The Tanzania Experience
Tanzania is the quintessential, definitive Africa of your dreams. And who wouldn’t want to visit a place where the names of its legendary travel destinations roll off the tongue like an incantation: Zanzibar, Serengeti, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, the Rift Valley, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Olduvai Gorge, “the Cradle of Humankind.”
Great plains abound with legions of game, snow-capped mountains soar above dusty valleys, rain forests teem with monkeys and birds, beaches are covered in sand as soft and white as talcum powder, and coral reefs host myriads of jewel-like tropical fish. Although Tanzania’s economy—one of the poorest in the world—depends heavily on agriculture, which accounts for almost half of its GDP, it has more land (more than 25%) devoted to national parks and game reserves than any other wildlife destination in the world. Everything from pristine coral reefs to the Crater highlands, remote game reserves, and the famous national parks are protected by government law and placed in trust for future generations.
There are two circuits you can follow in Tanzania: the conventional northern tourist circuit, which includes the Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, or the lesser traveled southern tourist circuit of Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha, Mahale, and Gombe national parks among others. You’ll be amply rewarded for the often lengthy traveling to these southern locations by having the places much more to yourself and usually at cheaper rates.
It doesn’t stop there!
Rising from the sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika, the forested Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains National Parks vie with each other as the best place in the world to track wild chimpanzees. Closer to the coast, the isolated massifs of the Underprivileged Eastern Arc Mountains have been dubbed the ‘African Galapagos’ in recognition of their wealth of endemic plants and animals. And Tanzania’s daunting natural variety is mirrored by a cultural diversity, embracing 120 distinct tribes: from the iconic Maasai Pastoralists of the Rift Valley, to the Arab-influenced Swahili of the coast, to the Hadzabee hunter-gatherers of Lake Eyasi.
So, how to define the experience offered by a country with highlights as unique and diverse as Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, Lake Tanganyika, Serengeti and Selous? An experience that might for some entail long days hiking in sub-zero conditions on the upper slopes of Africa’s most alluring peaks; for others a once-in-a-lifetime safari followed by a sojourn on an idyllic Indian Ocean beach; for others still the thrill of eyeballing habituated chimpanzees, or diving in the spectacular offshore reefs around Mafia, or backpacking through the time-warped ports and crumbling ruins of the half-forgotten south coast?
Well, the one thing that does bind Tanzania’s diverse attractions is, of course, its people, who take justifiable pride in their deeply ingrained national mood of tolerance and peacefulness. Indeed, Tanzania, for all its ethnic diversity, is practically unique in Africa in having navigated a succession of modern political hurdles – the transformation from colonial dependency to independent nation, from socialist state to free-market economy, from mono-partyism to fully-fledged democracy – without ever experiencing sustained civil or ethnic unrest.
Tanzania has also, over the past 20 years, emerged from comparative obscurity to stand as one of Africa’s most dynamic and popular travel destinations a land whose staggering natural variety is complemented by the innate hospitality of the people who live there.
How to define the Tanzanian experience? Surprisingly easy, really. It can be encapsulated in a single word, one that visitors will hear a dozen times daily, no matter where they travel in Tanzania, or how they go about it: the smiling, heartfelt Swahili greeting of “Karibu!” – Welcome!