When you first start thinking about places you’d like to go in Africa, it’s inevitable that the usual suspects make their way into your mind. Things like taking the challenge by the horns and climbing Kilimanjaro or joining a world famous safari group on the Serengeti. But what about the other things that you can do, and since Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, what specifically should you not miss in this large and amazing country? Here are the top things you have to check out when you’re in one of Africa’s greatest gems, Tanzania.
Of course climbing one of the world’s most famous mountains is a must for many people during their trip to Tanzania. Climbing Kilimanjaro can be an awe inspiring, challenging but life changing and affirming experience. Many who choose to climb this spend the previous months preparing as the climb can be gruelling depending on the route you take. Some routes are suitable for children and families but a general rule of thumb is that children under 10 aren’t permitted due to the terrain and difficulty of the climb.
The highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro is actually a dormant volcano with three volcanic cones. Standing at a height of over 19,000 feet, it’s imperative to climbers to spend the night over several days on the mountain in order to acclimatise to the elevation changes and to lessen the discomfort and sometimes dangerous effects of altitude sicknesses that can be a problem at further heights. Typically most of the routes up Kilimanjaro take around a week. To enjoy the trek and allow for a day or two where you might need to take it a bit easier due to altitude, consider booking a trip that is around eight days in length, depending on your chosen route.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
This conservation area is a wide swathe of land in the north eastern part of Tanzania, about 180 kilometres west of Arusha. The region is known for the Ngorongoro Crater, one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders which is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera, the result of a huge volcanic eruption and subsequent collapse between two to three million years ago. The highlands of the crater vary in climate depending on what side of the crater you find yourself – it covers over two hundred and fifty square kilometres of land – with one side of the crater receiving more annual rainfall that the others. The inner portions of the crater are primarily grassland and provide excellent areas for animals of all kinds to find water, food and shelter from the elements.
The Maasai people here have used the fertile land of the inside of the crater to subsistence farm for generations and are today struggling to retain claim to this land. After the Serengeti was made a national park, the Maasai people were moved by the government to the crater region as an attempt to rehome them. There was also a drought and other issues plaguing their former lands at the time, such as infestations of certain pests and widespread illnesses. Today the continued fight to create a more protected status for the crater means that the rehomed Maasai are again facing expulsion.
Believed to be the spot that humans first inhabited, hominid remains have been found that date back three million years. It’s also believed that one of the first footprints of man is found in the crater, making this not just an important place for animals, but also for mankind.
One of the most famous safari and national parks in the world, the Serengeti National Park sits in the northern part of the country and is home to some of the most spectacular wildlife viewing options available. The park extends into southern Kenya in an area known as the Maasai Mara, a popular destination for those looking to experience both wildlife as well as village life. Serengeti is literally derived from a Maasai word meaning ‘endless plains’ and is rated as one of the Seven Wonders of Africa due to it being the site of the largest mammal migration in the world to take place on land. The Serengeti, being a hugely sought after safari site boasts numerous camps, lodges and companies which vary in class and rating from basic tent based safaris all the way up to five star lodges with private safari tours.
While the Serengeti is one of the most popular and sought after safari experiences in Africa, one thing has come to light in recent years and that’s the fact that overcrowding can be an issue. To avoid overcrowding, try to go in the shoulder seasons right at the beginning or ends of the rainy season. The bonus is you are likely to score a decent deal as well if you phone in advance and book last minute.
Zanzibar – An Island
Located off the east coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, the island of Zanzibar stands out like a pearl in the turquoise blue seas. The island is fairly large and takes awhile to get around by car but is home to not just perfect beaches but idyllic corners of quiet solitude and small local villages where the coconuts are fresh and the smiles are plentiful. Nungwi on the very north coast is said to be the party town for those looking to mingle with other backpacking travellers and those who want to get their dance on, but nearby Kendwa offers a similar vibe, but much, much quieter with beach bars selling all the latest and greatest in cocktails, mocktails as well as local and international beers. Accommodation on the island ranges from modest and rustic bungalows all the way up to ultimate 5 star resorts with private beach access and even – get this – your own butler.
Stone Town is the capital of Zanzibar and as a result is a bustling little urban area with a surprising amount to see and do. The harbour is a lovely little thing, with brightly painted boats set against the turquoise backdrop of the Indian Ocean. Peddlers of food and trinkets line the streets, as do taxi drivers who call at you asking if you need a ride somewhere. As a general rule of thumb circa 2014 a taxi ride from Stone Town to Nungwi kind of distance was around $30USD. Stone Town is also home to the famous lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury and you can even tour his home, something any fan of Queen will have high on their to do list. Stone Town overall is a great place to just check out a museum or two, take some cash out (ATMs are few and far between over the rest of the island) and possibly stock up on any snacks, medical supplies and the like that might be harder to find in the rest of the island. You can also arrange fishing trips, snorkelling trips, and spice tours to numerous plantations throughout the island to see how things like nutmeg and vanilla are grown.
So there you have a couple of great places to check out in Tanzania, a country that will both challenge and surprise you at every turn and leave you breathless and thrilled. So come to Tanzania – you won’t regret the choice, especially with so many other countries to head to from its well connected airport as well.