The largest of the five East African countries, the United Republic of Tanzania is practically surrounded by water with Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika to the north and west, Lake Nyasa in the south and the whole of its 1424 kilometres long eastern border and the islands of Zanzibar lapped by the warm Indian Ocean.
Located just south of the Equator, Tanzania enjoys a tropical climate constantly warm throughout the year, humid at the coast, fresh and bracing in the highlands, and tempered by breezes on the islands. Twice yearly rainy seasons bring the vital green seasons to the bush and help to maintain the abundant wildlife and big game for which Tanzania is justly world famous.
With over a quarter of its total area of 945,087 square kilometres set aside for game parks and reserves, Tanzania boasts some of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, including the World Heritage Sites of Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Selous Game Reserve. Alongside these famous sites are Mount Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Mikumi, Ruaha and Zanzibar Islands which have for long crowned the Tanzania destination, readily appearing on the itineraries of tour planners on the market place. There are many other areas of stunning beauty like the game parks of Katavi, Mahale Mountains, Gombe Stream, Mkomazi, Saadani, Udzungwa Mountains, and Kitulo or the historical sites of Kilwa in southern Tanzania, which are now coming on to the scene but rarely featured in safari itineraries in the past. This is simply because the infrastructure and facilities in those areas were not as developed and Tanzania has many such pristine nature reserves yet to be explored for nature recreation.
Tanzania is a mélange of different cultures, emanating from the interaction of the many tribes within its borders, as well as the early visitors on the East African coast with the local population. These include the native Bushmen who inhabited the Great Rift Valley with their intriguing rock paintings around Kondoa Irangi, the Nilo-Hamites, the Cushites and the Bantu tribes; the early traders from China, Malaysia, the Indian sub-continent, the Arabian Peninsular and the Persian Gulf; the Portuguese explorers, and more recently the Germans and the British.
There are more than 120 tribes in Tanzania, boasting a rich and diverse cultural heritage. Kiswahili is the national language spoken by all tribes in Tanzania, and used widely in other eastern and central African countries.
Wildlife resources of Tanzania are described as “without parallel in Africa” and “the prime game viewing country”. Serengeti National Park, the country’s second largest national park area at 14,763 square kilometres (5,700 sq mi), is located in northern Tanzania and is famous for its extensive migratory herds of wildebeests and zebra while also having the reputation as one of the great natural wonders of the world. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, established in 1959, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and inhabited by the Maasai people. Its Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact caldera in the world.
The national parks are also part of the wetlands of Tanzania. The wild animals tend to be closer to the wetlands, particularly the water loving species such as the hippopotamus, waterbuck, common warthog, elephant, crocodile, sitatunga as well as water birds such as flamingoes and ducks.
Tanzania is home to about 120 tribal groups, plus relatively small but economically significant numbers of Asians and Arabs, and a tiny European community. Most tribes are very small; almost 100 of them combined account for only one-third of the total population. As a result, none has succeeded in dominating politically or culturally, although groups such as the Chagga and the Haya, who have a long tradition of education, are disproportionately well represented in government and business circles.
About 95% of Tanzanians are of Bantu origin. These include the Sukuma (who live around Mwanza and southern Lake Victoria, and constitute about 16% of the overall population), the Nyamwezi (around Tabora), the Makonde (southeastern Tanzania), the Haya (around Bukoba) and the Chagga (around Mt Kilimanjaro). The Maasai and several smaller groups including the Arusha and the Samburu (all in northern Tanzania) are of Nilo-Hamitic or Nilotic origin. The Iraqw, around Karatu and northwest of Lake Manyara, are Cushitic, as are the northern-central tribes of Gorowa and Burungi. The Sandawe and, more distantly, the seminomadic Hadzabe (around Lake Eyasi), belong to the Khoisan ethnolinguistic family.
Tribal structures, however, range from weak to non-existent – a legacy of Julius Nyerere’s abolition of local chieftaincies following independence.
About 3% of Tanzania’s population lives on the Zanzibar Archipelago, with about one-third of these on Pemba. Most African Zanzibaris belong to one of three groups: the Hadimu, the Tumbatu and the Pemba. Members of the non-African Zanzibari population are primarily Shirazi and consider themselves descendants of immigrants from Shiraz in Persia (Iran).