Tanzania, the largest country in East Africa, includes the spice islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia and contains Africa’s highest point—Kilimanjaro, at 5,895 meters (19,340 feet). Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano, is snowcapped even though it is near the Equator. The African population consists of more than 120 ethnic groups.
The reasons for visiting Tanzania are innumerable, but the main list includes the following:
· Over one quarter of it’s land mass is dedicated to National Parks, Game Reserves and Game Controlled Areas, which gives Tanzania more land dedicated to National Parks than any other country in the world and ensures:
· The finest game viewing potential anywhere.
· From the largest Game Reserve in Africa (The Selous, 19,293 square miles), declared a World Heritage Site in 1982, to one of the smallest (Gombe Stream, with it’s chimpanzee population) and from one of the best known (the Serengeti) to the least (Mahale Mountains).
· The highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, 19,340 feet (and the eighth highest, Meru (14,979 feet)
· The Serengeti ecosystem (just the Park itself covers 5,700 square miles, which gives some scale to the Selous!) and it’s attendant migration.
· The collapsed caldera, wildlife miracle and World Heritage Site of the Ngorongoro Crater, often said to be the Eighth Wonder of the World!
· Olduvai Gorge – the “birthplace of Man”.
· Very varied habitats and vegetational zones.
· A wonderful 497 mile coastline on the Indian Ocean, and three main tropical islands: Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia.
· Zanzibar is a draw in itself.
· An excellent climate.
· The second deepest lake in the world (Lake Tanganyika, 4,725 feet) and the largest lake in Africa (Lake Victoria).
· The Great Rufiji river.
· A substantial portion of the Rift Valley, see “Geography” below. (Kirurumu Tented Lodge is on the lip of the Rift).
· Political stability – see Politics & Religion, below.
· Exceptionally friendly peoples.
· English (and KiSwahili) as the main languages.
· Relatively low levels of tourism.
Tanzania is bordered on the south by Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia; on the west by Zaire, Burundi, and Rwanda; on the north by Uganda and Kenya; and on the east by the Indian Ocean. Tanzania is the largest of the East African nations, and it possesses a geography as mythic as it is spectacular.
In the northeast of Tanzania is a mountainous region that includes Mt. Meru (14,979 ft/4,566 m) and Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft./5,895 m), the latter of which is the highest point in Africa and possibly the most breathtaking mountain imaginable.
To the west of these peaks is Serengeti National Park, which has the greatest concentration of migratory game animals in the world (200,000 zebra, for example). Within the Serengeti is Olduvai Gorge, the site of the famous discoveries by the Leakeys of fossil fragments of the very earliest ancestors of Homo sapiens. The Serengeti also contains the marvelous Eden of Ngorongoro, a 20-mile-wide volcanic crater that is home to an extraordinary concentration and diversity of wildlife.
Moving west from the Serengeti, one reaches the shores of Lake Victoria, the largest lake on the continent and one of the primary headwater reservoirs of the Nile. Southwest of Lake Victoria, and forming Tanzania’s border with Zaire, is Lake Tanganyika, the longest and (after Lake Baikal) deepest freshwater lake in the world. It was at Ujiji, a village on the Tanzanian shore of Lake Tanganyika, that H.M. Stanley presumably encountered David Livingstone in 1871. Livingstone had fallen ill while searching for the source of the Nile, and despite his illness he refused to leave. Instead, he persuaded Stanley to accompany him on a journey to the north end of Lake Tanganyika. The region that they passed through has since become famous as Gombe National Park, the site of Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee research station.
Southeast of Lake Tanganyika is a mountainous region that includes Lake Malawi (previously Lake Nyala), the third largest lake on the continent. East of Lake Malawi is the enormous expanse of the Selous Game Reserve, the largest in Africa with over 21,000 sq. mi. (55,000 sq. km.) and perhaps more than 50,000 elephants.
Moving northeast from Selous brings one to Tanzania’s low, lush coastal strip, the location of its largest city, Dar es Salaam. Dar Es Salaam is the embarkation point for Zanzibar, the fabled emerald isle that lies off the Tanzanian coast.
On account of its extremely varied topography, the weather in Tanzania can vary between regions, but generally it has two dry seasons split by two rainy seasons as described below:
DECEMBER – MARCH This is when the north of the country is usually at its driest with hot, clear days and pleasantly warm nights. On average daytime temperatures rise to around 90F and then fall to a balmy 65F at night. The coastal region can experience more tropical temperatures with the influence of the ‘kaskazi’ monsoon wind that can push temperatures up to a humid 95F or higher. Whilst the north of the country is predominantly dry during this time, the southern areas of Selous and Ruaha usually experience their green season with intermittent rainfall.
APRIL – MAY As the end of March beckons, daytime temperatures and humidity begin to increase significantly with the onset of the long rains, although the effects in the northern highlands are normally tempered on account of the altitude. The long rains can sometimes cause temporary flooding as a result, but are usually short and heavy, with rainfall typically lasting for an hour or two before the sun shines again.
JUNE – OCTOBER This is the coolest time of the year although daytime temperatures remain high at about 80F, contrasting significantly with the nights when the temperature can fall to 58F or cooler in the highlands. As September and October approach, so it starts to warm up again prior to the short rains in November. These months are generally dry although some rain may be encountered.
NOVEMBER This month sees a rise in temperatures as the hot and dry season approaches, but this is also the time of the short rains which can last into early December. Storms are generally short, sharp and very sporadic with travel arrangements little affected.
The history of human habitation in Tanzania goes back almost two million years, and the fossils found at Olduvai Gorge by Louis and Mary Leakey now stand among the most important artifacts of the origins of our species. Artifacts of later Paleolithic cultures have also been found in Tanzania. There is evidence that communities along the Tanzanian coast were engaging in overseas trade by the beginning of the first millennium AD. By 900 AD those communities had attracted immigrants from India as well as from southwest Asia, and direct trade extended as far as China.
When the Portuguese arrived at the end of the 15th century, they found a major trade center at Kilwa Kisiwani, which they promptly subjugated and then sacked. The Portuguese were expelled from the region in 1698, after Kilwa enlisted the help of Omani Arabs. The Omani dynasty of the Bu Said replaced the region’s Yarubi leaders in 1741, and they proceeded to further develop trade. It was during this time that Zanzibar gained its legendary status as a center for the ivory and slave trade, becoming in 1841 the capital city of the sultan of Oman.
In Tanzania’s interior, at about the same time, the cattle-grazing Maasai migrated south from Kenya into central Tanzania. Soon afterward the great age of European exploration of the African continent began, and with it came colonial domination. Tanzania fell under German control in 1886, but was handed over to Britain after WWI. Present day Tanzania is the result of a merger between the mainland (previously Tanganyika) and Zanzibar in 1964, after both had gained independence. Tanzania has like many African nations experienced considerable strife since independence, and its economy is extremely weak. However, political stability does appear to have been established in recent years.