Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Thu October 22 2015

5 Reasons Tanzania Offers the Ultimate African Experience

Destination & Tourism | David Cogswell | October 22, 2015

5 Reasons Tanzania Offers the Ultimate African Experience

PHOTO: Elephants in Lake Manyara National Park. (photo by David Cogswell)

New York to Los Angeles, the great transcontinental trip across America, is a long drive, roughly 2,448 miles as the crow (or the 747) flies. But it’s only a little more than half the distance from Cape Town to Cairo, a whopping 4,500 miles.

The distance from Dakar, Senegal, on Africa’s west coast, to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Africa’s east coast, is 4,155 miles. That is also almost double the great North American transcontinental drive.

Africa is giant, almost incomprehensibly huge. Because we are used to looking at maps that compress the areas around the equator and expand the distances as you move toward the poles, and because Americans have a very America-centric view of the world, we underestimate the sheer bulk of Africa.

The continent’s geography is as varied as that of the United States, but to an even greater degree, because Africa, at 11.7 million square miles, is three times the size of the U.S., which is a comparatively small 3.8 million square miles.

Africa’s varied landscape ranges from the Mediterranean region of North Africa and the Sahara to the deep jungles of the Congo, the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari Desert of Botswana, the desert coastline of Namibia, the mountains and wine regions of South Africa, the high plains of East Africa and countless other unique regions.

Culturally, the continent is as varied as its geography, a rich blend of all the indigenous Black African nations and all the colonists and immigrants that have arrived in Africa from everywhere else in the world for centuries.

The problem for an American planning a first and perhaps only trip to Africa is choosing which part to visit. There are myriad possibilities, but of all the countries, Tanzania offers as much of the archetypal Africa experience in one country as is possible.

Here are five reasons to choose Tanzania for your first and possibly only trip to Africa.

The Serengeti: The great plain that is home of the Great Migration, the most spectacular pageantry of wildlife on earth, when thousands of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes march across the landscape. It shares the Great Migration with Kenya, where the Serengeti spreads into the Masai Mara. But Tanzania does have the greatest share of it.

Mount Kilimanjaro: Africa's tallest mountain. So gigantic in fact that it can be seen from Kenya. It towers into the clouds and is an exhilarating sight.

The Indian Ocean coast: Where the ocean is warm and tropical. A short distance off the coast of Tanzania is Zanzibar, a place rich in historical lore, as well as great beaches and the World Heritage Site of Stone Town.

Ngogongoro Crater: A unique spectacle, what was left after a series of cataclysmic tectonic plate movements in prehistoric times. The crater is a flat plane surrounded by a towering mountainous rim. It’s richly populated with Africa’s charismatic wildlife, including lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, antelope and zebras.

Lake Manyara National Park: A vast reserve of forests, grasslands and swamps full of fascinating and colorful wildlife that can be viewed more easily than many other reserves because of the wide open spaces. Two-thirds of the park is covered with water. It is home to many tree-climbing lions, giraffes, elephants, flamingoes, hippos and baboons, as well as scenery that would create heart palpitations in any landscape painter.

Tanzania’s list of fantastic places to experience is overflowing, so if you have more time, there are many others worth visiting beyond these five, including:

Mafia Island Marine Park for great beaches and coral reefs for diving.

Tarangire National Park, with high concentrations of migratory animals.

Pemba, the northernmost island in the Zanzibar archipelago, great for diving, beaches and remoteness as well as bullfighting(!).

Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake, bordering Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and the source of the White Nile. 

A plethora of reserves with varied wildlife and landscapes, including:

Arusha National Park

Gombe Stream National Park

Katavi National Park

Ruaha National Park

Selous Game Reserve

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