YOUR GUIDE TO TANZANIA
Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa and includes the spice islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. It’s most famous for Mount Kilimanjaro which is Africa’s highest point and splendid national parks which are rich in fauna and flora and regarded as some of the finest wildlife conservation areas in the world.
The country is home to a population of some 36.5 million people comprising more than 120 ethnic groups. The people of Tanzania are warm and welcoming and respect the presence of international visitors because tourism is the lifeblood of the country.
The national capital of Tanzania is Dodoma although the unofficial capital is Dar es Salaam. Most visitors to Tanzania enter the country via Kilimanjaro International Airport in the Arusha Region which is the gateway to its world-renowned safari and beach destinations.
Tanzania holidays offer visitors the ultimate “surf & turf” experience with idyllic beaches and accommodation in the awe-inspiring Zanzibar Archipelago and breathtaking scenery and wildlife sightings in iconic destinations such as the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater.
Accommodation in Tanzania ranges from rustic beach chalets, backpacking establishments and safari tented camps to ultra-luxury safari lodges in pristine bushveld settings. You can travel to Tanzania on a budget or treat yourself to the finer things in life offered by hotels and lodges in Tanzania geared for the discerning traveller.
The history of Tanzania
Tanzania was formed in 1964 when Tanganyika and Zanzibar united; Tanganyika was a British-controlled UN trust territory and gained its independence in 1961; Zanzibar was a British protectorate with a predominantly Arab population and gained its independence in 1963.
A multi-party system was only established in 1992 after a constitutional amendment. Prior to that, independence leader Julius Nyerere oversaw two decades of socialism which was adapted to the ‘ujamaa’ policy of village farming.
The majority of the Tanzania population live at a subsistence level, surviving through farming and fishing on a small-scale. Tourism is extremely important to Tanzania and a major driver of economic sustainability and employment in the country.
The country has enjoyed decades of political stability and has mostly been spared the internal strife which blights many African states. This hasn’t translated to economic prosperity for its people and many still live below the World Bank poverty line.
The people of Tanzania
Tanzania is an ethnically-diverse nation with more than 120 ethnic groups. Inland, the Maasai are the most well-known. On the coast, you’ll find a vibrant blend of Swahili, Buntu, Arab and Indian communities. The African-Arab fusion of cultures stems from the ancient trading days when spices and slaves were the main commodity.
CITIES OF TANZANIA
The city of Arusha is the ‘Safari Capital’ of Tanzania and the gateway to the most popular Tanzania holiday destinations. This includes the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro. Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park are also located close to the city.
It’s the economic and tourism hub of Tanzania and the majority of tour operators offering Tanzania packages and air charter companies operate out of Arusha. Kilimanjaro International Airport serves the cities of Arusha and Moshi; mainly handling interconnecting regional flights.
Arusha Region is the only region in the world where quality tanzanite is mined. It’s a sought-after commodity which fetches a high price on the international market. Tanzanite mines are found on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and are owned and operated by corporate mining companies.
You’ll also find the lesser-known Mount Meru in the Arusha Region which is the small cousin of the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro.
DAR ES SALAAM
Dar es Salaam is the ‘unofficial capital’ of Tanzania and the economic hub of the country. It’s the administrative seat of the government with most government officials residing in the city. Dodoma was gazetted the capital of Tanzania in the 1970s due to its central location and most government officials live in the city making the long commute between the two ‘capitals’.
Dar es Salaam – or Dar as the locals call it – lies on a natural harbour on the Indian Ocean. With a strong trading heritage, you’ll find a cosmopolitan mix of people in the city which as turned it into a multi-cultural mecca.
The city started off as a small fishing village known as Mzizima and was the home of the Sultan of Zanzibar who built his summer palace in the region. The site was chosen for its location to the natural harbour and acted as an important strategic point for the ivory and slave trade between the east coast and the Great Lake regions.
After the death of the Sultan in 1870 and with the end of the slave trade, the settlement of Mzizma began to die. Most traders moved back to Bagamoyo. It was rejuvenated with the arrival of the German colonial authorities from the German East Africa Company who moved the capital of proclaimed German East Africa from Bagamoyo to present-day Dar es Salaam.
After the First World War and under British rule, Dar es Salaam was kept as the capital and became a racially-segregated city where Indians, African and Europeans were designated separate settlement regions.
Post-independence, Dar es Salaam was retained as the capital city of Tanganyika and remained the capital with the formation of the United Republic of Tanzania which occurred in 1964. When Dodoma was proclaimed the new capital of the republic in the 1970s, Dar es Salaam once again quickly deteriorated until a new reformist government breathed new life into the city and improved it economic prosperity. Today, Dar es Salaam is the economic powerhouse of East Africa.
Dodoma is the official capital of the United Republic of Tanzania with a population of over 400 000 people. It’s located in the centre of the country about 453 kilometres from Dar es Salaam and 441 kilometres from Arusha. Things to do in Tanzania don’t usually include a visit to Dodoma which is why most international tourists think Dar es Salaam is the capital of Tanzania.
The city originated as a small trading town known as Idodomya. The modern city of Dodoma was founded in 1907 by German colonial authorities with the German East Africa Company. The European settlement was segregated from the Indian and African communities.
Post-independence and after a nationwide party referendum, the newly-independent government announced the capital of Tanzania would be moved from Dar es Salaam to a central location to facilitate the economic growth and social upliftment of the neglected central region.
Dodoma was selected as the ideal capital city because it was fairly well established. It was seen as also seen as an economically viable alternative to attempting to restructure and rejuvenate Dar es Salaam. Dodoma had a population of 40 000 inhabitants at the time.
Dodoma was envisaged as a “national building project to cement a newly post-colonial independence identity and direction in Tanzania’ but it has battled to earn itself the status of a first-world capital city and Dar es Salaam steals much of its glory.
TOP 10 DESTINATIONS IN TANZANIA
When it comes to things to do in Tanzania, this spectacular country offers travellers the greatest ‘surf & turf’ experience; from the ultimate safari experience in pristine national parks to glorious sun-soaked holidays in Zanzibar. The country is renowned for its incredible biodiversity coupled with luxurious accommodation in spectacular settings.
The people of Tanzania are warm and welcoming and the country enjoys relative peace and stability. It appeals to the high-end traveller used to the finer things in life but it can also be enjoyed by those travelling on a tight budget. There’s something for everyone in Tanzania and it’s a year-round destinations.
Here’s a rapid checklist of the most popular destinations in Tanzania:
- Kilimanjaro National Park
Mount Kilimanjaro rises 5 895 metres above the African plain and is instantly recognisable for its snow-capped peak. Its diverse ecosystem ranges from montane forests and heath and moorland to alpine desert and a barren crest.The giant mountain is the highest point in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world; at the same time, it is one of the most accessible of the world’s greatest mountains. At its feet is a sprawling expanse of wilderness region which is renowned for its incredible biodiversity. Kilimanjaro National Park spans some 1 688 kilometres with the mighty Namwai and Tarakia rivers running through it.Chala Crater Lake is a major attraction in the Kilimanjaro region, lying in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro on the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Depending on the time of year, the crystal-clear lake water might be a brilliant turquoise blue, midnight blue or even a stunning emerald-green. Guided walks around the lake and down the steep crate walls are popular.Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t on everyone’s list of things to do in Tanzania but seeing this magnificent mountain in all her glory is definitely something for your bucket list.
- Serengeti National Park
Serengeti is world-renowned as a premier safari destination geared for the discerning wildlife enthusiast. It spans some 14 750 square kilometres and is rich in fauna and flora. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting a unique composition of habitats which range from vast open savanna grasslands to verdant montane forests and verdant wetlands.Serengeti National Park is famous for the annual Great Migration which sees hundreds of thousands wildebeest, zebra and gazelles making the treacherous 3-week trek to reach better grazing plains in the north and then facing the same perilous journey back to where they started.The iconic reserve also boasts some of the finest safari lodges and hotels in Tanzania. They’re unashameably marketed to the high-end traveller on holiday in Tanzania but there are a few options for a Tanzania holiday package for travellers on a tight budget.
- Zanzibar Island (Unguja Island)
Zanzibar is made up of a constellation of 50 islands with the largest being Unguja and Pemba islands. Unguja Island is often referred to Zanzibar as it’s the economic and tourist hub of the archipelago and home to its capital seat, Zanzibar City. It’s historic centre is Stone Town which a declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.Stone Town in Zanzibar is the cultural hub of the archipelago and little has changed in the last 200 years. It may appear derelict and unsightly to some visitors but the narrow streets and winding alleys are rich in history and possess a unique charm which is created from an eclectic fusion of Arab and African cultures.The history of Zanzibar is rooted in the historic spice trade routes and the archipelago are sometimes called the ‘Spice Islands’. It’s famous for producing some of the finest spices in the world which includes cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper. It also produces an abundance of tropical fruit and is renowned for its fresh seafood. More recently, seaweed farming has become an economic staple to satisfy the global demand for sushi.Stone Town is always included in an all-inclusive Zanzibar package and it a chance to learn more about its heritage of spice and slave trading. This era created an eclectic cultural blend of Swahili and Arab inhabitants which is evident in its architecture and cuisine. Today, agriculture and tourism are the mainstay economic drivers.Old and new define the character of the Zanzibar Archipelago where ultra-modern luxury resorts in Zanzibar stand alongside traditional villages. Tourists staying in Zanzibar hotels on the main islands can choose to spend long relaxing days on the islands’ pristine beaches or immerse themselves in a rich cultural experience.
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area lies adjacent to the world-renowned Serengeti National Park and equally rich in fauna and flora. The region is dominated by three volcanic craters; the most famous being the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world and is home to an abundance of wildlife including large populations of black rhino and strong numbers of large-tusked elephants.A visit to the Ngorongoro area during the migration season is definitely one of the things to do in Tanzania and the best time to visit Tanzania.The frenetic migrating herds arrive in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area from late November to December which boosts population numbers and offers visitors the ultimate safari experience.The major attractions in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro and her smaller cousin, Mount Meru, and the Olduvai Gorge which is affectionately regarded as the “birthplace of mankind”. Olduvai Gorge is one of the most prominent paleoanthropologist sites in the world and has produced evidence of human inhabitation that dates back to over 3.6 million years. Lake Natron lies at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and is home to thousands of flamingoes and pelicans in the dry season who descend on the soda lake to escape the cold European winters and feast on microscopic algae.
- Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park is a wonderland of ancient forests, thick woodlands, lush swamps and open savanna grasslands. Two-thirds of the park is covered by water which is home to thousands of flamingoes and pelicans in the dry season.What makes Lake Manyara National Park special is its strong numbers of elephants and its famous tree-climbing lions. It’s also home to the largest concentration of baboons in the world. It’s a popular destination for outdoor adventure seekers and bird lovers.Lake Manyara National Park is about a 90 minute drive from Arusha and less than an hour’s drive from the Ngorongoro Crater.
- Mafia Island
Mafia Island is not part of the Zanzibar Archipelago but it’s included in the list of most popular places to visit in Zanzibar. It’s paradise for avid divers and snorkelers and nature lovers. Mafia Island was an important settlement during the 12th to 14th century and was a strategic point in the East African trading routes.Zanzibar holiday packages usually include a visit to Mafia Island although it’s one of the better kept secrets. The island is becoming more popular as Zanzibar Island becomes more overcrowded with people staying in the Zanzibar resorts on the main island.Mafia Island Marine Park is renowned for its incredible array of aquatic fauna and flora which includes magnificent coral gardens, countless marine birds and over 400 fish species. It is home to the green turtle which is highly endangered and close to extinction.This island paradise first saw settlers in the 8th or 9th C, but Mafia became a more important settlement during the 12th to 14th C when it held a key position in the East African trading routes.
- Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park is off the beaten safari track and a popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts wanting to avoid the busy Serengeti crowds. It’s renowned as the perfect spot to witness the elephant migration and is heaven for bird lovers.The concentration of game is outstanding between July to October but because of its remote location, it’s less burdened by large numbers of safari tourists. Southern Tangerine is exceptionally quiet and the perfect escape for visitors wanting the ultimate safari experience in complete isolation.In the dry season, vast numbers of animals congregate at the Tarangire River. The main attraction is large herds of elephant which can number up to 3 000 at a time during the peak migration months. It’s also home to the dwarf mongoose, oryx and generuk although sightings are rare. For bird lovers, Tarangire National Park is rated one of the finest birding destinations in East Africa.
- Pemba Island
Pemba Island is the second favourite main island to visit in the Zanzibar Archipelago but fortunately doesn’t get as busy with international holidaymakers as Unguja Island which is usually called Zanzibar. It lies in the northern region of the archipelago.It’s usually included as part of a Zanzibar all-inclusive package because it’s heaven for divers and snorkelers offering a marine wonderland of brightly-coloured sponge and coral gardens and sea fans. It’s also popular place to visit in Zanzibar with hikers and mountain bikers riders who set off to tackle the 1 000-metre peaks in the deep island valleys. Alternative travellers come to Pemba Island to visit traditional healers who practice juju traditions of medicine.The economic hub with the densest population of people is Chake Chake. The island inhabitants are largely impoverished and subsist on rudimentary farming and fishing enterprises. Pemba is the world’s major producer of cloves.
- Selous Game Reserve
Selous Game Reserve is the largest game reserve in Africa spanning some 55 000 square kilometres and takes up a huge portion of southern Tanzania. It’s not as popular as the world-renowned Serengeti National Park which attracts thousands of visitors each year for the annual migration but it’s the game reserve of choice for discerning wildlife travellers who prefer to escape the crowds and enjoy complete isolation in remote wilderness.The game reserve is an UNESCO World Heritage due to its diversity of wildlife and pristine bushveld. A large portion of Selous Game Reserve is set aside for hunting which takes place on privately-leased hunting concessions. It’s also paradise for bird lovers and avid photographers.
- Arusha National Park
Arusha National Park is renowned for its incredible biodiversity and supports a vast array of fauna and flora in diverse habitats. It spans some 137 square kilometres with the fifth highest mountain, Mount Meru, taking centre stage. The lakes in the Arusha Region are some of the most spectacular on the continent and are home to vast herds of flamingoes and pelicans in the dry season as well as endangered species such as black rhino, leopard and the blue monkey and black-and-white Colobus.
FUN FACTS ABOUT TANZANIA INCLUDE:
- Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa with a land area of 945 097 square kilometres; this includes the mainland and the Zanzibar Archipelago
- Dodoma is the national capital of the United Republic of Tanzania and the official administrative seat of the government; Dar es Salaam is the regarded as the “Unofficial Capital” of Tanzania and Arusha is the “Safari Capital”
- the earliest human skull in the world was discovered in Olduvai Gorge in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
- Tanzania has the most expensive hardwood tree in the world; Mpingo trees, otherwise known as the African Blackwood tree
- it has the largest concentration of animals per square kilometre in the world, with more than 4 million wild animals roaming its vast ecosystems
- Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world and the highest mountain in Africa
- the world’s largest crab (the coconut crab) is found in the Zanzibar archipelago; it’s pincers are so strong it can crack open coconuts and they are known to climb trees to reach coconuts and fruit or escape predators
- Tanzania has 1 100 out of almost 2 500 bird species found in Africa
- Ruaha National Park is the largest wildlife reserve in Tanzania and has the largest population of elephants in East Africa; which represent 10% of the world’s lion population
- Tanzania has the largest population of wild dogs in Africa, which are one of the most endangered species in the world
- Arusha National Park is home to the largest population of giraffes in the world
- The Gombe Stream Research Centre was founded in 1965 to advance Jane Goodall’s research on chimpanzee behaviour; it’s the longest-running field study of an animal species in their natural environment
- the Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact caldera in the world, spanning a diameter of 19 kilometres and a depth of 600 metres
- Lake Manyara National Park is home to the only tree-climbing lions in the world and the largest concentration of baboons
- Udzungwa Mountains National Park was the first national park created in Tanzania; established primarily to protect flora (plants) rather than fauna (animals)
- Udzungwa Mountains National Park has two endemic monkeys and the near-endemic kipunji monkey which is a new genus and species only discovered in 2004; and only found in Udzungwa and the southern Highlands
- Tanzania is the world’s only source of tanzanite which is a semi-precious gem found in the Merelani Hills in the Arusha Region
- A new species of monkey and possibly a new genus was discovered by scientists in 2005 in the Ndundulu Forest Reserve in Tanzania; known as the Rungwecebus kipunji
- Tanzania holiday packages usually offer a “surf & turf” option; with a selection of the most popular things to do in Tanzania on the mainland and an amazing few days on the beach in Zanzibar
What to do in Tanzania… the choice is endless. Ask Moafrika Tours for information on Zanzibar packages all-inclusive offerings and special prices on flights to Zanzibar from Johannesburg.
NATIONAL PARKS IN TANZANIA
Things to do in Tanzania on the mainland revolve around a Big 5 safari experience, unless you’re there to climb the giant Mount Kilimanjaro. The best time of year to visit largely depends on what you want to do in Tanzania but Tanzania hotels and Tanzania resorts have something unique and special for everyone and there’s a Zanzibar package to suit diverse interests.
ARUSHA NATIONAL PARK
Located in the Arusha Region in north-eastern Tanzania, closest national park to the city of Arusha
Arusha National Park is the closest national park to the town of Arusha in northern-eastern Tanzania. It’s often overlooked by safari travellers even though it boasts incredible biodiversity and an abundance of wildlife and birds. It’s a small park in comparison to the other national parks of Tanzania but it’s an absolute gem with dramatic landscapes and important landmarks.
The main entrance to Arusha National Park is only 25 kilometres east of the city and 35 kilometres from Kilimanjaro International Airport. The 552 square metre reserve is ideal for a day trip if you’re visiting the Arusha Region but a longer stay is recommended because there is so much to see and do in the area. A standout feature of the national park is it’s home to the largest population of giraffes in the world.
The national park covers Mount Meru which is a prominent volcano in the Arusha Region with an elevation of some 4 566 metres. The protected wilderness area is defined by three distinct ecosystems: in the west, thick riverine forests where the Jekukumia River drains into the Meru Crater and the peak of Mount Meru lying on its rim; in the south-east, open savanna grasslands flanking the Ngurdoto Crater; in the north-east, lush wetlands around the shallow alkaline Lake Momella which is popular for wading birds.
Arusha National Park is one of only a few conservation reserves in Tanzania that allows guided walking trails as well as canoe safaris. With Mount Meru as the central landmark in the national park, it’s also a popular destination for hikers and mountaineers.
Mount Meru is the second highest peak in Tanzania after Mount Kilimanjaro which is only 60 kilometres away. It creates a striking backdrop for the Arusha National Park and is visible for most of the year. It draws hundreds of avid hikers and mountaineers to the area and acts as a good introduction to extreme mountain climbing before tackling the formidable Mount Kilimanjaro.
It’s a popular hiking destination because it combines a challenging trek with spectacular views and rewarding wildlife sightings. Hikers pass through multiple habitats much like Mount Kilimanjaro and encounter giraffe, elephants and an array of antelope.
Hiking up Mount Meru requires a climbing permit, armed ranger escorts and equipment for extreme mountain conditions.
Tululusia Hill is a heavily forested region in Arusha National Park which is popular for hikers and campers. It was once a strategic look-out point during tribal wars but is now home to an array of animals and birds, including elephant, buffalo, colobus monkeys, red duiker, suni as well as leopards and the famous tree-dwelling pythons.
GOMBE STREAM NATIONAL PARK
Located in western Tanzania on the north-eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika
Gombe Stream National Park is small and less well-known as the more famous national parks in Tanzania but it’s worth a visit purely because of its connection to Jane Goodall and her pioneering research on chimpanzees. A highlight of a trip to the Gombe reserve is chimpanzee tracking exhibitions which take visitors on a trail system deep into the forest with some of the best views of the African bush.
Jane Goodall travelled to Tanzania in 1960 when she was 26 years old. With the support of renowned anthropologist Louis Leakey, Goodall set up a small research station in Gombe to learn more about the behaviour of elusive chimpanzee troops, in particular the Kasekela chimpanzee community. She spent almost 15 years in the area and produced invaluable data.
In 1965, the Gombe Stream Research Center (CSRC) was founded to advance Jane Goodall’s revolutionary research on chimpanzee tool making and other behaviours. The research centre has been operational for over 40 years, making it the longest-running field study of an animal species in their natural environment. The CSRC is also a living laboratory and home to the world’s most studied group of wild chimpanzees.
KATAVI NATIONAL PARK
Located in Katavi Region in western-central Tanzania
Katavi National Park is extremely remote and difficult to get to which is why it’s not as popular as the other nature reserves in Tanzania and the number of visitors is low. It’s a pity because Katavi is a wild, unspoilt natural corridor with diverse habitats and rich in fauna and flora.
Created in 1974, it’s the third largest national park in Tanzania spanning some 4 471 square kilometres. The Katavi region includes the Katuma River and the seasonal Lake Katavi and Lake Chada floodplains. It’s home to large animals herds, in particular Cape buffalo and elephant as well as zebra, wildebeest and giraffe. Sightings of cheetah, wild dog, hyenas, leopards and lions are fairly common.
Katavi National Park is only open to visitors from June to February; beginning in the dry season when large numbers of game congregate at permanent water sources to the rainy season when the grasslands are green and lush. From end February to end May, the roads are impassable due to heavy rainfall which turns the black soil into a sticky quagmire.
KILIMANJARO NATIONAL PARK
Located in Kilimanjaro Region in north-eastern Tanzania, on the western border of Kenya
Kilimanjaro National Park is a vast wilderness area located near the city of Moshi which includes the whole of Mount Kilimanjaro above the tree line and the surrounding montane forest belt. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1987 for its incredible biodiversity.
The major drawcard to the national reserve is the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro which towers 5 895 metres above the surrounding plains and is instantly recognisable by its snowcap peak. It’s the highest point in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Lying at its feet is 75 575 hectares of magnificent wilderness which comprises 5 main ecosystems going from the lowest to the highest point; montane forests, heath and moorland, alpine desert and summit.
Most people think of the Kilimanjaro region as the base for climbers heading to the top of the mountain but Kilimanjaro National Park should definitely be a place you put on your list of things to do in Tanzania but it’s spectacular in its own right; with or without a big mountain.
Spanning some 1 688 square kilometres, Kilimanjaro National Park is renowned for its spectacular scenery and abundance of wildlife and birds. Cape buffaloes are found in the montane forest and occasionally in the moorland and open savanna grasslands. The montane forests are also home to blue monkeys, western black and white colobuses, bushbabies and leopards. Elephants are found between the Namwai and Tarakia Rivers and infrequently higher up the reserve.
Mount Kilimanjaro and the adjoining forests and open savanna grasslands were declared a game reserve by the German colonial government in the early 20th century. The area above the tree line was classified a national park in 1973. Kilimanjaro National Park is connected to Amboseli National Park by a wildlife corridor.
Things to do in Kilimanjaro National Park if you’re not there to climb to the top of the giant mountain include visiting Chala Crater Lake or going to Olpopongi.
Chala Crater Lake is an exceptionally magical lake which lies in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro on the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Depending on the time of year, the clear lake water might be a brilliant turquoise blue, midnight blue or even a stunning emerald colour. A guided walk around the lake and down the crate walls is popular; look out for the endangered Chala tilapia which is a fish species found in the crater lake.
Olpopongi is a cultural village open to tourists and one of the most authentic Maasai experiences in Africa. It offers visitors a fascinating insight into the cultures and heritage of this ancient tribe; share a meal with a family and learn more about their unique way of life.
MAHALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Kigoma Region in western Tanzania
Mahale Mountains National Park is located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Kigoma Region. It lies nestled in a magnificent forest wonderland on the slopes of the Mahale Mountain. The national park was originally created as a wildlife sanctuary to protect and preserve the thousands of chimpanzees that inhabited the mountainous region.
It is one of two conservation areas for chimpanzees; the other one is Gombe Stream National Park which was made famous by the legendary Jane Goodall. Mahale Mountains National Park is home to the largest population of chimpanzees in the region.
There are no roads in the national park and virtually no infrastructure which means visitors travel through the reserve on foot. The only way in and out of the national park is via boat on Lake Tanganyika. Its extreme remoteness has allowed the chimpanzee populations to flourish.
The dramatic lush landscapes of the mountainous national park is characterised by an expansive rainforest, open savanna grasslands, alpine bamboo forests and thick woodlands. It was originally inhabited by the Batongwe and Holoholo people but they were forcibly removed from the area when the area was declared a national park in 1985.
Mahale Mountains National Park is not a sought-after destination for the traditional safari traveller; the reserve is mainly for wildlife enthusiasts interested in a fascinating chimp tracking experience. Its breathtaking beauty and isolated location make it a compelling choice for avid photographers.
MIKUMI NATIONAL PARK
Located in the Marogoro Region on the northern border of Selous National Park in central Tanzania
The Mikumi National Park is located near Marogoro Region and is the 4th largest national Park in Tanzania; spanning some 3 230 square kilometres. The wilderness region remained relatively unknown and inaccessible until a major highway was built running through the centre of the reserve. The Tanzam highway runs from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka in Zambia.
Mikumi shares its southern border with the Selous Game Reserve and two other natural borders with the Udzungwa and Uluguru mountain ranges. The main attraction is the Mkata Floodplain which rivals the likes of the Serengeti Plains and is renowned for its incredible biodiversity and an abundance of wildlife.
A feature of Mikumi National Park is its dramatic landscapes with ancient baobabs and black hardwood trees as well as vast savanna grasslands. It’s an all-year destination and more ideally suited for travellers with little time on their hands and wanting a whistle-stop safari tour. You might strike it lucky and see one of the famous tree-climbing lions or a subspecies of giraffe which is a genetic combination of the Masai and the Somali giraffe.
NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA
Located adjacent to the southern border of the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Arusha Region in Tanzania which was established in 1959. It is a sprawling conservation area spans some 9 300 square kilometres and includes a volcanic caldera and a spectacular gorge.
Governed by the Tanzania National Parks Authority, it’s one of the most popular destinations in Tanzania with over 500 000 travellers visiting the area every year. In 2009, the Ngorongoro Wildlife Conservation Act placed new restrictions on human settlement and subsistence farming in the region which displaced the Maasai pastoralists; only guests staying at the luxury tourist establishments have access to the unspoilt beauty of one of the world’s premier wildlife sanctuaries.
The conservation area is named after the Ngorongoro Crater which is a large volcanic caldera. This incredible geographic feature was named by the Maasai after the sound produced by a traditional cowbell (ngoro ngoro).
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area falls within the Serengeti ecosystem; lying to the northwest of the wilderness corridor and adjoining the southern Serengeti plains. These plains extend to the north into the unprotected Loliondo area and are kept open to wildlife through regulated pastoral activities practiced by the Maasai.
The famous Ngorongoro Crater lies in the volcanic highlands in the south and western region which also includes the lesser known Empakaa Crateri. The rim of the East African Rift wall lies creates the southern and eastern boundaries and acts as a barrier which prevents animal migration in these directions.
The history of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Fossil evidence found in the Olduvai Gorge provide proof that the region was first inhabited by various hominid species some 3 million years ago. The Mbulu tribe came to the area about 2 000 years ago and were joined by the Datooga around the year 1700. By the 1800s, these hunter-gather tribes had been driven from the area by Maasai pastoralists.
Europeans first visited the Ngorongoro Crater in the early 1890s. Two German brothers farmed in the crater until the outbreak of World War 1 and were responsible for bringing a hunting culture to the region. Restricted hunting was introduced in 1921 when the first game preservation ordinance was passed. Finally, in 1928, hunting was prohibited on all land within the crater rim; except on the original farm belonging to the German brothers.
The Serengeti National Park was created through the National Park Ordinance; it was formally implemented in 1951 and became known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) Ordinance. Maasai and other tribes suffered greatly under the ordinance authority when they were forcibly removed from the crater area.
Today, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a multi-use and unique eco-one as it is the only conservation area in Tanzania where wildlife is legally protected and preserved while humans are still allowed to inhabit the reserve under strict conservation stipulations. The people living in the crater area survive on a subsistence level as cultivation of any kind is prohibited.
Best time to visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The best time to visit Tanzania usually starts with the question, “what is the best time to visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area?” This is because this is where all the action is during the annual Great Migration.
The best time to visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is in July to August and December, although it is a year-round destination. During the dry season between June and October, vast numbers of wildlife gather at water sources such as the Empakaai and Ndutu lakes.
In the wet rainy season which starts in November-December, many animals move to the vast savanna grasslands bordering the Serengeti National Park to calve. When the long rainy season draws to a close between March-May, the herds migrate north.
Every Tanzania holiday package includes a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s the most famous natural feature in the country. The Ngorongoro crater conservation region comprises the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. It’s also the largest unbroken volcanic caldera in the world and was formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself some 3 million years ago.
The crater is 610 metres deep and its floor spans some 260 square kilometres. It is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa joining the likes of the Okavango Delta, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti Migration in southern Africa.
The Ngorongoro Crater is home to over 30 000 animals which includes many rare and endangered species such as the black rhino and is often referred to as “Africa’s Garden of Eden”. About 20 percent or more of the wildebeest and half the zebra populations leave the crater in the wet season. The opposite is true for buffalo and eland where the highest numbers of these animals are recorded in the crater during the rainy season.
The crater highlands facing the easterly trade winds receive significantly higher rainfall and is covered mostly in lush montane forest. The west wall of the crater receives less rainfall and is covered in expansive savanna grasslands and scrub bushveld. The crater floor is dominated by open grasslands plains interspersed with woodland areas with a feature species being the ghostly Fever tree.
High up on your list of what to do in Tanzania is watching the Great Migration. The famous annual migration passes through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area with an impressive 1.7 million wildebeest, 260 000 zebra and 470 000 gazelles moving south into the protected ecozone in December and moving north in June in search of good grazing. The numbers vary based on the seasonal rains but it’s an incredible spectacle regardless.
One incredible animal sighting in the crater is the East African lions, otherwise known as the ‘crater lions’. They numbered 62 in the early 2000s but their numbers have dwindled main due to significant inbreeding. Very few male crater lions leave the area mainly because of the side of effect of the crater acting as a natural enclosure; and few male lions enter from outside the crater. Those that do are often killed or chased out by the dominant territorial males. This means the amount of new bloodline to the area is severely limited which has had a dramatic impact on the gene pool of the crater lion population.
A famous natural feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation is the protected Oldupai Gorge which is situated in the expansive plains area. It is a highly significant natural phenomenon because of discoveries of the earliest known specimens of the human genus, Homo habilis, found in the gorge.
The Oldupai Gorge is a steep-sided ravine which falls within the Great Rift Valley which stretches along an expansive area in eastern Africa. It also falls within the eastern plains of the Serengeti in northern Tanzania and is about 50 kilometres long. It lies in the rain shadow of the Ngorongoro highlands and is the driest part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The gorge was named ‘Oldupaai’ by the Maasai and is the word for the wild sisal plant which grows abundantly in the protected ecozone.
Research into the prehistoric period of the region have led many to believe that the gorge was the site of a large lake millions of years ago. Some 500 000 years ago, significant seismic activity must have diverted a nearby stream which cut down into the sediments to reveal seven main layers in the walls of the gorge.
RUBONDO ISLAND NATIONAL PARK
Rubondo Island National Park is one of two national parks in Tanzania located in the south-western corner of Lake Victoria. Established in 1965, it is made up of 10 islands which collectively span some 456 square kilometres.
Rubondo Island is on a rift in the lake and basically consists of a partially submerged rift of four hills formed through ancient volcanic activity. The island has no rivers and the majority of the island’s surface is covered in mixed evergreen and semi-deciduous forest. The forest is interspersed with open savanna grasslands and patches of acacia woodlands.
It’s not one of the most popular national parks included in a Tanzania holiday package but it’s well worth a visit. The majority of visitors to Rubondo National Park are game fisherman and avid bird lovers.
The national park is uninhabited by local people which means the natural resources of the islands are unspoilt by deforestation. The fishing and farming villagers who once lived on the island were resettled on neighbouring islands. In fact, there is a 6-week prison sentence for unauthorized landings on the island and a 6-month jail sentence for illegal fishing and poaching in the area.
You can reach Rubondo National Park by a park boat which is run and strictly monitored by the Tanzania wildlife protection authority. Otherwise, you can arrive by airplane with authorised landings at Rubondo Airstrip.
RUAHA NATIONAL PARK
Located in central Tanzania
Ruaha National Park is the largest national park in Africa, spanning some 13 000 square kilometres. You might not have heard of it because it’s one of the best kept secrets in the safari world. It’s known for its outstanding biodiversity, ancient baobab trees, magnificent rivers and riverine forests and dramatic landscapes.
It’s revered by wildlife enthusiasts who seek complete isolation in inaccessible locations. This is why the number of visitors to the national park are low; in fact, out of season the reserve is almost deserted. It is far off the beaten track and far removed from any form of modern civilisation so it’s not for the faint-hearted; only avid safari adventure seekers.
Ruaha National Park is a predator’s paradise and heaven for bird lovers. Ruaha National Park lies on the intersection of the eastern and southern African eco-regions and is renowned for its outstanding biodiversity which provides a variety of important habitats for threatened and endangered species of antelope, predators and birds.
Ruaha supports a host of important predators including the second-largest lion population left in the world; almost 10% of Africa’s remaining lions. It also provides a home to the rare east African cheetah and the third-largest population of endangered African wild dogs, plenty of leopards and both the striped and spotted hyena.
It is one of the few places in Africa where you’ll find both the greater and lesser kudu. You’ll also find rare antelope such as sable and roan, Grant’s gazelle, eland, oribi as well as large numbers of Cape buffalo, zebra, waterbuck, bushbuck and impala.
The region has managed to curb rampant poaching of elephants and a healthy population in excess of 10 000 thrive in an ideal habitat.
Bird lovers will find a magical mix of southern and northern species with an amazing 580 recorded bird species in the reserve. Tanzania has about 1 100 out of the 2 500 bird species found in Africa and more than half of those are found in Ruaha National Park. An endemic species which has found sanctuary in Ruaha is the Tanzania red-billed hornbill and the reserve also provides sanctuary to critically endangered vulture species.
SAANANE ISLAND NATIONAL PARK
Saanane Island National Park is the second national park located on an island in Lake Victoria and is a 10-minute boat ride from the town of Mwanza. It has been a fully-fledged national park since 2013 and was established primarily to protect and preserve the incredible aquatic fauna and flora of the great lake.
The national park is made up of three islets and a protected conservation area. It’s the smallest national park in Tanzania and in East Africa but it plays an extremely important role in aquatic conservation. It’s also home to rare and endangered species including the ‘de-brazas’ monkey. It’s the only place in the country where you’ll find this species.
Saanane Island National Park is not high up on the list of what to do in Tanzania but it’s well worth a visit if you find yourself in the far northern reaches of the country. It’s an unusual destination for a safari tour but it does promise incredible wildlife sightings and bird watching.
It’s also popular with outdoor adventure seekers with lots of things to do from hiking and rock jumping to guided walking trails, bush lunches and sport fishing for big game fish.
The island was named after its original owner, Mzee Saanane Chawandi, who was a fisherman-cum-farmer. He handed over the island (with compensation) to the Tanzania authorities in 1964 when it was established as the first ever government-owned zoo in the country. It has always played a vital role in promoting conservation education within the local Mwanza community.
SELOUS GAME RESERVE
Located in south-eastern Tanzania, the closest national park to Dar es Salaam
Selous Game Reserve is a secluded reserve off the beaten track. It’s the largest uninhabited track of land which is unspoilt by large tourist numbers and frequented by wildlife enthusiasts who prefer complete isolation. Located in southern Tanzania, Selous Game Reserve is regarded by the safari industry as being the best bushveld region in Tanzania.
Selous Game Reserve is often included in a Tanzania all-inclusive package for those traveller’s with more time on their hands. It’s well worth a visit.
The reserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 for its dramatic landscapes and incredible biodiversity. It’s one of only two wildlife corridors in Tanzania which is used by elephants as part of the annual Great Migration. It’s also one of the few large national parks in the country which allows visitors to hike in the area.
Selous Game Reserve was named after an Englishman, Sir Frederick Selous, who was a famous big game hunter and early conservationist. Most of the reserve has been set aside for game hunting which is conducted on private hunting concessions; a section in the northern region along the Rufiji River is designated for photographic safaris and safari tourist operations.
The dramatic landscapes are characterised by vast grasslands and Acacia savanna plains as well as expansive wetlands and lush Miombo woodlands. It’s paradise for bird lovers with over 440 recorded species of birds.
The reserve has earned itself a reputation for being a Big Cat destination with strong numbers of lion and leopard. It is also home to over 50% of the population of endangered African wild dog in the region.
The total area spans some 50 000 square kilometres with no permanent human settlements and limited tourist infrastructure. There are a few luxury safari lodges and camps in Selous Game Reserve which are reached mostly by private air charters as the roads in the reserve are very poor.
The two main features of Selous Game Reserve are the Rufiji River and the Stiegler Gorge which is a 100 metre deep by 100 metre wide natural landmark. Popular activities are safari boat cruises on the Rufiji River and guided bush walks in the reserve.
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
Located in northern Tanzania lying on the western boundary of Kenya
Serengeti National Park is world-famous for the annual Great Migration and is one of the most photographed and filmed game reserves in Africa. It was first established in the 1920s and was made a National Park in 1951. The Serengeti is renowned for its abundance of wildlife, prolific birdlife and incredible biodiversity and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981 because of its ecological significance.
When you draw up your bucket list of things to do in Tanzania, the Serengeti is generally #1 on the list. The iconic national park is world-renowned and part an essential destination for a Tanzania holiday.
Serengeti is located in the north-central region of Tanzania and extends to southwestern Kenya; and adjoins the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It includes the Serengeti National Park and a number of protected game reserves and conservation areas which are maintained by the governments of Tanzania and Kenya.
The Serengeti ecosystem in the Mara and Simiyu regions is the only place in Africa where vast migrations of animals still take place and the national park offers visitors the ultimate safari experience.
The premier national park spans some 14 763 square kilometres and comprises large expanses of savanna grasslands as well as extensive acacia woodland savanna. The wilderness region is divided into three parts according to vegetation ecozones; the Serengeti Plains, the Western Corridor and the Northern Serengeti.
Serengeti Plains: This is an almost treeless grassland ecosystem in the southern region of the Serengeti broken only with a smattering of granite and gneiss outcrops. The large rocky formations are the result of ancient volcanic activity.
Western corridor: A characteristic of the Western corridor of the Serengeti is black clay soil which is covered in marshy savanna grasses. The Grumeti River runs through the Western corridor and is a focal point of the annual migration between May to July.
Northern Serengeti: The landscape in the northern region of the Serengeti is dominated by open woodland and hills. The wooded savanna grasslands are home to large numbers of elephant and giraffe.
The famous Maasai tribe has occupied the open plains of eastern Mara Region for decades. The name Serengeti comes from the word used by the Maasai to describe the area; siringet meaning “the place where the land runs on forever”.
The annual Great Migration
The annual migration is one of the most impressive natural phenomenon in the world and happens due to an inescapable ancient force which drives over a million wildebeest, 200 000 zebra and 300 000 Thomson’s gazelles to make a frenetic three-week journey to fresh grasslands plains. It is survival of the fittest where 40 kilometre long columns of animals trek about a 1 000 kilometres a day; braving crocodile-infested rivers and hungry predators.
The surviving animals endure territorial conquests to mate; replenishing their numbers with more than 8 000 calves born daily. They then face the perilous return journey. Tragically, about a quarter of the million wildebeest who set off at the start of the annual migration die from thirst, hunger, exhaustion or fall prey to predators.
The annual migration is highly dependent on the seasonal rain but as a general rule June and July are the best months for seeing the migration; and February is the best month to witness the wildebeest calving. The dry months in the Serengeti between June to October are the best times for general game viewing because the animals congregate close to permanent water sources and the bush is thin and sparse so visibility is better.
The largest populations of animals congregate along the western corridor adjacent to Lake Victoria; hosting at last head count 1.3 million wildebeest (gnu), 60 000 zebra and 150 000 gazelles as well as more than 35 species of plains game, some 3 000 lions and above average numbers of spotted hyena, leopards, cheetah and rhino.
The annual Great Migration is usually a priority feature on any bucket list of what to do in Tanzania. Bear in mind, the migration in highly dependent on the rainy season and there’s a chance you might get the tail end of it or miss it completely. The best time to visit Tanzania for the Great Migration is a blurred stab at the general pattern of the trek but not a definite date.
TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK
Located in Manyara Region; south-east of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and close to Arusha
Tarangire National Park is another one of those lesser-known and visited national parks in Tanzania but a safari gem for those who do venture off the beaten path to this isolated wilderness sanctuary. Located in the Manyara Region, it’s the 6th largest national park in Tanzania; spanning some 2 850 square kilometres.
A unique feature of the Tarangire National Park is dramatic landscapes dotted with a magnificent array of ancient baobab trees. It is named after the Tarangire River which crisscrosses the reserve and attracts an abundance of animals in the dry season. Tarangire falls within the iconic Great Migration route and teems with wildebeest and zebra at different times of the year.The ecosystem is characterised by impressive granitic ridges, wide river valleys and fertile swamps. The dominant vegetation is Acacia and combretum woodlands and open savanna grasslands which become marshlands in the rainy season.
Tarangire National Park teems with game in the dry season between June to November with large concentrations of Cape buffalo as well as wildebeest and zebra. It’s renowned for its high density of elephants which is one of the main reasons visitors put it on their safari bucket list. The reserve also has strong numbers of predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah, caracal, honey badger and wild dog.It’s paradise for bird lovers with more than 550 recorded bird species in the reserve. In fact, Tarangire National Park is regarded as one of the finest birding destinations in Tanzania.
GREAT LAKES OF TANZANIA
Located on the eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro
Lake Chala is an exquisitely beautiful crater lake located in an ancient volcanic depression on the eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Lying in the shadow of the majestic mountain, the crater lake is surrounded by a steep crater rim which reaches a height of 170 metres in places.It straddles the border between Kenya and Tanzania; the international boundary runs right through the middle of the lake. It was formed after volcanic activity caused the vast area to collapse; creating a crater that is 3 kilometres in length and 2.5 kilometres wide.
The crater lake is fed by underground springs which originate from the giant mountain. The water changes from breathtaking turquoise to deep blue and green depending on the time of year. It’s the only lake in Africa where you’ll find the critically endangered Lake Chala tilapia which belongs to the cichlid family.The surrounding bush is lush and verdant and home to an array of wildlife and birds. It’s a popular hiking and walking destination; a popular activity is a guided walking trail that take visitors down the steep crater walls to the lake or around the water’s edge and up to the Chala Hills.
Located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Lake Eyasi falls within the Ngorongoro Highlands just south of the Serengeti National Park and southwest of the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s a seasonal shallow salt lake situated on the floor of the Great Rift Valley at the base of the Serengeti Plateau and forms part of the Eyasi-Wembere branch.It’s a seasonal lake and the water level fluctuations are dramatic. In the dry season, Lake Eyasi dries up almost completely. The tribal herders and foragers can cross the lake by foot. In the rainy season, the lake doesn’t fill up much more than a metre but it’s sufficient to support local fisherman in the area. The main fish caught are catfish and lungfish.Lake Eyasi is a pitstop for migrating flamingoes and pelicans and you’ll see large numbers of these quirky birds who’ve made the long flight over to escape the cold European winters. The main drawcard to the lake and surrounding area is the stunning array of bird species. The best time to visit Lake Eyasi if you’re an avid birder is from June to November.
A fascinating attraction found on the edge of the lake is Mumba Cave which is an archaeological site which has yielded a number of Middle Stone Age and Late Stone Age artifacts.
Located in the centre of the Ngorongoro Crater
Lake Magadi – or Makat as the Maasai call it, meaning ‘salt” – is the main source of water for animals which lies in the centre of the crater. It is created by the Munge Stream draining into the Olmoti Crater in the north and the Lerai Stream which drains the humid forests to the south of the crater. Lake Magadi feeds the Lerai Forest in the crater floor when there is enough rain.Another major water source located close to Lake Magadi in the crater is the Ngoitokitok Spring near the eastern wall where you’ll find a pleasant picnic site open to tourists. There are numerous small springs found on the crater floor which are important water sources for both animals and humans in the conservation area.
Located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Lake Manyara is a shallow lake in the Natron-Manyara-Balangida branch of the East African Rift in Manyara Region in Tanzania. Ernest Hemingway described it as the “loveliest lake in Africa”. It’s renowned for its incredible biodiversity, dramatic landscapes and abundance of wildlife and birds.It forms part of the Lake Manyara Biosphere Reserve which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 by UNESCO for its Man and the Biosphere Programme. It covers two-thirds of the Lake Manyara National Park and often adorned with flocks of migrating flocks of pelicans and flamingoes.
The acacia woodlands are home to strong numbers of elusive leopards as well as lions. It’s also paradise for bird lovers as Lake Manyara receives over 300 migratory birds in the rainy season. The verdant lakeside forests are also home to the fascinating tree-climbing lions.The name Manyara is the Maasai word for a Euphorbia species of plant which grows into a lush hedge around a family homestead. The name is given to the lush vegetation which flanks the water’s edge. A striking feature of the lakeside area is giant fig and mahogany trees which thrive draw nourishment from the underground springs which drain water from the crater highlands which are located directly above the Manyara basin.
Lake Momella is an alkaline lake lying in the basin of Arusha National Park. It’s actually made up of a series of seven lakes: Big Momella, Small Momella, Kusare, Lekandiro, Tulusia, Rishateni, and El Kekhotoito.The lake is high in alkaline and there is considerable algae growth. Depending on the concentration of algae in the water, the shallow lakes range in colour from green to turquoise blue.The water is not suitable for drinking so it’s not a popular water source for animals but the bird life in the area is prolific. This includes hundreds of flamingoes who arrive in the area to escape the cold European winters and feast on the algae.
A canoe safari company operates from Small Momella Lake.
Located in Arusha Region in north-eastern Tanzania
Lake Natron is a salt and soda lake in Arusha Region in northern Tanzania. It lies nestled at the lowest point of the Great Rift Valley and is thought to be the most caustic body of water in the world; spanning some 57 kilometres long and 22 kilometres wide.The salt and soda lake is fed by the Southern Ewaso Ng’iro River which rises in central Kenya and by mineral-rich hot springs. It is a shallow lake; less than 3 metres deep during the wet season. Even though the water is extremely alkaline, it supports an incredible ecosystem of micro-organisms which give the water its pinky-red tinge. Hordes of flamingoes and pelicans descend on the region in the wet season to feast on these miniscule organisms which has made Lake Natron a popular destination for bird lovers.
There is very little wildlife in the lakeside surrounds because it’s the site of an ancient but still smoldering and active volcano. The area is hot and isolated but worth a visit to see the flamingoes and for the dramatic awe-inspiring landscapes.High levels of evaporation in the dry season leave behind natron (sodium carbonate decahydrate) and trona (sodium sesquicarbonate dihydrate). Hence the name, Lake Natron.
Located outside the Ngorongoro Crater in north-eastern Tanzania
Ndutu Lake lies outside the Ngorongoro Crater and is rich in fauna and flora. In particular, it has strong populations of lion and cheetah as well as good numbers of hartebeest, spotted hyena and jackals. In fact, the Ndutu area is home to all six cat species which includes leopard, lion, cheetah, caracal, serval and the African wildcat.The Ndutu ecozone forms the northern belt of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area spanning some 8 000 square kilometres. It joins the Serengeti National Park and it is an important part of the annual migratory route. Large herds of game come to the fertile grasslands surrounding the permanent water source to graze and calve from November to May (depending on annual rainfall).
It’s an all-year destination as there is an abundance of wildlife in the area even in the months which fall out of the annual migration season and bird life is prolific. The animals who move into the area as part of the Great Migration settle on the vast savanna grasslands from about November to March/April. Calving season lasts from December to May.During the dry season, the plains game move out the area in search of better grazing but there is plenty of resident game that remains behind. It’s a great time to visit places in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area like Ndutu because the animals and season migratory birds congregate in large numbers around the lakes and waterholes.
Located on the southernmost-western boundary of Tanzania on its border with Malawi
Lake Nyasa – also known as Lake Malawi – is magnificent stretch of water which lies nestled in the shadow of the Livingstone Mountain located in the East African Rift Valley. Kitulo Plateau and the Kitulo National Park lie to the north and east of Lake Nyasa which are a protected conservation areas often referred to by botanists as the ‘Serengeti of Flowers”.This incredible expanse of water is the third largest lake in Africa and the East African Rift Valley and one of the Great Lakes of East Africa. The majority of the lake lies in a deep trough within Malawi. It is spans some 550 kilometres in length and 75 kilometres in width; covering an area of more than 11 400 square kilometres. The deepest part of Lake Nyasa is about 700 metres.
A distinctive feature of Lake Nyasa is 14 rivers pour water into the lake but only one river flows out to the sea, namely River Shire. It is rich in diverse fish species and home to approximately 30% of the world’s cichlid species which are colourful fish easily spotted in the lake’s clear water.The massive lake is a sought-after destination for avid fisherman and has also become popular over the years as a watersport destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Parts of Lake Malawi resemble a Mediterranean beach with wide sandy shores and idyllic swimming conditions. The lake is free of bilharzia. On the Tanzania side, the lake is less popular and receives significantly fewer visitors.
Located in the Rukwa Valley in southwestern Tanzania
Lake Rukwa is an alkaline lake which lies nestled in the Rukwa Valley halfway between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa. Almost half the lake lies in the Uwanda Game Reserve. Its remote location makes it an ideal destination for safari travellers wanting complete isolation.It’s the fourth largest lake in Tanzania and is home to abundant wildlife and an incredible array of bird species including rare birds such as the shoebill stork and the Tanzania masked weaver. It’s also a popular spot for the lesser flamingo and white pelican as well as the glossy ibis and African skimmer. The lush verdant grasslands surrounding the lake provides a nutritious feast for grazers.
In 2016, an estimated 1.5 billion cubic meters volume of helium gas was discovered in Lake Rukwa which at the time was worth US$3.5 billion.
Located on the western border of Tanzania alongside Gombe Stream National Park
Lake Tanganyika is an iconic natural wonder and one of the Great Lakes in Afrika. It’s the second oldest freshwater lake in the world spanning some 714 kilometres; the second largest by volume and the second deepest. It is also the world’s longest freshwater lake.Lake Tanganyika is divided among four countries; Tanzania (46%), the Democratic Republic of Congo (40%), Burundi and Zambia. The water flows into the Congo River system and exits into the Atlantic Ocean on the west coastline of Africa.
The name Tanganyika is a word given by the original local tribe and means ‘the great lake spreading out like a plain’. The first Europeans to encounter Lake Tanganyika in 1887 were British explorers Richard Francis and John Hanning Speke. They mistook the great lake as the elusive source of the Nile.The major river flowing into Lake Tanganyika is the Ruzizi River which formed over 10 000 years ago. The other main water source is the Malagarasi River which is Tanzania’s second largest river. There are also several islands in Lake Tanganyika; the most important ones lie within the DRC.
You’ll find the Gombe Streams National Park at the northern end of Lake Tanganyika which is where the legendary Jane Goodall spent 15 isolated years studying the behaviour of chimpanzees. Mahale Mountains National Park borders Lake Tanganyika and is home to possibly the last remaining wild chimpanzees in Africa. You can participate in chimpanzee tracking safaris to see this endangered species in its natural habitat.
Located on the northern border of Tanzania stretching into Uganda and Kenya
Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes with a surface area of some 68 800 square kilometres. The first recorded entry of its discovery was by a British explorer, John Hanning Speke, who named it after Queen Victoria. Speke mistakenly believed he’d found the source of the Nile when he saw the vast expanse of water for the first time.
It is the largest tropical lake and the second largest fresh water lake by surface area in the world. It is the world’s 9th largest continental lake in terms of volume, holding about 2 750 cubic kilometres of water. It receives the majority of its water from direct rainfall (80%) and rest from thousands of small streams.
The largest stream flowing into Lake Victoria is the Kagera River with its mouth on the lake’s western shore. It drains into the Nile River near Jinja in Uganda from the lake’s northern shore. This massive landmark has a maximum depth of 84 metres and an average depth of 40 metres. The catchment area spans some 184 000 square kilometres.
Lake Victoria is divided among three countries: 6% falls within Kenya; 45% in Uganda and 49% in Tanzania. The lake itself has had a significant geological history and researches believe the lake has dried up completely at least three times since it formed. The drying cycles are mainly attributed to the past ice ages.
The lake district is rich in fauna and flora and home to interesting species such as the African clawless otter, spotted-necked otter, marsh mongoose, sitatunga, bohor reedbuck, defassa waterbuck, cane rats and the giant otter shrew.
The lake and wetland ecosystem is home to the largest population of Nile crocodiles in Africa as well as the African helmeted turtles and the Williams’ mud turtle. It was once especially rich in fish species but many have become extinct over the past 50 years. It is estimated that there are more than 500 fish species in Lake Victoria and almost all of them are endemic. A few are still undescribed. Only Lake Malawi has more fish species than Lake Victoria.
Zanzibar lies 37 kilometres off the east coast of Tanzania and consists of more than 50 islands known collectively as the Zanzibar Archipelago. It is mistakenly thought of as an independent state but, although it has a semi- autonomous government, Zanzibar falls with the United Republic of Tanzania.
Historically known as the Spice Islands, the larger islands of the archipelago are highly fertile and have produced an abundance of agricultural products over the years including famously the best spices in the world.
The environmental conditions are perfect for growing spices such as cinnamon, chilies, nutmeg, black pepper, ginger, cloves, bulls heart, turmeric and lemon grass. A tour of the spice plantations is fascinating; you learn more about the process of getting the spices from turf to table and the amazing medicinal and rejuvenation properties of the spices.
Zanzibar packages include accommodation in Zanzibar hotels situated on some of the finest powder-white beaches in the world. Things to do in Zanzibar… well nothing if lying on sun-drenched beaches is all you want to do.
Apart from spices, when we think of Zanzibar we think of idyllic stretches of pristine beaches lined with swaying palm trees and luxurious accommodation overlooking the turquoise Indian Ocean. It’s a year-round destination with a sub-tropical climate. Except for the short monsoon season, the islands are bathed in tropical sunlight from sunrise to sunset.
It’s heaven for novice and experienced scuba divers with an endless choice of bays and reefs to explore. Scuba diving at Zanzibar is a feast of living coral and brightly coloured fish species. There are a few underwater shipwrecks to explore which have taken on a life of their own where aquatic fauna and flora have created living reefs in the nooks and crannies of the ship. Look out for Zanzibar specials at resorts geared for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts.
Chumbe Marine Park in the Zanzibar Archipelago is home to incredible species such as lionfish, Moorish idols, nudibranchs, butterflyfish, glassfish, parrotfish, angelfish, triggerfish and sweetlips. You’ll also see octopus and green turtles and sightings of humpback whales and whale sharks on an ocean safari tour.
Zanzibar holidays are paradise for avid anglers and suitable for both seasoned and novice fisherman. There are many designated deep sea sites in the archipelagos which are located in deeper waters from the fragile living coral reefs. Fishing regulations enforce a strict ‘tag & release’ practice so fishing in Zanzibar is mostly for the excitement of the chase to catch thrilling species such as sailfish and blue, black and striped marlins.
Zanzibar Archipelago regions
The two largest islands in the Zanzibar Archipelago are Unguja Island and Pemba Island. Unguja Island is the largest and typically called Zanzibar.
The smaller islands in the archipelago system are:
- Chumbe Island
- Mnemba Island
- Tumbatu Island
- Chapwani Island
- Bawe Island
- Changuu Island (Prison Island)
Changuu Island is also known as Prison Island because it was where slaves were detained and it also served as a place of quarantine for sailors stricken with contagious diseases. Today, it is an idyllic beach destination and a refuge for giant sea tortoises which were originally a gift for the Sultan from Seychelles.
You get to Prison Island by boat; it’s a 20-30 minute ride from Stone Town. You cross over a rustic wooden bridge that juts out into the sea; a reminder that in days gone by prisoners and sick sailors were banished there and no one wanted to get too close to the island.
The ruins of the former prison are a 5-minute walk from the jetty and the giant tortoises are found on the other side of the island. After a brief tour of the island which doesn’t take long; enjoy a long, lazy day on the pristine sandy beach and swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear blue water.
Stone Town is located in the oldest part of Zanzibar City on the western coast of Unguja Island. It’s not actually a town but a labyrinth of narrow alleys complete with palaces, mosques, and tiny shops. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 and is rich in cultural history.
It was the former capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate and an important trading hub for spices as well as slaves and ivory. Today it is the local government seat of the Zanzibar Archipelago which has its own semi-autonomous government.
Stone Town in Zanzibar looks worn-out and more derelict than rejuvenated through intense Zanzibar tourism so don’t expect McDonalds and Starbucks on the corner. It’s enveloped in the heady perfume of ancient spices and is full of character; make sure it’s on your list of what to do in Zanzibar because it’s a rich history lesson in the cultural heritage of the islands.
Much of the preserved architecture in Stone Town dates back to the 19th century and reflects the strong influences of the Swahili culture and a diverse blend of Arab, Persian, Indian and European cultures. In particular, it is famous for the massive elaborately-carved doorways found at the entrances to the historic buildings.
A popular attraction in Stone Town is the Houses of Wonders which was built by the Sultan of Zanzibar in the late 19th century. It was the tallest building in East Africa at the time and the first to have electricity, running water and a lift. Now it’s a museum which showcases the cultural heritage of that era. Information panels provide more detail on the way of life then.
A historical and cultural tour of Stone Town included in Zanzibar packages provides visitors with insight into an ancient metropolis as well as provides a glimpse of the way of life of the people who live there today. The town has deteriorated and basic infrastructure is sorely lacking but if you can ignore the present squalor, you’ll appreciate the grandeur of a bygone era when the Sultan’s statehood was revered.
You’ll find Anglican and Catholic churches standing alongside mosques, Omani palaces, the old fort and cannons. The town is a showcase of cultures and rich in history. It’s a shopper’s dream; you can buy anything from intricately-carved artifacts, Swahili clothing and handmade jewelry to fresh seafood and delicious organic fruit.
Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park
Zanzibar has its own national park which is located on Unguja Island (commonly called Zanzibar). It’s a splendid wilderness sanctuary located close to the town of Chwaka and home to an array of animals and birds including rare species such as Kirk’s red colobus and Sykes’ monkeys which are both rare and endangered.
Situated south of Chwaka Bay, Jozani Forest is the largest indigenous forest in the Zanzibar Archipelagoes. The area is prone to flooding which is why the whole area resembles a lush verdant swampland. Trail walking in the forest reserve is very popular. It’s a 45-minute trail which takes you along a boardwalk through a magical mangrove forest.
Another fascinating attraction is the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre which is a live display of local butterflies. The exhibit is a netted tropical oasis which is filled with hundreds of butterflies, many of them endemic to the Zanzibar Archipelagoes. It’s one of the largest butterfly enclosures in the world and income generated from the centre supports the local community.
Most people think of glistening seas and white sandy beaches when they think of a Zanzibar holiday but don’t forget the inland regions which are rich in fauna and flora and full of surprises.
FUN FACTS ABOUT ZANZIBAR
- Zanzibar is an island state which falls within the United Republic of Tanzania; it has its own semi-autonomous government which is currently lead by President Ali Mohamed Shein
- the largest island in the archipelago system is Unguja Island which is commonly called Zanzibar
- the famous monsoon winds were the reason the Indians, Arabs and Persians found Zanzibar over 2 000 years ago; they blew across the Indian Ocean and acted as a navigator
- commonly known as the Spice Islands, the Zanzibar Archipelago was an important trading hub and provided spice traders with access to the East African mainland; the Sultan of Oman was the first to trade in cloves, ivory and slaves and the island was an Arab state in the 19th century and Islam remains a dominant religion in the regio
- the name Zanzibar was adopted during Arab rule and translates in English to mean “coast of black people”
- Zanzibar is renowned for its production of spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper; up to the late 1970s it was a major global exporter of the world’s best spices
- seaweed is now a major export commodity for Zanzibar due to the increasing popularity of sushi
- the largest island in the archipelago system is Unguja Island which is commonly called Zanzibar
- Zanzibar holds the world record for the shortest war ever recorded; the Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted 38 minutes when the British bombed the Beit al Hukum Palace and a ceasefire was declared almost immediately
- Farouk Bulsara, otherwise known as Freddie Mercury, was born in Zanzibar; he was the iconic lead singer of Queen
FLIGHTS TO ZANZIBAR FROM JOHANNESBURG
Get ready for a Zanzibar holiday and a feast of powder-white sandy beaches and crystal-blue seas with the heavy aroma of delicious spices creating the island’s own exotic perfume. Flights to Zanzibar from Johannesburg take 3 hours 30 minutes.
Visitors arrive in Zanzibar at Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ) which is a short 10-minute drive from the heart of Stone Town, Zanzibar.
Airlines offering flights to Zanzibar from Johannesburg include South African Airways (SAA) and Mango Airlines.
Popular domestic flights to Zanzibar also depart from Cape Town and Durban.
Look out for Zanzibar specials and good Zanzibar packages all-inclusive deals.
BEST TIME TO GO TO ZANZIBAR
Zanzibar holidays are popular because of its tropical climate; with two dry seasons and two wet seasons.
The average temperature in summer is 29°C with a very pleasant average of 21°C in winter.
January to February: hot and humid
June to October: a cool and dry
March to June: long rains
November to December: short rains
Best time to visit: winter months
June to October because the weather is balmy and pleasant with not rainclouds on the horizon threatening to rain down on a beautiful day
For cheap flights to Zanzibar from Johannesburg
March to May
Best time to visit for scuba diving
June to October
Best time for a combined “safari & surf” Zanzibar holiday
June to October (dry season in the bushveld)
ISLANDS OF THE TANZANIA-ZANZIBAR ARCHIPELAGO
The Tanzania-Zanzibar Archipelago is made up of a constellation of 50 islands. They’re often referred as the Spice Islands as they fall within a historic trade route which saw not only spices but slaves and ivory traded.
The main island, Unguja Island (often called Zanzibar), is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the capital and economic hub of the archipelago. It’s the most popular tourist destination in the collection of islands but the others are gaining in popularity among discerning travellers wanting to escape the mass of tourists in the peak season.
The hotels and luxury lodges on the islands promise visitors the ultimate beach holiday with long, powder-white beaches, excellent diving and snorkeling and a rich cultural experience.
For the ultimate Zanzibar holiday, these are the Top 7 islands to visit:
- UNGUJA ISLAND
Unguja Island is the largest island situated off the mainland of Tanzania and often referred to as Zanzibar Island or simply Zanzibar. It’s the most populated island in the Zanzibar Archipelago and the economic hub of the region. The Zanzibar packages all-inclusive generally include accommodation at Zanzibar resorts and day excursions to the other islands.
Stone Town Zanzibar is the main attraction on the island and a good starting point to explore the exotic Spice Islands of the archipelago. The population of some 900 000 people is a mix of Arab and Swahili inhabitants.
The historic Stone Town of Zanzibar is renowned for its ancient architecture, narrow winding streets and exotic spice markets in the old trade center. Popular landmarks in Stone Town are the 1883 House of Wonders which is the former palace of a Sultan; the Old Fort which houses a cultural center and a stone amphitheatre; and the late 19th century Hamamni Persian Baths which were fed by hot water from underground aqueducts.
In the early 1900s, Darajani Market was the main trading centre for spices, seafood and slaves. The Anglican Cathedral now stands on the site of the old slave market.
Mnemba Island is located a short boat cruise from Unguja Island and boasts some of the finest coral reefs and dive sites. Inland, Jozani Forest Reserve is a spectacular wilderness reserve which is home to the endangered red colobus monkeys and indigenous wildlife which favour the massive mangrove swamps. In the southern region of the island, the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre houses native butterfly species in a large netted tropical garden.
The island is dominated by an array of modern hotels and guest lodges which range from backpacking establishments to ultra-luxury lodges. Zanzibar Island is the perfect destination for sun lovers with long, powder-white beaches as well as nature lovers and outdoor adventure seekers.
Zanzibar Island does become overcrowded in the peak tourist season and the Zanzibar hotels are fully booked with international sunseekers; which is why more and more travellers are choosing Pemba and Mafia islands as an alternative Zanzibar holiday destination.
Pemba Island is the second largest island off the coast of Tanzania and falls within the Zanzibar Archipelago. It lies about 50 kilometres north of Unguja Island which is the a largest in the archipelago and often referred to as Zanzibar. It’s also part of the island collection known as the Spice Islands and was a strategic location during the spice and slave trading era.
Pemba Island is still relatively unaffected by burgeoning tourism as it is less well-known and less popular than Zanzibar Island (Unguja). It’s the perfect destination for sun and scuba worshippers because the beaches and reefs are uncrowded and unspoilt. The coral reefs of Pemba Island offer visitors one of the finest diving experiences in East Africa.
Look out for Zanzibar specials to Pemba Island because it’s becoming more popular to visit than the mainland and staying on Pemba is one of the best things you can do in Zanzibar.
The island has earned itself the nickname “Green Island” because of its lush vegetation and green rolling hills. It’s more fertile than Zanzibar Island and dominated by small-scale farming. Pemba Island produces the bulk of cloves exported from the Zanzibar Archipelago. Cloves are the fragrant flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. They are native to the Spice Islands of Zanzibar and Indonesia and used as an aromatic dry spice in Asian cooking.
The people of Pemba Island are a mix of Arab and the original Swahili inhabitants. A large portion of the population are part of the Shirazi community. The capital of Pemba Island is Chake-Chake which is perched on a hilly escarpment overlooking the main harbour and the panoramic ocean.
One of the most popular destinations on Pemba Island is the Underwater Room at the luxurious Manta Resort. It should be at the top of your bucket list for what to do in Zanzibar.
The glass-paneled room is anchored to the ocean floor and the upper tier is a wooden outlook deck above the water. It’s located on an unspoilt reef in the middle of a marine conservation area. At night, underwater spotlights illuminate the reefs which attracts hordes of fish species. Octopus and shy Spanish dancers often attach themselves to the glass panes.
Contrary to popular belief, Mafia Island is not part of the Zanzibar Archipelago. It’s one of the six districts of the Pwani Region and governed by the mainland. It doesn’t enjoy the semi-autonomous control that Zanzibar is allowed. It’s gaining popularity as a great alternative for a Zanzibar holiday and one of the best things to do in Zanzibar.
It’s the third biggest island located off the coast of Tanzania and home to about 40 000 inhabitants. Most of them live a subsistence existence from fishing and farming. Tourism is the lifeblood of Mafia Island and the main drawcards are spectacular beaches, scuba diving and snorkeling and big game fishing.
The Mafia archipelago comprises one large island which spans some 400 square kilometres and a number of smaller islands. Chloe Bay is a protected deep-water anchorage and once an important strategic harbour in the slave and spice trade era when seafarers from Egypt, Rome, Portugal and Greece plied their trade.
The name of the island has nothing to do with an organised international body of criminals. It was taken from the Arabic word ‘morfiyeh’ which means ‘group of islands’.
Compared to the main island of Zanzibar, Mafia Island is virtually unknown and only visited by international travellers wanting to avoid the hectic crowds in the peak tourist season. This means that Mafia Island is unspoilt by rampant commercialisation and offers travellers the ultimate island experience.
Ask your travel agent what they can offer for a Zanzibar package all-inclusive which includes idyllic accommodation on Mafia Island.
Chumbe Island is another small privately-owned island located a few kilometres from the main coastline of Zanzibar Island. It is renowned for its exceptional coral reefs which fall within the proclaimed Chumbe Island Coral Park.
The protected marine conservation area includes the Chumbe Reef Sanctuary and the Closed Forest Reserve. It’s run by a non-profit organisation which conducts marine research and runs a small eco-tourism operation on the island to generate revenue. The Chumbe Reef Sanctuary was the first marine park established in the United Republic of Tanzania and registered as a vital marine protected area by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
More than 200 species of hard coral and 450 species of fish are found in the protected marine park. Only recreational snorkeling is allowed in the area and diving is strictly prohibited. Day trips to Chumbe Island are popular.
The quality of the marine reefs and marine life off Chumbe Island is largely due to the fact that the area was declared a military zone for a long time and very few people inhabited or entered the area.
Chumbe Island is also home to the legendary endangered coconut crabs. They’re the largest crabs in the world and can crack open coconuts with the extraordinarily strong pincers. They are also known to scale palm trees to escape the heat and predators. These crabs can weigh up to 5 kilograms and are known to live for up to 60 years.
A standout landmark on Chumbe Island is a tall lighthouse which rises dramatically off a powder-white beach. It was built by the British in 1904 and witnessed the German-British skirmishes of 1914 which became known as The Battle of Zanzibar. The lighthouse was fitted with gas in 1926 and is still operational today; offering a guiding light for fisherman in dhows.
This quaint island is worth a visit so look out for a Zanzibar package which includes a visit to Chumbe Island. It’s not usually included in the Zanzibar all-inclusive packages which is a real pity and it’s a beautiful destination.
Mnemba is a private island which offers guests the ultimate beach holiday. The beaches of Mnemba Island are regarded as some of the finest in the Zanzibar Archipelago. Diving and snorkeling at designated dive sites in the coral reefs which envelop the island is spectacular. The reef system is a marine conservation area known as the Mnemba Atoll.
Mnemba Island is only 4.5 kilometres from the north-eastern tip of Unguja Island and spans some 500 metres in diameter and 1.5 kilometres in circumference.
Often referred to as the “Millionaire’s Island”, this magnificent island only has one lodge on it which sleeps up to 20 guests in 10 beachside ‘bandas’. It’s geared for the discerning traveller and offers luxury beach accommodation in a pristine setting. It’s an expensive destination offering guests the ultimate beach holiday.
Mnemba Island is famous for its green turtles which nest on the island. A project was established to monitor, preserve and protect this endangered species and staff employed by the lodge are involved in documenting the turtle breeding activities.
Snorkeling with green turtles off Mnemba Island is definitely something for your bucket list of what to do in Zanzibar. Look out for Zanzibar packagers catering for people diving and snorkeling in Zanzibar.
Thanda Island lies nestled between Mafia Island and the mainland and is situated in an important marine conservation area. It is owned by Swedish entrepreneurs and philanthropists Dan and Christin Olofsson who discovered the island in 2006 when searching for the ultimate private island retreat.
The island falls within the Mafia Archipelago and is a tiny island with powder-white beaches enveloped by aquamarine waters. Spanning 250 by 200 metres, it only takes 20 minutes to walk around the island. There’s a luxurious beach villa on the island which sleeps up to 10 adults with extra space for children. There are also a few rustic beach chalets on the other side of the island which accommodate extra guests.
The deep channels around Thanda Island are home to the endangered dugong (sea cow) and endangered green turtles which use the island as a protected breeding ground.
A Zanzibar holiday is not complete without a detour to the Mafia Archipelago so add this stunning option to your list of things to do in Zanzibar.
Changuu Island has a dark past and is otherwise known as Prison Island. The remote island was originally used to incarcerate rebellious slaves although no prisoners were ever housed on the island. The British built a prison complex but it was mainly used as a retreat to quarantine people suffering from infectious diseases such as yellow fever. This is why Changuu Island is also called Quarantine Island.
The quarantine station was only used for half the year, the rest of the time it was a popular holiday destination for British authorities. It was purchased by the British Minister of Zanzibar in 1893 when the region fell under British Rule.
The island is small; about 800 metres long and 230 metres wide at the broadest point. A major drawcard to the idyllic island is a collection of endangered Aldabra giant tortoises which were originally a gift from the British governor of the Seychelles.
The only people quarantined on Changuu Island now are those lucky enough to add this beautiful island to their Zanzibar holiday itinerary. It’s definitely one of the things to do in Zanzibar if you have an interest in history and the cultural heritage of the Spice Islands.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE TRAVELLING TO TANZANIA
Tanzania is safe if you follow the usual precautions. There are just a few things you should know before arriving in the country.
Tanzanians do not like to shake hands. If you do shake a local persons had, make it very brief and light; avoid a firm handshake that might offend someone.
A local person is more likely to offer their wrist to be touched lightly instead of a handshake.
Greetings in Tanzania differ according to age and status. As a traveller, it’s a good idea to know a few common Swahili greetings to show your respect. The most common greeting is simply, “Habari/Hujambo” which means ‘hello’. To which they’ll reply, “Nzuri” meaning ‘good’.
It’s very important to greet local people in Tanzania; it’s a sign of respect and well appreciated. Ignoring someone is considered rude and impolite.
Never raise your voice to a local person or speak loudly to them. This is considered very rude and impolite.
Tanzanians are touchy, feely people. They are likely to put a hand on your shoulder, touch your hand or look in the general direction of your face during conversations. However, prolonged eye contact is unwelcome and regarded as an invasion of privacy and downright rude.
Tanzanians are taught from a young age to wash their hands before eating so it’s rude to sit down to eat without first washing your hands. If you are invited into the home of a local person for a meal, they’ll offer you a bowl of warm water to wash your hands.
The hand washing ritual in homes is interesting. The host will pour the warm water over your hands while saying “karibu” which means welcome. This ritual stems from the old days before spoons and knives were introduced.
After eating, the ritual continues with everyone washing their hands again. A family eats together and usually shares the same large plate while sitting on the floor. Traditionally, men and women eat in separate homes in traditional homes.
Do not smell food served to you by a local person. It sends them a message you think their food is bad and can offend them.
Try to eat everything on your plate which is served to you as a sign of respect. At hotels, only put on your plate what you think you can finish. Tanzania is a poor country and leaving food on your plate which goes to waste shows a lack of respect to the local waiters and chefs.
Travel by train
Tanzania is not only for the rich, well-heeled travellers. Visitors travelling to Tanzania on a tight budget have the option of using the TAZARA train which takes travellers from Dar es Salaam to central Zambia at an affordable price.
The train needs to be booked in advance as it is often fully booked for weeks at a time during the peak holiday seasons.
Be warned; the roads in Tanzania are not like modern roads in first-world countries. The country is poor and infrastructure is not well maintained, particularly in outlying areas. Expect to travel on roads full of potholes and deep grooves. Livestock wonders onto the open country roads because fencing is a luxury.
If you suffer from car sickness, take motion sickness tablets with you which you should take before setting off on a long journey.
Driving in Tanzania
If you are from the UK or Australia, remember that drivers in Tanzania travel on the left-side of the road.
Tanzanian drivers can be quite hectic and often drive fast and take risks when overtaking. Keep your wits about you if you have hired a car in Tanzania and are travelling in the country for the first time.
Drinking and driving is a fairly common problem in Tanzania even though it’s against the law. It is best to limit your travel at night as much as possible.
Time is a bit different in Tanzania
Time in Tanzania is different because clocks are set according to the Kiswahili standard.
The day starts at 0 hours at ‘sunrise’ which is 6am for us; and the day ends at 12 at ‘sunset’ which is 6pm for us.
This timing only applies in the major towns and cities in Tanzania and is not generally a problem in the safari destinations.
People in Tanzania are generally not in a hurry and don’t understand foreigners concept of punctuality. If you are meeting someone at 9am, they could show up at 10am and not think anything of it. Try to be patient and never reprimand a local person for tardy timing.
TANZANIA TRAVEL INFORMATION
ZANZIBAR PACKAGES ALL-INCLUSIVE
A Zanzibar all-inclusive package generally means the rate includes accommodation as well as all meals, non-alcoholic beverages and select alcoholic beverages.
There are a few Zanzibar hotels which offer are all-inclusive; ranging from 3-star to 5-star hotels in Zanzibar.
The popular all-inclusive Zanzibar hotels are:
- Diamonds Mapenzi Beach Club; North East Coast (Zanzibar all-inclusive)
- Dream of Zanzibar; North East Coast (Zanzibar all-inclusive)
- Neptune Pwani Beach Resort and Spa; North East Coast (Zanzibar all-inclusive)
- MyBlue Boutique Hotel; North East Coast (Zanzibar all inclusive)
- Doubletree by Hilton Resort; North Coast (Zanzibar all inclusive)
- Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort; North East Coast (Zanzibar all inclusive)
- Melia Hotel Zanzibar; North East Coast (Zanzibar all inclusive)
- Shungi Beach Resort Zanzibar; South East Coast (Zanzibar all inclusive )
- Mnemba Island Resort; Mnemba Island (Zanzibar all inclusive)
- Diamonds Star of the East; Nungwi Village (Zanzibar all inclusive)
- Diamonds Gemma Dell Est Beach Hotel; North Coat (Zanzibar all inclusive)
Zanzibar specials for visitors arriving from South Africa are based on direct flights to Zanzibar from Johannesburg . All Zanzibar Specials include flights, taxes and levies, transfers to/from your Zanzibar resort and accommodation with meals and drinks as specified.
Zanzibar accommodation is subject to availability at select Zanzibar hotels. Terms and conditions apply.
MONEY MATTERS IN TANZANIA
The unit of currency is the Tanzanian Shilling but US Dollars is used widely as the international tourist currency. No US$ printed after 2006 are accepted because of problems related to face notes in circulation.
Credit cards are accepted at most tourist establishments but incur a hefty transaction fee.
Many smaller stores and establishments in the rural areas will not have EFTPOS facilities so it is advisable to carry cash.
ATMs are available in the major towns and cities of Tanzania and the main island of Zanzibar.
Traveler’s cheques are not accepted anywhere in Tanzania.
- Average summer temperatures: 18°C to 29°C
- Average winter temperatures: 15°C to 26°C
- Rainy season: mid-March to May (“long rains”) and November to December (“short rains”)
BEHAVIOUR & ETIQUETTE IN TANZNAIA
The local inhabitants have strong religious beliefs grounded in Christianity and Islam. There is a strong population of Muslims living on the coast of Tanzania and in the Zanzibar Archipelago.
Visitors to the United Republic of Tanzania are expected to show their respect by dressing conservatively and behaving in a manner that does not insult or upset the dominant religious groups.
MAIN AIRPORTS IN TANZANIA
Dar es Salaam International Airport
Tanzania’s main airport is the gateway to the most popular destinations in Tanzania and the Zanzibar Archipelago
Kilimanjaro International Airport:
The second busiest airport which serves the Serengeti and Tarangire national parks, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara and Mount Kilimanjaro
Located 30 kilometres from Kilimanjaro International Airport, it caters to the safari tour operators and air charter companies and only geared for flights to regional destinations
VISA & PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS FOR TANZANIA
A valid passport is required to enter the United Republic of Tanzania and most foreign tourists are required to purchase a single-entry visa which is valid for three months. Multiple-entry visas can be applied for ahead of a trip to Tanzania.
Visitors can purchase single-entry visas on arrival at the Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro airports or can purchase them prior to arrive via their travel agent.
VACCINATIONS NEEDED FOR TANZANIA
Vaccinations recommended or required for Tanzania are as follows:
- hepatitis A
- hepatitis B
- yellow fever
Please consult your doctor or a reputable travel clinic in your country on more information on vaccinations required for Tanzania. As a general rule for travelling and living in East Africa, you should keep up to date on common vaccinations such as tetanus, polio and hepatitis A & B.
Cholera, typhoid and hepatitis occur in some areas.
If you are coming from a yellow fever endemic area, you are required to show proof of immunisation.
HEATH WARNINGS FOR TANZANIA
It is highly recommended that people travelling to the United Republic of Tanzania should take out comprehensive travel insurance which includes cover for medical procedures and evacuations.
For minor medical needs during your travels, there are many hospitals and clinics Tanzania were you can receive basic treatment and have medicine prescribed by a doctor.
For emergency or out-patient cases, Dar es Salaam’s new Aga Khan Hospital provides excellent care.
African Air Rescue (AAR) has clinics and out-patient healthcare facilities in Arusha and Dar es Salaam. The luxury safari lodges may have doctors ‘on-call’ to assist travellers.
The popular safari destinations in Tanzania are located in malaria areas. Malaria is less prevalent on the coast of Tanzania and on the islands of Zanzibar.
It is highly recommended tourists take anti-malaria tablets to avoid contracting this life-threatening disease and take other precautions such as wearing long sleeves and pants at night and using mosquito repellant.
HIV/AIDS is prevalent throughout Africa. Take the necessary precautions to prevent contracting this disease as you would anywhere else in the world.
Tap water in Tanzania and the islands of Zanzibar is not safe to drink as it may be contaminated by animal and human traffic. Drink bottled water at all times.
Avoid eating fruit and food sold on the street if you have a sensitive stomach. The fruit may have been washed using local tap water and the food cooked in unclean water.
Tap water in Tanzania is safe for showering and brushing teeth but avoid swallowing the water.
Food in Tanzania is perfectly safe to eat, particularly at the modern hotels and restaurants in the major towns and cities. Avoid eating cold, pre-prepared foods like ham because of the risk of listeria.
Traditional Tanzanian food features plenty of meat (especially beef, chicken, and fish) as well as rice and fresh vegetables. It’s simple, hearty food often accompanied by ugali which is a flour and water based dough similar to polenta and is eaten by hand.
Vegetarians are well catered for in Tanzania. With fresh fruits such as mangoes, coconuts, and pineapples available in abundance. With Tanzanian food so rich in vegetables, legumes and rice – you’ll be able to find delicious vegetarian food without any trouble.
SAFETY IN TANZANIA
The United Republic of Tanzania, which includes the Zanzibar Archipelago, has enjoyed years of peace and stability with the odd disruption caused by political infighting. Tourism is the lifeblood of the country and safety and security in the popular tourist destinations is a priority.
That being said, Tanzania is not a wealthy country and many of its inhabitants are unemployed and impoverished. Follow all the usual precautions for travelling to the third-world country such as leaving your expensive jewelry at home, not flashing cash and being vigilante about where you go and walk during the day and night.
Avoid the usual tourist scams which include credit card skimming and bank fraud. Crime tends to be petty pickpocketing and opportunist crime, escalating to more serious crimes such as break-ins, car jackings, muggings and assaults in areas not recommended for tourists.
SAFETY IN ZANZIBAR
Zanzibar is extremely safe for tourists. Tourism is the primary source of income in Zanzibar so the local authorities take the safety of tourists very seriously. Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t upset someone and stay safe on a Zanzibar holiday:
Leave your valuables at home; leave your valuables such as jewelry or watches, in the safety box of your Zanzibar hotel
Walking on the Zanzibar beach or in deserted streets is not recommended at night.
Eat, drink and be merry carefully; avoid drinking tap water at all costs! Most of the drinking water in Zanzibar is imported from the mainland and tap water is not safe to drink. Be careful with fruits and food that are sold on the street.
Show respect for local traditions; Zanzibar is a predominantly Islamic region and locals are conservative about clothing so dress modestly, especially while traveling in remote areas.
Your knees and shoulders should be covered in public, particularly in a strong Islam area and in the rural areas which is more traditional; women should avoid wearing short skirts and shorts.
Public displays of affection are generally frowned upon; be very careful even with casual kisses or hugs in public because same-sex relationships are illegal and you could be arrested if accused of indecency.
Be highly respectful when visiting a religious institutions in Zanzibar and avoid crowded areas and religious demonstrations especially in and around Stone Town on Fridays.
Consult a doctor before leaving on a Zanzibar holiday and immediately after your return if you’re feeling unwell; the risk of contracting malaria in Zanzibar is much lower than Tanzania but it is still sensible to consult a doctor before your visit and receive proper advice on vaccinations and preventive medication.
RULES & REGULATIONS IN TANZANIA
Consensual same-sex relations are illegal in Tanzania and the islands of Zanzibar. LGBTI travelers may be targeted and harassed and public displays of affection are punished by prison time. Public displays of homosexuality like holding hands or kissing in public places could lead to arrest and imprisonment.
Tanzania (including Zanzibar) has strict laws regarding drug use and those found in possession will be fined. There are severe penalties, including prison sentences, for drug trafficking. For further information see Tanzania’s Drug Control and Enforcement (Amendment) Act 2017.
If you use schedule drugs for health conditions, carry copies of your prescription with you
Respect & behaviour
There is a large population of Muslims in Tanzania and a strong Islamic culture in the country, especially in regions along the coast and on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or when visiting religious attractions such as churches and Mosques.
Tanzanians are a warm and welcoming nation but you are expected to respect their cultures and behaviour appropriately. Loud or aggressive behaviour, drunkenness and foul language is not well tolerated, especially towards older people.
Avoid eating, drinking, smoking or chewing gum in public, particularly in regions with a strong Islam community. In particular, it is illegal to urinate in public and you will be arrested.
Unless you have official authorisation, you may not photograph the President or any government officials and public facilities such as military bases, airports, bridges and police stations.
It is polite and respectful to ask a local person permission to take their photograph. You may offend someone by photographing them.
Dress conservatively out of respect for the religious beliefs of local communities. Women should avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless tops away from tourist resorts, especially in Stone Town and other towns where there is a strong Islamic culture.
It is illegal to sunbathe topless on public beaches.
Passports & ID
Carry identification (a copy of your passport and visa/permit) at all times. Immigration officials and police have the power to request these documents at any time. If you’re a resident or longer term visitor, you should consider carrying a certified copy of your passport and visa/permit.
Fauna and flora protection
There are criminal laws on the protection of wildlife and fauna in Tanzania. It is illegal to export animals or animal parts and to gather, collect or remove flora or fauna from marine parks. This includes seashells and coral, spices, seeds and bulbs and animal skins or bones.
Avoid bringing wildlife products such as ivory jewellery into Tanzania as you risk delay, questioning or detention when trying to leave the country. These products, whether bought or received as a gift in Tanzania, are illegal.
Foreigners have been arrested recently for trying to take products, including horns and seashells, out of the country without a certified export permit issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. If you’re caught you may be detained or fined.
On a safari tour, always follow your tour guide and/or professional game rangers instructions for your safety and well-being in national parks which are home to wild animals.
Keep your arms inside the open safari vehicle and don’t get out of the vehicle unless you have the permission of your guide. It might look safe but their could be a well-camouflaged dangerous animal hiding in the grass.
Never go for a walk on your own in an unfenced area. Bush walks must always be with a professional game ranger.
Never feed animals while on a safari tour.
MAIN LANGUAGE SPOKEN IN TANZANIA
Swahili and English are the official languages and spoken by most people living in Tanzania.
Useful Swahili phrases:
The locals are always appreciative if you know a little bit of Swahili…
How are you?
Good (standard reply to “how are you?”)
WHAT TO PACK FOR A SAFARI TOUR OF TANZANIA
- warm sweater and light waterproof jacket
- comfortable walking shoes or boots
- long sleeve dress shirt and trousers
- hat and sunglasses
- sunscreen and lip balm
- insect repellant
- camera and extra memory card
- batteries and/or charger for your camera
- international plug for phone charger
- torch or headlamp
OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICAL KIT FOR TANZANIA
- painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets
- antihistamines for allergies and insect bites
- cold and flu medication
- anti-diarrhea medication
- tablets for rehydration after diarrhea or sunstroke
- sunscreen and after-sun lotion
- eye drops
- antiseptic lotion
- bandages and plasters
- small travel scissors
TELEPHONES & INTERNET
Almost all hotels, guest lodges and campsites in Tanzania offer telephone and internet connectivity.
Internet cafes can also be found in Arusha, Dar Es Salaam, and Karatu.
The open safari vehicles used in the national parks are equipped with HF radios which can be used to radio for help if needed on a game drive.
There are four mobile providers in Tanzania: Zain, Zantel, Vodacom, and Tigo
The all offer roaming services but it can be extremely expensive. Rather opt to buy a prepaid Zain card for $5 to $50, and possibly purchase a cheap phone for as little as $35-$80. Vodacom offers an unlimited data pack for your phone for 25 000 Tanzanian Shillings (approximately $13) which is a popular option for international travellers.
Mobile network coverage for both data and phone calls is generally good across Tanzania, except in the more remote national parks.