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If you're headed to Serengeti National Park or Mount Kilimanjaro, you'll likely find yourself under the silhouette of Africa's second-highest peak, Mount Meru, in Arusha, Tanzania.
Though perhaps not as well-known as Tanzania's blockbuster destinations, Arusha — the nearest town from Kilimanjaro International Airport — is no boring stopover. A good chunk of Arusha's population of 400,000 are expats working in industries such as safari tourism, nonprofits and conservation, imbuing Arusha with an international flair and some of the best of what Tanzania has to offer — especially when it comes to food and design.
EatTanzania might not be the first African country that comes to mind when clients think of coffee, but Arusha is home to several excellent coffee farms that offer farm tours, accommodations, coffee tastings and outdoor dining.
Kimemo Coffee — a favorite served and sold at Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti — was founded by an expat who came to Tanzania to mine diamonds, but decided to transition to "black gold" instead. The family-run operation produces mainly mild-washed arabica beans, which guests can enjoy over a hearty alfresco lunch of prawn burgers or beef lasagna, served with generous views of Mount Meru.
SleepThe Arusha Hotel, a Four Points by Sheraton property, is located right in town, next to the historic Arusha Clock Tower that marks the halfway point between Cairo and Cape Town.
Built in 1894, it's the oldest hotel in Arusha, though you wouldn't know it from first glance. The attractive lobby features light woods and an airy ambiance that would not look out of place in a city such as Los Angeles, while rooms feature Four Points' signature amenities. There's a bar and a pool, but the hotel's real charm lies in its historic roots, best reflected in its second-story terrace, which overlooks the property's lush gardens. (The terrace is also the site of Parachichi Arusha Kitchen, what many call the best Indian food in all of Arusha.)
PlayThere are many places to shop in Arusha, such as a traditional Maasai Market or the sprawling Cultural Heritage arts complex. However, a must-stop that's unique to Arusha is Sidai Designs, a nonprofit that supports Maasai women, who traditionally are not educated, do not make their own wages and are considered the property of men.
Founded by a California woman, Sidai features products — such as earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces and a boma (home) collection — that mix modern Western sensibilities (such as a clean, bright aesthetic and high-quality materials) with traditional Maasai beading techniques. Though products are sold online and at select boutiques in Tanzania (such as Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti) and around the world, the attractive indoor-outdoor Arusha location has the best selection and prices, and gives visitors the chance to meet Sidai's employees — who may decide to take a work break to sing and dance. For those who want to try their own hand at jewelry making, Sidai arranges two-hour beading workshops, too.