Tanzania is Africa’s ultimate safari destination. With roughly a quarter of its area protected in a network of parks that includes the world-famous Serengeti, Tanzania is home to almost half the world’s remaining wild lions, and around one-fifth of Africa’s surviving elephants. Then there are the two million wildebeest and zebra that migrate annually through the Serengeti ecosystem, embarking on the dramatic mass calvings and chaotic river crossings that make it one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles.
The United Republic of Tanzania lies on the east coast of Africa and is bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north; by Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west; by the Indian Ocean to the east; and by Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to the south.
The Serengeti alone would be sufficient to place Tanzania near the top of most travellers’ bucket lists. But Tanzania is home to several other world-class attractions. These include snow-capped Kilimanjaro (the world’s highest freestanding mountain), as well as the magical ‘spice island’ of Zanzibar, situated 25km offshore in the heart of the Indian Ocean, and parts of the three largest and most bio-diverse lakes on the African continent.
Other prime wildlife sanctuaries include the Edenesque Ngorongoro Crater bordering the Serengeti, the vast sprawl of the Selous Game Reserve (a wildlife sanctuary larger than Switzerland), and the lovely Lake Manyara, set spectacularly at the base of the Great Rift Valley. Meanwhile, further west, on the remote shore of the world’s longest freshwater lake, Gombe Stream – the former stamping ground of Jane Goodall – and Mahale Mountains vie with each other as the top chimp tracking destinations in Africa.
Given over 120 ethnic groups, it is impossible to visit and learn about each of the traditional cultures of Tanzania in one visit. However, visiting a selection of Bantu-speaking people, Nilotic pastoralists, and the Bushman hunter-gathers in their traditional lands, gives you a wonderful glimpse into local Tanzanian life.
The Meru people, or waMeru, are a Bantu-speaking people who settled at the base of Mount Meru over three hundred years ago. They settled in the forested area on the south-eastern slopes of the mountain and developed a strong agricultural economy along with livestock keeping. It is believed that the waMeru practiced a traditional style of permaculture, and it is possible to witness some of these activities during a visit to the waMeru homeland.
The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group (very different from Bantu-speaking ethnic groups) of semi-nomadic people located in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. Because of their unique culture and customs, they are among the best known of African ethnic groups. A very proud people, Maasai warriors and elders enjoy sharing their knowledge and experience with visitors, as long as one of their own is guiding and translating.
The Maasai have an extensive system for nurturing the mind, body and spirit using medicinal plants combined with expert healers skilled in traditional psychology and spiritual healing practices. A visit to Maasailand can include learning and experiencing these practices from Maasai people themselves.
HADZA PEOPLE, THE BUSHMEN OF LAKE EYASI
The Hadza, or Hadzabe, inhabit an area of north-central Tanzania around Lake Eyasi in the central Rift Valley and into the neighboring Serengeti Plateau. There are very few Hadzabe remaining on this land, most likely just under 1000 people, of which less than 400 continue to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
While the Hadzabe speak a language with clicking sounds in it, their ethnic group appears to be genetically unrelated to the Khoisan people of southern Africa. Due to pressure from neighbouring groups encroaching on their land and impact from insensitive tourist operations and trophy hunting activities, it is very difficult to witness the authentic Hadzabe way of life. Together with patience and an open heart, you may be fortunate to experience a traditional family gathering and hunt with a group of Hadzabe.
DATOOGA PEOPLE, BARBAIG TRIBE
The Datooga are a pastoralist Nilotic people of north-central Tanzania south of Ngorongoro Crater. There are seven Datooga tribes, the Barbaig being one of them. The Barbaig people whose traditional culture is still unchanged and unspoiled, are highly-skilled in metalwork. The Maasai traditionally traded livestock with the Barbaig in order to obtain the metal tips they needed for their spears. A visit to Barbaig communities can include seeing metal workers in action and an opportunity to obtain beautiful jewelry, some of which is fashioned from car spri
The Iraqw are a Cushitic people of the Arusha and Manyara Regions of north-central Tanzania, near the Rift Valley wall and south of Ngorongoro Crater. The language is distinctive from their Bantu and Nilotic neighbours and resembles an Arabic sound. The areas surrounding Karatu town in Arusha region is Iraqw homeland and visitors can witness their locally developed intensive cultivation techniques.
Traditionally in conflict with the Maasai, Iraqw homesteads included underground tunnels – aasimo — in which to hide. Visitors can see these elaborate structures during a visit to the Karatu area.
Bigger than France and Germany combined, Tanzania has a history as long and as fascinating as its physical assets are wild and wonderful. Here are our top recommendations of things to see in Tanzania.
1. Witness the Great Migration at Serengeti National Park – Arguably East Africa’s finest game reserve, this is the main setting for the Great Migration, where some 8 million hooves – mostly belonging to wildebeest and zebra – pound the plains in search of fresh grass.
2. The vast and scenic Ngorongoro Crater – This caldera supports around 20,000 large animals, including the world’s densest population of lions and spotted hyenas, several massive old tuskers, and some of East Africa’s last black rhinos.
3. Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain – The highest peak anywhere in Africa, snowcapped ‘Kili’ is spectacular; it is one of the highest walkable summits on the planet.
4. Chimp tracking in Mahale or Gombe – There is no better place in Africa to track man’s closest relative than these two parks on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika; researchers have studied the chimp communities here since the 1960s.
5. Relaxing on Zanzibar’s east coast beaches – There is no shortage of superb beaches along the coast of mainland Tanzania and the islands, but none surpass Matemwe on the east coast of Zanzibar for dazzling white sand and impossibly blue sea.
6. Selous, Africa’s largest game reserve – Dominated by the sluggish brown Rufiji, a riverine wilderness inhabited by immense numbers of hippos, crocodiles and water birds, Selous Game Reserve offers excellent opportunities for game viewing from a boat or on foot.
7. An exhilarating climb up Ol Doinyo Lengai from Lake Natron – Bordering Kenya, Natron is the largest and most remote of the lakes that line the floor of Tanzania’s eastern Rift Valley, overlooked by Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Maasai ‘Mountain of God’ and the region’s most active volcano.
8. Ruaha National Park’s astonishing wildlife – Game viewing in this remote reserve begins as soon as you arrive, with the banks of the Ruaha River supporting elephants, lions, leopards and antelopes – including the localised sable and greater kudu.
The climate is tropical and coastal areas are hot and humid, while the northwestern highlands are cool and temperate. There are two rainy seasons; the short rains are generally from October to December, while the long rains last from March to June. The central plateau tends to be dry and arid throughout the year.
Tanzania can be visited year-round, although the best time for travelling is outside of the rainy season between June and October, when temperatures stay well below their summer peaks. Beach side locations like Zanzibar can be fine to visit during the hotter months of December to January, when ocean breezes make the high temperatures bearable (though humidity can still be high). However, this is also the time popular for typical beach holidays, especially for those travelling from Europe wanting some winter sunshine, and hotels can book up early especially for the Christmas and New Year period.
Current Time & Date:
Standard Time Zone: GMT/UTC + 03:00 hour
Major hard currencies (US Dollars, Sterling Pounds and Euros) can be exchanged in cash or travellers cheques at banks all over the country, at forex bureaus in Arusha and Zanzibar, and in the majority of hotels and lodges that you will stay at. Bank timings are from 08:30 hrs to 15:00 hrs on weekdays, and from 09:00 hrs to 12:00 hrs on Saturdays. You can change into Tanzania shillings at the border post at a black market rate – ask your driver where the best place is.
The Tanzanian currency comprises of Shillings and Cents – 100 Cents making up a Shilling. VISA, MASTERCARD & AMERICAN EXPRESS are accepted as a form of payment at most establishments in major towns, at all hotels and lodges and even at most road side curio shops. Please beware however, that you may be charged an extra 5 % mark-up on top of the price as establishments are charged a fixed percentage of their transactions. There are ATM machines in all airports, major towns and cities from which money in cash can be withdrawn.
Kiswahili or Swahili is the official language with English being the official primary language of commerce, administration and higher education. Tanzanians in most tourist areas speak English, but knowing a few Swahili words and greetings will be greatly appreciated, going a long way to smoothing your travels.
Food & Drinks:
For most Tanzanians, including those who live in urban areas, no meal is complete without a preferred staple carbohydrate—corn, rice, cassava, sorghum, or plantains, for example. Plantains are preferred in the northwest, ugali (a thick mash of corn or sorghum) in the central and southwestern regions, and rice in the south and along the coast. The staple is accompanied by a fish, beef, goat, chicken, or mutton stew or fried pieces of meat, along with several types of vegetables or condiments, commonly including beans, leafy greens resembling spinach, manioc leaves, chunks of pumpkin, or sweet potatoes. Indian food (such as chapatis , a flat bread; samosas , vegetable or meat-filled pastries; and masala ,a spiced rice dish), is widely available in all urban areas.
Breakfast preferences depend on income levels and local tradition: bread, sweet rolls or biscuits ( mandazi ), coffee or tea (sometimes with spices, sugar, and/or milk), buttermilk, and chicken broth are the most common foods. Finger foods sold on the streets include fried plantains and sweet potatoes, charcoal-roasted corn on the cob (with no butter or salt), small bags of peanuts and popcorn, pieces of dried or fried fish, samosas , bread, fruit, dates, hard candy, gum, and mishikaki , or shish kebabs of beef or goat grilled over a charcoal fire. In local bars selling homemade brews or bottled spirits and pop, it is common to eat roasted meat—beef or goat; often the meat will be flavored with hot peppers, salt, and fresh lime juice.
Jan 1 New Year’s Day
Jan 12 Zanzibar Revolution Day
Mar 25 Good Friday
Mar 28 Easter Monday
Apr 7 Karume Day
Apr 26 Union Day
May 1 Worker’s Day
Jul 7 Saba Saba
Jul 7 Eid el Fitri
Aug 8 Peasants’ Day
Sep 13 Eid el Hajj
Oct 14 Mwalimu Nyerere Day
Dec 9 Republic Day
Dec 12 Prophet’s Birthday
Dec 25 Christmas Day
Dec 26 Boxing Day
Tanzanian Shilling (TZS; symbol TSh). Notes are in denominations of TSh10,000, 5000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Most top-end hotels, safari lodges, airlines and tour operators accept Visa and MasterCard (American Express and Diners Club less so), though a commission of 2-5% is usually charged. Budget hotels and most restaurants and shops do not accept credit cards, and they are rarely accepted for payment outside the main tourist areas. Cash easily can be withdrawn from ATMs using Visa or MasterCard. Any sizeable town has at least one bank with an ATM, and there are ATMs at the larger airports.
Before leaving home, visit the doctor or a travel clinic for advice on vaccinations, malaria prophylactics and general advice. Basic traveller vaccinations recommended include yellow fever, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A. It is vital to take out comprehensive travel medical insurance, and it is essential that is should include repatriation to your home country in the event of an emergency.
There are some good private hospitals in Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Stone Town on Zanzibar, but facilities are rudimentary outside of these and medicines are often unavailable. All treatment must be paid for in advance.
Most nationals require a visa to enter Tanzania. As the visa requirements are constantly changing, we suggest that you speak to your local travel agent to get the latest information.
Julius Nyerere International Airport – Dar es Salaam
Kilimanjaro International Airport – Kilimanjaro
Arusha Airport – Arusha
Abeid Amani Karume International Airport – Zanzibar