Tanzania: A Traveller’s “Must-Know” Introduction

This spring, I’ll be spending approximately a month each in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. While I used to live in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are new to me! I’m very excited about the trip, and will be channelling my excitement into some introductory blog-posts about each country. So, this post is a quick introduction to the “must-know” factoids about Tanzania.

Note: This post is not a travel guide to Tanzania, and doesn’t include logistical advice on travel — instead, this is a run-down of some common knowledge and household names you should really know if you’re going to spend any time in Tanzania… don’t want to be the ignorant tourist!

Must-Know Basic Facts about Tanzania

When travelling to Tanzania, there are a few basic facts which would be quite embarrassing to be caught in ignorance of, so let’s go over those first!

  • largest city: Dar es Salaam
  • capital city: Dodoma
  • president: Samia Suluhu Hassan (Tanzania’s first female president, in office since 2021)
  • currency: Tanzanian shilling (TZS)
  • official languages: Swahili and English (although there are 120+ languages spoken in the country)
Here’s Tanzania’s flag, so you recognize it when you see it during your travels!

Tanzania: An Introduction via Maps

Maps are a great way to visualize the basic information you’re expected to know about a country before you visit — major cities, borders, land features, general sense of “where exactly am I?” So, let’s check out some maps.

Tanzania in East Africa

Here is Tanzania in East Africa. Notice that Tanzania has a long coastline along the Indian Ocean, with the island of Zanzibar (part of Tanzania) along the northern coast. The entire country is located south of the equator, but it’s relatively close.

source: Ian Macky

A Basic Map: Tanzania’s Major Cities, Geographic Features, and Land Borders

Next, check out this map of Tanzania with some major cities and geographic landmarks shown. Here are a few you should take specific note of:

  • Dar es Salaam = Tanzania’s (and East Africa’s) largest city, used to be the capital city
  • Dodoma = Tanzania’s capital (since 1974)
  • Mount Kilimanjaro = Tanzania’s (and Africa’s) tallest mountain
  • Zanzibar = Tanzania’s most famous island, a popular tourist destination

In addition, take note of the land borders. Tanzania borders Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya.

source: World Factbook

A Tourists’s Map: Tanzania’s Roads and National Parks

Here’s a bit of a more detailed map for visitors, showing national parks and major roads (remember: major doesn’t mean paved). Here are a few things to notice:

  • Arusha is a major tourist destination, because of its proximity to both Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Park
  • Notice the two islands along the coast in the north — Pemba and Zanzibar — two out of the four four islands in the Zanzibar Archipelago.
  • Notice Lake Taganyika, in the west. Tanzania’s entire border with the DRC runs along the middle of this lake. Before independence, Tanzania was known as the Taganyika Colonial Territory.
source: World Factbook

Size Comparison Map: How Big is Tanzania?

For any Americans reading, a size comparison can be a really helpful tool in understanding how big a country is. Here is Tanzania overlaid with the eastern United States.

source: World Factbook

Famous Tanzanians

Some Tanzanians are household names internationally, some are not. Regardless, here are some incredibly accomplished and well-known Tanzanians, who are definitely household names in Tanzania.

  • Julius Nyerere (b. 1922, d. 1999): Tanzania’s first president post-independence, known for his Ujamaa socialist policies, often referred to as “Mwalimu” (teacher)
  • John Magufuli (b. 1959, d. 2021): Tanzania’s fifth president, in office from 2015-2021, known for denying COVID-19
  • Samia Suluhu Hassan (b. 1960): Tanzania’s sixth president, in office since 2021, the country’s first female president
  • Abdulrazak Gurnah (b. 1948): author, known for books such as “Paradise” (1994) and “By The Sea” (2001), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2021
  • Diamond Platnumz (b. 1982, Naseeb Abdul Juma): bonga-flava musician and recording artist, known for hits such as “African Beauty”

I feel like my list of famous Tanzanians is quite short — please comment and let me know who you would add! Happy travels!

Kenya: A Traveller’s “Must-Know” Introduction

This spring, I’ll be spending approximately a month each in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. While I used to live in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are new to me! I’m very excited about the trip, and will be channelling my excitement into some introductory blog-posts about each country. So, this post is a quick introduction to the “must-know” factoids about Kenya.

Note: This post is not a travel guide to Kenya, and doesn’t include logistical advice on travel — instead, this is a run-down of some common knowledge and household names you should really know if you’re going to spend any time in Kenya… don’t want to be the ignorant tourist!

Must-Know Basic Facts about Kenya

When travelling to Kenya, there are a few basic facts which would be quite embarrassing to be caught in ignorance of, so let’s go over those first!

  • capital and largest city: Nairobi (Mombasa is #2)
  • president: Uhuru Kenyatta (since 2013 — his father, Jomo Kenyatta, was also president, 1964-1978)
  • currency: Kenyan shilling (ksh), often referred to when speaking as “bob”
  • official languages: Swahili and English (although there are around 70 languages spoken in the country)
And, just so you recognise it, this is the flag of Kenya.

Kenya: An Introduction via Maps

Now that we’ve got the absolute basics, let’s check out some maps to get a better sense of Kenya’s geography.

Kenya in East Africa

I know, it’s basic, but we’re starting from the beginning! Kenya is in eastern Africa, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Notice that Kenya is directly on the equator.

source: Ian Macky

A Basic Map: Kenya’s Major Cities, Geographic Features, and Land Borders

Next, check out this map of Kenya with some major cities and geographic landmarks shown. Here are a few you should take specific note of:

  • Nairobi = Kenya’s capital city
  • Mombasa = Kenya’s second-largest city, and largest port
  • Mount Kenya = Kenya’s tallest mountain
  • Great Rift Valley = one of Africa’s largest features, a giant valley where the continental plates are being slowly ripped apart

In addition, take note of the land borders. Kenya borders Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania.

source: World Factbook

A Tourists’s Map: Kenya’s Roads and National Parks

Next up, check out this map of Kenya more meant for tourism, with roads and national parks marked. Remember: roads doesn’t necessarily mean pavement, although Kenya does have an extensive network of paved roads, primarily in the central/southwest part of the country. You’ll notice that some “big names” aren’t on this map, like the Maasai Mara. That’s because it’s a national game reserve, and this map only shows national parks.

source: World Factbook

A Size Comparison Map: How Big is Kenya?

For any Americans reading, a size comparison can be a really helpful tool in understanding how big a country is. Here is Kenya overlaid with the eastern United States.

source: World Factbook

Famous Kenyans

Some Kenyans are household names internationally, some are not. Regardless, here are some incredibly accomplished and well-known Kenyans, who are definitely household names in Kenya.

  • Jomo Kenyatta (b. 1897, d. 1978, president of Kenya, 1964-1978): leader in Kenya’s independence efforts during the colonial era, first Kenyan leader post-independence
  • Daniel Arap Moi (b. 1924, d. 2020, president of Kenya, 1978-2002): second president of Kenya, known for his autocracy, ethnic persecution, and ban of opposition parties
  • Mwai Kibaki (b. 1931, president of Kenya, 2002-2013): third president of Kenya, signed into effect a new Kenyan constitution in 2010
  • Uhuru Kenyatta (b. 1961, president of Kenya, 2013-present): current president, son of Jomo Kenyatta
  • Raila Odinga (b. 1947, Kenya’s opposition leader): recently known for holding an inauguration ceremony in 2018, having declared himself the winner of a disputed presidential election (despite the government’s declaration that Kenyatta had won)
  • Wangari Maathai (b. 1940, d. 2011): environmental and social activist, first female African winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Eliud Kipchoge (b. 1984): world-renowned long-distance runner, holds the world record and Olympic records for the marathon
  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (b. 1938): academic and writer, known for works such as “Decolonising the Mind” and his promotion of literature written in Gikuyu and other African languages
  • Sauti Sol (group of Bien-Aimé Baraza, Willis Chimano, Savara Mudigi, and Polycarp Otieno): afro-pop musical group, released their first record in 2008
  • Fena Gitu (b. 1991): musician and rap artist, well-known for her singles such as “Fenamenal Woman”