With its man-eating lions, colourful tribes, vast open planes and snow-capped mountains, Tanzania is picture-postcard Africa, writes Helen Tobin.
There’s more to Africa than safari and Kilimanjaro. Incredibly warm people will welcome you into their homes and lives. Tanzania is a riot of colour, people, sounds and smells, and has a way of getting under your skin.
In Arusha, African life is shown at its most diverse and colourful – the brash colours of the fruit market, the brightly dressed women balancing banana bales on their heads, suited businessmen, tribal bead-sellers, ladies in Muslim burqas, corn-sellers and gun-wielding policemen. In this country that is half-Muslim, half-Christian, with over 150 local tribes and two national languages, everyone gets along surprisingly well.
One of the safest parts of Africa, Tanzania is the also largest of the East African countries. Many travellers come to Tanzania specifically to climb the iconic Kilimanjaro, and indeed Africa’s highest mountain is suitable for anyone with reasonable fitness.
Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO protected park, is home to the legendary Big Five: lion, leopard, black rhino, buffalo and elephant. It’s surreal driving in a 4×4 beside a herd of zebra, with a pink flamingo lake in the background, or coming face to face with a 6-tonne African elephant.
And of course, the Serengeti’s wildebeest migration in July – October is an experience of a lifetime, and is easily accessible from Arusha town.
“Tanzania is a riot of colour, sounds and smells, it has a way of getting under your skin”
A visit to the Maasai tribes is a must. On a daytrip, it’s possible to partake in an elaborate dance ceremony of jumping and singing. The natives commonly display their local medicines (one cure for cuts involves battery fluid!), slaughter a goat in your honour, and discuss the history of Maasai villages, detailing how they were originally built for one family. An elder can have as many wives as he wants, with a hut for each that he visits in rotation. A particularly popular chief can have as much as 15 huts.
Tanzania is an unforgettable country. It is strange, exhilarating and warm. A perfect introduction to Africa, KLM Airlines fly directly to the main cities, so a trip could include the Serengeti and Kili in the north, the tropical islands of Zanzibar and Pemba down south, with a detour to Lake Tanganyika and its beaches in the west.
The real African experience lies in getting to know its people though – once you’ve haggled the price of wooden elephants with a craftsman, chatted to tribal elders and taught a group of children ring-a-ring-o-roses, you really start to understand the legendary allure of Africa.