Arusha is a typical small, dusty Sub-Saharan African town and that is part of its charm. Set at the foot of Mount Meru, it has bustling markets next to old, rather delapidated colonial buildings interspersed with more modern shops all set on pot-holed roads filled with hooting taxis and crazy drivers. It's hard not to feel the beat of Africa here.
First settled in the 1830's by the Maasai people, the town was conquered by the Germans in the early 1900's, who built the fort (Boma) which still stands. The British took the town during WW1 and it remained in their hands until independence was granted to the then Tanganyika in 1961. In July 2006, Arusha was declared a city by Tanzania. This chequered past adds to the mixture of architecture and culture still found here.
Centre of Africa? The Clock Tower
Slap-bang in the middle of Arusha, is the Clock Tower circle. Built in the 1950's, urban legend has it that this is the central point between Cape Town and Cairo. It's not really, but it's a cool story and an easy meeting point for tourists and locals alike.
There are taxis aplenty in Arusha. Most are unmetered, so be sure to establish a fare before you get in. It's not advisable to walk in Arusha at night and in some areas of town in the day - muggings and pick-pocketing happen here, so leave your valuables at your accommodation. Speak to the Tanzania Tourist Board in Boma Road, or your hosts, to get a feel of where to go and where to avoid.
Nibbles and Wi-Fi
Looking for a spot to catch up on Facebook, send an e-mail to the family back home, and enjoy a cup of coffee and a piece of cake while you're doing it?
Fifi's, Themi Road
Not just a coffee shop, Fifi's has a restaurant too. The baked goodies and fresh bread fill the restaurant's indoor and outdoor areas with mouth-watering aromas.
They offer local and organic fare with wi-fi access, close to the centre of Arusha. Watch out for their quiz nights - a great way to meet people!
Cafe Barrista, Sokoine Road
Close to the Clock Tower, Cafe Barrista offers cheap internet access in their 'internet cafe' section if you're not eating, or free with a meal.
You're guaranteed to find something to nibble on, though, their menu is enormous and covers a wide range of international delicacies - Mexican, Chinese, Burgers, steaks, fish... you name it.
Rumour has it, you should try the pizza!
Africafe, Boma Road
Africafe prides itself on having freshly roasted coffee and freshly baked pies, pastries and cakes. Considering that Arusha is surrounded by coffee plantations, you can't get closer to the source than this!
They produce their own blends of tea and coffee, so this is the place for aficionados.
Hungry As A Hippo?
Tanzania is a land of diverse cultures and, accordingly, cuisines, with the spices of Zanzibar flavouring everything, a big Indian influence, and the inevitable braaied (barbecued) meat - nyama choma - which is served on the street and in restaurants. Arusha has a number of restaurants, but we've picked three of our favourites.
Khan's Barbeque, Market Street
Opened over 25 years' ago by the Khan's (senior), this garage-by-day-restaurant-by-night, is still run by the family - now the four sons. Specialising in home-cooked barbeque and salads, you'll be licking your fingers to get every last bit of their tasty food.
The Fig and Olive, Haile Selassie Road
So you're a fan of Lebanese/Mediterranean food? Or never tried it before? You can, right here in Arusha, at The Fig and Olive.
Delicious food with an outdoor bar and seating in a beautiful garden, this place offers regular quiz nights, live music and a great place to hang out - eating, drinking, and being merry.
The Station TZ, Njiro Road
Mother and daughter team, Joyce and Serena, run this restaurant (and bookshop) from home. It's a little tricky to find, so make sure your taxi driver knows exactly where you're going. The trip is completely worth it for Joyce's delectable home-cooked food.
There's no menu - everything is seasonal and fresh. If you're a fussy eater, call before, to check what's on the menu for the day. They're incredibly obliging and hugely welcoming. It's the kind of place that restores your faith in humanity while filling your belly with delight.
Drinking & Dancing, Arusha-Style
Pubs, clubs, live music and dancing: the nightlife in Arusha offers something to suit everybody.
Le Patio, Haile Selasie Road
Set on a large property, Le Patio offers a restaurant, bar, garden area and dancefloor allowing those who wish to party, a party spot; and those who wish to have a quieter meal, a table away from the noise.
They have DJs and live music on various nights, so check their Facebook page to see what's happening.
Via Via, Boma Road
Situated in the museum gardens, Via Via is an Arusha institution. Thursday nights are live music nights and the party goes on into the wee hours.
Philippe Glauser, general manager of Via Via, has this to say: “Via Via strives to be more than just a café where people eat and drink. Via Via aims to develop culture and bring people together.”
The Lively Lady, Off Sokoine Road
The Lively Lady does its name justice and really becomes lively, especially after 10 PM. It's a little hard to find - down a bit of a dodgy-looking side alley - so don't walk there and make sure your taxi driver knows where he's going.
Once you're there, you'll be greeted with cold beers, cheap-and-cheerful pub grub and a rocking crowd.
Gettin' Cultural & Goin' Shoppin'
Arusha has a number of museums and galleries that chronicle the history of the town and its people and showcase its art. Many of these incorporate fabulous places to buy things to take home to remind you of your safari experience.
Markets: Central and Kilombero Market, Bondeni Street and Sokione Road
Put your haggling pants on for these markets, they’re an absolute necessity. Haggling is expected and if you don’t bargain with traders you’ll be paying inflated prices, so don’t be shy!
You can buy from car parts to fresh fruit to beautiful Maasai beadwork and carvings to fabulous kikoys, cows and sheep! Arusha’s markets are the place to buy gifts for those at home.
Beware of pickpockets.
Shanga, Dodoma Road
Out on the Dodoma Road lies this fantastic centre. Started in 2006 by Saskia Reichsteiner who made necklaces using African beads and fabric, she initially employed a deaf woman to help her. She soon realised the difficulties facing the disabled in Tanzania.
The business grew exponentially and now provides employment to many disabled people. Making environmentally-friendly products – beadwork, clothes, glasswork and jewellery - the centre now boasts the workshop, three boutiques and an open-air restaurant.
Its ethos: “Kindness is a language blind people can see and deaf people can hear.”
Maasai Women Fair Trade Centre, Simeon Road
If you’re looking for beautiful, hand-made crafts – especially beadwork – pop into this little shop in Simeon Road.
Buying things here will mean you’re supporting the women of MWEDO (Maasai Women Development Organisation). Their goal is to empower Tanzanian women through access to education and health.
Cultural Heritage Centre, Arusha-Dodoma Road
This centre, a little out of town, combines a museum, restaurant, coffee shop, spice centre and shops in which to buy art, curios, African antiques, tanzanite and more. You can easily get all the gifts you need to take home for the family here.
Wander around the grounds marvelling at the sculptures before heading in to the spice centre, which doubles as a book shop, filled with enticing aromas.
Don't miss out on the Makonde Museum - a showcase of their masterful carved masks.
The centre has hosted many famous people over its 20 years' of existence, including Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea.
The Old Boma Museum (Fort), Boma Road
The original fort, built by the Germans in the early 1900's, now houses the Natural History Museum. Learn about the colonial history of Arusha and marvel at the huge collection of stuffed animals.
Read up on the archeological history of the area and see beautiful pictures of the diverse array of fauna and flora, before enjoying a cup of tea in the cafe.
The Tanzanite Experience, Blue Plaza, India Street
The beautiful blue-violet gem, Tanzanite, is found only in northern Tanzania. First shown to tailor-prospector Manuel de Souza by Ali Juuyawatu, a Maasai tribesman, the gems were named by Tiffany & Co.'s Henry B. Platt, for the country of their origin and soon became highly sought after.
At The Tanzanite Experience, one can learn the history of this gorgeous, rare gemstone, and buy certified stones and jewellery.
***Please note that Tanzanite One Mining Ltd. was sold in early 2015 and The Tanzanite Experience will be closed until early-to-mid 2015, when it will open under new management.
Meserani Snake Park
Run by BJ and Ma, who are known throughout Africa, especially by the overlanding community, Meserani Snake Park is not just a snake park. Beside the almost 50 species of eastern and southern African snakes to be seen, it also has a Maasai Cultural Museum and curio market and various other fascinating animals, depending on when you're there (they only take in orphaned or injured animals that will not make it in the wild.)
And then there's the bar... A treasure trove of memorabilia left by travellers - t-shirts, bottle tops, bank notes and more adorn the walls and roof of this bar. If only walls could talk, these ones would have a lot to say!
See their Facebook page to check out the latest happenings at the snake park.