The Best Places to Experience Culture & History in Tanzania
Stone Town (Zanzibar, Tanzania): The history and atmosphere of the old city surrounding Zanzibar's port -- declared a UNESCO site in 2000 -- is tangible, its town planning almost medieval. Get lost in its labyrinth of narrow, winding lanes lined with tall crumbling buildings, where turning a corner can produce the sparkling ocean or a courtyard of local schoolchildren intoning the Koran. While it is a popular tourist destination, Stone Town is no sanitized historical re-creation, and you'll cross paths with (or observe, from your spot on the sand or on the balcony of the House of Wonders) African men in long dresses, women draped in black, and bare-backed men on the seashore sweating beneath huge bags of spices.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Northern Circuit, Tanzania): Ngorongoro was, and still is, the only conservation area in Africa to provide full protection status for resident wildlife as well as the interests of its indigenous pastoralists, the Maasai, who traded their rights to live in the Serengeti and pursued their traditional lifestyle in the neighboring Ngorongoro Conservation Area half a century ago. There are a number of villages within easy striking distance of the crater, but these see heavy tourist traffic; the best encounters are off the beaten track, such as the road to Lake Natron, where you will see Maasai men striding like kings before their cattle, their tall, lean frames draped in artful shades of red -- a startling contrast against the parched backdrop of seemingly barren valleys; similarly, the women usually are wrapped in blue, their white beaded manacles gleaming against their elongated necks and slim wrists. Despite the innate beauty of these scenes, trigger-happy photographers are urged to practice restraint; some Maasai prefer not to have their photographs taken, others will expect to be paid; always ask first, and respect the response.
Kilwa Ruins (Southern Tanzania): Set on the small offshore island of Kilwa Kisiwani, on the remote south coast of Tanzania, are the extensive ruins of the medieval port that the 14th-century globetrotter Ibn Buttata described as "one of the most beautiful and well-constructed towns in the world." For 300 years, Kilwa Kisiwani was the hub of a trade network that linked the goldfields of present-day Zimbabwe to Arabia and Asia, and the haunted ruins -- dome-roofed mosques, sprawling palaces, and ornate graves -- form a peerless example of medieval Swahili architecture, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
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