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Travel to Tanzania: the real home of Safari

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
Think Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, the Ngoro Ngoro... this particular African nation has names sufficient to make a travelling mind dream. It may be a safari paradise, but the country also knows how to do sumptuous seaside resorts on the sublime archipelago of Zanzibar. With two different faces to explore, you'll need all the time you can get.

Before leaving

Out of Africa

Tanzania might be as close to reality as the stereotypical vision of Africa gets. Brought to life, you'll find safaris and spice markets aplenty but don't make the mistake of thinking there are no surprises in store. Spiritual mysteries, new colours, animals you didn't know existed and secular traditions make this nation a constant voyage of discovery.

Ngoro Ngoro

The Ngoro Ngoro Park, with its vast 140-square-mile natural crater, should not be missed. Also in the Rift Valley is the Serengeti Park, a stone's throw from Kenya, and one of the richest in Africa, with approximately 4 million creatures within its perimeter. Then there's the Kilimanjaro Park, lying in the shadow of the highest summit on the African continent.

Cultural diversity

Tanzania also shines for its cultural diversity. With at least 128 different languages spoken and Christians, Muslims and animists living alongside each other, the diversity shines through at every stop. Though it is far from being the sum of its ubiquitous clichés, the Maasaï culture is characterised by its remarkable warrior traditions.

The islands of Zanzibar

Off the coast of Tanzania are the sun-kissed islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia - which boast some of the best diving spots in the region. Zanzibar basks in its prestigious past as a global spice centre, with its attractive architecture and flourishing cultural life.

Our Editorial team's advice

Those who have the time and the budget shouldn't hold back. Go for a combination holiday of at least two weeks, with 10 days on safari with an organised tour guide followed by five days of rest, relaxation and cultural discovery in Zanzibar. If you've only got a week, we'd recommend choosing just one of the above options. Otherwise you risk over-cramming your days and becoming tired.

If you decide to go to Zanzibar, it's best to take a flight to Dar-es-Salaam. If you're heading north on safari, the airports at Arusha or Kilimanjaro are probably the better options.

The best time to go to Tanzania depends invariably on which regions you want to visit. Between the north and the south of the country, the difference in climate can be disorientating. On the whole, however, the June-July and September-October periods are the best times to go, particularly if you're interested in seeing the famous wildebeest migration.

The conservation reserve at Ngoro Ngoro and the east of the Serengeti National Park are two of the best locations for observing the most diverse range of animals. Make sure you know when and where the animals are, as they migrate to different parts of the parks at different times of the year.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that it's always baking hot on safari. This is not so, especially in Tanzania where the land lies between 1,500 and 2,500 metres above sea level. It can be chilly, if not cold, in the mornings - which also happens to be the best time to see the country's wildlife. So bring plenty of jumpers, socks and warm layers.

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Traditions

As is the way in many African nations, Tanzanians great each other warmly, shaking hands often for several minutes. As soon as they meet, locals will swap news of their health, as well as that of their family. But don't be surprised if you don't receive the same greeting - it is more out of respect than of distrust and it doesn't take long to get to know people on a friendly level.

You should pay a good deal of attention to your wardrobe before leaving. Try to stay away from extremely skimpy clothing, especially in Zanzibar where the majority of the population is Muslim and whose conservative values should be respected by any visitor.

The semi-nomadic culture of the Maasai is something very special to witness. Their chants, jumps and dances are now only really performed for visiting tourists and have fallen into folklore. Their focus is now on protecting their natural environment and their way of life, something very worth exploring for all those intending to visit.

What to see

The northern landscapes , Rift Valley, Tanzania , Tanzania
The northern landscapes
The Southern Landscapes , The southern landscapes, Tanzania , Tanzania
The southern Landscapes
Kilimanjaro , A wildebeest in front of Mount Kilimanjaro , Tanzania
Kilimanjaro
Tanzania : Explore

Food

Tanzanian cuisine often depends on where you are and what locals have access to. In the midlands, proteins are placed above all else. The Maasai diet consists almost entirely of milk and meat, though closer to some of the big lakes you'll find fish and, more and more now, beef and chicken. Take any opportunity to try zebra meat, it's extremely tasty.

On the eastern plains, the country produces plentiful amounts of fruit and vegetables which it distributes around the rest of the country. One of the country's most famous dishes is ugali, a porridge made from cassava which is eaten with the right hand around a big shared plate.

Souvenirs

Tanzanian craftwork is pervasive, with many items being made locally and available for relatively low prices. Take the time to explore shelves of wickerwork, hats, carpets, baskets, kaleidoscopic Maassaï jewellery, batiks, oil paintings, ebony ornaments (placemats, plates, jewellery, sculpture, furniture) and children's games made from recyclable materials.

In the shop windows of Dar es-Salaam and Arusha, you'll find jewellery of glimmering gold, diamonds and tanzanite (a precious stone in blue and violet hues). What's more, you can barter almost everywhere. Among Zanzibar's own specialities, the market stalls offer wooden trinket boxes, sculpted and pierced with golden pins, as well as miniature replicas of intricately engraved doors.

The spices are just as tempting: cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to name just a few of the better known. There are few places where engaging in friendly conversation won't result in a lower price. Stalls are usually open from 9am to midday and from 2pm to 7pm. Note that between 9am and 1pm, 4pm and 7pm, and, in Zanzibar, around 12.45am, business starts to wind down for prayers at the mosque.