Heading west, less than an hours drive from Arusha town, there is a multi-facetted gem of a park which most visitors just pass with their sights set on the more famed Ngorongoro and Serengeti. This is a great shame, because Arusha National Park offers the opportunity to discover a rich diversity of habitats, wildlife and breathtaking sceneries within the day. It is a true treat for nature lovers who are interested in seeing more than just the Big Five.
Three distinct areas, each associated with different vegetation zones are found within the park.
On the rim of Ngurdoto Crater you stand in a lush montane forest with graceful black and white colobus monkeys
diving between branches with billowing tails. With some luck, you may also catch a glimpse of the red duiker, a rare and shy forest antelope. Below you, the steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo.
Canoeing around the Momela Lakes with their different colours, one with hues of blue, the other in green, is a perfect way to view the bountiful birdlife including, at times, thousands of flamingos. The lakes are surrounded by grassy hills where giraffe with their characteristic lope move between zebra, the normally shy bushbuck and other herbivores. Elephants are rare in the park, and there are no lions or rhinos. Leopards can be seen though, lurking in the undergrowth of the woodland at dusk and dawn.
It is also at these hours that the veil of cloud can lift to reveal an amazing view of the majestic snow-capped peak of Mt.Kilimanjaro to the east and the rugged alpine peaks of Mt Meru which dominate the western horizon.
Mt Meru (4,566 m) is protected by the national park and offers a spectacular 2-3 day hike to its craggy peak. For mountaineering enthusiasts, it can well be used as an ideal high-altitude acclimatization climb before tackling Kilimanjaro.
Starting in the wooded savannah alongside herds of bulky buffalo and inquisitive lanky giraffe, the trekk continues through the dense and humid montane forest. The Spanish moss gives way to giant lobelias as you reach the open heath. The trek along the knife-edge rim of the horseshoe crater is rewarded with breathtaking views of the surroundings - Mt Kilimanjaro, the Momela Lakes and the perfectly formed ash cone below - in all its glory.
Photo by Inge Bolt