Tanzania covers 937,062 sq km making it the largest country in Eastern Africa. Just south of the equator, it borders Kenya and Uganda in the north; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi in the west; and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique in the south, and is therefore a splendid centre from which to explore eastern, central and southern Africa.
Through the interior runs the Great Rift Valley, that vast fault-line down the spine of Africa that, in Tanzania, has created many fascinating topographical features such as the Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Tanganyika. The central plateau (1,200m above sea level) is a huge expanse of savannah and sparse woodland. To the north, the 5,890-metre (19,340 ft) Mount Kilimanjaro rises, the highest mountain in Africa.
While the interior is largely arid, the 800 kilometre coastline is lush and palm-fringed as are the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia, including other coral and volcanic islands. Tanzania and its neighbours share the waters of the Great African Lakes Victoria, Tanganyika and Nyasa.
Image courtesy of Jenman African Safaris
History and Background
Tanzania is the “cradle of mankind” for it was here, in the Olduvai Gorge, that Dr Louis Leakey discovered the fossilised remains of Homo habilis, or “handy man,”
calculated to be 1.75 million years old and the fore- runner of modern man.
Tanzania was occupied by various African tribes, most recently the Masai from Kenya, who have retained their proud traditions. Arab merchants visited the coast some 2,000 years ago and settled in Zanzibar around the eighth century AD, later establishing trade routes into the interior.
The inter-marriage of Arabs and local people created a new people with their own language - Kiswahili (Swahili) whose word for ‘a journey’ is ‘safari’ – which has become the international description of a trip into the wild.
The Portuguese established temporary settlements in the 16th century, supplanted by the Omans in the late 17th century who developed the slave trade and made Zanzibar their capital. The scramble for Africa by the European powers at the end of the 19th century led to occupation of the mainland by Germany, although Zanzibar became a British protectorate.
At the end of the First World War, Germany was forced to surrender its territory to the British and the administration of the mainland was renamed Tanganyika. Tanganyika achieved independence in 1961 under Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere as the first President. Zanzibar became independent two years later and shortly afterwards joined with the mainland to become the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964.
Safari Attractions in Tanzania
Tanzania is characterized by vast, wide-open plains, and has one of the largest populations of wildlife in the world. Although the country is economically poor, Tanzania boasts several attractions, including; Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro crater, the Serengeti, and the gateway to Zanzibar. These areas are designated game reserves and national parks and have a reputation for being un-crowded and unspoilt. To the north of the country, near the border with Kenya lies the amazing collection of game sanctuaries, referred to as 'The Northern Circuit'. This is the most popular and accessible wildlife safari route in Tanzania. It can positively be said that the Northern Circuit in Tanzania is one of the finest game viewing areas anywhere in the world!
Mount Kilimanjaro is located at the north-eastern tip of Tanzania. To climb this mountain requires stamina and general physical fitness in order to embark on an adventurous journey through the mists of an equatorial jungle, which reach up to the snowy peaks to finally reach the summit and take in the breath-taking views! The ascent weaves through forests that vary in altitude, and which open up into moorlands below a rocky, snow-covered plateau. This plateau has 3 volcanic centres, Shira, Kibo, and Mawenzi.
Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest peak and one of the most magnificent sights to see. It rises through lush rainforests to alpine meadows and finally crosses a barren lunar landscape to the twin summits. Therefore at 5895 metres high, the views from Kilimanjaro are amazing! The area covering the rainforests are home to animals including the eland, buffalo, elephant, leopard, rhino and monkeys.
The best months to climb Kilimanjaro are January, February and September, although a climb can still be done at any time of the year. July, August, November and December are also good months to climb.
The rainiest period is March to June. However, most months in the year have little rain, making it possible to climb in relatively good conditions all year round.
During the rainy season from March to May, clouds tend to pile up over the summit, dropping snow on the mountain cap and rain at the base.
The short rainy season of October to December often has storms that pass over the mountain, dropping rain as they go. The temperature at this time of the year is relatively warm.
The dry season begins in late June – July and can be very cold at night, but usually clear of clouds.
August and September are also cool and can have very clear days, but usually a cloud belt clings to the mountain above the forest. The Kilimanjaro summit can be totally clear and the view is a spectacular sea of clouds with distant mountain peaks poking through like white islands!
The Serengeti National Park covering 14,763 km2 of vast open plains is renowned for its abundant wildlife, with numbers estimated at well over 3 million. The park stretches across the area between Lake Victoria and the Kenyan border.
The annual migration of millions of wildebeest takes place in May or early June, where they search for water and food as the season changes. This is an incredible spectacle to behold, and is a major drawing point for tourists who visit the Serengeti during this time.
In addition to the Wildebeest, the Serengeti National Park holds a range of large antelopes, including zebra, eland, impala, dik dik, klipspringer, and several variants of buck.
Image courtesy of Jenman African Safaris
Other wildlife in the Serengeti are cheetahs, lions, leopards, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, elephants, jackals, hyenas, bat eared foxes, porcupines, baboons, warthogs, crocodiles, mongoose and different types of monkey.
The Serengeti also boasts almost 500 different bird species, including; storks, flamingos, vultures, fish eagles, martial and ostriches.
The Ngorongoro Crater situated in northern Tanzania is the largest, unbroken volcanic caldera in the world. It is one of Africa's best known game viewing areas and is Tanzania's most visited. This crater is about 20 km wide and is also one of the largest collapsed volcanoes in the world.
The famous Ngorongoro Crater was known as a World Heritage Site since 1979 and is located at the eastern edge of the Serengeti in northern Tanzania. The Crater belongs to the Crater Highlands, with vast plains, stretches of bush and woodland areas - creating a complex and interrelated ecosystem. The entirety of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area covers about 8300 km² and near to its centre is the Olduvai Gorge - were many fossils have been unearthed.
In the Crater is a variety of animals and vegetation, including swamps, grasslands, forests, salt pans and a freshwater lake! You are likely to see lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, buffalo and herbivores are plentiful such as; the wildebeest, zebra, the Thomson's gazelle, and the reedbuck. Also to view are thousands of flamingos wading in the shallows of Lake Magadi - the soda lake at the crater's base.
Despite the steep walls, a considerable amount of wildlife move in and out of the crater – mostly to the Serengeti, since the land between the crater and Lake Manyara is intensively farmed. This area is a favoured spot for wildlife because of its grassland crater floor and its permanent water supply.
The local Maasai tribes have grazing rights to this crater/land and you may come across them tending cattle in this area.
Also good for game viewing, during the rainy season March to May, are the alkaline Masek and Ndutu lakes in the west. In the east of the conservation area is a string of volcanoes and craters. Along the southern border is Lake Eyai, a salt lake – where the Hadzabe people live, who are one of Tanzania's original ethnic groups. To the north-east on the Kenyan border is the beautiful Lake Natron.
Ruaha National Park is a vast wilderness which hosts one of the largest elephant populations in Africa. The elephants are estimated to number at around 12,000. Other wildlife in the park are kudo, Grant’s gazelle, large herds of buffalo, wild dog, sable antelope, cheetah, ostrich, and more than 400 different bird species. To the eastern side of the park flows the great Ruaha River which is home to many water birds, hippo and crocodile.
With an area of almost 13,000km², Ruaha National Park is Tanzania's second largest park. Ruaha extends to encompass the adjoining Rungwa and Kisigo game reserves. Most of the park consists of an undulating plateau, averaging about 900m in height with occasional rocky outcrops. To the south and west of the park are mountains reaching in height to about 1600m and 1900m, respectively.
Large areas of Ruaha National Park are unexplored and not developed. Due to the sheer vastness and character of Ruaha, visitors should set aside sufficient time to fully explore and appreciate what the park has to offer. It is not a place to be discovered on a quick itinerary tour.
The park’s management objective is to preserve much of the parks’ territory in a pristine and undisturbed state as possible.
Zanzibar Island is the most well known island in this area, but other islands include the lush Pemba to the north and numerous smaller islands in luxuriously turquoise seas in the south. The beauty of Zanzibar has attracted traders, travellers, slave-traders and colonialists for centuries, but yet there are still many areas on these islands that remain unexplored, pristine and untouched!
Zanzibar is known for once being the commercial centre of East Africa and as "the Spice Island" because of its many spice plantations and spice tours. Zanzibar combines ancient Islamic ruins and noble Arabic houses with miles of white sandy palm fringed beaches and coves. The ocean offers warm clear blue waters with fantastic reefs for; diving and snorkelling, deep sea fishing, water sports and delicious fresh fish! Activities on offer in Zanzibar include: dhow trips, deep sea fishing, spice tours, diving, sailing, ballooning, walking safaris, dolphin-watching, bird-watching, and visiting a number of interesting sites such as the historical ruins of Mbweni Palace, Chumbe Islands or Jozani Forest.
The seas around Zanzibar, Mafia, Chole Bay and the Pemba Channel are considered amongst the best waters for diving in the Indian Ocean. Therefore diving and snorkelling in this part of the world is particularly extraordinary. Chole Bay is part of a protected marine park, with an unbroken reef along the length of the Mafia Island. Diving here is very spectacular and includes colourful coral gardens, with walls and shelves at various levels. The coral boasts many colourful fish, including hawksbill and sea turtles - offering exceptional diving opportunities and experiences. Mafia is a perfect destination for divers seeking beauty and adventure, or for those who just want to relax in this idyllic tropical setting.
Image courtesy of Tuishi
At 55,000km², Selous Game Reserve is the largest and second largest conservation area in Africa and also a proclaimed world heritage site. It is four times the size of the Serengeti, and definitely one of the most remote and least visited parks in Africa.
Selous has a diverse landscape – from sporadic lakes and channels from the Great Rhaha and Rufiji rivers, to hot volcanic springs! The Rufiji River flows through the reserve attracting great herds of Tanzanian elephants.
Selous has over 350 species of birds and reptiles, 2000 species of plants, and a wide variety of wildlife. This conservation area once housed the largest concentration of elephant on the continent, totalling over 110,000. It is the ‘Ivory Wars' of the late 1970s and early 1980s that had a devastating effect on the herds - reducing the numbers to an estimated 30,000, up to 50,000 today.
Famous for its elephant, hippopotamus and rhino – though only a few remain, Selous has a broad range of game, including the largest population of buffalo in Africa, including
brindled gnu, Nyasaland gnu, Greater Kudu, hartebeest, sable antelope, eland, bushbuck, reedbuck, waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, warthog, lion, leopard, wildebeest, hunting dog and spotted hyena.
We have other Tanzania Attractions that you might want to visit on your Tanzania Safari. Please contact us for further details.