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Tanzania

Never disappoints. How could it, with Africa's greatest game reserve, the unforgettable Serengeti, the seeing-is-believing volcanic crater at Ngorongoro, and Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. But there is much more to Tanzania than even this.

 

Tanzania

A long beach-strewn coastline, a largely undiscovered hinterland, the romantic spice islands, with their rich mixture of Arabic, Indian, African and European cultures and the Great Lakes Victoria, Nyasa and Tanganyika with hundreds of fish species and glittering beaches.

Tanzania itself is a veritable mosaic of ethnic and historical diversity. For thousands of years the vast interior saw the endless movements of nomadic tribes migrating from north to south with the changing seasons. Over on the coast, the cities and islands made up the wealthy trading centers of the Indian Ocean. A powerful Islamic civilization rose and fell, leaving behind it the Kiswahili language. After the first explorers and missionaries – Dr. David Livingstone, Richard Burton, Johann Ludwig Krapf – came German colonization in the 19th century, followed by the British protectorate of Tanganyika after World War One. Independence was achieved in 1961 and Zanzibar joined the mainland in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

However, in the Olduvai Gorge, you can see signs of an even earlier occupation – the three million year old fossils there indicate that this was home to the first race of men on earth. Or, for more up-to-date anthropology, the chimpanzee observation centre in Gombe Stream National Park is an interesting exercise in mutual behavior study!

Further west is the magnificent Mahale Mountain range, whose mist shrouded slopes form the shoreline of the deep and mysterious Lake Tanganyika. In the south you'll find the Kitulo plateau, a botanist's delight known locally as 'God's Garden'. Then to the Swahili coast and the offshore islands, whose beauty ranges from the pristine, untouched magnificence of Mafia, to the rich cultural patchwork that is Zanzibar, island of empires.

Few countries can offer National parks and conservation areas of such richness and diversity as Tanzania. Within its protected areas there are no fewer than 12 national parks, 17 game reserves, two marine parks, several marine reserves and the vast and extensive Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

In general, the Northern Circuit and the coastline including the Zanzibar archipelago are more developed than the south or the west, so travel connections, local infrastructure and tourist-oriented services are more adapted to a regular tourist activity. Places such as the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro (Crater) Conservation Area, Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Arusha and Kilimanjaro National Parks are all easily reachable and well-equipped with facilities. They also have high animal and nature concentrations.

Northern Circuit: the awe-inspiring beauty of nature untamed!

Serengeti - The endless plains
Serengeti is Tanzania's largest and most famous National park. Covering nearly 15,000 sq km, its vast, treeless plains are permanent host to tens of thousands of migrating herbivores, constantly on the search for fresh grassland and water. Chief among these is the wildebeest, of which more than a million cross the Serengeti during their annual migration. Your visit there will be the chance to see Africa at its most untamed. Giraffes, zebras, gazelles, elands, impalas and warthogs all share the plains with their main predators, lions, leopards, cheetah and the scavenging hyenas. It is also a paradise for bird watchers.

Lake Victoria - An island haven
At nearly 0,000 sq km, Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, and the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. In its south-western corner is Rubondo Island National Park, a haven for some 400 indigenous species of birdlife, including fish eagles, herons, storks, ibis, kingfisher and cormorants. Chief amongst its attractions, however, is the chance to observe the normally timid Sitatunga antelope, whose amphibious nature finds a welcome home along the island's shores of grasses and reeds.

Ngorongoro Crater - nature's grandiose amphitheatre
As for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, central to its 8,000 sq km is the Ngorongor Crater, a 20 km wide depression teeming with abundant and unique wildlife. This is one of the few areas in Africa where the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhinoceros) can all be seen together. So don't miss it! Taken in too the ancient volcanoes and the Olduavi Gorge with it fossils (including the 1.75 m year-old Zinjanthropus skull and the 3.5 m year-old Laetoli footprints) as well as the Ndutu and Mesali lakes.

Lake Manyara – an overlooked gem
One of Tanzania's smallest and most diverse national parks (330 sq km), Manyara is a more intimate view of the African outdoors. Bordered to the west by the Great Rift Valley and to the east by Lake Manyara, the reserve is host to tree-climbing lions, hippos, elephants and a huge array of birdlife, including tens of thousands of flamingos that make their annual pilgrimage to the alkaline shores of Lake Manyara.

Kilimanjaro – the roof of Africa
Kilimanjaro, the very word is magic. Lying just three degrees south of the Equator, Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 m) is the highest in Africa and the highest single standing mountain in the world. Your Kilimanjaro visit will be one of your great travel experiences ranging from the cultivated lowlands of Moshi, misty rainforests, moorland studded with giant lobelias, the rocky and barren lunar landscapes of the upper slopes, and to top it all the permanent snow fields at the Kibo peak.

The Eastern Arc – land of plenty from a prehistoric era, includes:

Usambaras – natural treasures in the mountains
Cool and green, the Usambaras are a double mountain range that form part of the geologically ancient Eastern Arc chain. While fairly densely populated, their isolation and climatic stability have given them a degree of biodiversity unequalled on the rest of the continent. Not-to-be-missed attractions include the famous African violet and the wild date palm, or among the endemic fauna, the rare Usambara eagle owl, Kenrick's starling and the Usambara warbler. The region can be visited in comfort all year round, with July-October being the driest period.

If you're looking for peace and quiet, however, you'll appreciate the Amani Nature Reserve, a haven of sub-tropical tranquility. Situated in the heart of the Usambaras, Amani was previously known for its famous botanical gardens, and is today one of the relatively undiscovered jewels of Tanzanian nature. Start your excursion from Sigi – with a bit of luck you'll have Amani and its treasures to yourself.

Pare Mountains – northern outpost of traditional culture
Further north are the Pare Mountains, home to the Pare, or Asu ethnic people. This region is a more isolated section of the Eastern Arc chain and as such, it is of great interest for its rich cultural traditions, which have been largely untouched by the modern world. Hiking from village to village is the best way to experience the local flavour, and to understand how in a unique way man co-exists with nature in this mountainous terrain.

Roughing it at the Mkomazi Game Reserve
For those who have time on their hands, a visit to the out-of-the-way Mkomazi Game Reserve is well worth it. Here, the predominately dry savannah lands form a perfect habitat for the Reserve's main attraction, the famous black rhino. Other animals living on the Reserve include giraffes, antelope, oryx, zebras and elephants, as well as numerous species of snakes and a rich variety of birdlife. Be prepared to rough it a bit though as Mkomazi is somewhat off the beaten track, and tourist facilities are limited.

The Swahili coast – bustling seaports and colonial centers of old
Outside of Dar es Salaam the coastline hosts an dabundance of National Parks, seaports and fishing villages including, Saadani National Park – new, but prospering with endless white beaches, Pangani and Tanga – seaports past and present, Mtwara-Mikindani gateway to southern Tanzania - the charming and picturesque was the starting point of Livingstone's final voyage, today a haven for sport fishing enthusiasts offering plenty of opportunity to do battle with pelages, kingfish, barracuda, marlin and tuna.

Along the coast, divers and snorkelers can revel in the pristine beauty of the reefs in the Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve, which also offers holiday-makers miles upon miles of magnificent white beaches, m the Ruvuma River to the south (home to hippos, crocodiles and a wealth of birdlife), and the Lukwilla-Lumesule Game Reserve to the south-west, one of the least frequented reserves in Africa and home to lions, leopards, hippos, crocodiles, and antelopes, to name but a few.

The Southern circuit – fabulous wildlife of the capital's doorstep
Mikumi National Park – teeming with wildlife. Set between the Uluguru mountains to the north and the Lumango mountains to the south-east and within a short flight from Dar es Salaam, Mikumi offers over 3,000 sq km of terrain teeming with wildlife and 300 species of birdlife, many of which are Eurasia. Here you can see buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, lions, leopards, sable antelopes, hippos and crocodiles – plus a special treat – the Mikumi is also an important centre for the study of primates such as the yellow baboon. The park is 330 km from Dar es Salaam on the highway to Zambia.

Selous Game Reserve – the size of a country
The largest game reserve in Africa. Selous covers 55,000 sq km of landmass (an area exceeding the size of Switzerland). Apart from its abundant wildlife, Selous also has a rich variety of bird-life and remaining habitat of black rhino. Selous' tangible assets include the Rufiji River, one of Africa's truly mesmerizing waterways; sand banks lined with outsized crocodiles, palm fringed banks massed with thirsty herds of elephants and buffalo, water teeming with grunting hippos and a veritable showcase for Africa's rich aquatic avifauna. On dry land, leopard and cheetah can be spotted, with a good chance of running into wild dogs – 25 percent of the continent's population is found here.

Udzungwa Mountains National Park – heart of the "African Galapagos"
One of Tanzania's newest National Parks, Udzungwa is of particular interest for its 10 or so species of primates, among which are the rare Iringa red colobus and the Sanje crested taxa mangabey as well as the bizarre giant elephant shrew and numerous localized birds. Like the Usambaras in the north, the Udzungwa's relative isolation and constant climate over millions of years has given rise to a range of endemic flora and fauna sometimes dubbed the African Galapagos.

Ruaha National Park – elephants galore
If it's elephants you're looking for, head for Ruaha. Tanzania's second-largest National Park, Ruaha is at the centre of an ecosystem that covers 12,950 aw km and is home to the country's largest elephant population (estimated at some 10,000). It has a mood of its own – a rugged, remote, almost spiritual quality embodied by bulbous silhouettes of ancient baobabs that haunt its semi-arid plains and rocky slopes. This vast and magnificent plateau is also home to kudus, gazelles, ostriches, cheetahs and roan and sable antelopes – while the banks of the Great Ruaha River to the east provide a perfect habitat for crocodiles, hippos and a wide array of birdlife.

The remote southern highlands - little-known treasures and alien artifacts
Lake Nyasa and Matema – where three countries meet. Africa's third largest body of water, Lake Nyasa is 550 km long and 75 km wide at its widest point. Its shores border three countries; Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Livingstone Mountains, the Tanzanian shores are not short on interest, including Matema and its fabulous beach.

Mbeya and the mountains
Just this side of the Zambian border is the town of Mbeya. Formerly a gold rush town, Mbeya is today the region's commercial and administrative centre, and is a busy cross-border trading centre. Around the town there's some good hiking and hill-walking to be had in the verdant Mbeya range. For a fun day trip, take a dalla dalla to Mbalizi junction, where you'll find the start of the hiking trail to the Mbeya Peak, at 2,818 m the highest peak in the range.

Kitulo Plateau – a botanist's delight
Situated between the Livingstone and Uporoto ranges, the high Kitulo Plateau is a unique experience of endemic plant life for lovers of nature and botany. This combined with the breathtaking scenery of the Livingstone Mountains backdrop has earned it the local name of 'Bustani ya Mjungu', which literally means God's Garden. Soon to be named a National Park, Kitulo is one of the greatest floral spectacles in the world, and a must in any Southern Highland itinerary.

Gombe Stream National Park – the chimpanzee centre
Tanzania's smallest national park, Gombe Stream is a world centre of study on chimpanzees, and the location of the longest-running wildlife observation programs on the planet. Started in 1960 by British naturalist Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee study is now in its sixth generation. As an added bonus, Gombe Stream's small size permits an easy and comprehensive visit, so don't miss the opportunity to get out walking with every chance of meeting a couple of chimps on your way.

Katavi National Park – the great unknown
Katavi is Tanzania's third largest National Park covering 4,500 sq km, remains one of the few viable savannah reserves anywhere on the continent. You could drive around for days without encountering another tourist. Big five devotees have much to look forward to, lion, and elephant sightings match those anywhere; thousand strong herds of buffalo mass on the plains, while leopard are frequent in the woodland. An unexpected highlight is the ponds of up to 200 hippos that jostle for wallowing space in practically any stretch of water deep enough to wet a knee in.

The Western Hinterland – remote mountains & historical meeting points.

Ujiji – ancient caravan terminus
On to tiny Ujiji, just south of Kigoma, the region's capital. Although few traces of its former glory remain, this town used to be the terminus of East Africa's most important slave and ivory caravan route, linking Lake Tanganyika across the plains and mountains to Bagamoyo and the Indian Ocean. It was an important ship-building centre, and a natural way-station for a number of European explorations. It is also the scene of the famous meeting between Henry Morton Stanley and Dr. David Livingstone.

Tabora – trading post of the past
Previously a major trading post on the old caravan, the town of Tabora has also been a mission station as well as hosting several European explorers. One of its major claims to fame though was as the centre of the infamous slave trader Tippu Tip's extensive empire. More recently, Taboprs has become a regional centre for education, and is where Tanzania's first President, Julius Nyerere attended school.

Mahale National Park – Lake Tanganyika paradise
This lovely National Park could be described as a tropical beach nirvana. It might have been transplanted from some uninhabited Indian Ocean island, with its white sandy beaches lapped by the transparent waters of Lake Tanganyika (the world's longest, second deepest and reputedly least polluted fresh water body) and rising to forested peaks, 2,000 m above shore.

The Spice Islands – the lure of Mystery and magic
Zanzibar - Ivory and slaves capital of bygone empires

Previously the court of the Sultan of Oman, Zanzibar's rich and intricate history is in evidence everywhere on the island. Walk around Stone Town for an hour or three and you'll see two millennia of history unfold before your very eyes. Architecturally the mix is incredible with buildings displaying Arabic, Indian, European and African characteristics. Of particular note are the city's 500 or so doors, with their intricate carvings, brass spikes and even verses quoted from the Koran.

Zanzibar also offers music, beaches, historical trips to clove plantations and much more. Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts will choose from 3 main areas, with MnembaIsland, considered to be the best. Those seeking privacy will find several less well-known sites on the east coast.

Just south of Zanzibar Town lies the Jozani Forest, part of the Jozani-Chwaka Conservation Area. Within the forest are the rare, red Colobus monkey, as well as several other species of monkey, birds, butterflies and other animals.

Pemba – the original spice island
Zanzibar's much-overlooked neighbor, Pemba is as laid back and natural as Zanzibar is upbeat and cosmopolitan. Hilly and fertile, Pemba was once known to Arab traders as "al khuthera", literally 'the green island'. And green it most certainly is. Its agricultural bounty is the island's economic mainstay – Pemba provides almost 80% of the archipelago's output in cloves alone.

Mafia Island –anglers' paradise
Twenty minutes flight south of Dar es Salaam is Mafia Island. Eulogized by divers, snorkelers and game fishermen alike, the Mafia archipelago is protected by extensive barrier reefs. It is home to fauna as diverse as anything in East Africa: 400 fish and 5 turtle species, spread out along fifty genera of coral. In 1995 several atolls were declared Tanzania?s first Marine Park. For those whose experience of African fauna is restricted to terrestrial habitats, it will take perhaps five minutes below the waters off Mafia to experience something akin to epiphany. Swirling around the base of mushroomed coral outcrops is a veritable kaleidoscope of reef dwellers, their brilliant, luminous hues reflected in equally colourful common names including: clown fish, butter-fly fish, rainbow fish, lion fish. In deeper waters divers come across larger species: groupers, sharks, tuna, rays while the open sea verging the marine park is renowned for game fish such as marlin, barracuda and sailfish.

Main Cities
Arusha safari capital of Tanzania. Dar es Salaam