For many, Tanzania may be the most well-known country in Africa. It is the country that has become synonymous with the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar. People from all over the world flock to Tanzania to have a safari in some of the best national parks in the world. If you are visiting Tanzania, or just curious, you may find it helpful to know a few fun facts about Tanzania.
The country is staggeringly beautiful, populated by a warm Swahili culture, and home to some of the best wildlife on this planet. Before you go, you might want to brush up on a few Tanzania facts. Here are a few facts about Tanzania that you may not know.
Fun Tanzania Facts to Know!
1.) Lake Olduvai has human fossils from millions of years ago
This is one of the most interesting facts about Tanzania. One of Tanzania’s (many) beautiful lakes was where some pretty old human remains were found. Humanoid bones discovered here – namely, the Australopithecus – date back millions and millions of years.
The world’s oldest known human skull was also found nearby in Olduvai Gorge. It was all pretty straightforward until traders from Persia, India, and Arabia moved in.
2.) Germany used to rule Tanzania
That’s right; a little-known fact about Tanzania is that it was invaded and conquered in the late 19th century. It made up part of German East Africa. Zanzibar wasn’t part of the equation since it was overseen by an Arab dynasty of rulers from Oman (and from 1890, a British Protectorate).
3.) And then the British…
Another interesting Tanzania fact. After World War I, Germany was well and truly defeated. The Paris Peace Conference was held in 1919, this divided German colonial possessions and awarded them to various Great Powers. Britain got German East Africa (i.e., Tanzania).
4.) Tanzania gained independence in 1961 and 1963
Never known as “Tanzania” before its independence, the country was known by and governed as Tanganyika. It ceased to be a British Colony in 1961, and then, in 1963, Zanzibar stopped being a “protectorate” of the British, too. The two countries merged, naturally.
5.) Tanzania’s name combines the two separate states
One of those random facts about Tanzania: it may be the only country with a compound name. The “Tan” comes from Tanganyika (which means something like “sail in the wilderness” in Swahili), and the “Zan” from Zanzibar (from Arabic meaning “black coast”). So there you go.
6.) Tanzania is home to some of Africa’s most amazing lakes.
Yep, there sure are some heavy hitters in terms of lakes in Tanzania. Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, the largest tropical lake in the world, and the world’s second-largest freshwater lake.
Elsewhere, Lake Tanganyika is the deepest lake in Africa and bags second place for the world’s deepest, oldest, and most significant volume (first place goes to Baikal). Lake Malawi is home to more fish species than any other lake.
7. Tanzania has some pretty cool waterfalls too
With all that water, of course, there are going to be waterfalls found in Tanzania. One of the most spectacular is Kalambo Falls, easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Africa. Comprising part of the Kalambo River, the water drops 772 feet in a single, uninterrupted drop, making them one of the continent’s tallest uninterrupted falls.
It’s also an important site for archaeological reasons, having been inhabited for over 200,000 years. UNESCO is eyeing it up currently.
8.) There are more languages than in any other country in East Africa
This country has many languages; we’re talking well over 100 – that’s a lot. An even better fact about Tanzania is that it doesn’t have an official language (probably because it has so many). It’s a multilingual country, but Swahili is like a lingua franca. Around 10% speak Swahili as their first language, but about 90% speak it as a second.
9.) People from Tanganyika fought in WWII
The British Army in World War II didn’t just feature British people. All sorts of regiments comprised of various colonized people – Tanganyika being one.
This regiment was known as ‘The King’s East African Rifles.’ They fought against Italy in Abyssinia, Vichy France in Madagascar, Japan in Burma… A lesser-known fact about Tanzania.
10.) Tanzania has got some pretty beautiful islands
Firstly, there are the islands of Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast – where you will find the Zanzibar Archipelago. The main island, known as Zanzibar, is called Unguja. There’s also the historic Mafia Island.
But away from the sea, Zanzibar boasts some cool islands like Ukerewe. This is the largest lake-based island not only in Lake Victoria but in the whole of Africa!
11.) It’s home to Africa’s highest and lowest points
The most famous mountain in Africa and one of the most prominent mountains in the world, yes: Tanzania boasts the massive Mount Kilimanjaro. That’s 19,341 feet above sea level, the highest point in Africa. Now it’s time for the lowest.
The floor of Lake Tanganyika, Africa’s deepest, stretches down – 1,155 feet below sea level.
12.) Almost 40 percent of the country is protected for conservation
Ranging from grasslands and mountains to volcanoes and plains, a lot of stunning nature needs protecting. The most famous areas are the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation areas, but there’s also Ruaha, The Selous, Gombe Stream National Park, and many more.
It all adds up to around 38% of Tanzania, but the government has a lot more work to protect these natural areas.
13.) Sadly, the human rights record is not so good.
Low gender equality, FGM, life imprisonment for gay men, a lack of freedom of expression, albino Tanzanians killed and mutilated for body parts (believed by muti practitioners to have magical properties), pre/post-trial detention… Let’s just say it’s not great.
14.) Not many people in Tanzania have access to electricity
Certainly not one of the most fun facts about Tazania. Most Tanzanians live in rural areas, and guess where electricity isn’t prevalent? That’s right, in rural areas. Only about 7% of the rural regions are blessed with electricity.
Then again, only 24% of Tanzania’s urban centers have actual electricity. Droughts are often the cause, as hydroelectricity relies on water. Blackouts are also pretty frequent.
15.) The Serengeti is known for the most amazing migration on the planet.
Maybe you’ve seen a documentary about this, but the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is quite awesome and one of the best safaris in Africa you can have! This incredible spectacle is an annual event and accounts for one of the world’s most massive migrations of animals.
Millions of wildebeest, gazelle, and zebra migrate in a circular route in search of fresh pastures. This follows along with the seasonal rainfall of the region. The result is the largest population and migration of large mammals on earth.
16.) There’s also a ton of other wildlife in the Serengeti.
This fantastic region of Tanzania is home not just to wildebeest but a whole load of other incredible animals. Many of these are the quintessential “safari” animals that people travel from all over the world to see in their natural habitat.
The Serengeti hosts Africa’s largest population of animals. Around 30 black rhinos and thousands of African buffalo and African bush elephants also play their part.
17.) Northern Serengeti is home to the Maasai people.
In the northern part, you’ll find the Serengeti’s most famous human residents: the Maasai. Around 800,000 live in Tanzania, while the rest of the population is scattered over the border in Kenya.
Living in circular huts built with mud and grass, the Maasai – hunters by trade – are famous for their brightly-colored clothing (shuka), dyed red hair, beads, and jumping exceptionally high.
18.) The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest of its kind in the world.
Time for an amazing fact about Tanzania: the Ngorongoro Crater holds the record as the biggest extinct caldera in the world. It is 12 miles in diameter, 102 miles square, and makes up most of the eponymous Ngorongoro National Park.
Today, the crater is lush, grassy, and inhabited by rhinos, leopards, zebra, warthogs, and a host of other whos-who of the savannah landscape. It is one of the most fascinating sights to witness in Africa.
19.) Mount Kilimanjaro has been spoken about for some time.
It’s not just famous now: it has always been famous. Even in antiquity, the 2nd-century AD astrologer, mathematician, and all-around clever guy Ptolemy wrote the reports of sailors who’d been there. He called it “moon mountain.”
Even before then, the Roman historian Herodotus spoke of a spring of the Nile situated between two mountains, one being Kilimanjaro. A pair of German missionaries were the first Europeans to try to reach it.
20.) Tanzania’s old capital, Dar es Salaam, means “Home of Peace”
And the city’s founder, Sultan Majid bin Said of Zanzibar, gave it that name. He started building it right next to the already-existing town of Mzizi (“Healthy Town” in Swahili). After being industrialized by German colonists, the city began a period of growth. Though not the capital anymore, Dar es Salaam is still one of the world’s fastest developing cities.
21.) Dodoma is actually the official capital of Tanzania.
Most people don’t know this, but it’s one of the most important Tazania facts. After a nationwide referendum in 1974, Dodoma became the new capital of Tanzania.
The reasoning was that creating the capital city in the country’s central region would help spark economic growth in the area – and centralize the capital, too. Which does kind of make sense.
22.) Zanzibar became the center of the Arab slave trade.
Zanzibar has long been a home for the slave trade, with Portuguese and other Europeans trading here and Arab and Indian traders getting in on the action. One of the primary commodities was people.
Yes, this is one of the few sad Tanzania facts on this list. Slavery was a big part of the Zanzibar trade; in the center of Stone Town was the last operating slave market in the world.
A yearly total of 40-50,000 slaves were taken to Zanzibar, many working on the plantations of then Omani-held territory. It closed under British pressure in 1873.
23.) You should be careful what hands you use to greet people within Tanzania.
Making sure you make the right first impression is pretty tricky in any situation. However, throw some complicated cultural etiquette into the mix, and things get even harder. Say hello to everyone in the room, but greet older people first and accompany this with a bow.
And shake hands – but only with your right hand (the left is associated with bathroom activities). Don’t look someone in the eye; it’s seen as an invasion of privacy – the general direction of the face will do just fine!
24.) Westerners are called mzungu in Tanzania
On visiting Tanzania, Westerners will undoubtedly get calls of “mzungu! Over here!” Or, “Hey, mzungu!” It’s just how people refer to Western people. What does it mean? It has connotations of “walking around in circles” or “explorer” – which is what the first Westerners who turned up in the area, wanting to walk everywhere and map the country, would have been doing. If you plan backpacking Tanzania, you’ll hear this word.
25.) Freddie Mercury was born in Tanzania.
You may or may not know this fact about Tanzania, but one of its most famous sons is none other than Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
He was born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar to Parsi Indian parents. Fleeing the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, teenage Freddie and his parents found themselves in Middlesex. The rest is history.
26.) Bongo flava is the name of Tanzanian hip hop
Another musical Tanzania fact now, and this one is all about hip hop. Well, of a sort, anyway. Developing in the 1990s in Dar es Salaam, and derived mainly from hip hop from the States, “bongo flava” is one part hip hop, two parts Tanzanian styles – like taarab. It’s unique and distinctly Tanzania.
27.) Tanzania once saw the shortest war in history.
Yep, the Anglo-Zanzibar War in 1896 lasted less than an hour. To be precise, it was between 38 and 45 minutes. It all started because the previous sultan’s successor wasn’t who the British wanted in charge. Nope.
They wanted the more British-friendly Hamud bin, Muhammed. The British demanded the successor be changed and issued an ultimatum. The new sultan didn’t want to play ball, so the British Navy unleashed 4,100 machine gun rounds,1,000 rifle rounds, and 500 shells on the palace. The madness stopped, and the British got what they wanted.
28.) Zanzibar is often known as Spice Island.
Though the Moluccas are known as the Spice Islands, Zanzibar – thanks to its position as a trading post – also got the nickname Spice Island. Monsoon Winds allowed Indian, Arabian, and Persian traders to easily reach this part of the world. And we’re talking 1st century AD here!
29.) Tanzania has the same national anthem as South Africa and Zimbabwe.
This is one of those interesting Tanzania facts that are easy to forget. Not many countries in the world get to share the distinction of having the same national anthem as two other countries, but Tanzania is one of them.
The anthem in question, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (“God Bless Africa”), was a Xhosa anthem, a pan-African liberation song composed by Enoch Sontonga. The Swahili version for Tanzania is called “Mungu Ibariki Afrika.” South Africa adopted it as recently as 1997.
30.) Tanzania’s national dish is porridge.
Lastly, we will leave you with one of our favorite food-based Tanzania facts – and yes, it’s porridge. Kind of. Simple and made with millet, maize, or sorghum flour, ugali is a modest national dish.
It’s a sort of porridge: flour poured into boiling water, stirring till it makes, well, porridge. Cassava flour is more common among the Maasai, however.
Book A Safari in Tanzania
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari, you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They suggest camps and lodges then present you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day to select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. Experts on staff can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details like a travel agent.
Plan Your Trip to Africa
- Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
- Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
- Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
- Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
- Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
- Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
- Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
- Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
- Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.