It is with good reason that Tanzania has been called the “cradle of mankind” for it was here, in 1960, that Dr Louis Leakey and his wife Mary discovered the fossilised remains of homo habilis, or “handy man”, calculated to be 1.75 million years old. Since then, in 1976, hominin footprints found at Laetoli have been dated back an incredible 3.5 million years.
Tanzania was originally occupied by various African tribes, particularly the Masai with their proud traditions. Arab merchants visited the coast some 2,000 years ago and settled in Zanzibar around the eighth century establishing trade routes into the interior. The intermarriage of Arabs and local people created a new race with their own language – Kiswahili, or Swahili whose word for a journey – safari – has become the international description of a trip into the wild. The Portuguese established temporary settlements in the 16th century but in 17th century were supplanted by the Omanis who developed the infamous slave trade.
The scramble for Africa by the European powers at the end of the 19th century led to occupation of the mainland by Germany although Zanzibar became a British protectorate. After World War I, Germany was forced to surrender its territory to the British.
Tanganyika, as the mainland was then known, achieved independence from Great Britain in December 1961. Zanzibar becoming independent two years later, in December 1963, and shortly afterwards, in April 1964, joining the mainland to become the United Republic of Tanzania.
Tanzania covers 937,062 sq km making it the largest country in Eastern Africa. Just south of the equator, it borders Kenya and Uganda to the north; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi to the west; and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to the south It is therefore an ideal centre from which to explore eastern, central and southern Africa.
The Great Rift Valley, the vast faultline that runs down the spine of Africa, has created many fascinating topographical features in Tanzania including the world-famous Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Tanganyika, and Mount Kilimanjaro, the continent’s tallest mountain. The central plateau is a huge expanse of savannah and sparse woodland and while the interior is largely arid the 800 kilometre coastline, and the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia, are lush and palmfringed.
The coastal areas are hot and humid with an average day time temperature of 30°C. Sea breezes make the climate very pleasant from June to September. The central plateau experiences hot days and cool nights. The hilly country
between the coast and the northern highlands has a pleasant climate from January to September, with temperatures averaging around 20°C. Temperatures vary around Kilimanjaro according to the season registering a low 15°C during May to August rising to 22°C during December to March. For the whole country the hottest months are from October to February. The long rainy season is from mid-March to late May.
Agriculture plays a vital part in the economy of Tanzania and tourists will see evidence of this as they are driven past huge coffee, tea and cotton plantations and witness the processing of cashew nuts, sisal, cloves and other spices. The country also has large mineral deposits that include gold, diamonds, a wide variety of other gemstones and natural gas.
Of particular interest is tanzanite, a brilliant gemstone found only in Tanzania. It is mined in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and is one thousand times rarer than diamonds. Geological research indicates that this source will be depleted in the next 10 to 20 years and that the chances of finding tanzanite in any other part of the world are ‘less than one in a million’.