Tanzania…karibu!

Watch mesmerized as thousands of wildebeest and zebra rush by in their frenzied annual migration. Find a perch high up on the snow-capped peak of Africa’s highest mountain and gaze out across the endless plains below. Drift lazily past palm-fringed, sparkling white beaches on turquoise waters in an Arab dhow. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the hustle and bustle of an ancient island town. Join in the pulsating nightlife of a vibrant metropolis. Or stare down into a 610m-deep volcanic crater, surrounded by Africa’s Big Five animals.

Where else but in Tanzania could one find all of this just a few hours’ drive apart? From the moment you step off your plane to be welcomed by the Swahili word ‘karibu!’ you will know that you have arrived in what has truly been Africa’s magnet for travellers since ancient times. The Romans certainly got it wrong: all roads lead to Dar es Salaam. As a one-stop travel destination that encompasses all of the great diversity and variety of Africa, this wonderful East African country is absolutely unsurpassed.

Located in the centre of Africa’s east coast north of Mozambique and south of Kenya, between the warm Indian Ocean and Africa’s Great Lakes region, lies Tanzania… a country focused on the combination of nature, culture and tourism. Some 38% of its land surface has been set aside as protected areas for conservation. Besides being home to Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, there are no fewer than 16 national parks, 29 game reserves and 40 controlled conservation areas including marine reserves.

From among its 51-million people, the country’s cultural variety brings together an ancient Arab heritage from the Arab trading ports along its island-dotted coast, and some 125 ethnic groups and tribes, including the famous Masai warrior tribe, the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers, the Chagga tribe of Kilimanjaro, and the ‘people of the north’, the Sukuma.

With such an eclectic mix, it is no wonder Tanzania offers visitors such a feast of cultural experiences, exquisite cuisines, co-existing religions, and many languages. With more than 100 languages being spoken in Tanzania, it is the most linguistically diverse country in East Africa. Among its indigenous languages are all four of Africa’s language families, namely Bantu, Cushitic, Nilotic, and Khoisan. Swahili and English are most commonly used for tourism, administrative, business, legal, and educational purposes.

The de facto capital and largest city, Dar es Salaam is a pulsating metropolis with a busy river-mouth harbour. The city abounds with markets, shopping malls, older little shops, restaurants, glitzy hotels, pubs and clubs, parks, beaches and everything else the visitor’s heart might desire.

The Regions

It is hard to single out any specific region, place, attraction or experience as a ‘must do’ when visiting Tanzania – they all compete to be at the top of any itinerary. Tanzania is divided into four tourist destinations. Most tourists will be more familiar with the two main tourism regions, the Northern Regions and Eastern Regions. But the two Cinderella regions, Southern and Western, do not stand back an inch for the other two, and offer as many unparalleled and unforgettable experiences. They also offer one the chance of exploring a little off the beaten track, free from the tourist crowds of the other two, and are much more unspoilt.

Within the area known as the Northern Regions, the main centres are Arusha, Moshi and Boma Ng’ombe. The area includes well-known tourist attractions such as Arusha National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Materuni and Kuringe Waterfalls, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro itself, Mount Meru, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli, Serengeti National Park and Tarangire National Park. It is also the country’s most popular region for safaris, with literarily hundreds of safari and tour operators active here.

This is the region where one can watch the annual migration of 1.4-million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands zebra and gazelle, tracked by Africa’s great predators, one of the truly great natural spectacles on earth. The herds move in different directions at different times of the year, depending on rain and grazing conditions, but generally the best time to observe this migration is between July and August when the wildebeest move into Kenya’s Masai Mara crossing the Mara Mara River in large numbers.

The Southern Regions is perhaps less known or popular as a safari destination, but it offers experiences on par with and even better than the safari destinations of the north, which can at times be pretty crowded. Main centres here include the towns of Mtwara on the coast, Matema on Lake Malawi, Masasi, Liwale, Iringa and Nachingwea. Here some of the better known attractions include Kalambo Falls, Kaporogwe Falls, Kijungu Falls, Kiwira River, Kilwa Kisiwani, Kitulo National Park, Lake Ngozi, Lake Malawi, Mbozi Meteorite, Mikindani Bay Marine Reserve, Mikumi National Park, Mnazi Bay-Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park, Mpanga Kipengere Game Reserve, Nyumba Nitu Natural Forest, Ruaha National Park, Selous Game Reserve, and Udzungwa National Park.

The Eastern Regions is dominated by Dar es Salaam and the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia on the Indian Ocean coast. Dodoma is another main town. Some of the major attractions here include the Amboni Caves, Chumbe Island Marine Sanctuary, the city of Dar es Salaam itself, Stone Town on Zanzibar Island, Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve, Mafia Island Marine Park, Maziwe Marine Reserve, Mnemba Island Conservation Area, the town of Morogoro and nearby Uluguru Mountains within the Mikumi national Park, Saadani National Park Tanga Coelacanth Marine Park, and the Usambara Mountains.

Main centres of the Western Regions include Kigoma, Musoma, Mwanza, and Tabora. The area also borders on several lakes of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, such as Lake Rukwa, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi. Some of the better-known attractions here include Gombe National Park, Katavi National Park, Mahale Mountains National Park, Rubondo Island National Park, Saanane Island National Park and Ukerewe Island. This area is perhaps the most underrated of all the tourist regions of Tanzania, while in fact it offers some of the most unspoiled and beautiful scenery, and lovely freshwater bays, beaches and little islands along the lakes.

The Islands

Down on the coast, the islands of Pemba, Mafia and Zanzibar are truly an experience never to be forgotten. The Zanzibar Archipelago is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. Zanzibar, also known as the spice island, is fringed with many kilometres of white sandy beaches, some say the best in the world. The island offers many water-based activities, like sailing, surfing, snorkelling and scuba diving. Chartered diving trips by yacht can be done from here. The capital is Zanzibar City, which includes the ancient Arab trading town of Stone Town, the former capital of the Sultanate of Zanzibar.

The town is home to numerous historical and cultural sites, some dating back to the 15th century, while little shops, restaurants and stalls line the narrow streets.  The culture of the island, also reflected in its old architecture, is a fusion of different cultures from Arabia, Persia, India and the coast of East Africa. While on the island be sure to visit the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park which is a mangrove swamp and is the home for the red colobus monkey. It is also home to 40 species of bird and 50 species of butterfly.

Another of Zanazibar’s famed attractions are the giant, carved wooden doors found in many of the old buildings here. These exquisite doors are not found anywhere else in the world and are quintessentially Zanzibar. The intricate carvings are said to denote the homeowner’s place of origin, profession and economic status.

A darker side to the island’s rich history is reflected in what was the world’s last operating open slave market. The island once was a main slave-trading port in East Africa. The slave trade here was started by the Portuguese and reached its climax with the Arab Omani sultanate before Britain outlawed the trade in 1873. The site of the old slave market can be visited where the Anglican Cathedral now stands, and there is a monument to the slaves that were once so cruelly dispatched around the world from here.

For a shopping and browsing experience second to none, visit the Darajani Market located near the slave market. Looking, feeling, sounding and smelling every bit the bustling Arab bazaar that it is, you will find everything from spices, to pots and pans, clothing, meat, and many other items here.

Billed as the world’s oldest still existing Swahili city, many of the historical landmarks in Stone Town have been fully restored, with some now serving as museums which are open to the public. Other places of interest are the Old Dispensary with its carved wooden balconies, the former home of the sultans known as Beit el-Sahel or the People’s Palace, the Hamamni Persian Baths built in 1888, and the oldest structure in Stone Town, the Old Fort. Zanzibar can be reached by air, landing at the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, and by ferry from Dar es Salaam.

Within the Zanzibar archipelago, Pemba Island is the northernmost island. Some of the best diving waters anywhere along the African coast are to be found here, with excellent crystal-clear visibility revealing the fascinating underwater life. Less populous or visited by tourists, the atmosphere here is more laid back than on Zanzibar. A leftover from the days of the Portuguese is the traditional bullfighting that can still be watched here.

Mafia Island too is a popular choice with snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world. The best months for diving are October to March but the best weather is from May to October. There are some truly magnificent coral reefs and a huge variety of fish to seen here in what is a protected marine reserve. In addition Mafia is also a popular base for deep-sea fishing that includes tuna, marlin, sailfish and other big-game fish.

The National Parks

It is hardly possible to single out any of the many national parks in Tanzania. Each is unique and has so much to offer, from day drives to tented safaris and luxury lodges, with more and a greater variety of wildlife than most other African countries. Larger wildlife here include the Big Five (lions, leopards, black and white rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo) cheetahs, wildebeest, giraffes, zebra, hippos and a large variety of antelopes. Tanzania’s most well-known wildlife attractions are located in the northern part of the country. However, as mentioned, other parts of the country, particularly the south, also have magnificent national parks and game reserves.  

 

The Serengeti National Park is Tanzania’s largest, best-known and most-visited park. It consists mainly of a vast plain dotted with sparsely spread trees, with well over a million animals searching for fresh grazing fields. The best months for wildlife viewing are between December and June. The best time for viewing the annual mass animal migration, depends entirely on the rainfall. Throughout the year the wildebeest and other animals follow a set pattern.

 

After the November rains, in late November and December, the wildebeest herds start arriving on the plains of the Serengeti, where they stay through January, February and March, with most wildebeest calves born around February. They then start to gradually spread west across the plains. At around April they start their great trek north, and by May all of the wildebeest seem to be moving north as they seek fresh grazing and water. Around June the wildebeest migration is often temporarily halted on the south side of the Grumeti River. The animals congregate here and build up into a dense mass of animals before crossing the river en masse.

 

The migration now continues northwards during July and August, often spreading out across a broad front into September, where the Mara Mara River, flowing from Kenya’s adjacent Maasai Mara Game Reserve, again brings them to a stop. Before long the large herds start plunging through the river into Kenya in what is the most spectacular part of the migration. By October they are headed south again, where after the entire migration starts over again.

 

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, located between the Serengeti and Lake Manyara, is home to the famous volcanic Ngorongoro Crater and another one of Tanzania’s more popular wildlife viewing areas. A permanent supply of water in the crater draws many kinds of animals that stay in the area rather than migrating. It is primarily large game and the many bird species that draw visitors here. Another nearby attraction is the Olduvai Gorge, an important archaeological site where ancient human fossils were discovered that have revealed much about early mankind. The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact ancient caldera in the world and is nearly three million years old.

 

In contrast to the Serengeti, Lake Manyara National Park is covered with forests, woodlands, grasslands, and swamps, with more than 60% of the park being covered by water. Lake Manyara is home to thousands of flamingos at certain times of year, while plenty of other diverse bird life is also found here. The park is also well-known for its large population of elephants, the largest concentration of baboons in the world, tree-climbing lions and hippos, all of whi9ch can be viewed at a much closer range than in other parks.

 

Tarangire National Park has one of the highest concentrations of migratory wildlife during the dry season. Another feature of the park is the baobab trees found here. With more than 300 species, the park is also renowned for bird watching. The Selous Game Reserve is the largest game reserve in Africa, coveringt 5% of Tanzania’s total area. However, visitors are confined to the area north of the Rufiji River.

 

Although smaller than most of the other parks, Arusha National Park has an intriguing range of habitats that consist of the forest of Mount Meru, Ngurdoto Crater in the southeast section of the park, and the seven Momela Lakes. Mount Meru is one of the most beautiful volcanoes in Africa and the second highest mountain in Tanzania.

World Heritage Sites

Tanzania is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites with 6 of them on the mainland and 1 in Zanzibar. Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain which is located in its own national park, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Now a dormant volcano, the mountain rises to 5,895 metres above sea level. It is located in the north of the country on the border with Kenya and is accessible via Kilimanjaro International Airport. It is favourite for hikers, climbers and mountain trekking. The other heritage sites include Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Ruins of Kilwa and Songo Mnara

Kondoa Rock Art Site, Selous Game Reserve and Stone Town on Zanzibar.

Useful Information

Languages: English, Swahili and other indigenous languages.

Capital:  Dodoma

Largest City: Dar es Salaam

Regions: Tanzania is divided into 31 regions and 169 districts.

Climate: Varies greatly. Highlands temperatures range between 10 and 20 °C (50 and 68 °F) during cold and hot seasons respectively; rest of the country has temperatures rarely falling lower than 20 °C (68 °F). Hottest period between November and February (25–31 °C or 77.0–87.8 °F) and coldest period is between May and August (15–20 °C or 59–68 °F). The climate is cool in high mountainous regions.

Time Zone: EAT (UTC+3).

Currency: Tanzania shilling.

Airports: Julius Nyerere International Airport, Dar es Salaam, with international airports on Zanzibar and at Mount Kilimanjaro; many regional airports; and landing strips / airfield around the country and in and around many parks and reserves.

Airlines Flying To: KLM, South African Airways, Emirates, Swiss, Turkish, Qatar, Kenya, Oman, Ethiopian, RwandAir, EgyptAir and numerous others.

Entry Requirements: Most visitors to Tanzania must obtain a visa from one of the Tanzanian diplomatic missions. However, a majority of nations can obtain a visitor visa at any port of entry land or air. Most SADC citizens or East African Community citizens do not need a visa for tourism purposes. 3 month tourist visas are available for $US 50 at all ports of entry (except US citizens must buy $US 100 1 year multiple entry visas).

Useful Contacts

Tanzania Tourist Board: Tel +255 22 2664878/9; Email md@tanzaniatourism.go.tz; Email info@tanzaniatourism.go.tz; Web www.tanzaniatouristboard.go.tz.

 

Ministry of Natural Resources & Tourism:  Tel +255 22 2861870   /1/2/3/.

 

Tanzania National Parks: Tel +255 (0) 272 970 404   or +255 (0) 272 970 405 or +255 (0) 272 970 406 or  +255 (0) 272 970 407; Email: info@tanzaniaparks.go.tz.