lake Manyara National Park. However, the town of Arusha itself has a lot to do. So, if you are looking to break up your safari experience or find yourself with a few days to spend in Arusha, here are 5 things to do:
I’m pretty open about the fact that eating is one of my absolute favourite travel activities, so I highly recommend checking out some of the cafes and restaurants in Arusha. They sell a mix of local and international food – personally I’m always more partial to the local cuisine, but we all crave some home favourites sometimes! I highly recommend trying the national dish of Ugali, a type of dough made from cornmeal (common in most of East Africa) and usually served with some kind of meat or vegetable curry. Some places to eat in Arusha include:
- Fifi’s – a comfortable place perfect for brunch or breakfast, located on Themi’s Road. They have great coffee and a range of baked goods. Some nights they hold quiz nights, which are lots of fun and a great way to meet new people. Free wifi.
- Universal Classic Restaurant – for a great selection of local foods, try this one, located on Swahili Road. It’s not fancy, but it serves all of your classic Tanzanian staples like ugali, rice pilaf and various curries.
- Khan’s Barbecue – for a true African experience, try Khan’s. By day it is a mechanic’s shop, by night it is a popular roadside restaurant that is popular amongst tourists and locals. Family run, and delicious.
2: Learn about Tanzanite
Rarer than diamonds, Tanzanite is a beautiful blue stone that is (as its name suggests), native to Tanzania. Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal available worldwide, because the vast majority of it has been purchased by the jewellery store Tiffany’s. That said, what is not owned by Tiffany’s, tends to be in Tanzania.
As a result, there are many jewellers and museums all over Tanzania devoted to Tanzanite. There are a couple in Arusha, where you can inspect enormous stones (don’t drop them!) and even buy some (I expect they’ll be smaller). Don’t do what I did and go after a night of drinking at Tanzania’s Snake Park. Trying not to throw up while holding onto a $25,000 gemstone under a bright light is not something I would recommend. Try the Tanzanite Experience.
3: Shop ‘Til You Drop
After an amazing experience on safari in Tanzania, you’ll probably want to grab some souvenirs. Arusha is a great place to find beautiful momentos of your African safari experience. Within Arusha, you will find heaps of traditional arts and crafts, which make great gifts and souvenirs. Expect to haggle, but I personally don’t haggle too hard. If you can afford to fly to Tanzania for a safari, I really don’t think you need to pulverise every last cent out of local traders. I’ll get off my soap box now – my favourite market is:
- Central Market, between Sokaine and Somali Roads. This is a great market with a fun and busy atmosphere, where you can expect to buy great souvenirs such as Masaai jewellery and carvings. This is also a market for locals, so you’ll see lots of cows and sheep!
Some of my favourite markets in Arusha are social enterprises that help disadvantaged groups (such as women or people with disabilities) to earn an income to support their families. They aren’t the cheapest souvenirs you will find, but they give back to the local community and you’ll feel good every time you look at them!
- Masaai Women Fair Trade Centre, on Simeon Road supports local women who make beautiful arts and crafts. My personal favourite were the lovely beads and other jewellery. I adore all of the jewellery I bought in Africa!
- Shanga, on Dodoma Road, employs many people with disabilities from in and around Arusha. It started off making beautiful beaded jewellery, and has today expanded to sell lots of goods including jewellery and homewares.
4: Experience Arusha’s nightlife
Arusha might not be as well known for its nightlife as Berlin or Bangkok, but it is still a lot of fun to party in this laidback town. With so many travellers and locals, there are lots of great spots to stay out late and have a few beverages. Via Via is one popular spot, especially beloved on Thursday nights when they have free live music. Be sure to try a “Kili”, Tanzania’s national beer which is actually pretty good!
My personal favourite, though, was Ma’s Bar at Snake Park. This bar is a Arusha institution, and probably one of my favourite bars I’ve ever found on my travels. Littered with momentos left behind from travellers all over the world, it really makes you feel like an intrepid traveller to have a drink here and chat with other travellers – most of them travelling overland. The party goes on and on, until eventually Ma grows tired of the rabble and starts dishing out “Ma’s Revenge”, a free shot designed to knock you out and send you off to bed. A great place to make friends and share stories. By day you can also check out the snakes!
5: The Cultural Heritage Centre
Although it wasn’t my favourite place to shop, this museum/shop/cafe is a great place to visit and spend a couple of hours. My favourite part of the experience was the mask displays. I really love looking at scary masks from different cultures, and those in Arusha did not disappoint. You can also see other arts and crafts such as wood carvings, jewellery and tanzanite.
The cafe here is really nice, serving various snacks and with free wi-fi. When we attended, it was the first wifi I’d had in days, so just sitting with an ice coffee and catching up with those back home was great. If you’re into antiques, The Cultural Heritage Centre is probably the best place to buy actual, genuine antiques – although they’ll set you back. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for something cool and don’t really care about it’s authenticity, I’d grab your souvenirs from one of the places listed in #3.