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Arusha National Park

A Blue monkey in Arusha Park, Tanzania.

Best time to visit: August, September, January, February

Safaris: Upon Request

Activities: Hiking, Game Walking

Accommodation: Adventure Camping

Temperatures:
Day: 5-32° C, 40-90° F
Night: 0-15° C, 32-59° F

This 137 square km. park is located only 60km from the Kilimanjaro International Airport, an easy 40 minute drive from Arusha. The majority of visitors to Tanzania seldom use this delightful little park, the home of Mount Meru; it is more popular with hikers using Mount Meru (14,990 feet) to acclimatize for their Kilimanjaro climb.

However, the Arusha National Park offers more than mountain hiking! The park has three distinct habitat zones that contribute to the amazing variety of wildlife in the area: the lush green swamps surrounded by thick forest in the Ngurdoto Crater, the scenic beauty of the Momela Lakes, each a startlingly different hue, and the chilly alpine-like tundra on Mount Meru.

The remains of a large volcano, the Ngurdoto Crater is a steep sided bowl of lush swamps and riverine forest, home to elephant, buffalo, baboon, reedbuck, colobus monkeys, leopard and duikers. 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.

Descent into the Crater itself is not allowed, in effect creating a sanctuary within a sanctuary and leaving a large area of the park to the wildlife alone. However, driving along the high ridges on the Crater edge provides a stunning view of the forests, glades and animal tracks that abound in this lush habitat.

The seven Momela Lakes are all alkaline, shallow and fed by underground streams. Each lake contains a slightly different mineral content, which supports different algae growths. The results are seven lakes, each with a different color and which different birds and wildlife visit. Blue green algae in Lake Rishateni supports a flamingo population with other lakes providing homes for the common little grebe, African pochard, ibis, heron and egrets of all varieties. Over 380 species of birds have been spotted at the Momela Lakes.

Game Viewing at Ndarakwai in Arusha Park, Tanzania.

The third and final habitat in the Arusha Park is the open alpine heath on the summit of Mount Meru. The lower levels are covered in heather, which gives way to hardy grasses and sedges. Yet even these cannot survive on the barren sands of the Crater rim, which curves along a series of rocky crags and lava boulders to the rocky summit itself. You may be lucky enough to spot lammergeyers, a large, rare bird of prey, floating on the up draughts from the Crater, or a delicate klipspringer bounding over the rocks, but otherwise the beauty of this area is in the scenery rather than the wildlife.

A very rewarding, three or four-day hike in the Arusha National Park is rewarding in itself and also as a delightful alternative to a Kilimanjaro climb.

Copyright Melinda Rees of Eco-resorts

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