Travel Information

Serengeti

Serengeti National Park

Tanzania

Tanzania Culture  Pre 20th Century History  Modern History  Recent History

Government Type and People  Weather  Geography

Travel

Getting Around  Passport and Visa

Health

Requirements  Medical Services  Travel Tips

Serengeti National Park

Serengeti National Park is undoubtedly the best-known wildlife sanctuary in the world, unequalled for its natural beauty and scientific value. With more than two million wildbeast, half a million Thomson's gazelle, and a quarter of a million zebra, it has the greatest concentration of plains game in Africa. The wildebeest and zebra moreover form the star cast of a unique spectacular - the annual Serengeti migration.

The name 'Serengeti' comes from the Maasai language and appropriately means an 'extended place'. The National Park, with an area of 12,950 square kilometres, is as big as Northern Ireland, but its ecosystem, which includes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Maswa Game Reserve and the Maasai Mara Game reserve (in Kenya), is roughly the size of Kuwait. It lies between the shores of Lake Victoria in the west, Lake Eyasi in the south, and the Great Rift Valley to the east. As such, it offers the most complex and least disturbed ecosystem on earth.

A unique combination of diverse habitats enables it to support more than 30 species of large harbivores and nearly 500 species of birds. Its landscape, originally formed by volcanic activity, has been sculptured by the concerted action of wind, rain and sun. It now varies from open grass plains in the south, savannah with scattered acacia trees in the centre, hilly, wooded grassland in the north, to extensive woodland and black clay plains to the west. Small rivers, lakes and swamps are scattered throughout. In the south-east rise the great volcanic massifs and craters of the Ngorongoro Highlands. Each area has its own particular atmosphere and wildlife.

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The Serengeti's climate is usually warm and dry. The main rainy season is from March to May, with short rains falling from October to November. The amount of rainfall increases from about 508mm on the plains in the lee of the Ngorongoro Highlands to about 1,200mm on the shores of Lake Victoria. All is lush and green after the rains, but a gradual drying up follows which restricts plant growth and encourages the animals to migrate in search of permanent waters. With altitudes ranging from 920 to 1,850 metres - higher than most of Europe - mean temperatures vary from 15 degrees to 25 degrees Celsius. It is coldest from June to October, particularly in the evenings.

For centuries, the vast wilderness of the Serengeti Plains remained virtually unhabitated but about hundred years ago the nomadic Maasai came down from the north with their cattle. The first European to set foot in the area was the German explorer and naturalist Dr. Oscar Baumann, who passed by as an agent of the German Anti-Slavery Committee on his way to Burundi. He was followed by his compatriots who built Fort Ikoma in the north which was used as an administrative centre until it fell to the British in 1917.

The first professional hunters came in 1913. They found the wildlife plentiful, especially the lions, but saw no elephants. Seven years later, an American arrived in a strange new contraption known as a Ford motor-car and news of the wonders of the Serengeti had reached the outside world. Because the hunting of lions made them so scarse (they were considered 'vermin'), it was decided to make a partial Game Reserve in the area in 1921 and a full one in 1929. With the growing awareness of the need for conservation, it was expanded and upgraded to a National Park in 1951. Eight years later the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was established in the south-east as a separate unit.

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Travellers are not the only ones who now flock to see the animals and birds of the Serengeti. It has become an important centre of scientific research. In the late fifties, Dr. Bernhard Grizmek and his late son Michael did a pioneering work in aerial surveys of wildlife. It resulted in the best-selling classic Serengeti Shall Not Die and a number of films which made the Park a household name.

In the open grass plains during the rainy months from November to May hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and Burchell's zebra congregate. The area is the starting point for one of the great wonders of the world: the Serengeti annual migration. Towards the end of May when the grass becomes dry and exhausted, the wildebeest start to mass in huge armies. All is far from peaceful, for it is the rutting season and each male tries to establish a stamping ground. Eventually, after several dummy runs, the animals begin their trek in a column several miles long to the permanent waters in the north of the Park. After moving westwards, the migration divides by some uncanny instinct, one group turning north-east and the other due north. Once started, little stops the stampede: hundreds often drown at a time in the broad Mara river in the north.

Although outnumbered eight to one, the zebra join in the migration, maintaining their family units of about a dozen members, each with a dominant stallion. Their yelping bark combines with the bleating of the wildebeest to give the typical sound of the migration. Lion, cheetah, hyena and hunting dog follow the wildebeest and zebra, making sure that only the fittest survive. In November, when the grazing is finished in the North, this army of animals surges back to the now green pastures of the south, where they calve and mate before starting the entire cycle again. Normally, the best time to see the animals here is during January and February.

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Heading north into the Park, the grass becomes noticeably longer, and it is usual to see Grant's and Thomson's gazelles, as well as the occassional small groups of topi and kongoni. Ostriches and secretary birds stalk the grass, while a family of warthog often scurry away. Out of the vast sea of grass also rise great granite outcrops, known as 'kopjes', which have their own range of vegetation and wildlife.

Towards Seronera, the Park headquarters, the landscape becomes more varied. Hills rise out of plains criss-crossed by small rivers. Umbrella acacia trees appear, elegant and serene, contrasting with the twisted commiphora trees. Then at Seronera a beautiful lodge is built on a kopje, a sculpture of wood and stone set in a tranquil garden. Nearby camping sites offer an opportunity to share the experience of the early explorers.

Cheeky hyraxes and lizards play on the rocks and a profusion of birds - superb starlings, lilac-breasted rollers, barbets and ring-necked doves to name but a few - fill the air with their songs. But all around is some of the wildest bush in Africa. Giraffes nibble the tender leaves of the thorny acacias, buffalo lumber along, and all manner of game - Thomson's and Grant's gazelles, impala, topi and kongoni - graze nervously. At night the soaring cough of the leopard and the whooping laugh of the hyena interrupt the incessant ticking of the cicadas. And then there are famous black-maned lions of Seronera. No longer hunted like vermin, a pride of up to twenty can often be seen in a tawny heap.

From Seronera, the road to the west runs parallel to the Grumeti river, crossing extensive cotton soil plains. The riverine wood along its banks supports many black and white colobus monkeys while exceptionally large crocodiles take to its waters. In open clearings and on hills, a herd of roan antelope or Patterson's eland sometimes appear.

To the north, the landscape gradually becomes more hilly and wooded. Damaged trees show that this is becoming elephant country, while buffalo, zebra, giraffe and gazelles abound. Another beautiful lodge built on a kopje takes its name from nearby Lobo hill, which appropriately means in Maasai the 'place belonging to one man'. With magnificent views over rolling plains, it must be one of the most haunting and remote places on earth.

Apart from the rhinos, which have been decimated by poachers, and the hunting dogs, which are slowly declining, the Serengeti is alive and well. The wildebeest and buffalo populations have multiplied, benefitting the main predators - lion, cheetah, and hyena. But the ecosystem is delicate and volatile, easily affected by drought, disease or overgrazing. Every effort is therefore being made by the Tanzanian government to conserve this unique heritage for all mankind. For the time being at least, the 'Serengeti Shall Not Die'.

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Tanzania Culture

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Tanzania's 100 or more different tribal groups are mostly of Bantu-speaking origin. The Arab influence on Zanzibar and Pemba Islands is evident in the people, who are a mix of Shirazia (from Persia), Arabs, Comorians (from the Comoros Islands) and Africans from the mainland. Asians are a significant minority especially in the towns and cities. Europeans (either by descent or expatriate) are a smaller minority. The major non-Bantu-speaking people on the mainland are the Nilotic speakers such as the Maasai who inhabit parts of northern Tanzania.

Swahili and English are the official languages, with English the principal language of commerce. There are also many local African tongues, reflecting the tribal diversity of the country. Outside the cities and towns, far fewer local people speak English than in comparable areas in Kenya. It's said that the Swahili spoken on Zanzibar is of a much purer form than elsewhere, and quite a few travellers head for the island to learn it.

The two main religions are Christianity and Islam, with a signficiant Hindu minority in urban areas. The majority of Muslims are concentrated along the coast and in the islands. Compared to Islam, Christianity took a long time to make an impact, and even then (during the 19th century) it was practiced mainly among tribes of the interior. There are still some tribes who follow neither of the big-name religions and instead worship the ancient spirit of their choice. Principal among them are the Maasai, who put their faith in the god Engai and his Messiah, Kindong'oi, from whom their priests are said to be descended. It's claimed that there is no religious bias present in the country's political and civil administration.

Tanzanian music and dance dominates much of East Africa. Strong in rhythm and renowned for hard-hitting lyrics, the country's Swahili-based sounds are kept very much alive by a thriving dance-band scene. Remmy Ongala is the country's best known export. Zanzibar is at the heart of the distinctive taraab, or sung poetry, tradition. The goddess of this haunting style is Siti bint Saad, the first East African singer to make commercial recordings, way back in 1928.

There's precious little difference between local food in Kenya and Tanzania - which is not great news for gourmets. As in Kenya, nyama choma (barbecued meat) has taken over in a big way, especially in restaurants with attached bars. But on the coast and in Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, there's a decent range of traditional Swahili dishes based on seafood. The national brew is Safari Lager and a popular local liquor is a lethal white-rum-style concoction called konyagi.

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Pre 20th Century History

Although a Tanzanian gorge recently yielded a few bits of our old mate Homo erectus, little is known about the country's really early history. Recorded history begins around the first century BC, when various migrating tribes from West Africa first reached East Africa. While the country's coastal area had long witnessed maritime squabbles between Portuguese and Arabic traders, it wasn't until the middle of the 18th century that Arab traders and slaves dared venture into the country's wild interior. European explorers began arriving in earnest in the mid-19th century, the most famous being Stanley and Livingstone. The famous phrase 'Dr Livingstone, I presume', stems from the duo's meeting at Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika. As the 20th century loomed, Germany got busy colonising Tanganyika - as the mainland was then known - by building railways and going commerce crazy. If not for the pesky little tsetse fly, the area could have become one vast grazing paddock for the fatherland. But losing the war didn't help the German cause much either, and the League of Nations soon mandated the territory to the British. The Brits had already grabbed the offshore island of Zanzibar, which for centuries had been the domain of Arab traders.

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Modern History

Nationalist organisations sprang up after WWII, but it wasn't until Julius Nyerere took the reins of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1953 that they found their real voice. Tanganyika won independence in 1961 with Nyerere as the country's first president. Zanzibar was stuck with its British stiff upper lip for another two years, after which the mainland forged a union together with Zanzibar and the nearby island of Pemba. Thus Tanzania was born.

But unity and a charismatic first president weren't enough to overcome the country's basic lack of resources. Nyerere's secret ingredient was radical socialism, a brave concept considering the communist paranoia of potential aid donors such as the USA. Under the leader's Chinese-backed reforms, the economy was nationalised, as were great swathes of rental properties, and the better-off were taxed heavily in an attempt to redistribute wealth. The early 1960s saw Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda linked in an unlikely economic threesome. Their currencies became freely convertible and there was free and easy movement across borders. But predictable political differences brought such cosiness to a halt in 1977, leaving the Tanzanians worse off than ever.

Many factors have contributed to the woes of modern Tanzania, and not all have been self-inflicted. The incorporation of Zanzibar created some additional problems. Adopting a multi-party political system doesn't seem to have helped much either. Zanzibar and the neighbouring island of Pemba have occasionally experienced violent unrest and political scare-mongering, especially since an election squabble divided mainland and the islands. Meanwhile, the mainland - under President Benjamin Mkapa - has had to cope with a flood of Rwandan refugees fleeing fighting in their homeland. In late 1996 the Mkapa government issued a statement backed by the United Nations declaring that Rwandan refugees were to leave Tanzania, although many still remain.

In August 1998, terrorists bombed the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, killing over 250 people and injuring more than 5000. Despite all the bumps, however, Tanzania has managed to remain an oasis of relative peace in a region often torn by tribal clashes.

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Recent History

President Mkapa was re-elected president in October 2000. Under his leadership, Tanzania has continued its relatively stable course, and has even managed something of an economic upturn.

Recent years have been marked by greater political and economic ties between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, and by the growth of opposition parties, although the long-dominant CCM still sits firmly in the driver's seat. The recent opening of the Songosongo natural gas field off the southern coast, combined with tourism, which is positively booming, have given the economy major boosts. Although 13 people were killed in the December 2004 tsunami, damage along the Tanzanian coastline was minimal.

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Government Type - Replublic

Government Leaders - Jakaya Kikwete: President (head of state)

People - 99% native African (over 100 tribes), 1% Asian, European and Arabic

Religion - 40% Christian, 40% Muslim, 20% indigenous beliefs

Weather Overview

If there's a time to avoid coastal Tanzania, it's during the long rainy season from March to May, which has a brief revival from November to January. The best time is between June and September when rainfall is sparse and temperatures orbit around a pleasantly balmy 28C (83F). Inland on the plateau, rain during the middle of the year is insignificant and temperatures sink slightly but comfortably.

Geography

A land of plains, lakes and mountains with a narrow, low-lying coastal belt, Tanzania is East Africa's largest country. The bulk of the country is a highland plateau, some of it semi-desert and the rest savanna and scattered bush. The highest mountains - Meru (4556m/14943ft) and Kilimanjaro (Africa's highest at 5896m/19335ft) - are in the northeast along the border with Kenya.

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Travel

Getting Around

BORDER POSTS

Just below the equator, Tanzania borders Kenya and Uganda in the north; Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi in the west; and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique in the south. Namanga Gate (between Tanzania and Kenya) is open 24 hours per day.

If you carry firearms you will require a special permit. The duty-free allowance is limited to one litre of liquor; 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; and 250ml of perfume. Any other items are subject to customs duty.

RAIL TRAVEL

Tanzania has two rail lines: The Tazara line runs from Dar es Salaam to Zambia's New Kapiri Mposhi, via Mbeya and Tunduma. The central line runs from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma and Mwanza, via Morogoro, Dodoma and Tabora.

Rail is a safer but slower travel option, and food can be purchased on board. Crime is not a major problem, but do ensure you have your possessions with you at all times.

BUS TRAVEL

'Express' and 'ordinary' buses operate along Tanzania's major long-distance routes. Express buses are more comfortable, make fewer stops, and operate to a schedule, though they are slightly more expensive.

Ordinary buses (generally the only option on secondary routes) are often packed to overflowing, make many stops, and deviate quite freely from the schedule. They and dalla-dallas (minivans) serve shorter routes. The latter are a slower and more dangerous option.

Buses are not permitted to operate at night. Note that Tanzanian roads have a high accident rates, and buses tend to speed. Reservations are not always possible, so get to the bus with plenty of time before the scheduled departure.

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AIRPORTS

Domestic air services operate between the major airports:

Dar es Salaam International(DAR)

Kilimanjaro International(JRO)

Kishni, Zanzibar(ZNZ)

There are a total of 129 airports in Tanzania, of which only eleven are paved. Air services have become the most significant form of internal transport for official and business travel. Small planes, from charter companies, fly to towns and to bush airstrips.

ROADS

There are 88,200 km of highways in Tanzania, but only 3,704 km of these are tarred. The key roads are in good condition, though the majority are bad and hazardous.

Road conditions in the reserves and national parks of Tanzania are extremely rough. During the rainy season, many roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles. Tanzania is definitely not recommended as a self-drive destination. Any four-wheel drive vehicles for safaris usually have to be hired with a driver.

Watch out for cyclists, pedestrians, livestock and wild animals. Most car rental companies do not allow self-drive outside of Dar es Salaam. Driving is on the left side of the road. Your home driving licence, with English translation if necessary, is accepted.

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Passports and Visas

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Important Note: This is a guide only - please check with your nearest Tanzanian Consulate for up to date information.

Here is a link to The United Republic of Tanzanian for visa information

Almost all nationalities of visitor require visas, with the exception of certain countries of the Commonwealth. You should acquire a visa before travelling, because some airlines insist on them prior to departure. Depending on nationality and country of origin, a visa may be obtained on arrival at Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro airports and at Namanga Gate on the Tanzania/Kenya border.

Despite being part of the union of Tanzania, Zanzibar remains independent. Passports and a Tanzanian visa are required for even a single day's visit. Requirements may change so you are advised to contact your nearest Tanzanian Consulate before finalising your travel arrangements.

Visas cost US$10-60 depending on nationality and are usually valid for three months. Requirements for obtaining a visa are: a passport valid for six months beyond the intended length of stay, two passport photographs, proof of sufficient funds, two application forms and a detailed itinerary stating the reason for your visit. Sometimes a photocopy of your airline tickets is required.

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Health

REQUIREMENTS:

Visitors must produce a valid yellow fever certificate obtained no less than ten days prior to travel. It is also crucial that you obtain malaria prophylactics before entering Tanzania. When purchasing these, please tell your doctor or pharmacist that you intend visiting Tanzania. Precautionary measures to take to prevent contact with mosquitoes include: insect repellent, cover up at sundown, sleep under a mosquito net and wear long sleeve clothing and long trousers in the evenings. Immunisation against cholera, polio, hepatitis A and B, typhoid and tetanus is recommended if travelling by road. There is a current warning that certain immigration authorities are insisting on cholera certificates or will administer a vaccine themselves.

MEDICAL SERVICES:

Medical facilities are limited and medicines are often unavailable. If medical assistance is given, doctors and hospitals require immediate payment. It is therefore advisable to obtain medical insurance prior to travel. Emergency services and first aid are unavailable outside major cities and tourist areas. It is wise to bring with you any medication you may require, as you will not have access to pharmacies in most of the areas you'll visit. There is great concern about HIV/AIDS; recent estimates suggest that 10% of the population may be HIV-positive. There are many hospitals in Tanzania, but most are very understaffed.

TRAVEL TIPS:

SAFETY
Tanzania is considered to be generally safe, but extra care should be taken in Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam. In the past there have been reports of muggings in game reserves. Although the government has stepped up security, it is better to be careful and to stay in close vicinity to other vehicles during your visit. Driving at night is not recommended.

WATER
Drink only boiled or bottled water, and bottled or canned drinks. If camping, bring your own drinking water and all other camping provisions.

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