Lying between the two arms of the Rift Valley, Tanzania's huge central plateau is bounded to the west by Africa's great lakes, to the north by mountains and to the east by the Indian Ocean coast. Most of the country is covered in grassland, open woodland and savannah but significant pockets of rainforest exist in remote mountain ranges.
Fossils found at Olduvai Gorge (by Louis and Mary Leakey in 1931), one of the world's premier archaeological sites, suggest that Tanzania has been settled by hominids for over two million years - leading to its claim to be the one of the oldest continuously-inhabited places on earth. Iron Age migrations from West Africa were followed by European and Arabian merchants, missionaries and slavers, and by the mid-1800s Zanzibar had become the centre of the East African slave trade. Independence from Britain came peacefully to mainland Tanganyika in 1961 and the addition of the island of Zanzibar in 1964 created the modern state of Tanzania.
Long an important trading hub between Africa, Europe and the Arab nations, Tanzania has a rich mineral & natural gas deposits, in fact it is Africa’s third-largest producer of gold after South Africa and Ghana. The predominant industry is still agriculture which employs 75% of the workforce and produces half the country's GDP. Tanzania's main exports include gold, coffee, tea and cotton but it is it’s growing tourism industry which is the country's biggest foreign exchange earner.
Tanzanians are warm, polite, respectful people who pride themselves on the dignity and beauty of their cultures. The country has a population of 46 million inhabitants, of which approximately 80% live in rural areas. Some 120 ethnic groups make up the African population. English and Swahili are the official languages.
Home to 20% of Africa's large mammals, Tanzania is the continent's premier game viewing destination. More than 25% of the country is given over to conservation and several Tanzania animal reserves rank among the biggest in the world. Most visitors head for northern Tanzania where the most famous and accessible animal reserves are but huge, virtually unvisited savannah and rainforest reserves lie in south and central Tanzania, delivering genuine off-the-beaten-track safaris.
Tanzanian highlights include:
The greatest wildlife spectacle on earth, the wildebeest migration which moves through the Serengeti from November to July. Watch a million wildebeest (plus 200 000 zebra) congregate in July ready to cross into the Mara.
The Ngorongoro Crater which offers East Africa's easiest Big 5 game viewing. This impressive crater is home to the greatest concentration of lions in the world which puts into context the bravery of the Masai men who wander nonchalantly across the savannah armed only with a long stick. www.ngorongorocrater.com
Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains National Parks are among the last safe habitats for chimpanzees. It was here that Jane Goodall did her research into their behaviour.
Selous is Africa’s largest game reserve and one of its most unspoilt. It covers 55 000 sq km and specialises in walking safaris as well as the more traditional open vehicle drives.
Ruaha is not widely known but for sheer breathtaking beauty and colour it is hard to beat. www.ruaha.net
Saadani National Park is the only wildlife sanctuary in East Africa with ocean frontage. You can be lying under a palm tree tanning with the elephants, while the baby turtles hatch around you! www.saadanipark.org
The Udzungwa Mountains offer walks and climbs well off the beaten track and through spectacular mountains and rain forests. Armed rangers are compulsory to save you from the marauding buffalo but it’s worth the hair-raising hike to see a host of rare primates.
Manyara National Park is situated in the basin of the Rift Valley along the lake of the same name. The lakeside is watered with hot springs and the reserve is known for its flamingos and its tree-climbing lions, although both can be hard to find.
Tarangire National Park is Manyara’s eastern neighbour on the other side of the lake. Impressive scenery and tree-climbing pythons (as well as lions).
Some of the world's best bird watching with over 1000 bird species documented.
But it’s not only wildlife that enchants, it’s Indian Ocean coastline, with tranquil islands and sleepy coastal villages steeped in centuries of Swahili culture, is also a must-see.
Zanzibar, the Spice Island, is an alluring blend of Africa and the East. Visit Stone Town where history seeps out of the walls, the markets are alive with people selling all manner of produce and there is a mosque on every corner. Mafia and Pemba Islands are Zanzibar’s little brothers and both offer excellent scuba diving opportunities. www.zanzibartourism.net
If you’re feeling energetic, head inland to attempt to summit Africa’s highest peak (Kibo at 5 895m), Mount Kilimanjaro. Climbers from around the world head here to challenge themselves on its slippery slopes, with the goal of being able