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.
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 30 facts about Tanzania that you may not know.
Facts About Tanzania
1.) Lake Olduvai has human fossils from millions of years ago.
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 found nearby in Olduvai Gorge, too. 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…
After World War I, when Germany was well and truly defeated, there was The Paris Peace Conference. Held in 1919, this portioned up 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 not long afterward in 1963, Zanzibar stopped being a “protectorate” of the British, too. The two countries merged, naturally.
5.) Tanzania’s name is actually a combination of the two separate states.
Fun fact 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), the “Zan” from Zanzibar (from Arabic meaning “black coast”). So there you go.
6.) It 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 largest in volume (first place goes to Baikal). There’s also the eastern shores of Lake Malawi, home to more fish species than any other lake ever.
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. 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 well over 200,000 years. UNESCO are eyeing it up currently.
8.) There are more languages than any other country in East Africa.
There are SO many languages in this country; we’re talking well over 100. That’s a lot. What makes for an even better fact about Tanzania is that it doesn’t actually have an official language (probably because it has so many). It’s a truly 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 WW2
The British Army in World War II didn’t just feature British people. There were all sorts of regiments made up of various colonized people – Tanganyika being one. ‘The King’s East African Rifles’ was what this regiment was known as. 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 actually called Unguja. There’s also the historic Mafia Island. But away from the sea, Zanzibar boasts some pretty cool islands: namely, we mean Ukerewe. This is the largest lake-based island not only in Lake Victoria, but in the whole of Africa!
11.) It’s home to the highest and lowest points in Africa.
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 all the way 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, there’s a lot of stunning nature that needs protecting. The most famous areas are the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation area, but there’s also Ruaha, The Selous, Gombe Stream National Park, and many more. It all adds up to around 38% of Tanzania being protected.
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- and post-trial detention… Let’s just say it’s not great.
14.) Not a lot of people in Tanzania have access to electricity.
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 literally awesome. This incredible spectacle is an annual event and basically accounts for one of the world’s most massive migrations of animals. Millions of wildebeest, as well as gazelle and zebra, make their way on a circular route, following the rainfall. When this happens, it makes for the largest population of big mammals on earth.
16.) There’s also a ton of other wildlife that lives 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 which 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 – as well as 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 is where 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 really, really 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 a massive 12 miles in diameter, 102 miles squared, and basically 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.
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-round clever guy Ptolemy wrote down the reports of sailors who’d been there. He called it “moon mountain.” Even before then, 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 actually reach it.
20.) Tanzania’s old capital Dar es Salaam means ‘Home of Peace’
And it was the founder of the city, Sultan Majid bin Said of Zanzibar, who 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.
After a nationwide referendum in 1974, Dodoma was declared 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 for the Arab slave trade.
Zanzibar has long been a home for trade of any sort, with Portuguese and other Europeans trading here, as well as Arab and Indian traders getting in on the action. One of the primary commodities was people. Yes, sadly, 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 between 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. Throw some complicated cultural etiquette into the mix, however, 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.
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 actually 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 – and it 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 of Spice Island. Monsoon Winds allowed Indian, Arabian, and Persian traders to reach this part of the world with relative ease. And we’re talking 1st century AD here!
29.) Tanzania has the same national anthem as South Africa and Zimbabwe.
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, a food-based fact – and yes, it’s porridge. Kind of. Simple and made with millet, maize or sorghum flour, ugali is a very modest national dish. It’s basically a sort of porridge: flour poured into boiling water, stirring till it makes, well, porridge. Cassava flour is more common among the Maasai, however.
So there you have a few facts about Tanzania – did you learn something new?
What to Pack For Tanzania?
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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