Tanzania

The home of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Serengeti

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From wilderness safaris to trekking mountains in the southern highlands to snoozing on idyllic beaches, Tanzania trips provides amateur and experienced lifetime holidays to remember…

 

Connected to the Masai Mara grasslands of Kenya, the Tanzanian Serengeti is the top spot in Africa for wildlife safaris and hideaway, seeing African game in their unspoiled habitat and perching among some of the most beautiful and rare animals in the world. The annual wildebeest migration is arguably its greatest wildlife spectacle and simply can’t be missed.

 

Tanzania trips wouldn’t be complete without a trek up to Mt. Kilimanjaro, an expedition of the Ngorongoro Crater and a visit to the colonial Zanzibar Town.

Tanzania Travel Guide

If you close your eyes and conjure up the quintessential romantic image ofAfrica, what you’ll most likely imagine is Tanzania: the drama of the wildebeest migration along a seemingly-endless savannah; the incongruous snow and glaciers of Mt Kilimanjaro; the iconic and statuesque Maasai warriors; the exotic palm-fringed beaches on the spice islands of Zanzibar. It’s all here.

Tanzania boasts some of the most impressive national parks and game reserves in Africa. The Serengeti National Park is considered the continent’s premier spot to see wildlife roam unheeded across vast open plains.

Nearby, within the steep walls of the Ngorongoro Crater lies the most densely concentrated population of African mammals on earth. Not to be forgotten, the Selous Game Reserve is larger than Switzerland, and is wild, remote and still virtually untouched by humans.

Even further from the beaten path are parks in the extreme west of the country which offer the unique opportunity to track chimpanzees in their natural habitat on the fringes of Lake Tanganyika, one of Africa’s Great Lakes.

Beyond its safari stalwarts, Tanzania has no less than 804km (503 miles) of sublime coastline and pearly-white beaches with some magnificent islands offshore. Known as the Swahili Coast, this was a favoured stop on ancient trading routes between the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East. Spices, jewels and slaves once passed through, bringing with them a mélange of cultural riches that remain today.

Tanzania’s not short on mountains either. The striking and snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest at 5,895m (19,341ft) and climbing it is an unforgettable experience. Its slightly smaller sister Mt Meru is arguably even prettier, and a quicker climb.

Tanzania is home to more than 120 different ethnic groups and cultures, but it has seen little of the ethnic or religious-based violence that has afflicted certain other nations in the region. In fact the country is an inherently peaceful place and embraces its multicultural heritage, which adds to its broad appeal.

Tanzania History, Language and Culture

History of Tanzania

There are over 120 ethnic groups on the Tanzanian mainland, most of whom migrated from other parts of Africa over the millennia, whilst on the coast, the Swahili people originated from an eclectic mix of traders – Arabic, Persian and Chinese among others – who arrived from as early as the 8th century.

The first European arrival was the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, who visited the coast in the late-15th century, after which most of the littoral region came under Portuguese control. The Portuguese also controlled Zanzibar until 1699, when they were ousted from the island by Omani Arabs.

In the late-19th century, along with Rwanda and Burundi, Tanganyika was absorbed into the colony of German East Africa until the end of WWI. Then, following the German defeat, it was administered by the British under successive League of Nations and United Nations mandates.

Tanganyika became independent in 1961, under charismatic socialist leader, Julius Nyerere, who was President until 1985. In 1964, Tanganyika joined with Zanzibar and became Tanzania. Since independence, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), has remained the ruling party.

Tanzania proved itself an active player in regional politics, by giving support to anti-apartheid movements in South Africa, and it intervened militarily in Uganda in 1979, to overthrow the Amin regime. In 1985, Nyerere retired and was replaced by Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who introduced market forces into the economy and on the political front, amendments to the constitution allowing for the introduction of a multiparty system.

Nevertheless, the CCM comfortably won the 1995 elections, when Benjamin Mkapa became president. In August 1998, Tanzania was the scene of a major terrorist incident when the US embassy in Dar es Salaam was bombed. October 1999 was marked by the death of ex-president Julius Nyerere.

Mkapa won a further term of office in 2000 amid vote rigging and intimidation allegations, particularly on Zanzibar. Again in the 2005 election, Zanzibar experienced tension and some violence when the CCM candidate Jakaya Kikwete was declared the winner, a result disputed by the Civic United Front (CUF), which claimed they’d won the majority of votes. However, negotiations between the two parties in 2009 ushered in peaceful elections in 2010 following a power-sharing agreement.

In 2015, John Magufuli became Tanzania’s new president and has been praised for his no-nonsense approach and zero tolerance towards corruption and frivolous government expenditure.

Did you know?
• Tanzania gained world fame when the celebrated American author Ernest Hemingway wrote about his time in the country in ‘The Green Hills of Africa’.
• Some of the earliest remains of humans were recovered in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
• Tanzania shares a national anthem with South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Tanzania Culture

Religion:

About 40-45% of Tanzania’s population is Christian and about 35-40% are Muslim (most of which live along the coast and Zanzibar and the other islands). A small number follow traditional religions and there are some Asian communities including Sikhs and Hindus.

Language in Tanzania

Kiswahili and English are the official languages. The terms Swahili and Kiswahili are used interchangeably, though the term Swahili normally refers to the people while Kiswahili refers to the language. Originating along the coast, Kiswahili is a Bantu language with many words derived from Arabic. Other African languages such as Bantu and those of Nilo-Hamitic and Khoisan origin are also spoken in more remote regions.

Tanzania Weather, climate and geography

Weather & climate

Best time to visit:

The climate is tropical and coastal areas are hot and humid, while the northwestern highlands are cool and temperate. There are two rainy seasons; the short rains are generally from October to December, while the long rains last from March to June. The central plateau tends to be dry and arid throughout the year.

Tanzania can be visited year-round, although the best time for travelling is outside of the rainy season between June and October, when temperatures stay well below their summer peaks. Beach side locations like Zanzibar can be fine to visit during the hotter months of December to January, when ocean breezes make the high temperatures bearable (though humidity can still be high). However, this is also the time popular for typical beach holidays, especially for those travelling from Europe wanting some winter sunshine, and hotels can book up early especially for the Christmas and New Year period.

Required clothing:

Tropical clothing is worn throughout the year, but in the cooler season, from June to September, jackets and sweaters may be needed, especially in the evenings. Clothing appropriate to temperatures below zero is required on the higher slopes of Kilimanjaro and Meru. Also note that it can get very cold at night on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and early morning game drives may be chilly before the sun comes up.

Geography

The United Republic of Tanzania lies on the east coast of Africa and is bordered by Kenya and Ugandato the north; by Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west; by the Indian Ocean to the east; and by Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to the south. The Tanzanian mainland is divided into several clearly defined regions: the coastal plains, which vary in width from 16 to 64km (10 to 39 miles) and have lush, tropical vegetation; the Masai Steppe in the north, 213 to 1,067m (698 to 3,500ft) above sea level, which gives rise to two prominent mountains, Kilimanjaro, 5,895m (19,341ft) above sea level and Africa’s highest peak, and Mount Meru, 4,565m (14,973ft); and there’s a high plateau known as the Southern Highlands in the southern area towards Zambia and Lake Malawi.

Savannah and bush cover over half the country, and semi-desert accounts for the remaining land area, with the exception of the coastal plains. Over 53,000 sq km (20,463 sq miles) is inland water, mostly lakes formed in the Rift Valley and Tanzania’s share of Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, both on its western border. Lake Victoria covers 69,490 sq km (26,832 sq miles), which is Africa’s largest lake and 49% of it lies in Tanzania. With maximum depths of 1,470m (4,821ft), Lake Tanganyika is estimated to be the deepest lake in Africa and is 673km (420 miles) long and averages 50km (31 miles) across; 41% of its area lies in Tanzania. The United Republic of Tanzania includes the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, about 45km (28 miles) off the coast to the northeast of the country.

Area

945,087 sq km (364,900 sq miles).

Population

51 million (2015).

Population density

54 per sq km.

Capital

Dodoma.

Government

Federal republic.

Head of state

President John Magufuli since 2015. Zanzibar is semi-autonomous and has its own parliament and president (President Ali Mohamed Shein since 2010).

Head of government

President John Magufuli since 2015.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three square pins are mostly used, but plugs with three round pins are also in use. Power cuts are common in the rainy season, though most large hotels and businesses have back-up generators.

Tanzania Visa and Passport Requirements

Passport required Return ticket required Visa required
Australian Yes Yes Yes
British Yes Yes Yes
Canadian Yes Yes Yes
Other EU Yes Yes Yes/1
USA Yes Yes Yes
Passports

A passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry to Tanzania is required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.

Visas

Visas for Tanzania are required by all nationals referred to in the chart above, except:

1. Nationals of Cyprus and Malta, who do not require a visa.

You can obtain single-entry and transit visas on arrival at the port of entry into Tanzania. Passport photos are not required; all other requirements must be in place. However, multiple-entry business visas cannot be issued at the point of entry and you must obtain these in advance through Tanzania’s embassies. For more information about visas, visit the website for the Immigration Services Department (www.immigration.go.tz).

Nationals not referred to in the chart are advised to contact the embassy or high commission to check visa requirements for Tanzania.

While still part of Tanzania, Zanzibar and the other islands are administered autonomously; they have their own immigration procedures and you will be asked to show your passport on entry and exit.

Types and cost

Single-entry tourist visa: US$50 on arrival (the exception is US citizens for whom a single-entry visa is US$100) or £40 in advance.

Double-entry tourist visa (in advance): £70.

Multiple-entry business visa: £80 (six months) or £100 (12 months).

Validity

Single-entry tourist visa: up to three months. You can re-enter Tanzania on the same visa (providing it is still valid) if coming into Tanzania for a second time from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda or Burundi.

Multiple-entry business visa: up to three months per visit within a six- or 12-month period.

 

Transit

Transit visas costing US$30 are available for those travelling through Tanzania to other destinations within a 14-day period. An onward ticket or tour itinerary/confirmation and sufficient funds for transit are required.

Application to

You can obtain visas from the embassy or high commission before you travel. You can also obtain them at any point of entry (airports and land borders) on arrival. This is a much easier option but you will need to pay for them in cash in US Dollars. Ensure that you have sufficient blank pages in your passport (the minimum for entry into Tanzania is two).

Temporary residence

Residence permits are granted to foreign nationals if they are employed by a Tanzanian company, or working long-term as missionaries or volunteers. You must apply for these through the Immigration Services Department (www.immigration.go.tz).

Working days

Allow three working days for visa processing if applying in advance. You can pay an additional fee for a 24-hour or same-day service.

Sufficient funds

Onward ticket or tour itinerary/confirmation, or proof of funds eg credit card, is required.

Extension of stay

You can extend your visas for three months at a time up to a maximum of six months at the immigration office in Dar es Salaam.

Embassies and tourist offices

Embassy of the United Republic of Tanzania in the USA

Telephone: (202) 884 1080.Website: http://www.tanzaniaembassy-us.orgOpening times: Mon-Fri 0900-1300.

High Commission for the United Republic of Tanzania in the UK

Telephone: (020) 7569 1470.Website: http://tanzaniahighcommission.co.ukOpening times: Mon-Fri 1000-1230 (visa applications) and 1400-1530 (visa collection only).

British High Commission in Tanzania

Telephone: (022) 229 0000.Website: http://www.ukintanzania.fco.gov.ukOpening times: Mon-Thu 0730-1530; Fri 0730-1330.

Tanzania Health Care and Vaccinations

Title Special precautions
Diphtheria Yes
Hepatitis A Yes
Malaria Yes
Rabies Sometimes
Tetanus Yes
Typhoid Yes
Yellow Fever Yes

* A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from all travellers over one year of age.

Before leaving home, visit the doctor or a travel clinic for advice on vaccinations, malaria prophylactics and general advice. Basic traveller vaccinations recommended include yellow fever, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A. It is vital to take out comprehensive travel medical insurance, and it is essential that is should include repatriation to your home country in the event of an emergency. There are a wide variety of policies to choose from, so shop around. If you are going to be active in Tanzania (mountain climbing or scuba-diving for example), ensure the policy has adequate provision.

There are some good private hospitals in Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Stone Town on Zanzibar, but facilities are rudimentary outside of these and medicines are often unavailable. All treatment must be paid for in advance. Tanzania’s emergency telephone number (ambulance, fire and police) is 111. The best private hospital in the country is the Aga Khan Hospital, Ocean Road, Dar es Salaam, (tel: (022) 211 5151; www.agakhanhospitals.org). However, for cases of extreme emergencies or surgery, visitors with adequate health insurance will be transferred to a private hospital in Nairobi, Kenya which has the best medical facilities in East Africa.

Malaria: The risk of contracting malaria is prevalent throughout Tanzania and prophylactics should be taken (take expert advice before you leave home). Symptoms can start as something resembling a severe attack of flu. If you develop any symptoms even after several weeks after your return home, seek medical advice. Travellers should take precautions against mosquito bites – cover-up at dusk and use insect repellent. Almost all hotels in Tanzania have air-conditioning and/or fans which help ward off mosquitoes and most tourist-class hotels have mosquito nets over the beds.

Altitude sickness: This can strike from about 3,000m (9,800ft) and is caused by lack of oxygen and should be a consideration for anyone climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. Symptoms include heart pounding, shortness of breath and dizziness. The best way of preventing it is a relatively slow ascent – some time spent walking at medium altitude, getting fit and acclimatizing is helpful. To decrease the symptoms, an immediate descent is necessary.

Food and drink

All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Travellers should use bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth, washing vegetables and reconstituting powdered milk. Ice should be avoided.

Other food hygiene precautions should be strictly observed if eating in a local restaurant, but visitors should encounter few problems if eating in upmarket restaurants and hotels. Eating snacks from street stalls (common in Tanzania) is not advised, but if items are fresh and cooked well (and the same could be said about buffets in tourist hotels) then you shouldn’t encounter any problems. If you get traveller’s diarrhoea, which doesn’t usually last more than 48 hours, the key treatment is rehydration. If it is more persistent, then seek medical advice.

Other risks

Rabies is prevalent in Tanzania (in monkeys as well as domestic animals). There is a high incidence of HIV/AIDS. Avoid swimming and paddling in fresh water as there is a risk of bilharzia (prevalent in both lakes Victoria and Tanganyika); swimming pools that are well chlorinated and maintained are safe. On the coast and islands, there are sea urchins so take care when snorkelling and diving – if possible wear plastic shoes. If diving, ensure you are fit to do so. Be aware that serious diving injuries may require time in a decompression chamber and the nearest one is in Kenya – check that your medical insurance covers this eventuality.

Things to see and do

Conquer Mount Kilimanjaro

As the highest mountain in Africa at 5,895m (19,341 ft), Kilimanjaro has tempted avid explorers with its snow-capped peak for decades. Reaching the top is no walk in the park, but anyone of reasonable fitness can do it. Well-organised six-, seven- or eight-day climbs include guides, porters, food and equipment. Watching the sunrise from the summit is an indescribable spectacle.

Experience wilderness seclusion at Selous Game Reserve

For a truly remote wildlife adventure, head to an isolated lodge in the Selous Game Reserve. This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers an area larger than Switzerland (about one-sixth of Tanzania’s land surface), making it one of the biggest reserves in the world. It is home to a plethora of African animals, and is renowned for its exceptionally large elephant herds.

Explore Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara is easily seen from the road that climbs up the Rift Valley, where safari vehicles stop to gawk at the pink flamingos. Once inside the park, there are tracks through the oasis of lush greenery, with the algae-streaked lake on one side and baobab-strewn cliffs on the other. Manyara is famous for its tree-climbing lions, and elephant are easily spotted too.

Feel the beautiful isolation of Lake Natron

The isolated and beautiful Lake Natron is a lesser-known gem on Tanzania’s feted Northern Circuit. The shallow moon-like surface of this salt and soda lake is home to more than two million lesser flamingos, while the surrounding Rift Valley escarpment lends itself to dramatic vistas. Tourism remains delightfully underdeveloped here, though you’re just a few hours from Arusha.

Have a history lesson at the National Museum

Located next to the Botanical Gardens in Dar es Salaam, the National Museum reveals the fascinating history and culture of this ancient region, and features the 1.7-million-year-old skull of Nutcracker Man. Peacocks stroll the gardens, where there is a striking sculpture in memory of victims of the 1998 Dar es Salaam US Embassy bombing.

Meander around Moshi

Beneath the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro sits the small, charming and verdant town of Moshi, worth exploring either before or after conquering Africa’s highest mountain. Unfailingly laidback, Moshi has some good restaurants and a colourful market; it’s also the centre of one of Tanzania’s major coffee-growing regions, with coffee tours available run by many local operators.

Peruse Mwenge Carvers’ Market

Located 8km (5 miles) north of Dar es Salaam on the way to the northern beaches, this fascinating market has vendors selling their beautiful handmade wares. This is the place to buy famous Makonde woodcarvings – the Makonde people are considered to be some of the finest carvers in East Africa.

Reach the summit of Mount Meru

The lower slopes of Mount Meru (4566m/14980ft) in Arusha National Park are one of the most easily accessible places to spot buffalo, giraffe, black and white colobus monkey and warthog. The three-day trek to the summit of the striking mountain is an equally challenging and cheaper option than climbing Kilimanjaro, though far less popular.

Relax on Zanzibar’s beaches

Zanzibar’s magnificent swathes of palm-backed white sandy beaches make for a wonderful beach getaway. The many resorts (from simple beach cottages to 5-star luxury) offer a range of activities, such as diving, snorkelling and sunset cruises on white-sailed dhows. Fine seafood and a cold sundowner are never far away.

Safari in the Serengeti

The Serengeti is undoubtedly the most iconic national park in all of Africa, and a safari through the astonishing endless plains is an absolute must on any visit to Tanzania, especially during the famed wildebeest migration (roughly November to May). Close sightings of the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) are almost guaranteed.

Scuba dive off the Swahili Coast

The technicolour marine life surrounding the idyllic coral islands of Zanzibar and Pemba makes them a hotspot for scuba diving. There are countless dive sites around the islands, which are protected as marine national parks and reserves. The warm Indian Ocean has clear visibility to see all kinds of coral, brightly coloured fish, dolphins, manta rays, turtles and sharks.

See the Great Migration from the air

The endless plains of the Serengeti come to life in the early hours of dawn. Seeing the park wake with the rising sun from a hot air balloon is one of the world’s great natural spectacles. The annual migration of some two million wildebeest followed by their predators, roughly from November to May, is the best time to hitch a ride.

Spot the Big Five in Ngorongoro Crater

At 610m (2,000 ft) deep, 20km (12.5 miles) wide, the Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact caldera in the world. Another of Tanzania’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the crater is packed with almost every species of African plains mammal including the densest lion population in Africa.

Stroll through Stone Town

Zanzibar’s Stone Town was the hub of the ancient spice trade, and once served as the maritime metropolis of East Africa, variously ruled by Shirazi Persians, the Portuguese, the Omani Arabs and British. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site remains a labyrinth of narrow, winding streets lined with exotic shops, bazaars, colonial mansions, mosques and squares.

Take a trip back in time at Bagamoyo

The ancient town of Bagamoyo was a one-time slave port and terminus for the trade caravans. The town mosque and Arab tombs date from the 18th century, while there are a number of churches and mission buildings dating from the 19th century and later buildings from when the Germans occupied the town. Pick up a guide for a walk around the town, which is an easy day excursion from Dar es Salaam.

Take in the beauty of Tarangire National Park

The Tarangire National Park, only 130km (80 miles) from Arusha is easily accessible but often overlooked in favour of the better-known Northern Circuit parks. However, a game drive here rewards with unusual scenery of giant silver-trunked baobab trees, and the Tarangire River is a favourite haunt for wildebeest, zebra, eland and elephant.

Track chimpanzees on Lake Tanganyika

Troops of wild chimpanzees thrive in the Gombe Stream and Mahale national parks on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Both parks have spectacular scenery with mountains and forested valleys plunging into the lake, and both are among just a small handful of places in Africa to see chimps in their natural habitat. Treks can be arranged to follow the troops, with sightings almost guaranteed.

Walk on the wild side in Ruaha National Park

One of only a handful of parks in Tanzania that allows walking safaris, Ruaha National Park boasts unparalleled scenery. It’s Tanzania’s second-largest park, and it’s also one of its wildest. Ruaha is known for its exceptionally large herds of elephant and buffalo and is also one of the best places in Tanzania to see the critically-endangered African wild dog.

Watch bull fighting on Pemba

The pretty and pristine island of Pemba is famed for its own traditional brand of bull fighting. Unlike its Spanish counterpart, this hangover from the days of Portuguese rule in the 16th and 17th centuries does not involve killing the bulls, and is a test of bravery for local livestock farmers.

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