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Tanzania - The Land of Natural Awe
February 19, 2017, 10:27 am

Tanzania derives its name from the two separate nation-states — Tanganyika and Zanzibar — which united to form the new nation in 1964.

Tanzania is one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations and home to Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Most visitors will find themselves passing through the capital Dar es Salaam and heading out on safaris and various wildlife viewing adventures. For those who want to take a break and spend some time soaking up the sun, the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar beckon. Off Pemba and Mafia islands is a whole other kind of natural wonder, one most appreciated by the scuba divers and snorkelers who seek out the coral gardens, colorful fish, and crystal clear waters.

Islands and Beaches

Zanzibar Beaches:

The Zanzibar archipelago consists of the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. The island of Zanzibar, also called Unguja, is a major holiday destination known for its beautiful beaches. This island has some of the best beaches in the world with varying surf depending on what side of the island you are on. Visitors will find soft white sand and clear shallow water, along with traditional boats.

Pemba Island:

This Island is the northernmost island in the Zanzibar archipelago. Around Pemba are many desert islands and some of the best scuba diving in the Indian Ocean, with visibility that is unparalleled. Lush coral gardens, colorful sponges and sea fans are all found in this underwater haven. The city of Chake Chake, the main population center on Pemba, is a popular base for scuba divers. Pemba is less visited than Zanzibar and as a result has a more laidback atmosphere. From December to February, visitors can watch traditional bullfighting; a sign from the days of Portuguese dominance in the 16th and 17th Century.

Mafia Island:

The Island draws divers and snorkelers from around the world to the undersea world protected by the Mafia Island Marine Park. The best months for diving are October to March. Mafia Island Marine Park has excellent coral gardens, an abundant variety of fish and a relaxed diving atmosphere. Countless birds and over 400 species of fish can be seen in the area. Mafia Island is also a traditional breeding site for the green turtle, which are unfortunately close to extinction.

Nature’s spectacle

Mount Kilimanjaro:

One of the most frequented attractions in Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is home to Africa's highest mountain peak. Unlike other parks in northern Tanzania, this one is not visited for its wildlife, but rather for a chance to view its majestic, snow-capped mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro can be climbed at any time, although the best period is from late June to October.

Lake Victoria:

The largest freshwater lake in Africa, Lake Victoria is bordered by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This lake is the source of the White Nile and provides an income for millions of residents along its shores. The Tanzanian section of Lake Victoria is one of the least visited regions in the country, however the towns of Bukoba, Musoma and Mwanza have a number of attractions. Bird watching and fishing trips are popular excursions, and boat trips or hikes can be arranged around Lake Victoria.

Lake Manyara National Park:

This national park comprises of forest, woodland, grasslands, and swamps. Two-thirds of the park is covered by water and Lake Manyara is host to thousands of flamingoes, at certain times of year, as well as other diverse bird life. The highlight of this park is the large population of elephants, tree-climbing lions and hippos that can be observed at a much closer range than in other parks. This park is also home to the largest concentration of baboons in the world.

Katavi National Park:

Located 35km southwest of Mpanda, Katavi National Park is Tanzania’s third-largest national park and one of its most unspoiled wilderness areas. Though it is an isolated alternative to more popular destinations elsewhere in Tanzania, the lodges are just as luxurious as anywhere else, and for backpackers it is one of the cheapest and easiest parks to visit. Katavi’s dominant feature is the 425-sq-km Katisunga Plain, a vast grassy expanse at the heart of the park. This and other floodplains yield to vast tracts of brush and woodland, which are the best areas for sighting roan and sable antelopes: together with Ruaha National Park, Katavi is one of the few places you have a decent chance of spotting both. Small rivers and large swamps that last all year support huge populations of hippos and crocodiles, and more than 400 bird species. The park really comes to life in the dry season, when the floodplains dry up and elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, and many more gather at the remaining waters.

Serengeti National Park:

A vast treeless plain park with millions of animals searching for fresh grasslands, the Serengeti attracts thousands of tourists each year. The best months for wildlife viewing are between December and June. Large herds of antelope as well as lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, bat eared fox, hunting dog and jackal are found here. Adding to this, nearly 500 species of birds have been recorded.

Captivating cultures

Stone Town:

Best known as the cultural heart of Zanzibar, Stone Town has grand old Arabian homes lining its narrow streets and winding alleys, giving the city its own unique charm. The majority of homes in Stone Town were built in the 19th Century when Zanzibar was one of the most important Swahili trading towns in the Indian Ocean. Visitors will notice the bras-studded, intricately carved wooden doors on many of the houses. As the world's oldest functioning Swahili city, many of the landmarks in Stone Town have been restored to their original glory. Some of the historic buildings are now museums which can be visited. The town also has a couple of interesting old churches of historical significance. A walk along Creek Road takes visitors to the original Stone Town area and the location of the Central Darajani Market, Beit el-Amani, City Hall, and the Anglican Cathedral. Some of the other key highlights include the Forodhani Gardens, the Old Dispensary with its carved wooden balconies, the former home of the sultans known as Beit el-Sahel or the People's Palace, the Hamamni Persian Baths built in 1888, and the oldest structure in Stone Town, the Old Fort.

Tongoni Ruins:

About 20km south of Tanga, just off the coastal road, the Tongoni Ruins are set picturesquely between baobabs overlooking the mangrove-lined coast. They include the crumbling remains of a mosque and about 20 overgrown Shirazi pillar-style tombs, the largest collection of such tombs on the East African coast. Both the mosque and the tombs are estimated to date from the 14th or 15th century. Although most of Tongoni’s pillars have long since toppled to the ground, you can still see the recessed areas on some where decorative porcelain vases and offering bowls were placed. There are also about two dozen more recent, and largely unremarkable, tombs dating from the 18th or 19th century.

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