Wildlife, beaches, friendly people, fascinating cultures, Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Mt Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar â€“ Tanzania has all these and more wrapped up in one adventurous, welcoming package.
Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coastline is magical, with tranquil islands and sleepy coastal villages steeped in centuries of Swahili culture. Travel back in time to the days when the East African coast was the seat of sultans and a linchpin in a far-flung trading network extending to Persia, India and beyond. Relax on powdery beaches backed by palms and the occasional baobab; take in gentle, pastel-hued sunrises; immerse yourself in languid coastal rhythms; and sit beneath the billowing sails of a wooden dhow, listening to the creaking of its rigging.
More than almost any other destination, Tanzania is the land of safaris. Wildebeest stampede across the plains. Hippos jostle for space in muddy waterways. Elephants wander along seasonal migration routes and chimpanzees swing through the treetops. Throughout the country, there are unparalleled opportunities to experience this natural wealth: take a boat safari down the Rufiji River past snoozing crocodiles in Selous Game Reserve; watch giraffes silhouetted against ancient baobab trees in Ruaha National Park; sit motionless as waterbirds peck in the shallows around Rubondo Island; and hold your breath while a lion pads in front of your vehicle in Ngorongoro Crater.
Sending its shadow across Tanzania’s northern plains, Mt Kilimanjaro beckons visitors with its graceful, forested flanks and stately snow-capped summit. It is Africa’s highest peak and one of the world’s highest free-standing mountains. It is also home to the Chagga people, and to a wealth of birds and wildlife. Climbers by the thousands venture here to challenge themselves on its muddy slopes, rocky trails and slippery scree. The rewards: the thrill of standing at the top of Africa; magnificent views of Kilimanjaro’s ice fields; and witnessing the sunrise illuminating the plains far below.
Serengeti National Park
Few people forget their first encounter with the Serengeti. Perhaps it is the view from the summit of Naabi Hill at the park’s entrance, from where the Serengeti’s grasslands stretch out like a vision of eternity. Or maybe it’s a coalition of male lions stalking across open plains. Or it could be the epic migration of animals in their millions, following the ancient rhythm of Africa’s seasons. Whatever it is, welcome to one of the greatest wildlife-watching destinations on earth.
Zanzibar Town, on the western side of Zanzibar (Unguja) island, is the Zanzibar Archipelago’s heart and the first stop for most travellers. It is divided into two halves by Creek Rd, which separates the old Stone Town (Mji Mkongwe the main destination for visitors) from the ‘Other Side or Ng’ambo, with its offices, apartment blocks and crowded neighbourhoods.
Wander through Stone Town’s winding alleyways, with their carved doors and latticework balconies and you’ll easily lose yourself in centuries of history. Each twist and turn brings something new, be it a school full of children chanting verses from the Quran, an abandoned Persian bathhouse, or a coffee vendor with his long-spouted pot fastened over coals. While the best part of Stone Town is simply letting it unfold before you, it’s also worth putting in an effort to see and experience some of its major features
At 19km wide and with a surface of 264 sq km, Ngorongoro is one of the largest unbroken calderas in the world that isn’t a lake. Its steep walls soar 400m to 610m and provide the setting for an incredible natural drama as prey and predators graze and stalk their way around the open grasslands, swamps and acacia woodland on the crater floor. It’s such an impressive sight that, other vehicles aside, you’ll wonder whether you’ve descended into a wildlife paradise.
Mt Kilimanjaro National Park
Since its official opening in 1977, Mt Kilimanjaro National Park has become one of Tanzania’s most visited parks. Unlike the other northern parks, this isn’t for the wildlife, although it’s there. Rather, it’s to gaze in awe at a mountain on the equator capped with snow, and to climb to the top of Africa. At the heart of the park is the 5896m Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and one of the continent’s most magnificent sights.
Other Places Of Interest
This leafy highland town is nestled in a fertile valley at about 1200m, surrounded by pines and eucalyptus mixed with banana plants and other tropical foliage. It’s the centre of the western Usambaras and makes an ideal base for hikes into the surrounding hills.
Lushoto is also the heartland of the Wasambaa people (the name ‘Usambara’ is a corruption of Wasambaa or Washambala, meaning ‘scattered’). Local culture is strong. In Muheza and parts of the Tanga region closer to the coast, Swahili is used almost exclusively. Here however, Sambaa is the language of choice for most residents.
Mahale Mountains National Park
It’s difficult to imagine a more idyllic combination: clear, blue waters and white-sand beaches backed by lushly forested mountains soaring straight out of Lake Tanganyika, and some of the continent’s most intriguing wildlife-watching. Mahale Mountains park (1613 sq km) is most notable as a chimpanzee sanctuary, and there are about 700 of our primate relatives split into fourteen groups residing in and around the park, with leopards, blue duikers, red-tailed monkeys and red colobus monkeys keeping them company.
Selous Game Reserve
This is Africa’s largest wildlife reserve, and Tanzania’s most extensive protected area. It’s home to large herds of elephants, plus buffaloes, crocodiles, hippos, wild dogs, many bird species and some of Tanzania’s last remaining black rhinos. The Rufiji River is a major feature, and offers the chance for boat safaris, which are a Selous highlight.