Tanzanians have a reputation for friendliness, something I experienced many times over during my tours within and journeys across the country. But the people are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the attractions that a trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar has to offer.
A popular tourist destination in East Africa, Tanzania boasts numerous sights that keep travelers coming in their thousands every year. Zanzibar is one of the country’s top attractions with spectacular beaches, an interesting history and spices galore.
An Island Holiday – Zanzibar
Situated off the East African coast, Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania that comprises an archipelago of several islands in the Indian Ocean. The main island is Unguja, whose oldest section and historic core is Stone Town.
The best way to explore the unique architecture of Stone Town is by navigating its maze of narrow passageways on foot. Wander the tiny alleyways past pastel-colored mosques, old palaces and ancient Persian-style stone buildings. The cosmopolitan nature of Zanzibar is evident in the culture and community you will experience on its crowded cobblestone street corners.
Stone Town has various attractions including the 17th century Old Fort, a giant stone fortress that once protected the city from outside attacks. Later used as a prison, the Old Fort is today a cultural center offering information on the history of Zanzibar, as well as handmade jewelry, paintings and other souvenirs and gift items. Its open-air theater hosts live music and dance performances, as well as major festivals such as the Zanzibar International Film Festival that’s held every July.
Opposite the Old Fort is the Forodhani Gardens, a small park adjacent to Stone Town’s main sea walk. Every evening after sunset, the Gardens host a popular market that sells grilled seafood and other Zanzibari dishes, attracting both tourists and locals. Visitors can buy a plate of the richly-spiced dishes, sit on the benches nearby and take in the seaside atmosphere.
Still in Stone Town, the Hamamni Persian Baths are a historical building constructed between 1870 and 1888 for use as public baths. Close by is the Old Slave Market, which stands as a monument to Zanzibar’s dark past as the largest hub for slave trade in East Africa.
At the former slave market, visitors can tour the underground slave chambers that consist of little dark rooms with low ceilings. The rooms once held enslaved Africans confined in the most inhumane conditions imaginable, before they were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Inside the rooms are sets of heavy rusted iron chains that were used to bind the necks, arms and legs of the enslaved Africans.
Many tourists are drawn to Zanzibar by its beaches, and Kendwa certainly does not disappoint. Situated about one hour’s drive from Zanzibar town, Kendwa is arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in Africa. Nothing beats sunbathing on Kendwa’s brilliant white sands or taking a dip in its pristine blue waters. Visitors can also go on morning or nighttime dive trips, or take a sunset cruise to the equally stunning Nungwi Beach.
No trip to Spice Island is complete without going on one of Zanzibar’s famous spice tours. The tour will take you straight into the plantations and forests from which the precious spices are harvested and sold. Join in and enjoy the colors and smells of black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and many more spices.
A Trip to Tanzania – Mount Kilimanjaro
Few mountains enjoy the iconic status of Africa’s tallest peak. For centuries, Mount Kilimanjaro has attracted adventurers, travelers, writers and thrill seekers, promising a challenging climb and stunning views. With a summit that stands at an impressive 19,341 feet, transitioning through 5 different climate zones, the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro offers a sense of accomplishment and an unforgettable African experience.
We accessed Kilimanjaro from Marangu, a town located 30 minutes drive to the northeast of Moshi. Nestled on the slopes of the ancient mountain, Marangu makes for an ideal base for those who wish to explore Kilimanjaro’s foothills, lush green forests, incredible waterfalls, walking paths and quiet farms, and enjoy a taste of life in the hillsides of Tanzania. Even if you don’t climb Kilimanjaro, go to Marangu if only to experience the beauty of rural Tanzania.
Kilasiya Waterfall is one of Marangu’s beautiful spots at which we spent some time swimming in cool pools and gazing in awe at the splendid waterfall. As we left, we hiked past beautiful heliconias, their vibrant reds and yellows glowing in the sunlight, and stumbled upon a magnificent canyon. We stayed at the canyon’s edge until sunset, braiding hair and quietly communing with nature.
One of Marangu’s most famous citizens is Yohani Kinyala Lauwo (1871-1996). Kinyala was only 18 years old when he led Hans Meyer – the first European to summit Kilimanjaro – to the highest point in Africa on October 5th, 1889. Before taking Meyer up the great mountain, Kinyala had summited Kilimanjaro three times already – only wrapped in blankets. I will be channeling the spirit of Kinyala for guidance and motivation when I finally climb Kilimanjaro.
Situated below Mount Meru in the north of Tanzania, Arusha is a large, sprawling city of contrasts. It is at once a great place to relax away from life on Africa’s roads, and is also the starting point of many safaris and cultural tours in Tanzania. Some of the main attractions in Arusha include the stunning Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, the spectacular Lake Manyara National Park and Mount Meru.
On a clear day in Arusha you can see Kilimanjaro’s peak. In fact, the very first time I laid my eyes on Kilimanjaro was at sunset from the balcony of a friend’s home in Arusha. She lay there, sprawled across the earth: majestic, beautiful, inviting. Eager to take a closer look, I asked for binoculars. But these soon got heavy as I was unable to take my eyes off her. I immediately changed my plans and the very next day I went to Moshi to see Kilimanjaro!
Tucked into the scenic slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Moshi is one of Tanzania’s most beautiful towns. Situated less than 2 hours drive from Arusha, the small town of Moshi serves as a base camp for most travelers out to climb Africa’s tallest mountain.
From the rooftop of my backpacking hostel in Moshi, I could see Kilimanjaro’s ice cap glistening in the sun, framed above and below by floating clouds. It was sad to think that by the year 2022, according to scientists, Kilimanjaro’s ice could all have vanished due to global warming.
Moshi’s location also makes it an ideal base for exploring the beauty of Tanzania’s northern safari parks: Tarangire, the Ngorongoro Crater, and of course, the magnificent Serengeti.
On a continent recognized for wildlife and safaris, few national parks enjoy the same iconic status as the Serengeti. The oldest and most popular wildlife reserve in Tanzania, Serengeti is home to all of Africa’s Big Five, who find sanctuary in the massive park’s miles of savanna, open plains and rugged cliffs. Some one million wildebeests, 300,000 gazelles and 200,000 zebra also call the Serengeti home, and visitors can enjoy spotting a pride of lions, rhinos, giraffes and even cheetahs.
The best time to visit the Serengeti is during the annual 3-week pilgrimage made by the animals heading to the Maasai Mara in Kenya for better grazing and more water. This amazing spectacle is commonly known as “the Great Migration” and is unlike any other game viewing experience on earth. The sheer volume of animals makes quite a spectacle, with thousands of wildebeests and zebras spread out over the plains. If you want to witness the migration, plan your visit between May and August and from October to December.
There are many tour companies that offer packages for a trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar. These companies can take you on an African adventure, showing you all the wildlife Tanzania has to offer, and much more. Below are some of the tour operators recommended by the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO):
- A. Safaris: www.rasafaris.com
- Bobby Tours Tanzania Safaris: bobbytours.com
- Warrior Trails: warriortrails.com