The country is situated just south of the Equator bordering the Indian Ocean and is 930,704 sq. km. in area. Of this, inland waters cover 53,000-sq. km. and 247,537-sq. km. is devoted to the protection of wildlife. Most of the land area of the country falls within the central plateau region, although the most distinctive feature is the Great Rift Valley with its associated series of lakes from Nyasa in the south, to Tanganyika in the west and Victoria in the north. Volcanic activity is common throughout the Rift Valley area. The coastline comprises long tropical beaches and the major offshore islands of Zanzibar, Mafia and Pemba. The population presently occupying Tanzania is about 30,3 million. Approximately 3,2 people per square kilometre.
If the cultural and historical aspects of Tanzania are what hold your interest, there is no better place to start than the capital, Dar es Salaam, which means ‘haven of peace’ in Arabic. A whole tapestry of history is played out in the architecture and streets of this city with fantastic mosques, traditional and busy Indian bazaars. For an insight into present lifestyles, which still follow a tradition as old as Africa itself, visit the Kariakoo Market where every variety of vegetable, fish and livestock is on sale, along with a fascinating range of traditional medicines and spices. An even better window is the Nyumba ya Sanaa, a local handicraft centre where you can buy anything in the line of painting, pottery, carvings or batlik fabric designs.
Just north of Dar es Salaam is the former capital of the country, Bagamayo. The name is said to be derived from the cry of slaves brought here for sale and transport, and means ‘Here I lay down my heart’. The sombre history of this once great city is evidenced by the remnants of the slave trade – shackle rings, cell-like stone pits in which the slaves were kept and the rare examples of freedom certificates.
On a more optimistic note, this was also the starting point for many of history’s most famous explorers. David Livingstone is especially well remembered here in the museum collection at the Catholic Mission, but Burton and Speke also passed through this city and Stanley’s own house still stands here as a monument to those great adventurers.
The climate is warm and humid in coastal regions with temperatures ranging between 24-28 degrees centigrade. October to mid-March is the hottest period and June to September, the coolest. The rainy season is from mid-March to the end of June.
One of the most requested events in the migration is the arrival crossing of the Mara River that occurs around late July to August with parts of September and again on their return south, around the last two weeks of October through early November. These are the best times to track and see the annual wildebeest migration in Masai Mara. While the sight of masses of animals thundering across the open plains is spectacular, the Mara River crossing will take you through a range of emotions – awe, anticipation, heartache, inspiration, excitement and much more. The crossing is the subject of many documentary films from the BBC to the National Geographic, but even superb filmmaking cannot give you the experience of being on-site.
Tanzania boasts in having Mount Kilimanjaro which is Africa’s highest peak. The coastline is 800km where islands are lush with palm fringed white beaches washed by the turquoise water on the Indian Ocean. Tanzania contains three of Africa’s best-known lakes—Victoria in the north, Tanganyika in the west, and Nyasa in the south. The island of Zanzibar is separated from the mainland by a 22-mile channel. The Great Rift Valley also passes through Tanzania. The country has reknowed national parks in the world especially the Serengeti National Park which was named together with the Maasai Mara game reserve as the new 7th wonder of the world with its wildebeest migrations. The annual migration into Kenya (in a continuous search of water and pasture) of more than 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelle is triggered by the rains and usually starts in May, at the end of the wet season. Called the Great Migration, this constitutes the most breathtaking event in the animal kingdom ever known to humans. As the dry season intensifies, the herds drift out towards the west, one group to the north (to Lake Victoria, where there is permanent water), the other northeast heading for the permanent waters of the northern rivers and the Mara. The immigration instinct is so strong that animals die in the rivers as they dive from the banks into the raging waters to be dispatched by crocodiles. The survivors concentrate in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve until the grazing there is exhausted, when they turn south along the eastern and final stage of the migration route. The migration coincides with the breeding season, which causes fights among the males. The best months to visit to witness this great migration are December to February and May to July.