The Swahili Coast

Remnants of a spectacular history give Tanzania’s mainland coast an appeal far greater than just sun, sand and sea. More than 800 kms of coastline, from Tanga in the north to Mtwara in the south, consist of palmfringed, white sandy beaches looking out over the warm, sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean. These offer unlimited scope for big game fishing, scubadiving, snorkelling and other varieties of water sports. However insufficient attention is often paid to the coast’s vast array of other natural and cultural resources as, in addition to the beach resorts to both the north and south of Dar es Salaam, there are a number of other major tourist attractions. Ancient Bagamoyo, a former capital city, and the nearby Kaole Ruins; historical Mafia Island; the natural beauty of Pangani; Saadani National Park; and the history and culture of the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara. Areas scheduled for development include the Mnazi Bay area of Mtwara and the Rufiji River delta.



Once the penultimate stop for slave and ivory caravans travelling from Lake Tanganyika on their way to Zanzibar, the name Bagamoyo means ‘Bury my Heart’ in Swahili. Missionaries, intent on abolishing the slave trade, made it the centre of their activities. The town’s museum has a wonderful collection of photographs and mementos relating to David Livingstone while a house where Henry Morton Stanley once lived can be seen near the beach. Saadani National Park lies 45 km to the north and the Kaole ruins 5 km to the south.

Dar Es Salaam

The largest city and the economic capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam also has much to interest tourists staying in the city before, or after, their safari to the parks and game reserves in the south. The Nyerere Cultural Centre, a self- supporting handicraft scheme, is well worth a visit. Here over 100 young artists can be seen at work producing various works including paintings, carvings, batiks, pottery and weavings. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the Kariakoo Market were fish, fruit, vegetables, traditional medicines, herbs and livestock are traded. The maze of stalls and shops in the bazaar that surrounds the market, are also worth exploring. Nearby beaches include Armani, Bahari, Jangwani, Kunduchi and Oyster Bay. Jangwani and Kunduchi beaches also feature water parks.


About five kilometres to the south of Bagamayo, at Kaole, are the ruins of a once prosperous Arab town, which was forced into decline by the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century. The ruins, dating back to the 13th century, include two coral mosques, one, the oldest in Tanzania and one of the oldest in East Africa, and Shirazistyle pillared tombs.


South of Dar es Salaam on the road to Mtwara there are a group of three former ancient settlements – Kilwa Kivinje and Kilwa Masoko on the mainland and the offshore island of Kilwa Kisiwani. Kilwa was originally established in the 8th Century and was the capital of the Sultan of Kilwa who established trade to India and China for spices coconut, ivory gold and slaves.

Now a World Heritage site, Kilwa Kisiwani was at the height of its power from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Kilwa Kisiwani and the nearby Songo Mnara Islands contain numerous spectacular ruins (probably the best ruins along the entire East African coast) many dating back to the 13th century.



The starting point for Livingstone’s final journey, Mikandani is a town, close to Mtwara, on Tanzania’s southernmost coast. The Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve is nearby as is the Ruvuma River, the border with Mozambique and home to hippos, crocodile and a myriad of bird-life.


Situated on the coast two hours north of Saadani National Park, and a further two hours from Amani Nature Reserve, this is a delightful village with its mosque, ancient Arab buildings and a six kilometre palm-fringed sandy bay. The birthplace of Tanzania’s sisal industry, and once the major port for the export of slaves and ivory, visitors can snorkel at Maziwe Island Marine Reserve, try deep-sea fishing, or visit Ushongo Beach some 16 km south of the village.

Ras Kutani

Ras Kutani, a resort to the south of Dar es Salaam, is ideal for rest and recreation before or after an exciting wildlife safari.

Ruvuma River

The river, which forms Tanzania’s border with Mozambique, is home to hippos, crocodile and, with Mnazi Bay, forms one of the country’s new marine sanctuaries.

Saadani National Park

Tanzania’s first coastal wildlife sanctuary is located on the Indian Ocean coast some 45 km north of Bagamoyo and directly west of Zanzibar. The park contains many indigenous species including Liechtenstein’s hartebeest and the rare Roosevelt sable. A good population of elephant live in Saadani as do several herds of buffalo while numerous large groups of hippo and crocodile inhabit the nearby Wami River. Lion, leopard, spotted hyena, and black-backed jackal are present as are eland, giraffe, greater kudu, red duiker, reedbuck, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra, yellow baboon and vervet monkey.

The bird life is extensive and includes fish eagle, flamingo and the mangrove kingfisher. Dolphin are common off the coast; whales pass through the Zanzibar channel, and green turtle breed on the beach. Saadani village, one of the oldest communities on the East African coast, the Kaole ruins and historic Bagamoyo are nearby.

Getting there: About a four-hour drive from Dar es Salaam or by charter flight from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar.


The country’s second, and major northern port, Tanga lies close to the border with Kenya. It is a convenient gateway to the Amanai Forest Nature Reserve, the Amboni Caves – the most extensive limestone caves in East Africa – and the recently gazetted Mkomazi National Park.