Africa Culture Travel Guides

6 Must-Have Cultural Experiences In Tanzania

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Maasai Woman. Photo Courtesy of Pal Teravagimov via Shutterstock

It’s not hard to see why Tanzania is famous for its stunning natural beauty. The country is home to the African continent’s largest and most magnificent mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, and the highest concentration of predators. Every year, visitors witness the migration of millions of zebras and wildebeest across the stunning Serengeti Plains. There is the beautiful Ngorongoro Crater to explore in the North, the stunning white sand beaches on the island of Zanzibar, amazing African safaris to experience and more.

Tanzania is also a country rich in local history and culture. Since 1964, when the United Republic of Tanzania was born by merging both Zanzibar and Tanganyika, more than 120 ethnic groups have peacefully lived together in the country. The language of coastal traders, namely Swahili, was made the national language. With around 50 million living in Tanzania, there’s a great chance to interact with a variety of people with different backgrounds, traditions and religions.

This article explores some of the best cultural experiences to have while exploring Tanzania!

1. Head To The Ngorongoro Crater Highland Region To Meet The Maasai

A visit to Tanzania would not be complete without spending some time with Tanzania’s most well-known indigenous peoples known to be proud and fierce warriors: the Maasai. The best opportunity you have to spend time with the indigenous pastoralists — who still live as traditionally as possible — is by heading to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This is the only conservation area on the continent which fully protects its wildlife and the interests of the Maasai. Nearby, numerous Maasai villages can be reached.

2. Explore The Historical Kilwa Ruins

Located in the South on the tiny offshore island of Kilwa Kisiwani lies the beautiful ruins of a medieval port town. In the 14th century the famous globetrotter, Ibn Buttata, referred to Kilwa as one of the most stunning and well-built towns in the world. Kilwa Kisiwani was then a trading hub linking the gold fields of today’s Zimbabwe to the Middle East and Asia. It remained a bustling hub for 300 years. Nowadays, visitors can head to Kilwa Kisiwani to visit the ruins of palaces, dome-roofed mosques and ornate graves reminiscent of the past. Since 1981, the Kilwa ruins have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3. Attend The Colorful Wanyambo Festival

If you really want to experience Tanzanian local culture, head to Dar Es Salaam, locally known as Makumbusho, in January. That is where the Wanyambo Festival is staged every year, with lots of traditional dances, music, costumes and, of course, food. Hundreds of visitors from upcountry and other parts of Tanzania attend this 4-day festival, which aims to show the beauty of Wanyambo culture and crafts.

4. Celebrate Mwaka Kogwa, The Shirazi New Year, At Makunduchi Village

Following Zoroastrian traditions and the Shirazi (Iran) calendar, Mwaka Kogwa is quite an eventful 4- day New Year celebration held toward the end of July, which includes mock fights and burning a hut. As Shirazis were the first foreign settlers in Zanzibar, much of their culture was taken in by Swahili people and adapted to the local context. The men fight with banana stalks, rather than with conventional sticks, to settle arguments and clear the air to let the new year roll in. Meanwhile, the women walk around the fields wearing their most beautiful clothes, singing love songs to celebrate life. Different villages around the island of Zanzibar hold these festivities, however, the village of Makunduchi is where the festivities are best observed.

5. Get Lost On The Narrow Alleys Of Stone Town

Combining a rich and fascinating history to incredibly stunning white sand beaches, Zanzibar has it all. It also has Stone Town; a culturally rich Swahili coastal trading town which forms the cultural heart of the island. The past 200 years have seen little change in this old town. Visitors can still visit extravagant local houses with beautiful wooden doors, animated bazaars and the Sultan’s Palace. Most importantly they can freely stroll around historical narrow streets and winding alleys which give Stone Town all of its unique character. It’s no wonder Stone Town has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

6. Meet The Hadzabe Around Lake Eyasi

When you think about history and ancient traditions in Tanzania, the Hadzabe should come to mind. These indigenous hunter gatherers now live around the stunning Lake Eyasi. Modern life threatens their traditional lifestyle in many parts of the country; however, to protect their culture and traditions an area has been allocated to them where they can continue to live peacefully following their preferred lifestyle. If you visit the Southern Serengeti, leave enough time to spend with the Hadza. The men will be happy to take you hunting and let you participate in the preparation of weapons and you can help the women prepare the homestead.

What’s your favorite Tanzania cultural experience? Please share in the comments below.

By Sarine Arslanian

Sarine Arslanian

Sarine Arslanian is a writer, documentary filmmaker, researcher and photographer with a passion for travel, arts and culture, society and development. She graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Development Studies.

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