Nestled at the foot of Mount Meru, Africa's second highest mountain, and ringed by national parks teeming with wildlife, Arusha is north Tanzania's nature capital. The city is a gateway to thrilling safaris, but it has lots more to offer. There's a lively nightlife scene and a café culture to rival many European cities, as well as street food carts piled high with mouthwatering curries and barbecued treats. Thanks to the area's mild climate, the hills around Arusha make an ideal playground for hikers too.
Look out for hostels in Arusha that serve Tanzanian meals as a way to sample local food – some have a free breakfast too. You can camp in the gardens of an Arusha hostel or spend the night in an eco lodge on a banana farm. Choose a dorm if you want a social experience or strike up conversation on an outdoor terrace. You could even organise a cook-off in a shared kitchen.
The Naura River runs through the centre of Arusha, with Central Market to the west. On the eastern side is Arusha Clock Tower, a historic monument that once marked the centre of the British Empire. Around the clock, you'll find streets lined with craft stalls heaving under the weight of woven fabrics, handmade baskets and beaded jewellery. Local food is best around the city centre but for high-end dining, head to the eastern suburbs. Travellers curious for a glimpse of authentic Tanzania should visit Ngaramtoni Market, a popular Maasai haunt 20 minutes' drive north of town.
The Arusha Declaration Museum is dedicated to the history of colonial Tanzania. You could also join a cultural tourism program to meet the Wa-arusha tribespeople and learn about local traditions or take a tour of the coffee plantations dotted around the lush hills outside the city. Spot candy pink flamingos from the shores of the Momella Lakes (1.5 hours away). Adventurous travellers can hike to the crater of Mount Meru in Arusha National Park for views over Mount Kilimanjaro. For a natural spa experience, drive 1.5 hours to soak in the forest pools of Chemka Hot Springs.
To get to Arusha, fly to Kilimanjaro International Airport and take a taxi from there into the city (1 hour). There are several bus stations in Arusha. Central Bus Station is the main one, a 20-minute walk from the clock tower, with coaches leaving for Dar es Salaam (8-10 hours) and Moshi (2 hours). To get around the city, jump on a dalla-dalla (a shared minibus) or flag down a taxi.