Swahili Coast

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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 palm- fringed, white sandy beaches looking out over the warm, sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean. These offer unlimited scope for big game fishing, scuba-diving, 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.


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 Shirazi- style pillared tombs. A group of three former settlements – Kilwa Kivinje and Kilwa Masoko on the mainland and the offshore island of Kilwa Kisiwani – Kilwa was originally established as a centre for the gold trade. Now a World Heritage site, it is home to some of the most spectacular ruins on the East African coast. Kilwa Kisiwani and the nearby Songo Mnara Islands contain numerous ruins many dating back to the 13th century.


A 20-minute flight south of Dar es Salaam, Mafia Island was Tanzania’s first Marine Park. It is one of the most exciting diving and fishing areas in the world and is home to some four hundred species of fish and five hundred species of fish and five species of turtle. Sports fisherman flock here for the superb catches, many of them great fighters, which include barracuda, marlin, sailfish and tuna. The main season is; from September to March, although fishing is possible all year round within the reef and channel, divers will see a veritable kaleidoscope of reef dwellers among the fifty types of coral. These include butterfly fish, clown fish, lion fish and rainbow fish while, in deeper waters, they will come across groupers, rays and sharks. The rare dugong breeds in the Mafia Channel while the green and hawksbill turtle nest on the smaller islands.


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


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.


Now a national park, and enlarged to over 1,000 sq km, Tanzania’s only coastal park is situated on the shores of the Indian Ocean north of Dar es Salaam and Bagamoyo and south of Tanga.


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.

In addition to the fantastic wildlife, glorious beaches and stunning scenery there are plenty of other places to visit and things to see in Tanzania.


Established in 1997, to protect the flora and fauna of the East Usambara Mountains, the Amani Forest Nature Reserve is now an eco-tourism attraction with an emphasis on walking and hiking. The area has a wonderful collection of birds, butterflies and plants some of which are only found here. Black and white colobus and blue monkeys; nine species of African violet, and the Nduk eagle owl — a species only found in Amani — are among the many highlights.


About 8 km north of Tanga these ten limestone caves, formed during the Jurassic Age some 150 million years ago, are the most extensive cave system in East Africa.


Also known as the Bujora Cultural Centre, the museum is located in the village of Kisesa some 20km from Mwanza. Exhibits commemorate the history, traditions and culture of the Sukuma, Tanzania’s largest tribe.


Stone Age tools were discovered here in 1951. Many fossilized bones were also found in the area, among them those of a mammal related to the modern giraffe but having a much shorter neck, and an extinct hippopotamus with an unusual periscope-like projection.


Close to the border with Zambia and near the tip of Lake Tanganyika, a 215 metre drop makes this one of the highest waterfalls in the world and, after Tugela Falls in South Africa, the second highest in Africa. This area is a breeding ground for the giant marabou stork. Primitive tools have been excavated from the Kalambo Gorge.


Half way between Dodoma and Arusha, near the village of Kolo, are some of the finest examples of rock paintings in the world! These extraordinary paintings, depicting the animals, customs and people of the time, are Tanzania’s seventh UNESCO World Heritage site.


A 12-ton iron monolith, the world’s eighth largest known meteorite, lies on the slopes of Marengi Hill, off the road to Tunduma, 70km west of Mbeya.

Officially discovered in 1930, the absence of legends recounting its arrival suggest it was more than a thousand years ago.


Located 190 km from Mwanza, at his birthplace of Butiama, the museum is dedicated to the achievements of Julius Nyerere, the founding President of Tanzania. Tours include his mausoleum, his three former residences, and a library of some 8,000 of his books.


A site near Lindi where, in 1912, German palaeontologists found the remains of several dinosaurs including the complete skeleton of Brachiosaurus, one of the largest animals ever to walk the earth.


A small village, 17km south of Tanga, where 15th century ruins of a mobqu and 40 tombs may be found.


Uiiji is a village close to Kigoma from where, in 1858, Burton and Speke commenced their explorations and where, in 1871, Henry Morton Stanley pronounced the famous words ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’. Two engraved plaques and a small museum commemorate these historic events.

While the sun, safari and adventure options are more likely to appeal to the majority of tourists, Tanzania also offers something extra for the special interest enthusiast.

<h2> ARCHAEOLOGY </h2>

Archaeologists will be in their element when visiting the world-famous Olduvia Gorge and nearby Laetoli, the Isimila Stone Age Site, the Kondoa Irangi rock paintings, the site of the Tendunguru dinosaur excavation and historical sites at Kaole, Kilwa and on the islands of Mafia, Zanzibar and Pemba.

<h2> BIRD-WATCHING </h2>

For birdwatchers the country is a paradise, with over 1,000 species to be seen in their varying habitats.

Flamingos, pelicans and storks flock in abundance to the lakes as do various goose and duck types. Wheeling high in the clear blue skies are the birds of prey including eagles – amongst them the Tawny and the African Fish Eagle – as well as kites, falcons, hawks and buzzards. The Sacred and Hadada ibises are other treats for ornithologists, while all visitors will warm to the comical gait of the Secretary Bird. Kori bustards, the heaviest flying bird, giant ostrich and weaver birds are other fascinating species. Watching, and swimming with wild dolphins, in the waters around Zanzibar and Pemba, can be an exciting and educational experience. However, care must be taken to avoid disturbing the animals.


For flower lovers the country is a veritable wonderland, its ever-changing topography reflected in a plethora of different shrubs, flowers, succulents and trees. Indeed the variety of eco-systems in Tanzania is considered to be wider than in any other African country with the Kitulo Plateau the ‘Gem in the Crown’.

<h2> LEPIDOPTERY </h2>

Africa is home to over 3,500 species of butterfly and a far greater variety of moth. Many of these can be found in Tanzania and some are, in fact, endemic to Tanzania such as the extremely rare Urania ripheus or Sunset Moth. Lepidopterists will find the Kitulo, Mahale, Mkomazi and Udzungwa National Parks; the Ngorongoro Conservation Area; and the Usambara Mountains, particularly rewarding.

<h2> TRAIN BUFFS </h2>

Rail enthusiasts will want to travel on the Great Uhuru Railway, which goes through some of the most stunning scenery in East Africa. It runs from Dar es Salaam, through Mikumu National Park and the Selous Game Reserve, to Mbeya and then to Zambia. Herds of animals can be seen from the carriages.

<h2> TURTLES </h2>

The Tanzania coastline offers a rich array of coral reefs, mangrove forests, estuaries, beaches and sea grass beds that provide breeding grounds for its five species of turtle – green, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead and olive ridley.

<h2> WHALES </h2>

Whale sharks, the largest shark and the largest fish in the world, which can reach lengths of up to 14m and weigh up to 15 tons frequent the Tanzania coastline. Humpback and sperm whales may also be seen off Mafia and in the Zanzibar Channel.