Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar… The names roll off the tongue like a roster call of Africa’s most alluring destinations, all packed into one country. Resonating with hints of the wild and exotic, these four alone are reason enough to justify packing your bag and heading off to Tanzania. But the list isn’t finished. Bagamoyo, Tabora, Ujiji – stops on the 19th-century caravan routes into the heart of what was then an unknown continent. Mafia and Pangani – once famed ports of call for merchant ships from the Orient. Kilwa – linchpin of a far-flung Indian Ocean trading network. Kigoma, Kalema, Kipili, Kasanga – bustling outposts along the remote Lake Tanganyika shoreline. Selous – Africa’s largest protected area. Ruaha and Katavi – insider tips for serious safari-goers. Mahale and Gombe – prime destinations for seeing chimpanzees in the wild.
Within the space of several hours, it’s possible to go from lazing on idyllic beaches to exploring moss-covered ruins of ancient Swahili city-states; from climbing mist-covered slopes in the Southern Highlands to trekking through the barren landscapes around Ol Doinyo Lengai, guided by a spear-carrying Maasai warrior. Yet, despite its attractions, Tanzania has managed for the most part to remain unassuming and low-key. It has also remained enviably untouched by the tribal rivalries and political upheavals that plague many of its neighbours, and this – combined with a booming tourism industry – makes it an ideal choice for both first-time visitors and Africa old hands.
Throughout, Tanzania offers travellers an array of options, set against the backdrop of a cultural mosaic in which over 100 ethnic groups amicably rub shoulders. While most visitors head straight for the famed northern wildlife-watching circuit, followed by time relaxing on Zanzibar’s beaches, Tanzania has much more to offer anyone with the time and inclination to head off the beaten path. Follow the coastline south into a Swahili culture whose rhythms have remained in many ways unchanged over the centuries. Journey through rolling hill country along the Tanzam highway, detouring to Ruaha National Park. Admire ancient rock paintings around Kolo village. Explore the Lake Victoria shoreline, with its small fishing villages and tranquil islands. Experience the seldom-visited wilderness of Katavi, teeming with buffaloes and hippos.
If you’re seeking creature comforts, stick to the northern safari circuit and Zanzibar, where there are sealed main roads and many hotels and restaurants. Elsewhere, and especially in the south and west, you’ll soon find yourself well off the beaten path, surrounded by a Tanzania that’s far removed from Western development.
Wherever you go, take advantage of opportunities to get to know Tanzanians. With their characteristic warmth and politeness, and the dignity and beauty of their cultures, it is they who will inevitably wind up being the highlight of any visit. Chances are that you’ll want to come back for more, to which most Tanzanians will say ‘karibu tena’ (welcome again).