Experience a cultural melting pot in Arusha, Tanzania by Heather Hilscher

Arusha, Tanzania is a bustling city that is one of a handful of gateway locations to many local safari adventures, including Serengeti National Park.

Thousands of tourists come to Arusha every year to use the city as an entry and exit point into the country or continent.

However, Arusha is also a city teeming with many different cultural influences and is worth visiting in its own right.


There is a large Indian population which has influenced the cuisine of Arusha. Naan bread is a main staple in the Tanzanian diet. One of the best Indian restaurants can be found in the Impala Hotel. 

There is also a heavy influence by the Chinese who have come to work on Arusha’s road system. One of the best bowls of hot and sour soup can be found at China Dragon.

There are many more choices...Mexican food, Italian, Chinese, and more. In fact, it is quite possible with all the choices catering to a multi-cultural population and tourism it is quite possible  to not to experience true Tanzanian food if one is not intentional about seeking it out. 

The expatriate and tourist community also has affected the economy of Arusha, inflating the price of things that price many goods and services out of the range of your average Tanzanian. The price of most items was consistent to what we are used to paying in our home state of California.


One of the best places to spend that money is at one the Arusha boasts many roadside markets. This is a wonderful place to buy fresh produce.


One of our favorite local purchases were the large creamy avocados that are perfect with a little salt and pepper and fabulous with some sharp cheese on top.

There are also many markets and stores to buy authentic Tanzanian goods, such as baskets, clothing made from Kitange fabric, as well as local favorites, such as sandals fashioned from used automobile tires made by the Maasai.

However, the best items for the price can be found on the roadsides headed towards the tourist destinations.

As you drive out of Arusha to your exotic adventure destination there are some opportunities to invest in the future of Tanzania. The observant traveler will note that the conditions that many Tanzanian live in are less than ideal. There is a large population of orphaned children due to AIDS and other living conditions. The Shalom Centre, right off the A104 Road just past the Arusha Airport, is one of many worthy organizations who are feeding, clothing and educating orphans.

It is well worth the time to stop in and make a donation as well as playing a kick pick-up game of soccer (bring youra bag of deflated soccer balls and you’ll have friends for life).

The people of Tanzania are very friendly and many work in the service industry in some capacity or other and speak a multitude of languages. It’s not unusual for a safari driver to speak three or more languages.

As one would expect for a city that caters to tourism, many of the hotels are in walking distance of downtown and restaurants. However, it is very handy to have a car at your disposal.

There is no organized public transportation system in Arusha. There are, however, many taxis, motorcycles for hire (sometimes you can see three people on the back of one motorcycle!) and seven-passenger mini vans, called a Daladala that can be privately owned and operated or may be owned by an enterprising business person.

However these vans are often clogged with 20 or more people who are literally sitting on each other or hanging out the side. It’s difficult to tell to which destination they are headed and how to extract yourself from the vehicle. It is the cheapest mode of transportation but not what Westernized visitors are used to.

If you are visiting to go on safari, you should employ the services of one of the many transportation companies -- and there are literally hundreds out of Tanzania, Kenya and the surrounding area. It is possible (and advisable) to also have local driving service as part of your larger safari contract. Roy Safaris is our favorite which is conveniently located to the charming boutique hotel, The African Tulip. Both establishments are owned by the same person.

Speaking of The Tulip, this is our favorite place to relax and recover from international flights, long days in the Land Rover, get on their Wi-Fi and see the sights of Arusha.

Whether you are heading out to Ngorongoro crater to view wildlife, traveling to Tarangire Balloon Camp for a hot air balloon adventure, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or heading to the Serengeti, Arusha will offer you fabulous food, friendly faces and cultural delights to impress the most seasoned traveler.


What to know before you go:


Immunizations & Medications

You will need to get and have proof of immunizations to enter the country of immunizations. Check with the Tanzanian Tourist Board or State Department several months before your plan to travel. Some immunizations must be given on a timed-basis before you travel.

It is highly recommended that you start a course of malaria medication before you travel that you will take during the duration of your trip and likely a few days when you return. If you are unable to take this medication (pregnancy, other conditions), you will need to plan to bring some serious-strength insect repellent to apply continuously.


Passport and Country Visa

In addition to your country issued passport, you will need a tourist visit visa to enter Tanzania. Allow plenty of time to send in your passport, visa application, and appropriate fees in order to receive it back for travel.

It is highly recommended that you start a course of malaria medication before you travel that you will take during the duration of your trip and likely a few days when you return. If you are unable to take this medication (pregnancy, other conditions), you will need to plan to bring some serious-strength insect repellent to apply continuously.


The Tanzanian shilling is the currency of the country. You should make sure to bring pristine dollar bills in the denomination of 100’s, 20’s for currency exchange and 5’s and 1’s for tipping. You will get a better rate of exchange with pristine and the newer multi-colored bills featuring the larger faces on the front side.. Many of the hotels offer currency changing service, as well as many establishments in the city. It is also possible to pre-pay for hotels, services before you travel via credit card or wire transfer. Using Visa or Mastercard is also very easy to use in Arusha -- just make sure you have let your bank and credit card companies know that you will be traveling so they don’t assume your card or identity has been stolen. 




Heather Hilscher has visited Arusha, Tanzania twice and would happily move there with her husband and four children one day. She has traveled within Tanzania and Kenya and other destinations in the world. An English major, she puts her degree to work homeschooling her kids and writing on her blog, Mosaic Momma. You can read about her last trip to Arusha and subsequent adventures here and follow on Facebook here.