Tanzania – with vast swathes of stunning wilderness – is one of the most complex, romantic and friendly countries in Africa.
Tanzania has some of the world’s finest game parks, two of Africa’s highest mountains, superb white-sand beaches and coral reefs, and delightfully friendly and hospitable people.
The names are the stuff of legend: the great Serengeti plains; Lake Victoria, birthplace of the Nile; the towering bulk of Mount Kilimanjaro; the red-clad Maasai cattle herders; the spice islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. Traders sailing the East African coast named the Swahili people and provided the inspiration for the tales of Sinbad the Sailor, while Sultan Said built glamorous baths for his Persian wife. Inland, the great Victorian explorers, Burton, Speke, Livingstone and Stanley, led convoys of porters across the vast terrain. Imagination can run riot here; the reality more than matches the fantasy.
The United Republic of Tanzania came into being in 1964 when the newly independent mainland nation of Tanganyika merged with offshore Zanzibar (the ‘tan’ and ‘zan’ in ‘Tanzania’ respectively). Little more than a century before that, much of the region fell under the influence of Zanzibar – which in turn was part of the vast Omani Empire. However, only the coast and islands were developed; the Swahili traders never tried to conquer or develop the hinterland, seeing it simply as a vast natural storehouse of their main cash crops – ivory and slaves.
Since then, the balance of power has shifted, purely on weight of numbers: about 45 million people on the mainland to just over 1 million on the islands. There is still a great divide between the two main cultures, and the link remains fragile. Economic power remains in the east. Dusty little Dodoma is the official capital, chosen for its central location, but it is largely ignored – people prefer to hang out with the money in Dar es Salaam.
President Nyerere’s post-independence government gave Tanzania a true sense of nationhood: the country has more than 120 different tribal groups, each with its own language and traditions, but no one tribe is large enough to dominate the others. Tanzania has also strived to develop its tourism industry without destroying the natural beauty on which it is based.
And while most tourists come to enjoy these fantastic natural assets, combining an exciting safari with downtime on the beaches, those who take the time to look further will discover a nation whose cultural wealth is matched by a rich history stretching back millions of years to man’s first upright steps.
For more inspration, read our run-down of the best things to do in Tanzania.