Tanzania is situated on the east coast of Africa and includes the small offshore coral islands that make up the Zanzibar archipelago. Life in Tanzania revolves around farming and village affairs. Small settlements dot the country’s fertile areas where families grow crops and graze cattle. Coffee and bananas are grown on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and the countryside in Sukumaland is covered with fields of cotton, corn, and tobacco. Most of Tanzania’s savanna country is virtually uninhabitable because of the presence of tsetse flies that spread sleeping sickness to animals and humans. And the Serengeti Plains while vast are migration resorts for millions of safari animals, leaving no room for humans.
Most Tanzanians live in the rural areas either farming or raising cattle herds. Increasingly, more and more rural families are moving into urban centers like the capital, Dar es Salaam, where there is more of a western lifestyle and where rural Africans interact with a minority of Europeans and Asians.
Tanzania’s four main attractions are the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Zanzibar. The Serengeti National Park encompasses more than 5,675 square miles of land and is arguably the best place to watch game in Africa. Its Selous Game Reserve, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is larger than the geographic size of Switzerland. One of the best ways to view the world’s greatest natural spectacle – the annual migration of more than one million wildlife, which takes place from November to May – is by taking a hot air balloon ride over the park’s plains. Among the safari animals you’ll get to observe include lions, zebras, gazelles, hyenas, cheetahs, rhinoceros, leopards, elephants, giraffes, buffalos, and a wide variety of birds.
Mount Kilimanjaro is Tanzania’s other famous draw. It stands over 19,300 feet high, easily Africa’s tallest mountain. It is actually the tallest free-standing mountain that can be hiked up without having to climb. Watching the sun rise is one of the greatest thrills most tourists will ever experience anywhere.
Tanzania also features the Ngorongoro Crater, which is 2,000 feet deep and covers more than 120 square miles. The crater is the dense habitat for almost every known African-plains mammal species, and is part of the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The steep sides of the crater have made it a natural enclosure for various wildlife. There are picnic sites that are open to the public, some of them offering views of swamps inhabited by lions, hippopotamuses, and elephants, among others. There is an estimated 25,000 animals living within the crater.
Zanzibar is another highlight of Tanzania. It is a beautiful archipelago of islands set in the Indian ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. Zanzibar includes two large islands, Pemba and Unguja, and several smaller ones. These islands are decorated by palm beaches and spice and fruit plantations. Nicknamed the “Spice Island”, Zanzibar is colored by a history as the center of a flourishing spice and slave trade. Visitors today can taste and purchase various fruits, spices, and herbs on the islands. Zanzibar’s Stone Town, which is UNESCO designated, was at one time the metropolis of East Africa, where Arabs and European colonials administered the spice, ivory, and slave trade. Stone Town, today, features windy streets that are lined with colonial mansions, exotic shops, Muslim mosques, and bazaars and squares.
Besides the big “four” of Tanzania’s attractions, the country also has a number of other lesser but still stunning national parks. In Mahale national park, which sits on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, you’ll find the home of more than 700 chimpanzees. 200 more can be seen in the Gombe Stream. Arusha National Park features white colobus monkeys, buffalos, giraffes, and warthogs. Mikumi National Park has lions, elephants, giraffes, and zebras, including a pool called the Kikaboga Hippo Pool populated by hippos. The Tarangire National Park has almost every wildlife found in the Serengeti but is less visited. And the Ruaha National Park, which is the country’s second largest park, features more than 400 species of birds and incredibly large herds of buffalos and elephants.
Many beaches also line Tanzania’s 500 plus miles of coastline, including Mjimwena, Kunduchi, and Mbwa Maji. Scuba diving and snorkeling are popular around Pemba, Mafia’s Chloe Bay, and the other islands of Zanzibar, which are all enclosed by coral reefs. Mafia also offers big-game fishing. Power boats can be hired at the fishing lodges and inns on the island. Some of the big-game fish in the waters of Mafia include sharks, snappers, marlins, and barracudas.
If you plan on visiting the capital, Dar es Salaam, be sure to check out the National Museum, which features the “Nutcracker Man” – an excavated skull that is carbon-dated at 1.7 million years old.
Tanzania has a tropical climate that is tempered by sea breezes on the Zanzibar islands and by high altitudes on the mainland.
Tanzania’s history dates back 500,000 years ago based on excavations of the earliest known man, Homo zinjanthropus. Ancient Greek sailors used to venture along the east coast of Africa. In the 8th century, Arabs were believed to have come to the region; they founded several trading towns, and introduced Tanzanians to the Islamic religion. Archaeological studies confirm the establishment of Arab cities along the coast as far back as 10th century.
The first Europeans to arrive in the modern era was Vasco de Gama in 1499. He stopped at Zanzibar to resupply before continuing his journey to India. For the next 200 years, the Portuguese Empire controlled many of the trading cities along the East African coast but they did not venture inland. The Germans were the first to travel into the interiors in the 19th century.
For much of the 1800s, Zanzibar was run by a powerful Arab sultanate who controlled the slave and ivory trade on the mainland. The African societies, however, began to disintegrate as a result of local warfare and slave raiding. Later into the century, various European powers began fighting over pieces of Africa. The British eventually declared a protectorate over Zanzibar while the Germany took over mainland Tanzania (called Tanganyika at the time).
After the Germans were defeated in WWI, Tanganyika was handed over to the British to administer. In the 1950s, Tanganyika and Zanzibar began pressing for independence, which they finally gained in the early 1960s. In 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form Tanzania. In 1979, Tanzania declared war on Uganda after it tried to invade and annex its northern province, Kagera. Tanzania successfully expelled Uganda in a matter of months.