Emerging from the shadows of its dark history, a new dawn of tourism has risen in Uganda, polishing a glint back into the ‘pearl of Africa’. Travellers are streaming in to explore what is basically the best of everything the continent has to offer. For a relatively small country, there’s a lot that’s big about the place.
To paraphrase that well-known quote about Africa, we envy those who've never been to Northern Tanzania because they have so much to look forward to. This is a land of superlatives, from Africa's highest mountain to arguably the greatest wildlife spectacle on the planet. But Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti are merely starting points to so many journeys of a lifetime.
Step off the boat or plane onto the Zanzibar Archipelago, and you’ll be transported through the centuries – to ancient Persia and tales of Shirazi merchants that inspired Sinbad the Sailor, to the court of Swahili princes and Omani sultans, to India, with its heavily laden scents. For over 2000 years the monsoon winds have shaped the landscape and culture of these islands.
Dar es Salaam
Over the last century, Dar es Salaam has transformed from a sleepy Zaramo fishing village into a thriving, striving, smoke-belching metropolis of over four million people (and growing). Straddling some of the most important sea routes in the world, it is East Africa’s second-busiest port and Tanzania’s commercial and cultural hub.
Unlike what Nairobi’s unfortunate reputation does for Kenya, Kampala makes a good introduction to Uganda. It’s a dynamic and engaging city, with few of the hassles of its eastern neighbour and several worthy attractions to keep you occupied for a couple of days. Today’s forward-looking capital is vastly different from the battered city to which it was reduced in the 1980s.
Mombasa & the South Coast
From the hypnotic port city of Mombasa south to the border with Tanzania, this stretch of Kenyan coast is anything but ordinary. Where else can you see snow-white beaches framed by kayas (sacred forests), soft-sailed dhows and elephant watering holes, all in one day? Governed by Swahili rhythms and the rise and fall of the tides, life here moves to its own beat.
Arusha is a large, sprawling city with all of the contradictions that brings. On the one hand, Arusha offers a nice break from the rigours of life on the African road – it has excellent places to stay and eat and, for the most part, it is lush, green and enjoys a temperate climate throughout the year thanks to its altitude (about 1300m) and location near the foot of Mt Meru.
Mention Rwanda to anyone with a small measure of geopolitical conscience, and that person will no doubt recall images of the horrific genocide that brutalised this tiny country in 1994. But since those dark days a miraculous transformation has been wrought and today the country is one of tribal unity, political stability and a promising future.
Tanzania’s Southern Highlands officially begin at Makambako Gap, about halfway between Iringa and Mbeya, and extend southwards into Malawi. Here, the term encompasses the entire region along the mountainous chain running between Morogoro in the east and Lake Nyasa and the Zambian border in the west.