Tucked at the foot of Mount Meru, the town of Arusha is the first stop on the northern safari circuit and is the undisputed safari capital of East Africa. The streets of this vibrant town are filled with 4x4 game viewing vehicles criss-crossing the potholed roads. Maasai warriors in full regalia walk around, mingling with tourists in crisp khaki, fresh off the plane from Europe or the United States.
If you're flying in on a pre-organized safari, you are unlikely to spend much time in Arusha, as your hosts will whisk you through on the way to one of the great game parks. This is a pity, because Arusha is the kind of place where you can get a real sense of what modern Africa is all about.
At the nearby International Conference Centre, some of the most important peace treaties and international agreements in modern African history have been signed. The Rwandan war crimes tribunals are currently taking place here, as have been several attempts to broker peace in the Great Lakes States.
The curio markets crammed between the Clock Tower and India Road are filled with high quality crafts and are a great deal cheaper than the purpose-built curio shops outside of town to which most tour guides take you. A friendly warning - beware of pickpockets in the busy streets.
For independent travellers, the offices of the National Parks authority in the International Conference Centre is a good place to pick up literature and maps and to find out details of entry to the parks. The coffee-growing town of Moshi is the nearest town to the trailheads on Kilimanjaro, although most travellers do their outfitting and organising in Arusha.
For birders, anglers and primate lovers with a bit of time on their hands, Lake Duluti, on the Moshi road, is one of Africa's hidden gems. There's a campsite and small, rudimentary pub and it is a classic place to while away a lazy afternoon.
Arusha National Park
Just 32 km away from the town of Arusha is the Arusha National Park which was described by Sir Julian Huxley as ‘a gem amongst parks’. It consists of three spectacular features, the Momela Lakes, Mount Meru and the Ngurdoto Crater. On clear days maginificent views of Mount Kilimanjaro can be seen from almost any part of the park. The vegetation and wildlife varies with the topography, which ranges from forest to swamp. The park is famous for its 575 species of birdlife, both migrant and resident and black and white colobus monkey - the only place they may be seen on the Northern Circuit. Elephant are rare and lion absent altogether, but other animals frequently seen in the par are baboon, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, hyaena, warthog, zebra and a wide variety of antelope species including dik dik and waterbuck.
Tourist attractions include canoe safaris on the Momela Lakes and walking safaris around the rim of the Ngurudoto Crater.
The Momela Lakes are situated inside the Arusha National Park and are made up of seven lakes, all of whom are fed by underground water sources. Each lake has a different type of algae growth, resulting in uniquely different coloured lakes. Because these lakes are alkaline, the water is not utilized by animals for drinking, but they do however attract a wide variety of African bird life, in particular flamingos.
The world's highest standalone mountain is an amazing sight to behold from up close. On a clear day, it can be seen from over 300 km (190 miles) away and its eye-catching, snow-capped peak is usually hidden from view by a blanket of clouds. What not many people know is that Kilimanjaro is remarkably easy to climb, requiring only basic levels of fitness. The trek up the mountain usually takes about five days and routes pass through various habitats, including rain forest and a glacier on top. It is an unforgettable experience to stand on the roof of Africa, over 5 800 m (19 000 feet) above sea level and gaze out over the plains below.
Mount Kilimanjaro is truly a fascinating adventure.