For many, a trip to East Africa would be incomplete without a visit to the region’s heavyweight attractions; the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Mount Kilimanjaro. And, having visited those sites back in 2005, I couldn’t agree more.
Ever since then, Tanzania has returned to me in dreams, those of the day and of the night, and I knew I had to go back there with my partner. Only this time, I wanted to see more of the country and less of the flocks of tourists that have become as enchanted by this place as I have.
We could have opted to fly into Kilimanjaro with KLM from Amsterdam, but being based in London we decided to fly to Cape Town with British Airways, which was a long journey of around 11.5 hours but saved us a tiresome stop over midway. Neither of us had spent time in Cape Town before, so we had rented a luxury villa in Bantry Bay overlooking Western Cape Province, a beautiful rocky shoreline.
Two days in Cape Town will leave you pressed for time, so we decided to head straight out to see what the city had to offer. We had downloaded an app though the Cape Town Tourism Board which directs you around the many sites of the city and tells you about nearby attractions when you approach them. The app includes many different types of attractions from museums, shopping centres and natural attractions and it features a search and filter function so you can tailor make your own itinerary. We walked past The Company’s Garden, which during the colonial times acted as a supply centre for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ships. Dotted around the garden are several of the city’s most notable museums; the Iziko South African Museum with its 1.5 million piece collection of items ranging from fossils and Stone Age tools to modern clothing and artefacts. Just around the corner lies the South African National Gallery with notable pieces of art and a large collection of resistance art. After spending the whole day in town, our villa was the perfect retreat in which to relax and soak in all the impressions.
After two days in Cape Town we flew to Nairobi International Airport and from there to Kilimanjaro International Airport. The connections were smooth and the flights comfortable. A taxi ride from the airport into Arusha is about USD50, but many airlines have free or cheap shuttle services into the city which is located around 60 kilometres away.
The last time we had been to Arusha we only stayed one day as a stopover before heading to start a safari to The Serengeti. The hotel at that time was pleasant, but since we were staying for three days this time before heading out to one of Tanzania’s lesser known national parks, Arusha National Park – we decided to find something a bit more comfortable and opted for Arusha Safari Lodge just outside the city centre. The place is made up of cosy bungalows at the foot Mount Meru and with stunning views over Mount Kilimanjaro and the owners, Rebecca and her husband Alex, who is also the chef, did everything in their power to make our stay as comfortable as possible.
The main mode of transport around Arusha is daladala, a minibus service which runs all over town for next to nothing; the fixed price for any route is USD0.2. The trips are not for the faint hearted and for those wanting a more relaxed experience Arusha is also full of normal taxis which are also very affordable. Because most tourists only stay in Arusha for one night before heading out on the safaris, the town doesn’t have much in terms of conventional tourist attractions. We visited the market in the city centre (one can’t really miss it) and found everything on sale there from beautiful dyed garments and clothing to fresh produce and hand-beaded jewellery made by Maasai women.
National Park Adventure
To get off the beaten track, we had decided to visit a lesser known national park, Arusha National Park. The park is approximately 552 square kilometres and comprised within it both the famous Ngorongoro Crater and Africa’s fourth largest mountain, Mount Meru. It is one of the most diverse parks in Tanzania, both when it comes to the variety of animals and ecosystems.
Once inside the gate we were welcomed by montane forest where blue monkeys and exotic birds such as turacos and trogons vied for our attention. Further north, the climate changed and grassy hills appeared, surrounding the Momela Lakes which are famous for their many waterfowl and, when the season permits, thousands of pink flamingos. The lakes are also visited by larger animals such as giraffes and zebras and on the day we visited we even saw a few hyenas drinking from one of the lakes.
We visited Arusha National Park in January, which is when the views of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro are the best, but the park is open year round and Mount Meru can be climbed during the majority of the year, between June to February. January is one of the hottest months to visit Tanzania, and although it wasn’t actually that hot when we were there, we had decided before we left home to stay in one of the lodges in the park. The Hatari Lodge overlooks the Momela meadow and was just what we needed after a long day of trekking. We especially enjoyed the many terraces and the viewing platform from where we saw our first ever leopard, lurking in the distance. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful time in Tanzania!
There a few useful virtual additions to include as part of a trip to this part of South Africa, as well as some physical attractions to explore once you arrive. Here are some tips and links.
- Don’t miss out in Cape Town and get the walking app from the Cape Town Tourism Board. http://www.capetown.travel/content/landing/walkingtour
- Make sure to visit Miller’s Thumb in Cape Town for fresh local seafood, prepared with love. http://www.capetown.travel/content/landing/walkingtour
- Arusha isn’t known for its culinary talents, yet Khan’s BBQ on Mosque Street is a highlight. Make sure to try the beef kebabs and don’t be afraid to try all the sauces – Khan will be pleased if you do.
- Hatari Lodge is one of two lodges in Arusha National Park and gets points for its location overlooking the Momela meadows. http://www.hatarilodge.de/index.php