Onsea House

Onsea House: Our full report

4 bedrooms
Traveller's rating
Excellent (90%) From 27 reviews
All year

Onsea House is a small guest house that opened in 2006 and is rapidly earning a reputation for producing some of the best food in Arusha. Owned and run by the Janssens-Onsea family, cousin Axel Janssens is in charge as experienced Chef-Manager. A renovated house, with only four bedrooms, this lodge offers an extension of the intimate safari experience.

Located in a rural setting, about a 15-minute drive from Arusha and around 30 minutes from Kilimanjaro, it makes for a convenient over night stop in Arusha at the start or end of your safari.

Onsea House has a great atmosphere – you feel as though you are a guest in someone's home. It is relaxed, highly personal and comfortable. The lodge is not overly luxurious, but has a simple understated style that gently blends African and European design.

The main house sits at the top of a steep driveway. At ground level, through wide doors opening out onto the driveway, is the downstairs bar. The bar area houses a pair of huge and very comfortable sofas, a pool table and a long wooden bar with bar stools. There are a variety of cocktails on offer here, as well as local and international beers, a wide variety of cellar wines, champagnes and an array of spirits.

Above this is the outside roof terrace, set with tables and chairs for dining, and a sofa and loungers for just relaxing. From here you can look out across the Maasai steppe and on a clear day you can see Mount Meru – the views are lovely. There is also a small book shelf here, with a number of guide books and coffee table books to flick through.

From the upstairs roof terrace, walk inside to the upstairs bar and lounge, where a pair of vast and comfortable sofas invites you to sit down. Tinga Tinga paintings, wooden carvings, and colourful flower arrangements add an African slant to the décor, whilst tiled floors and clean lines add a European minimalist touch.

Behind the main house is a small garden, with terraced lawns. Here you will find the 'Hippo Pool Banda', or small outside Jacuzzi under a thatch roof. This also acts as a spa area, where you can try a range of treatments costing from around $15 to $30. The spa therapist has to be called in from outside, so Onsea House needs around an hours' notice for a booking. They cannot guarantee that it will always be possible, although they will of course do their best to arrange it.

In the main house, Onsea House also has a glass cabinet selling a small number of gifts and curios. You can also buy Onsea House branded t-shirts as a reminder of your stay.

There are two double bedrooms inside the main house, and a further two rooms in a separate cottage, down the drive and over the track. It is only a short walk (less than the distance from one end of a large hotel to the other), to reach this separate cottage, which sits in its own terraced garden, overlooking Onsea House's swimming pool.

All of the bedrooms are broadly the same, though in terms of space and privacy we slightly preferred the ones in the cottage – as they have the advantage of more communal lounging space, as well as very close proximity to the pool. That said, anyone with slight mobility problems would be better suited to stay in the main house, and avoid the additional stairs.

None of the rooms at Onsea House are overly large or luxurious, but the furnishings are well made and they are all comfortable and spotlessly clean. There are sumptuous four-poster beds with Italian cotton sheets, and wooden writing desks in each room. Each also has bathrobes, pool towels, a digital safe and a hairdryer. We especially liked the fresh roses which were a lovely touch.

The rooms don't have air-conditioning because Arusha generally has a moderate temperature throughout the year. However a mobile air-conditioning unit can be brought in if requested.

The en-suite bathrooms are decorated with cream tiled floors, and white walls. Each has a bath and shower, a flush toilet and a sink. They are quite spacious and bright, and include 'Sanctuary Spa' toiletries.

One of the main reasons to stay at Onsea House is the food, which is making this guesthouse a favourite evening spot with locals and ex-pats. Axel has experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and he specializes in Belgian- and French-influenced food, mixed with traditional Tanzanian flavours.

Our view

Onsea House is a small and personal property. It may not have the most luxurious rooms in Arusha, but when we visited in June 2008 we felt that the atmosphere and food were fantastic. As a result it has rapidly become one of our favourite places to stay in Arusha.


Location: Arusha, Tanzania

Ideal length of stay: 1 night if you are simply passing through Arusha and the beginning or end of your safari. However if you want a more leisurely stay you could easily spend two or three nights here.

Directions: Onsea House is only a 15 - 20 minute drive from Arusha's town centre and it is a 30-minute drive to Kilimanjaro International Airport.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: One of the biggest reasons to stay at Onsea House is the food, which is prepared and cooked by the Michelin-experienced Axel, cousin to Dirk and Inneke. The food is Belgian/French-influenced, and is very tasty!

Onsea House offer a vast continental spread for breakfast. Guests can usually expect a range of breads, cheeses and cold meats. They can also offer the more usual cooked breakfast if requested.

Lunch is very flexible, guests can request what they want depending on what is seasonally available. Guests can usually expect a main course and a desert. When we were last there we had a main course of parrot fish in a light cream sauce, with mashed potato and finely chopped leaks. Our desert was then chocolate fondant. The meal was deliciously light and very tasty – perfect for lunch.

Dinner is a longer and more drawn out affair that can last a few hours, with a number of courses. Guests can usually expect a soup starter, a main course, desert, cake and chocolates with coffee.

With both lunch and dinner, wines are chosen to compliment the meals. With a varied selection from South Africa, Italy and France the wines here are very good. Wine is inclusive during meals.

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Wine with the meals is included, but all other drinks are extra.

Further dining info: Yes.


Attitude towards children: Children are welcome at Onsea House, Dirk and Inneke have a young baby of their own.

Property’s age restrictions: There are no age restrictions.


Power supply: Mains Electricity

Communications: There is mobile phone reception at Onsea House. Guests can also use Onsea's landline phone for calling internationally, there is an extra charge for this. Wireless internet is available in the lounge.

TV & radio: There is satellite TV in the downstairs bar.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: Onsea House have a first aid kit on site. For more serious cases they are linked to the rescue service and are only a short drive from Arusha and a nearby hospital.

Dangerous animals: Low Risk

Security measures: Onsea House have a secure gate and askaris (guards) around the property day and night.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers inside and outside the main areas; most staff are trained to use them.


Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge

Money: There are no exchange facilities here.

Accepted payment on location: You can pay for your bill at Onsea House using US dollars or Tanzanian shillings in cash. You can also use credits cards, though there is a 4% charge for this service.