A land of plains, lakes and mountains, with a narrow, low-lying coastal belt, Tanzania is East Africa’s largest country and also one of its most diverse. Tanzania is home for more than 100 different ethnic groups, mostly of Bantu origin, each with its own language and customs.
Tanzania has one of the largest and wildest animal populations in the world. Wildebeest, monkey, antelope, lion, cheetah, crocodile, gazelle, and flamingo – you name them. Blessed with some of the world’s largest game reserves, the country also has one of the highest concentrations of elephant, buffalo, hippo, wild dog and chimpanzee.
Its spectacular topography includes The Great Rift Valley, Mt Kilimanjaro and famous parks such as the Serengeti and the wonderful Ngorongoro Crater.
Offshore are idyllic islands with beautiful palm-fringed beaches and turquoise seas that surround pristine coral reefs. The archaeological treasures of Tanzania include hominid fossils, which are more than 300 million years old. Tanzanian music and dance dominates much of East Africa.
Strong in rhythm and renowned for hard-hitting lyrics, the country’s Swahili-based sounds are kept very much alive by a thriving dance-band scene. Nyama choma (barbecued meat) has taken over in a big way, especially in restaurants with attached bars. But on the coast, on Zanzibar and Pemba islands, there’s a decent range of traditional Swahili dishes based on seafood.
Recorded history begins around 1800, when the Masai warrior tribes were migrating from Kenya to Tanzania. It wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century that Arab traders and slaves dared venture into Masai territory in the country’s wild interior. European explorers began arriving in earnest in the mid-19th century, the most famous being Stanley and Livingstone. The famous phrase ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’, stems from the duo’s meeting at Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika.
Tanganyika won independence in 1961 with Julius Nyerere as the country’s first president. Nyerere, whose secret ingredient was radical socialism, gained widespread respect and is seen as one of the most influential leaders Africa has ever had. Zanzibar was stuck for another two years, after which the mainland forged a union comprising Zanzibar and the nearby island of Pemba. Thus Tanzania was born.
There is a wide range of optional activities to make your experience in Tanzania absolutely unforgettable. Some great views can be experienced while floating in a hot-air balloon over the Serengeti. While swimming with dolphins is all the rage on the island of Zanzibar. Snorkelling and scuba diving is equally popular due to the world-class coral reefs off nearby Pemba and Mafia islands.
Lying in a shallow depression at the base of the western wall of the eastern arm of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara typically shimmers in a lilac and gold heat haze, sometimes streaked pink with thousands of flamingos. Backed by a narrow band of forest, it rises to the dramatically sheer red and brown cliffs of the Mto wa Mbu Escarpment. The Park includes not only a substantial portion of the lake and its shores but also large areas of ground-water forest with giant fig and mahogany trees alternating with acacia woodland and open. The name is derived from the Maasai word for the Euphorbia tirucalli bush, which the tribesmen plant as a living stockade to keep their cattle from straying.
Often referred to as ‘the eighth wonder of the world' the Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa's best-known wildlife arenas. A World Heritage Site, it is also one of the largest volcanic craters in the world (almost 20 kilometres wide, 610-760 metres deep and covering a total area of 264 square kilometres). An utterly unique biosphere, the Crater harbours grasslands, swamps, forests, saltpans, a fresh water lake and a glorious variety of birdlife, all enclosed within its towering walls. Due to its high concentration of wildlife, close-range viewing opportunities and striking scenery it is also Tanzania’s most visited destination.
A pristine and largely undiscovered wilderness, the 12,950 square-kilometre Ruaha National Park is Tanzania's second-largest park. An unforgettable landscape, one of the last remaining tracts of the original Africa as it existed millions of years ago, the park is dominated by the Great Ruaha River, from which it takes its name (Ruaha means ‘great'). Wildlife highlights: lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, buffalo, greater and lesser kudu and Grant’s gazelle. Birds: more than 400 species of birds have been recorded.
The spectacular Selous Reserve is the largest expanse of game reserve in Africa. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is four times the size of the Serengeti, home to one third of Tanzania's wildlife and provides sanctuary for the largest concentration of elephants in the world. And yet, despite its unique collection of hippo, buffalo, crocodile and lion, this magnificent ecosystem remains virtually untouched by man. Largely undiscovered, utterly pristine and virtually unvisited, it remains the last wilderness frontier.
The Serengeti, whose Maasai name ‘Siringet' translates as ‘the endless plains', offers unparalleled ornithological opportunities and an unrivalled natural arena wherein the glory and harmony of nature can be appreciated as nowhere else on earth. The vast and sensational Serengeti, covering 14,763 sq km of endlessly rolling savannah plains, is Tanzania’s first-established, largest and most famous park wherein tens of thousands of hoofed animals roam in a constant and unremitting search for the fresh grasslands upon which their survival depends.
Tarangire, named after the Tarangire River which runs through it, is an arid haven, peppered with ancient baobab trees, towering termite mounts, and home to huge herds of elephant. Only 30km from the Rift Valley escarpment, Tarangire falls outside the nutrient-rich volcanic belt and therefore its annual rainfall is very low (550mm). As a result, much of the park is semi-arid, dominated by baobabs, acacias and Doum Palms, often festooned with the nests of African palm swifts. 120 km south-west of Arusha, the greatest concentrations of animals are seen between June and November.
For centuries past, cardamom, clove and cinnamon culled from the fabled spice gardens of the enchanted island of Zanzibar have been prized by sultans and princes alike. Now you can pick them for yourself on a spice tour that takes you from the winding alleys, carved doors and cool courtyards of Stone Town, through the slave caches of the coral bays, past the blue-domed bath-houses of long dead sultans and out onto the silver and blue ribbons of Zanzibar's perfect beaches.
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