“The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration, but are an integral part of our natural resources and of our future livelihood and well being. In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grand-children will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance.” Julius K. Nyerere 1961
Tanzania is one of those countries that have something to suit nearly every tourist’s taste. A fantastic landscape that ranges from highlands to plateau; from verdant tropical forests to semi-desert grasslands; from inland lakes to a long ocean coastline; from national parks teeming with animals to an Indian Ocean with fascinating sea life; from an active volcano to palm-fringed beaches and coral reefs; from laid back traditional rural villages to frenetic modern cities, Tanzania has these and more.
The country is so large and the offerings so many that nobody can cover everything. However, a carefully chosen itinerary will offer great returns to the cost-conscious tourist.
Of course everybody with an interest in East Africa has heard about the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro National Parks; and about the Ngorongoro Crater and Conservation Park. For most people, this is more than they need to get a taste of Africa. But of course it only is a tiny bit of Africa.
No doubt the sight of over 1 million animals on their annual migration through the Serengeti is one of Earth’s extraordinary spectacles. The majestic Mount Kilimanjaro, keeping watch over East Africa, is enough reason to visit. However, Tanzania has much more to offer than these deservedly magnificent destinations and, over the next few months, we shall attempt to highlight the varied beauty and life of this amazing country.
But first, Serengeti! Without doubt, Serengeti National Park is in its own class. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Serengeti, which means an “extended place” in the Maasai language, is a vast expanse covering 14,763 sq. km (5,700 sq. miles). Straddling the Kenya-Tanzania border and stretching west to Nyanja Nnalubaale (Lake Victoria), Serengeti is larger than countries like Jamaica and Bahamas. It is three times the Canadian Province of Prince Edward Island.
Serengeti has almost everything – 30 species of the large herbivores, plus lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas, reptiles, amphibians, over 500 bird species – an ecosystem that is unsurpassed by any other in the world. Of course Lions rule the place, along with the other aristocrats of the wild – leopards and cheetahs.
Serengeti’s most famous attraction is the 1,000 km (600 mile) annual migration of about 1.5 million wildebeest, zebras and Thomson’s gazelles. After a period of mating, the wildebeest and their fellow travellers head north in May. Their 40 km column soon splits into two, one heading straight up north, the other taking a north easterly route. Those that survive the treacherous crossing of the crocodile-infested River Mara, and those that dodge their predatory companions, spend months in the rich grasslands of Kenya before embarking on their return journey south in November.
The Serengeti’s vastness offers therapeutic relief to the urban dweller who wants to escape from the noise of honking horns and belching buses and incessant chitchats of cellphone crazed humans.
Cast your eye as far as you can, in all directions, at any time of the day or night and the serene Serengeti will calm you down. It may not cure your high blood pressure, but you will be pleasantly surprised by the improvement in your mood.
You will find all you need to know about Serengeti right here.
Great as it is, Serengeti is only one of 18 national parks and game reserves covering one-third of the country. The other national parks and game reserves are: Amani, Arusha, Gombe Stream, Katavi, Kilimanjaro, Kitulo, Lake Manyara, Mahale Mountains, Mikumi, Mkomazi, Ngorongoro, Ruaha, Rubondo Island, Saadani, Selous, Tarangire and Udzungwa Mountains.
Over the next few months, we shall present these in a series called “Tanzania National Parks of the Month” as we grow this website’s content. Our instalment for March 2016 is:
Ruaha National Park
The largest national park in the country, Ruaha is located in Central Mainland Tanzania, about 130 km west of Iringa. Spread over 20,226 square kilometers, about the size of Israel and only only a bit smaller than the Republic of Rwanda.
Ruaha is home to an estimated 10,000 elephants, plus lions, leopards, cheetah, giraffes, impala, zebras, foxes, wild dogs and jackals. It also has many reptiles and amphibians and more than 571 bird species.
The Ruaha River Lodge is inside the Park and offers high-end accommodation. However, good digs are also available outside the park boundaries. A major concern is the progressive drying up of the Ruaha River that feeds the park. Please read everything you need to know about Ruaha National Park here.
Selous Game Reserve
This is Africa’s second largest wildlife sanctuary. (The largest is the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or KAZA, which covers 444,000 sq. km.) Spread over 54,600 square kilometers in the southeastern part of Tanzania, Selous (pronounced Seloo) is home to over 750,000 large mammals and more than 450 bird species. The world’s largest population of elephants is found here. Other inhabitants of Selous include lions, leopards, cheetah, African hunting dogs, zebra, giraffe, various antelopes, black rhinoceros, a variety of primates, buffaloes, crocodiles and hippopotami.
The Rufiji River, Tanzania’s longest, courses through this Reserve, and is navigable by tour boats. Lake Tagalala, a lagoon along the Rufiji, is believed to have the world’s largest population of crocodiles. Most of Selous is dedicated for hunting, but there is a northern section that is reserved for “photographic tourism.”
A 2-3 hour Bush Walk through elephant, lion and leopard country is one of the highlights on offer at Selous. An armed guide will insist on accompanying you on the walk, to help you out in the event that a lion or leopard takes exception to your trespassing. It is a sensible idea, don’t you think?
The tour includes a visit to the grave of Captain Frederick Courtney Selous, an Englishman who was a professional hunter and one of the Victorian conquerors of the “Dark Continent.” He killed numerous animals “not for mere sport, but also to gain the goodwill of the natives.” He was a “friend” of King Lobengula Khumalo of the Ndebele, though the latter came to hate him for reasons that are easy to guess. Selous was also a friend of luminaries like Cecil John Rhodes and Theodore Roosevelt.
Selous was killed on January 4, 1917 during the First World War, felled by a German bullet that hit him as he looked through his binoculars in search of enemy soldiers. He was buried at the spot where he died in Beho Beho.
The best time to visit Selous is from July to October. The area is often impassable during the heavy rains of March to May.
Please Note: Tanzania National Parks, the custodian of the country’s great heritage that Nyerere so eloquently talked about in 1961, does not mention Selous Game Reserve on their website.
Until recently, Selous was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its downgrade to the “in danger” status was a consequence of the poaching that has, once again, reduced the elephant population from 65,000 in the late 1980s to just over 13,000. You can read about it here.
Tanzania has an organized cultural tourism program that offers invaluable opportunities to interact with and learn about the lives and and lifestyles of rural people. There is excellent information about this on the website of the Tanzania Cultural Tourist Programme.
Mention Zanzibar and you awaken images of an ancient place with magnificent palm-lined white sandy beaches, multicoloured coral reefs, dhows, old Arab settlements, sultans and spices, fiery red sunsets, exotic sights, sounds and smells.
The Zanzibar archipelago is made up of two large islands – Unguja and Pemba. Unguja, the main island, is home to Stone Town, a labyrinthine place in the centre of the island, with narrow streets coursing between old stone mansions, palaces, harems, dungeons, bazaars, mosques and even churches. The locals call the area Mji Mkongwe (Old Town), which it is. It is Arabia in the tropics.
Everybody has been here – Persians, Arabs, Portuguese, Indians, Germans, British and of course the mainlanders. A rich mix of cultures that is written on this island – and continues to be written on the island.
Zanzibar’s Old Town takes you back to a time of great splendor for some and greater suffering for others. Just over a century ago, you will recall, Tipu Tipp, the notorious rascal of the African slave trade, held court here even as his human cargo in schackles stewed in dungeons awaiting onward shipment to Arabia and other markets.
Tippu Tip, whose real name was Hamad bin Muḥammad bin Jum’ah bin Rajab bin Muḥammad bin Sa‘īd al-Murjabī, owned a magnificent mansion in Stone House. It is located along Suicide Alley.
Though not open to the public, Tippu Tip’s digs are a “living” reminder of human folly and a connection to that unforgettable chapter of our continent.
That dark side of Zanzibar is lightened by the memory of those who fought the slave trade, among them Dr. David Livingstone. There is a Livingstone House right there in Zanzibar, built in 1861, open for tours.
Please read more about Zanzibar right here.
Where To Stay In Tanzania
Hotels and Resorts
Excellent quality in the cities and the major parks. Book well in advance.
Tanzanian Shilling (TZS; symbol TSh). Notes are in denominations of TSh10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of TSh 500, 200, 100 and 50. It is best advised to carry your hard currency in US Dollars. Note that Tanzanian banks do not accept US Dollar bills from 2003 or earlier.
Most top-end hotels, safari lodges, airlines and tour operators accept Visa and MasterCard (American Express and Diners Club less so), though a commission of 2-5% is usually charged.
Cash easily can be withdrawn from ATMs using Visa or MasterCard.
May be cashed in some banks (try Barclays) or Foreign Exchange Bureaus in the major cities. Expect to pay hefty fees.
Mon-Fri 0830-1530, Sat 0830-1300. Foreign Exchange Bureaus have longer hours.