Arusha National Park

Image - Arusha National Park

Arusha National Park was described by Sir Julian Huxley as a gem amongst parks. Established in 1960 the Park contained the Ngurdoto Crater and Momella lakes, but in 1967 Mount Meru was made part of the Park.

Covering 137 km sq the Park lies between the peaks of Mountain Kilimanjaro and Meru and ascends from 1500m at Momella to 4566m at the summit of Mount Meru.

On clear days magnificent views of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru can be seen from almost any part of the park. The vegetation and wildlife varies with the topography, which ranges from forest to swamp.

Best time to visit

During the dry season from July-March. The best months to climb Mount Meru are June-Feb (although it sometimes rains in Nov). The best views of Mount Kilimanjaro are from December-February.


The park is famous for over 400 species of birdlife , both migrant and resident, such as red shark, hamerkop, spurwinged goose, herons, woodpecker, grey parrot, secretary bird and many more. The Momela Lakes offer plentiful birdwatching opportunities.


Arusha National Park contains a diverse resident population of herbivores, primates and predators including black and white colobus monkey, baboon, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, leopard, hyena, waterbuck, wart hog and a wide range of antelope species. No lion in the park although you can see leopard if you are lucky. If you wish to walk on the Mount Meru (4566 m) sector of the park through a variety of landscapes, plains, forest moorlands, and a lava desert, it is compulsory to be accompanied by an armed game warden because the animals are wild. From the summit, you will have an impressive view of the crater and 3000 metres below of the eruption cone. The best months to climb are from July to February. It drizzles in November.


It is 25 km East of Arusha, 58 km from Moshi and 35 km from Kilimanjaro International Airport. Take the turning on the right if you are heading towards Arusha and follow the gravel road for about 10 km until you reach the Ngurdoto Gate. It is the nearest National Park to both Arusha and Kilimanjaro International Airport.

Momela Lakes

Momela Lakes are largely fed from under-ground streams and are not very deep. They are alkaline which means they are very salty and animals do not use them for drinking. The lakes contain very few fish but many micro-organisms can grow in the highly alkaline water. Beacuse of their different mineral contents each lake supports a different type of algae growth and this gives each a different colour. No doubt for this reason, bird life also varies from one stretch of water to another, even where the lakes are only separated by a strip of land a few yards wide.

Bird life on the lakes also varies enormously according to the time of year. From October to April the lakes are alive with waterfowl which have migrated down from the northern hemisphere. For the remainder of the year the resident birds have the lakes to themselves. The commonest water bird on the lakes is the little grebe, a small greyish brown bird with a chestnut-red face and throat, with a high pitched trilling call. Also present but in fewer numbers are great crested grebes, recognised by their chestnut and black head-frills and black crown-tufts.

Easily distinguished birds are the flamingos. Lesser flamingos are smaller than the greater flamingo, and their plumage is much pinker. The bill is dark red in the lesser and pink with a black tip in the greater flamingo. Lesser flamingos feed on algae whilst the greater flamingos eat tiny crustaceans which they filter through their bills. These different diets enable the two species to coexist in the same habitat.
In agricultural settlements around Arusha National Park, Egyptian geese often cause damage to newly planted crops like maize.

The routes around the lakes have several observation points and hides and they should be taken in an anticlockwise direction.


The area at the fork of the roads leading to Ngurdoto Gate or Momela Gate is called Serengeti Ndogo The name, which means little Serengeti describes the open grassland and is the only place in the Park where Burchells zebra will be seen. Zebras are usually associated with open plains country and the small population which occurs here has been confined to this area as human settlement around the Park increases.
If you take the road to the right you will arrive at Ngurdoto Gate. There is a small museum here with a good collection of mounted birds common to Arusha National Park. Two roads lead into the Park, the left hand one leads towards Momela and the other to Ngurdoto Crater.

Ngurdoto Forest

Ngurdoto Gate is situated on the edge of Ngurdoto Forest where there are different types of vegetation growing at three separate levels. These are the tall trees, the intermediate shrubs and the grasses and flowering plants at the lower level.

Ngurdoto Crater Rim

The road from Ngurdoto Gate to the crater divides and leads to the northern and southern edges. The left hand road is the steeper and takes you to Leitong, the highest point of the crater rim. The right hand road also leads to observation points and picnic sites. Both roads can be slippery in the wet season when 4-wheel drive is often needed.

From any of the observation points, such as Mikundi Point, the view of the crater, stretching 3 kms from rim to rim, is spectacular. The bottom of the crater is at an altitude of 1474 m and is an ideal place for buffalos with good grazing, permanent water and mud wallows. The crater is in effect a reserve as no one is allowed to go down into it.

The snowy peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, at 5895m is African highest mountain, can often be observed from here. The higher rounded peak is that of Kibo, while the smaller jagged peak of Mawenzi is separated from the main massif by a saddle. Like many of the mountains in this region, Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano.

Leitong at 1853m is the highest point on the rim of the crater, with fine views of the surrounding countryside and the Momela Lakes in the distance. The agricultural settlement which can be seen bordering the Park is a reminder of how vulnerable protected areas in Africa are to increasing human numbers and demand for land.

As the two tracks around the crater do not join up, it is necessary to retrace the route back to Ngurdoto Gate.

Senato Pools, Lake Jembamba and Lake Longil

As you travel from Ngurdoto Gate towards Momela you pass Ngongongare Spring and then reach Lokie Swamp on the left and Senato Pools and Lake Jembamba and Longil on the right. These pools frequently dry out, but when full of water host a variety of waterfowl and are used as drinking places by all kinds of wildlife.

The grassy glades around Lake Longil remain green throughout the year and provide permanent grazing for many animals. This is a good spot to observe animals emerging from the forest in the early morning and in the late afternoon before they retreat. Lake Longil is a beautiful spot and a popular place for a picnic but keep a careful lookout for buffalos. The lake is full of Tilapia fish, a main source of food for fish eagles.

Meru Mountain

The Mt. Meru section of the Park, which lies west of the Ngare Nanyuki road, is entered through a gate opposite the main Momela Gate. The Ngare Nanyuki River runs through a boulder-bed area and crosses the road soon after the gate. If you plan to walk anywhere on the mountain you must be accompanied by an armed Park ranger.


Kitoto is an open space with superb views across the Park and up to the mountain.

From Kitoto you can drive to Miriakamba and the Meru Crater, but the road is very steep and 4-wheel drive is essential. Much more enjoyable is to walk to Jekukumia River and up to the crater. The walk includes some steep gradients and takes about an hour.

As you walk through the forest, after the long rains, you will see red hot pokers Kniphofia thomsoni, in the clearings and the pink flowered balsam, Impatiens papilionacea. For several months after the short rains in November, the beautiful red flowers of the fire-ball lily, Scadoxus multiflorus, can be seen. They are related to the common onion and grow in much the same way.

The track divides and the left path leads to Njeku whilst the other leads to Meru Crater. Njeku means an old woman who has the power of rain making, and a nearby sacred juniper tree was the site of sacrificial ceremonies by the Meru people in times of drought. From Njeku a short walk takes you to an observation point overlooking the magnificent waterfall in the gorge of the Ngare River.

Meru Crater

The walk through the forest ends abruptly as you step out onto the open floor of the Meru Crater. The view of the ash cone and sheer cliff face rising to the summit is spectacular. The cliff rises over 1500 m and is one of the tallest cliff faces in the world.


The Momella Wildlife Lodge and Mount Meru Game Lodge, Tanzanite Hotel in the park offer comfortable accommodation and food. There are several campsites in the park, which have water and toilets and provide firewood. Other places to stay are the Park Rest House and hotels in Arusha. There are two huts for mountain climbers. Because of its close proximity to Arusha, it is an ideal place for a day excursion.

Last Updated on Wednesday 25th November 2009