Places To See
A tiny patch of pristine rainforest right in the centre of Zanzibar island, Jozani Forest is home to the extremely rare Red Colobus monkey, the Ader's duiker antelope, and numerous bird species. There's a mangrove boardwalk through the trees and a small education centre.
Mt Kilimanjaro National Park
An almost perfectly shaped volcano rising sheer from Tanzania's northeastern plains, Mt Kilimanjaro is one of Africa's most magnificent sights. Snowcapped and not yet extinct, at 5896m (19343ft) it's the highest peak on the continent.
The name of Kilimanjaro is as shrouded in mystery as the mist-enveloped summit. 'Mountain of Light' is one of the several possible translations, although many locals refer to the snowy peak as Kipoo or Kibo.
Daunting as it looks, it's possible to scale the mountain without technical mountaineering skills - all you need is determination, warm clothing and a properly equipped guide. There's no doubt you'll go through the pain barrier on the way to the top, but the reward is unforgettable - a sunrise view over what seems like half of Africa spread out below.
From cultivated farmlands on the lower levels, the mountain rises through lush rainforest to alpine meadow and finally across a barren lunar landscape to the twin summits. The lower slopes of the mountain also offer great hiking.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Ngorongoro Crater is a volcanic caldera - the collapsed upper cone of an ancient volcano. Its high walls contain a microcosmic ecosystem, with lakes, forests, and plains supporting hundreds of species of wildlife. The views from the misty highlands of the rim are spectacular, as is the abundant wildlife on the crater floor.
Serengeti National Park
Waving golden grasses, flat-topped acacia trees, distant blue hills. Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain. Stately giraffes, indolent lions, stealthy cheetah. How do you describe the Serengeti without using every cliché in the book? Perhaps in the words of Alan Moorehead - 'Anyone who can go to the Serengeti, and does not, is mad.'
Selous Game Reserve
This reserve is one of the earth's last great wild places: 55,000 sq km (21,235 sq mi) of untamed bush, crocodile-filled lakes and emerald green floodplains. The only accessible bit is the northern section above the great muddy sweep of the Rufiji River, where you'll see hippos, elephants, zebras, a maneless variety of lion and the rare African wild dog.
The biggest annual event in Tanzania begins at the Serengeti National Park near the Kenyan border, when huge herds of wildebeest head for greener pastures in Kenya. Starting in April each year, more than 2 million of these animals migrate northwards across the Serengeti's plains accompanied by zebras, antelopes, gazelles, lions and tourists. Tanzanian Independence Day (December 9) somehow pales in significance.
When to go?
Tanzania can be visited during all seasons. The standard tourist seasons are in July-August, when the weather is cool, and dry season parks like Tarangire are at their prime; and again in December-January, when it's hotter, but still quite bearable. But to catch the Serengeti at its best you want to avoid the height of the dry season when virtually all the animals go on holiday to Kenya. Be prepared if you're heading into the big wet, as many roads - particularly on the south coast - can become too squishy to drive on.
Watch out for peak-season hotel prices around the Christmas-New Year holidays and during the July-August peak season.
Travel Visa Overview
All visitors from Europe, North America and Australasia require a visa. You will need proof of yellow fever vaccination only if arriving from a yellow-fever infected area (which includes Kenya).
British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin
Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment.
Not every headache is likely to be meningitis. There is an effective vaccine available which is often recommended for travel to epidemic areas. Generally, you're at pretty low risk of getting meningococcal meningitis, unless an epidemic is ongoing, but the disease is important because it can be very serious and rapidly fatal. You get infected by breathing in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by sufferers or, more likely, by healthy carriers of the bacteria. You're more at risk in crowded, poorly ventilated places, including public transport and eating places.
The symptoms of meningitis are fever, severe headache, neck stiffness that prevents you from bending your head forward, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, which makes you prefer the darkness. With meningococcal meningitis, you may get a widespread, blotchy purple rash before any other symptoms appear. Meningococcal meningitis is an extremely serious disease that can cause death within a few hours of you first feeling unwell. Seek medical help without delay if you have any of the symptoms listed earlier, especially if you are in a risk area. If you've been in close contact with a sufferer it's best to seek medical advice.
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications.
There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures.
This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage. Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure.
The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'ricewater' diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario - only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form. It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don't succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment.
You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera. Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time.
Also known as bilharzia, this disease is carried in freshwater by tiny worms that enter through the skin and attach themselves to the intestines or bladder. The first symptom may be tingling and sometimes a light rash around the area where the worm entered. Weeks later, a high fever may develop. A general unwell feeling may be the first symptom, or there may be no symptoms. Once the disease is established, abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs. The infection often causes no symptoms until the disease is well established (several months to years after exposure), and damage to internal organs is irreversible. Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater where bilharzia is present. Even deep water can be infected. If you do get wet, dry off quickly and dry your clothes as well. A blood test is the most reliable test, but it will not show positive until a number of weeks after exposure.
Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is an effective vaccine against yellow fever, so if you have been immunised, you can basically rule this disease out. Symptoms of yellow fever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache, muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidney failure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes - hence the name. There's no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you have yellow fever.
If you are travelling in endemic areas - which includes almost all of Tanzania - it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects.
HIV/AIDS is a serious risk, with about 8% of the population affected, and even more in some areas. HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organisations and services for HIV-positive folk and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com.
If there's a time to avoid coastal Tanzania, it's during the long rainy season from March to May, which has a brief revival from November to January. The best time is between June and September when rainfall is sparse and temperatures orbit around a pleasantly balmy 28°C (83°F). Inland on the plateau, rain during the middle of the year is insignificant and temperatures sink slightly but comfortably.
History and Culture
Tanzania's 100 or more different tribal groups are mostly of Bantu-speaking origin. The Arab influence on Zanzibar and Pemba Islands is evident in the people, who are a mix of Shirazi (from Persia), Arabs, Comorians (from the Comoros Islands) and Africans from the mainland. Asians are a significant minority especially in the towns and cities. Europeans (either by descent or expatriate) are a smaller minority. The major non-Bantu-speaking people on the mainland are the Nilotic speakers such as the Maasai who inhabit parts of northern Tanzania.
Swahili and English are the official languages, with English the principal language of commerce. There are also many local African tongues, reflecting the tribal diversity of the country. Outside the cities and towns, far fewer local people speak English than in comparable areas in Kenya. It's said that the Swahili spoken on Zanzibar is of a much purer form than elsewhere, and quite a few travellers head to the island to learn it.
The two main religions are Christianity and Islam, with a signficant Hindu minority in urban areas. The majority of Muslims are concentrated along the coast and in the islands. Compared to Islam, Christianity took a long time to make an impact, and even then (during the 19th century) it was practiced mainly among tribes of the interior. There are still some tribes who follow neither of the big-name religions and instead worship the ancient spirit of their choice. Principal among them are the Maasai, who put their faith in the god Engai and his Messiah, Kindong'oi, from whom their priests are said to be descended. It's claimed that there is no religious bias present in the country's political and civil administration.
Tanzanian music and dance dominates much of East Africa. Strong in rhythm and renowned for hard-hitting lyrics, the country's Swahili-based sounds are kept very much alive by a thriving dance-band scene. Remmy Ongala is the country's best known export. Zanzibar is at the heart of the distinctive taarab, or sung poetry, tradition. The goddess of this haunting style is Siti bint Saad, the first East African singer to make commercial recordings, way back in 1928.
There's precious little difference between local food in Kenya and Tanzania - which is not great news for gourmets. As in Kenya, nyama choma (barbecued meat) has taken over in a big way, especially in restaurants with attached bars. But on the coast and on Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, there's a delicious range of traditional Swahili dishes based on seafood. The national brew is Safari Lager and a popular local liquor is a lethal white-rum-style concoction called konyagi.
Pre-20th Century History
Although a Tanzanian gorge recently yielded a few bits of our old mate Homo erectus, little is known about the country's really early history. Recorded history begins around the first century BC, when various migrating tribes from West Africa first reached East Africa. While the country's coastal area had long witnessed maritime squabbles between Portuguese and Arabic traders, it wasn't until the middle of the 18th century that Arabic traders dared venture into the country's wild interior. European explorers began arriving in earnest in the mid-19th century, the most famous being Stanley and Livingstone. The famous phrase 'Dr Livingstone, I presume', stems from the duo's meeting at Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika.
As the 20th century loomed, Germany got busy colonising Tanganyika - as the mainland was then known - by building railways and going commerce crazy. If not for the pesky little tsetse fly, the area could have become one vast grazing paddock for the fatherland. But losing the war didn't help the German cause much either, and the League of Nations soon mandated the territory to the British. The Brits had already grabbed the offshore island of Zanzibar, which for centuries had been the domain of Arab traders.
Nationalist organisations sprang up after WWII, but it wasn't until Julius Nyerere took the reins of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1953 that they found their real voice. Tanganyika won independence in 1961 with Nyerere as the country's first president. Zanzibar was stuck with its British stiff upper lip for another two years, after which the mainland forged a union together with Zanzibar and the nearby island of Pemba. Thus Tanzania was born.
But unity and a charismatic first president weren't enough to overcome the country's basic lack of resources. Nyerere's secret ingredient was radical socialism, a brave concept considering the communist paranoia of potential aid donors such as the USA. Under the leader's Chinese-backed reforms, the economy was nationalised, as were great swathes of rental properties, and the better-off were taxed heavily in an attempt to redistribute wealth. The early 1960s saw Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda linked in an unlikely economic threesome. Their currencies became freely convertible and there was free and easy movement across borders. But predictable political differences brought such cosiness to a halt in 1977, leaving the Tanzanians worse off than ever.
Many factors have contributed to the woes of modern Tanzania, and not all have been self-inflicted. The incorporation of Zanzibar created some additional problems. Adopting a multi-party political system doesn't seem to have helped much either. Zanzibar and the neighbouring island of Pemba have occasionally experienced violent unrest and political scare-mongering, especially since an election squabble divided mainland and the islands. Meanwhile, the mainland has had to cope with a flood of Rwandan refugees fleeing fighting in their homeland. In late 1996 the government of then-president Benjamin Mkapa issued a statement backed by the United Nations declaring that Rwandan refugees were to leave Tanzania, although many still remain.
In August 1998, terrorists bombed the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, killing over 250 people and injuring more than 5000. Despite all the bumps, however, Tanzania has managed to remain an oasis of relative peace in a region often torn by tribal clashes.
In 2000 President Mkapa was re-elected president, and under his leadership Tanzania has continued its relatively stable course, even managing something of an economic upturn. This has been maintained under President Jakaya Kikwete, who took over the reins in early 2006.
Recent years have been marked by greater political and economic ties between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, and by the growth of opposition parties, although the long-dominant CCM still sits firmly in the driver's seat. The recent opening of the Songosongo natural gas field off the southern coast, combined with tourism, which is booming, have given the economy major boosts. Although 13 people were killed in the December 2004 tsunami, damage along the Tanzanian coastline was minimal.