Whereas Dodoma is the capital city of Tanzania, the coastal town of Dar es Salaam houses most of the government, administrative and commercial centres, and is the biggest city in the country.
Late in the 19th century, Sultan Sayyid Majid of Zanzibar set off the transformation of what was then a simple, nondescript fishing village, a “Haven of Peace” as he called it, into what, over two hundred years later, is now Tanzania’s most important administrative and commercial city: Dar es Salaam. Despite its current size and population of over 4 million, Dar has managed to retain its laid-back and casual atmosphere, displaying its charm through its relaxed fusion of African, European and Asian cultures.
Narrow winding streets and low, shuttered buildings dating back to the Arab period give way to colourful and lively traditional African roadside markets offering spices, tropical fruits and handicrafts; skyscrapers stand side by side with the “Hall of Man”- a museum housing several of the first finds from the Olduvai Gorge, including the skull of Paranthropus boisei and other archaeologically important fossils such as displays of the centuries old Shirazi civilisation of Kilwa.
Dar es Salaam is a modern city, busy and fascinating, with lots of hotels, restaurants and recreational activities available. In this sense it is more similar to Nairobi in Kenya, than to the rest of the country’s other towns. Dar is often used as a stopover, with its international airport serving as the gateway to the Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar, and the eastern parks such as Saadani and the Selous Game Reserve. It is not necessary to travel to the Zanzibar Islands to find great beaches, as there are several wonderful sandy beaches just outside the city centre, especially at Ras Kutani.
Arusha has grown from a simple trading post to one of Tanzania’s principal cities. The main starting point for most safaris and expeditions in to Northern Tanzania, Arusha is located at the foot of Mt. Meru, Tanzania’s second highest mountain (4566m).
The city’s status as the safari capital of the country is due to its close proximity to the Kilimanjaro International Airport, the Arusha Airport for domestic flights, and its easy access to almost all of Tanzania’s prime national parks. The city prides itself as the midway point between Cairo and the Cape in its position is marked by a symbolic clock tower in the middle of the city.
Lake Duluti, a short drive from Arusha, is a scenic spot with numerous water birds to be found. The surrounding area makes for an interesting and easy walk. The Arusha National Park, is a small gem located on the slopes of Mount Meru (4566m). It shelters the beautiful string of Momella Lakes, the striking Ngurdoto Crater as well as a good number of plains game including elephants and giraffes, monkeys and baboons, the occasional leopard, and rich and luxuriant vegetation including mahogany and olive trees which grace the slopes of the mountain. It is possible to climb Mount Meru on a three to four day trek, but it is physically challenging, and often done in preparation to tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro’s summit.
Numerous vegetable and flower farms, and coffee plantations, along with the Tanzanite gem stone mines, are the mainstay of the town’s economy. Despite its small size, it is politically significant in the history of Tanzania. Initially founded by German colonialists in 1900, who were then replaced by the British, it was in Arusha that Britain granted independence to Tanzania in 1961.
KILIMANJARO NATIONAL PARK
Kilimanjaro National Park covers some 1864sq km of Africa’s highest mountain, extending from the 1824m mark to the summit at 5895m. The vegetation progresses from mountain rain forest, to scrub, then alpine moorland and finally, the icy snow covered fields. There is no bamboo zone on Mount Kilimanjaro, unlike on Mount Kenya. Animals are quite scarce on the mountain, the most interesting being the Abbot’s Duiker, a shy antelope otherwise found only in Tanzania’s northern forests. One may come across the occasional herd of elephants, buffalo, eland and some Blue Monkeys, black and White Colobus Monkeys and Leopards.
The three highest peaks of the mountain are volcanic in origin, and while Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, the summit Kibo is believed to be dormant. Despite its soaring height, climbing to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro has been described as being relatively easy, at least for the more popular routes.
The mountain can be climbed all year round but for a more comfortable trek it is best to avoid the rainy seasons. The best times for reasonable weather are January to February and August through to October. The trek to the summit can be achieved by anyone with reasonable fitness. There are six different trekking routes to reach the summit, ranging in difficulty levels, starting point, and the number of days it takes to reach Kibo Point.
LAKE MANYARA NATIONAL PARK
Lake Manyara National Park, located at the base of the Mbulu Escarpment of the Rift Valley, is named after the euphorbias that grow in the area. The park is dominated by the soda lake that extends over an area of 230 sq mm, or a third of the total area of the park. Lake Manyara is a complex and exciting park: the ever-changing vegetation which starts with thick forests of mahogany, fig trees and wild mango, fed by tens of underground streams which drain the Ngorongoro Highlands.
It provides a haven for colourful birds, monkeys and shy dwarf antelopes, and opens up into woodland, a favourite for elephants and impala, and then unfolds in to open savannah, teeming with herds of buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, giraffes… before spilling in to Lake Manyara, home to hundreds of thousands of water birds including flamingos and pelicans. This means that you never know what to expect- every corner taken brings endless possibilities… you could end up at the Hot Springs, or perhaps at the hippo pools, or if you are lucky, you could chance upon the park’s famous tree-climbing lions!
As one of the most accessible parks in Tanzania, Lake Manyara can get quite busy through the forested sector up to the open plains on the lakeshore, and the roads are quite narrow, framed on each side by vegetation. Most of the visitors are accommodated in the lodges outside the park, however for those wishing for a more exclusive experience, there are luxury properties located deep inside the park, and you would need to spend at least two nights to fully enjoy the park, the comforts of the lodge and the exciting night game drives that they offer.
LAKE NATRON and OL DONYO LENGAI
Located close to the Tanzania/Kenya border, Lake Natron is found in one of the hottest and driest regions of East Africa. The lake itself is a soda lake and its high alkalinity is attributed to the volcanic ash from the surrounding mountains. The hot temperatures evaporate a substantial amount of water, leaving behind a watery sludge that has been known to attain alkaline levels close to that of ammonia, and the water temperatures can reach up to 60 degrees Celsius!
The area is accessed through Mto wa Mbu, near Manyara, and the greenery soon gives way to the hot and dry landscape with old volcanoes in the distance. Not many animals can survive this climate, however the occasional giraffe or jackal can be found.
Apart from the dramatic scenery, the lake has an abundance of the blue-green Spirulina algae, which draws enormous flocks of Lesser Flamingos to its shores. This is the main breeding ground for Lesser Flamingos, which build mud nests along its shores, knowing that their eggs will be relatively safe due to the lack of many predators.
Guided walks are the main activity in this area, offering a chance to visit the waterfalls of the Ngare Sero River. It is possible to swim in the natural pool at the bottom of the Engaresero Falls. Ol Doinyo Lengai (9600ft) is definitely the most important geological and cultural attraction in this area. One of the few remaining active volcanoes in the Rift Valley, and the only volcano that produces black lava in the world, the local Maasai people revere it as the sacred dwelling place of Enkai. Climbing the mountain is possible, always accompanied by qualified guides, and the trek would begin at midnight and last about 6 hours in total. However it is imperative to note that the mountain is extremely active and anyone who wishes to climb it does so entirely at his or her own risk.
MAHALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Located in the little-visited remote western part of Tanzania, the Mahale Mountains National park is an enchanting park, unbelievably beautiful with the sandy beaches of Lake Tanganyika bordering one side of the park, which seemingly explodes with rainforest vegetation a few metres back from the beach. The mist-covered forested slopes of the Mahale Mountains form a dramatic backdrop to the park.
Lake Tanganyika, the deepest lake in Africa, is best known for its crystal clear fresh waters and endemic fish species. Water sports including fishing, boating and dhow trips, and snorkelling can be enjoyed in the lake, which also happens to be the second deepest lake in the world.
The main reason for visiting the remote park, which can only be accessed by air or boat, is to track the world’s largest group of wild chimpanzees in the forests of Mahale, numbering at over 1000 individuals. The M Group is usually the easiest to track, especially during the dry season, when these chimpanzees range close to the forest edge. Tracking the chimpanzees can take anything from 20min to over 3 hours, though they are know to venture on to the beach at times.
NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA
Considered part of the Serengeti- Mara Ecosystem, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area covers an area of 8, 280sq km. An area of outstanding natural beauty, indeed one of the most breathtaking in the whole of Africa, the Ngorongoro Area embraces rolling fertile green hills covered with flowers during the rainy season, while in the sheltered valleys and plains, clusters of villages that are the home of the red-robed Maasai herdsmen, fierce in the protection of their prized cattle and traditions, abound. Forests, rivers, lakes and swamps, the silent silhouettes of mountain and volcanic craters, including some of the oldest in Africa, contribute to the dramatic landscape.
The extinct volcanoes, whose past activity contributed to the landscape and lush vegetation of Ngorongoro as well as that of the nearby Serengeti plains, include Lemagrut, Sadiman, Oldeani, Olmoti, Sirua, Lolmalasin and Empakaai, always a favourite with hikers, and last but not least, the Ngorongoro Crater- a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ngorongoro Crater, the largest intact caldera in the world measuring over 600m deep and some 8-19km in diameter, is believed to be about 8 million years old. The steep descent into the crater is almost as exciting as the scene that awaits you within the crater; a fantastic showcase of nature’s best.
The diverse landscape within the crater, in which the savannah blends in to swamps, rivers, marshes, forests and cliffs, provides sanctuary for the black-maned lions, cheetahs, buffalos, elephants, and leopards that live side by side with thousands of wildebeest, gazelles and zebras, both black-backed and golden jackals.
The Crater is also home to some of Tanzania’s last remaining rhinos. Flamingos and hippos inhabit the alkaline lakes and fresh water pools; old elephants can be seen patiently wading through the papyrus ponds, while way up, on the slopes of the crater, unique and beautiful Afro-Alpine vegetation blankets the ground in a rich green cover, occasionally hidden by the mist and fog that occurs at the rim, which stands at over 2300m.
Heading out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and out towards the Serengeti, we find the Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
The Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge, located within the Great Rift Valley, is one of the most important archaeological and anthropological sites in the world. The erosion of the land by the seemingly tame Ol Dupai River continues to reveal important fossils that aid scientists to develop a better understanding of the origins of modern man and the creatures that inhabited this part of the world. A German entomologist stumbled across the original site, while on an outing searching for butterflies!
This remote spot has become famous as the archaeological site where Dr Mary Leakey discovered the remains of Paranthropus Boisei, dated 1.5 million years old, in 1959. The fossil remains of various Hominid species, dating back to over 3.6 million years ago, have been discovered in the area. A small but extremely informative museum overlooking the gorge displays some (replicas) of the skulls, bones and tools of pre-historic man found in the gorge, including a large collection of animal fossils, which give an indication of the shape and size of today’s animals two million years ago. Some of the animal remains include bones of such creatures as a prehistoric elephant and giraffe, an enormous ostrich and giant horned sheep.
Not in the Ngorongoro Highlands, but easily accessible, is Lake Eyasi, famous for its population of Hadzabe people.
A visit to the Hadza village at Lake Eyasi is an informative and exciting excursion that begins early in the morning as you accompany the hunters in to the forests, where they demonstrate their hunting prowess using traditional bows and arrows. In the village itself, learn about their lifestyle and culture. There are accommodation options available at Lake Eyasi, but it is also possible to visit the area as a full day trip from Manyara or Karatu, leaving the lodge before dawn.
The Datoga people, renowned blacksmiths and feared warriors whose bravery matches that of the Maasai, live in the same area and visits can be done to their villages as well. Legend has it that the name ‘Ngorongoro’ was derived from the sound of the metal cattle bells made by the Datoga blacksmiths.
RUAHA NATIONAL PARK
Officially gazetted as the Saba Game Reserve in 1910, several surrounding reserves including part of the Ruaha River were subsequently incorporated in to the protected area, to create what is today East Africa’s largest national park.
The fabulous wilderness is unique as its proximity to the Southern African vegetation and wildlife zones makes it one of the few areas where species from both Southern Africa as well as Eastern Africa can be found in one setting. The Ruaha River flows for 160km along the entire eastern boundary through rugged gorges and open plains. The river valley is considered to be part of the Great Rift Valley. The dramatic scenery, from flood plains to thorn bush, open savannah and the rocky escarpment plays host to an unmatched variety of animal species, including the Big Five.
The largest herds of elephants on the continent, wild dogs, the rare and beautiful Sable and Roan antelopes roam this wild country, and crocodiles are frequently spotted basking along the river banks. Ruaha is located within a hot and dry environment, and the rivers sometimes dry up, leaving nothing but small pools of water. The dry season is the best time for game viewing, as most of the animals tend to congregate around these pools. The wet season from November to March is the prime time to visit if you are interested in the spectacular bird life. Over 570 birds species, including the Ruaha red-billed hornbill, and migratory birds such as the Australian Rim have been recorded at Ruaha.
Famous European explorers such as Burton and Speke used early trade routes that cut across Ruaha’s landscape during their expeditions in Africa between 1857 and 1858. Ruaha is often hailed as the land of the brave Chief Mkwawa of the Hehe people who resisted the German attacks in the late 19th century. Some of the outcrops in the area are known as hiding places he used when he went into hiding after the fall of his empire (Kalenga) to the Germans in 1894. There are several historical sites and sacred sites located in the area, which can be explored during the game drives or on an exciting walking safari.
RUBONDO ISLAND NATIONAL PARK
Located on Lake Victoria, the Rubondo Island National Park encases the main island, about 11 smaller islands and the surrounding waters. It is an important breeding ground for both migratory birds and fish species (especially Tilapia and Nile perch) and is one of the cleanest and protected areas on Lake Victoria.
The Island Park can be accessed by air directly to the island’s airstrip, or by road from Mwanza to Muganza or Nkome and then by boat to Rubondo (30min by boat from Muganza, and 90min by boat from Nkome). Offering an alternative to the standard safari experience, the islands are home to animals such as sitatunga, bushbucks, velvet monkeys, genet cats, spotted necked otters, hippopotamus and crocodiles, as well as to the introduced species such as chimpanzees, elephants, giraffes, Black and White Colobus monkeys, Suni antelopes and African grey parrots.
Cultural activities include visits to the Ntungamirwe, Maji Matakatifu, Altare and Solo cultural sites, which showcase the lives of the local people who used to live on the island. Other activities include forest walks, game watching, birding excursions, canoe trips, catch-and-release fishing, and trekking through wild chimpanzee territory.
SELOUS GAME RESERVE
Named after the naturalist Frederick Selous, the reserve was initially a hunting area that the German colonials later gazetted as a reserve in 1905. Following the expansion of the protected area into the surrounding ecological zones, the Selous Game Reserve is today the largest game reserve in Africa, covering an area of 44,800 square kilometres.
The authentic “Big Game” country, the Selous Game Reserve teems with impossibly high numbers of elephants, buffalos and black rhinos, and the continent’s greatest concentrations of the endangered Wild Dog, and hippos and crocodiles. The mighty Rufiji River supports the massive ecosystem, and dry season game viewing is particularly rewarding as the scattered animals come closer to the river and are easier to spot. The game reserve is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the extensive size of the ecosystem, and the incredible variety of flora and fauna it supports.
The main attraction of the Selous is the experience of seeing most of Africa’s wild animals in one region. Having fewer visitors than the Serengeti, some view the reserve as a more exclusive destination for wildlife viewing. Selous can be explored by car or by boat, silently drifting though the swamps and lagoons on the Rufiji, and being able to observe the elephants close by as they come to the water to drink or to bathe. Bush walks, accompanied by rangers, and past the lairs of wild animals, are a different and thrilling take on game viewing. Fishing is also permitted, and Fly Camping is an exciting option to try out here. At least 3 or four days are recommended for a stay in the reserve, to fully enjoy all the activities available.
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
14,673sq km of endless plains, the Serengeti National Park lies in northwest Tanzania, straddling the border with Kenya. The park encompasses half of the 30,000 sq km Serengeti- Mara Ecosystem, a range of land defined by the limits of the Wildebeest movements throughout the year. With its ancient landscape forged by the past volcanic activity of the several volcanoes in the nearby Ngorongoro Highlands, the rich grasses of the plains play host to the most spectacular numbers of wildlife in the world.
Huge granite boulders, known as kopjes, are well known in the park, and provide sanctuary for birds, colourful Agama lizards and sombre snakes, adorable rock hyraxes, as well as the big cats that seek shelter from the elements. Although famed for its plains, the Serengeti encompasses woodland, thornbush, swamps and Lakes Lagaja and Magadi, supporting over 30 species of large herbivores and over 500 species of birds, including Eurasian migrants, with its diversity.
The Gol and Moru Kopjes, the central Seronera area which is an oasis of springs, pools and surprisingly, palm trees, and the equally mysterious “Whistling Thorn” country- the Western Corridor which leads to the Grumeti River, home of Africa’s largest crocodiles, are some of the natural obstacles which the wildebeest and zebra encounter and must cross, during their annual migration up north towards the Masai Mara.
The Serengeti can be visited throughout the year, however due to its immense size, and also due to the movement of the Migratory Herds of plains game, it should be noted that the regions of the park to be visited for wildlife are dependant on the season and on the location of the main herds of animals. Hot air ballooning is one of the best ways to augment a visit to the Serengeti, always an exciting adventure any time of the year.
Whereas the name Serengeti is derived from the Maa word for “endless plains”, the park is in fact a tapestry of different landscapes- mountains and hills, thorn bush and streams and lakes. The fabled plains account for only a third of the park’s area.
The Short Grass Plains, extending from the area south of the Serengeti National Park to the Ndutu Area, are the birthing place for the wildebeest (approximately between late December and March).
The wide and open spaces produce rich sweet grasses that sustain the millions of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles, and their new born calves, and the few kopjes and wooded areas provide hiding places for the several predators that enjoy the glut of food, however this food supply is short-lived and during the rest of the year, the Migration (the wildebeest, zebras and gazelles), move out west, and leave this area generally free of wildlife. Well worth a visit during the beginning of the year, it is possible to see almost 2 million wildebeest, almost a quarter of a million Thompson’s gazelles and zebras, including all their the new born babies.
Central Serengeti, or the Seronera Area, is slightly better watered with several water pools, streams and rivers, and there is always a good number of resident wildlife that is present throughout the year. This is the most visited region of the Serengeti. It is possible to visit almost all areas of the park from here, which is sometimes done as a full- day game drive.
The park’s Western Corridor is also known as Whistling Thorn country. The Grumeti and the Mbalageti Rivers water this area’s bushy landscape. The Grumeti River is home to some of the continent’s largest crocodiles. The Migration usually visits the area between approximately May and June. The Singita Grumeti Reserve is located close to the Western Corridor. Within this conservation area, fantastic game viewing opportunities abound, especially between June and October, and the luxury accommodations cater for horse riding, cycling and sports within the reserve.
Northern Serengeti is one of the most exciting places to observe wildlife. Great between late July and early October, it is also possible to watch some stunning crossings as the Migration tackles the Mara River, on their trek into Kenya.
>>> Read more about the Great Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti and Masai Mara.
KATAVI NATIONAL PARK
Located along the Rift escarpment in southwest Tanzania, Katavi National Park is an isolated and remote park, raw and wild in essence, with wildlife densities topping those of the well-known Serengeti National Park to the north. Seldom visited due to the complexities of getting there, it is currently accessible only by shared charter flights of between 4 to 5hrs.
As part of the extensive Katavi-Rukwa-Lukwati protected area, the landscape is stunning, ranging the Rift escarpment and rugged hills, to flood plains marshes, lakes and rivers which are filled with animals during the dry season and colourful flowers and birds during the wet season. There are several hot springs in the area, and beautiful waterfalls along the river courses.
The palm-fringed Lake Chada, and Lake Katavi support the densest concentrations of crocodiles and hippos in the whole of Tanzania. Katavi is best visited during the dry season, when the rivers and marshes evaporate in to tiny pools, and when it is possible to come across over 500 hippos huddled close together in tight pods in the little water that remains in the Katuma River. Hippos are extremely territorial, and this social living does not fare well for them. Epic battles for dominance occur almost daily.
Buffalos abound in this wilderness park, and one of the most interesting highlights of a visit to the park is seeing about 4000 elephants, over 1000 buffalos, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, roan antelopes, elands, zebras and gazelles, hippos and crocodiles all compete for access to the precious water. Hunts are easily observed during this time, both by visitors, and the more interested parties such as vultures, eagles and storks, waiting for a ready meal.
There are several historical sites and sacred cultural sites located in the area, which can be explored during the game drives, boat trips on the Katuma River, or on an exciting walking safari. These include the Karema-Inyonga-Tabora slave route, Stone Age and Iron Age sites, and the sacred Katabi Tree, a Tamarind tree in which the spirit of the legendary hunter Katabi is said to live.
TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK
The 2600 sq km Tarangire National Park is a picturesque open country dotted with the majestic baobab trees, acacias and palm trees. The orange- hued landscape alternates between scrub, open plains, swamps and rivers, crossed by the Tarangire River.
During the dry season (June to October), the park is at its prettiest. Everything is coloured brown or orange, from the age old baobabs to the massive elephants that cover themselves in the red earth to protect themselves from the flies and the heat. Elephants are one the park’s main attractions, and herds of about 300 individuals can sometimes be seen.
When it is dry, the concentration of animals in the park rivals that of the Ngorongoro Crater, as animals congregate towards the Tarangire River. It is interesting to watch elephants dig up the riverbed with their tusks to find water, and the smaller less well-equipped plains game wait patiently for their chance to drink.
In the wet season, some of the plains are transformed into lush swamps, while the Tortilis acacia trees bloom with flowers, and the landscape is speckled with colourful wild flowers that in turn attract nectar seeking birds. Tarangire is also well known as a bird watching paradise, with over 500 species of birds including the endemic Ashy Starling and the Yellow—Collared Lovebird, which is endemic to the country. As characteristic of the park as are the baobabs, the local Elephant population, estimated to be at about 5000, is Tarangire’s pride and joy. Other animals include wildebeest, zebra, eland, oryx- all under the watchful eye of cheetahs, leopards and lions. Swamps, teeming with hippos and birdlife, cover the less visited southern part of the park and by savannah plains, where walking safaris can be arranged.
Close by is the fabulous Chem Chem Wilderness Area, located midway between the Tarangire National Park and the Lake Manyara National Park. The best of both national parks can be enjoyed, along with the highlights of activities possible on Lake Manyara, not possible within the national park.
THE ZANZIBAR ARCHIPELAGO
The islands off the east coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean have some of the most beautiful stretch of beaches in the world. Stone Town is a World Heritage Site, and boasts a labyrinth of winding alleys, bustling marketplaces, beautifully carved wooden doors, breathtaking mosques and grand Arab residences. Endless stretches of fine white sand fringed by palm trees and amazing and beautiful underwater coral gardens are the perfect ingredients for a beach holiday on the Indian Ocean coast or on one of the several islands and atolls scattered dotting the coastline. Hundreds of species of fish, rays, and dolphins and even the occasional whale or shark may be spotted. Some beaches are protected nesting grounds for the endangered Green Turtles that migrate for thousands of kilometres across the oceans before returning to East Africa’s beaches to nest. Snorkelling and scuba diving trips are readily available for beginners, while deeper sites attract experienced divers who are confident with strong currents.
ZANZIBAR’S SPICE ISLANDS
The Spice Islands of East Africa are made up of the Mafia Archipelago, Pemba Island, and Unguja Island. They are so called because of the large production of cloves and spices associated with the islands. Unguja Island (popularly called Zanzibar Island), is the largest island in the archipelago, and is the site of Stone Town, a World Heritage Site. Unguja boasts some of the best beaches in Africa, however the waters recede significantly at low tide.
The Mafia Archipelago is a short, 35min flight from Dar es Salaam. There are five islands in the archipelago, and together with Pemba Island further up north, and Unguja, they make up East Africa’s “Spice Islands”. Teeming with forests and wildlife, the islands are the natural habitat for animals ranging from the big wild pigs, to the tiny duikers, bush babies and vervet monkeys. The Mafia Island Marine Park was formed to protect the archipelago’s reefs and marine life. Mafia Island is a popular diving spot throughout the year, but especially so between November and January, the season for the Whale Shark migration. More than 50 types of coral, and over 400 species of fish and marine creatures such as octopi and sharks and dolphins play in the waters of the archipelago, and the diving, snorkelling and big game fishing is legendary.
The green and fertile island of Pemba is only a short 30min flight away from Zanzibar’s Stone Town, yet the laid back and rural atmosphere of the island strikes you immediately on arrival. This densely populated island is home to mainly Arab, Swahili and Shirazi people. This rich cultural amalgamation has survived for centuries, as evidenced by the scattering of 14th and 15th century ruins dotting the island. Pemba is one of the largest producers of cloves in the world. The island offers the best diving in Africa, with gorgeous clear water, stunning coral reefs and colourful marine life of all sizes, from the tiniest crabs to sharks, rays, squids, sea turtles and whales. The superb diving and big game fishing in the ecologically rich Pemba Channel attracts a good number of adventure seekers. Despite having only a small number of tourist facilities available, Pemba’s latest claim to fame is the stunning Underwater Room at Manta Reef Resort, a three-tiered structure moored offshore, with the submerged bedroom’s large windows offering views of the sea life throughout the day, and throughout the night.
The main island of Unguja, and Stone Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are a fascinating tribute to the Swahili, African and Arab cultures and traditions that are typical of the East African coast. Former Colonial administrative buildings stand side by side with Arab mosques, while luxurious boutique hotels lie next to busy, colourful market places where Zanzibar’s locals purchase beautiful fruits, exotic spices and fresh seafood. A walk down the narrow alleys of Stone Town, or a visit to one of the historical ruins dotted all over the island creates the perfect blend of the romance, mystery and adventure. Some of the top sites include the Forodhani Gardens, the Palace Museum, the House of Wonders, the old Slave Market and the Old Arab Fort. Excursions within Stone Town can be arranged, as can excursions further out, to visit the Spice Plantations, or even the Jozani Forest, the green lush forest located in the centre of the island, where is may be possible to see the rare Kirk’s red colobus monkey, Sykes’ monkey and Aders’ Duiker.
Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom) is an international festival celebrating East African music, which is held every February in Stone Town. Featuring top-quality musical performances by more than 400 established and upcoming artists, it has established itself as one of Africa’s leading music festivals. The Festival Parade kicks off the celebrations and features a beni brass band, drummers, wanandege (umbrella women), dancers, stilt walkers and acrobats. The parade arrives at Forodhani Gardens and continues into the Old Fort (the main venue). The main stage of the festival is situated within Stone Town’s historic Old Fort (on the grassy side) under open skies. The lively venue also has stalls selling food and refreshments, African clothing and music, and local handicrafts.
Mnemba is located about 2km northeast of Unguja, accessed by a 20min boat ride from Stone Town. The island is framed by beautiful coral reefs, and the area has been declared a Marine Conservation area. Tiny, pretty Suni antelopes inhabit the centre of the island, while in the ocean, the coral reefs, magnificent sea turtles, whale sharks, dolphins and tropical fish are some of the spectacular underwater marvels that can be seen. Green Sea Turtles can be seen laying their eggs on the beaches between December and May, while Humpback Whales visit the waters close to the island from July to September. Mnemba and the surrounding waters offer some of the best scuba diving and fishing to be found in Africa. The island itself is privately owned and can be visited only if you stay at the Mnemba Island Lodge.
Unguja’s Southwest beaches
South of Stone Town is the Fumba Peninsula, and the Menai Bay Conservation Area. Laid back and relaxed, most tourists visit the area on excursions to see the dolphins from Kizimkazi or to venture into the Jozani Forest. Chumbe Island is a tiny coral island surrounded by waters that are under the protection of the marine park, sheltering some of the best coral gardens anywhere in the world. Offering a relaxed and quiet style, the lodges we use are located in the best areas of the southwest beaches, and offer amazing diving and snorkelling opportunities. While the beaches aren’t as crisp and white as those found on the eastern side of the island, they are perfect for visitors looking for a more exclusive experience.
Unguja’s Southeast beaches
Spectacular stretches of white sandy beaches are to be found in this area, very popular amongst those looking for sun and sand. During low tide the water is usually well away from the beach, however this exposes small rock pools and sand bars ideal for sunbathing and reef walks.
Unguja’s North and northeast beaches
Located around the village of Nungwi, this area provides for truly beautiful beaches. Exceedingly scenic, with fishing villages and swaying palm trees dotting the coastline, the eastern beaches have the advantage of being located opposite the Mnemba Atoll, the top spot for diving and snorkelling. Some of the beaches are protected nesting grounds for sea turtles. The tides are less marked in this area, so even during low tide the water is closer to the beach than it would be in the southern and eastern parts of the island. This is one of the busiest beaches on the island, and there are several entertainment spots and lively restaurants and bars.