Tanzania

Tanzania lies just south of the equator in eastern Africa. It's about twice the size of France, with a population of 36 million. A topographically diverse land, Tanzania harbours savannah, rainforest, palm-fringed beaches and Africa's highest mountain - Kilimanjaro. The cattle-herding, red-robed Maasai people are emblematic of the country, but Tanzania is in fact ethnically and culturally very diverse. Evidence from the Swahili coast suggests millennia of maritime trade with the Middle East, but the modern country did not come into being until the "Scramble for Africa" in the late 19th century. Until 1918 the country, then known as Tanganyika, was controlled by Germany, after which came a forty year period of British colonial rule. Tanganyika finally attained independence in 1961, and in 1964 merged with the island of Zanzibar to create the United Republic of Tanzania.

The 1960s saw experiments with African socialism, with President Nyerere introducing the concept of Ujamaa, meaning togetherness. A key part of his policy was to create Ujamaa villages, which united Tanzanians of different ethnicities, and helped to foster a genuine sense of national identity - a rare thing in Africa. In Tanzania there has been no ethnic conflict or civil unrest since independence. Today, most Tanzanians are subsistence farmers, and revenue is also earned from tourism and the export of coffee, tea, sisal, cashew nuts and cloves.

Language

Tanzania has two official languages - Kiswahili (or Swahili) and English. Arabic is also widely spoken on the coast and on Zanzibar. There are numerous local languages, including the Maasai tongue, known as Maa. English is not generally spoken outside major towns, so it's wise to learn a few words of Kiswahili. A little goes a long way and you'll be rewarded with delighted reactions from local people. Here's something to get you started:

Habari - how are you?Mzuri (sana) - (very) wellHakuna matata - no problemKaribu - you are welcomeAsante (sana) - thank you (very much)Kwaheri - good bye

Currency

The currency is the Tanzanian shilling. At the time of writing (Autumn 2006) 1000 shillings were worth £0.41 / $0.78 / €0.61. Visit www.xe.com/ucc for up-to-date conversion rates.

Weather

The climate of Tanzania varies markedly with altitude, but can be summed up as being hot and humid in coastal/lacustrine areas, and hot and dry in the interior. On the coast there are two distinct rainy seasons, with the light rains falling from March to June and the long rains from November to January. Inland, this seasonality is less pronounced, with most rain falling between November and April. Expect 7-10 hours of sunshine per day and temperatures of 25-30 degrees centigrade.

Attractions

Tanzania is in many ways the Africa of everyone's imagination, with a wealth of tourist attractions, including:

Fabulous wildlife in the national parks and conservation areas. Go on safari in the world-famous Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater or one of a dozen lesser-known reserves. You've a good chance of seeing the "big five" - buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino � and a dawn trip in a hot air balloon is an especially memorable way to experience all that natural splendour.

The "spice island" of Zanzibar, a short hop by boat or plane from the capital Dar es Salaam. Steeped in history and packed with beautiful buildings, museums and atmosphere, Zanzibar also boasts pristine beaches, world-class diving and a distinctive Swahili cuisine. You can visit the spice farms where cinnamon, cloves and ginger are among the crops still grown and traded as they have been for centuries.

The Maasai - semi-nomadic pastoralists whose ancestral homelands span the Kenya-Tanzania border. Independent and fiercely resistant towards modernisation, Maasai men and women alike are beautiful to behold, often clad in bright robes and decked out with incredible jewellery. You can organise a visit to a traditional Maasai village or boma through a local tour operator.

Kilimanjaro, the summit of the African continent and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Although 5,895 metres above sea level, the summit is relatively accessible for fit climbers, though acclimatisation is essential. Those with less of a head for heights can enjoy spectacular views of the snow-capped cone from the towns of Arusha or Moshi.

Shopping

You'll be spoiled for choice when it comes to souvenirs - Tanzania's cultural diversity means a wide range of crafts. Maasai beadwork and striking paintings are on offer, while stone or wood carvings, drums and wooden masks are also abundant. A wooden bao board makes an interesting memento of Tanzania, bao being a hugely popular game played by kids and elders alike - learn the rules while you're in the country!

Many tour operators organise stop-offs at souvenir stalls, but it's a better idea to buy from local craft workshops. Not only will you be directly supporting the artisan rather than paying the middlemen, but the level of craftsmanship is also likely to be higher.

Nightlife

Nightlife in small Tanzanian towns is somewhat low-key, being limited to the local watering holes - not that there is any shortage of these! The capital, Dar es Salaam, has a lively club scene, with frequent performances by live bands.

Zanzibar hosts an annual music festival known as Sauti za Busara, which showcases the music of the Swahili-speaking region, both traditional and modern. Zanzibar's beaches are the setting for crazy all-night parties, and are a fantastic place to celebrate Christmas and New Year, with world-renowned DJs often on the decks.

Driving

  • In Tanzania, vehicles drive on the left.
  • The Arusha-Dar highway and the main road from Dar to Malawi are paved and in good condition, but frighteningly fast in parts. Coaches in particular are prone to speeding and accidents are sadly all too common.
  • 90% of Tanzania's roads are unpaved - surfaces are often poor and present challenging driving conditions, particularly in the wet season. If you're going off the beaten track, 4WD is near-essential.
  • Always be aware of cattle and wild animals straying onto the road, particularly in the vicinity of national parks.

Food and Drink

Most Tanzanians subsist on a diet of ugali - mashed maize or cassava - with a little sauce, meat or fish. Dirt cheap and very filling it may be, but haute cuisine it certainly isn't. A more palatable staple cooked up on street stalls is chipsi mayai, a potato omelette usually served with lashings of chilli sauce.

Better food is on offer in the more touristy areas, where hotel restaurants serve up western cuisine often cooked to an excellent standard. The Swahili cuisine of Zanzibar and the coast revolves around fish, coconuts and bananas. At nightfall, the Forodani Gardens on Zanzibar are filled with dozens of tables piled high with lobster, kingfish kebabs and a variety of other seafood as well as banana crepes � an al fresco treat.

Tanzania's fruit is fantastic - fresh pineapple, mango, coconut, papaya and many others are available for a few hundred shillings.

Lager is ubiquitous, with Kilimanjaro, Serengeti and Safari just some of the brands on offer. The local firewater, konyagi, is powerful stuff and far less likely to quench your thirst than a glass of freshly-squeezed sugar cane or pineapple juice.

Tourist Information

Browse the official website at www.tanzaniatouristboard.com

All car hire locations in Tanzania