Officially known as the Republic of Rwanda, this African nation the size of Maryland has worked to overcome a tumultuous history. Most westerners will be familiar with Rwanda from the film Hotel Rwanda, a film about the Rwandan Genocide. This genocide was a government sponsored atrocity, where for 100 days the ruling ethnic Hutu massacred the Tutsis, an ethnic minority. Two decades later, the nation is still struggling to heal, as those born from mass rape come of age. (1, 3, 6)
The Rwandan Coat of Arms, from Wikimedia Commons
Rwanda has a long history of ethnic tension. In recent history, ethnic tensions were exacerbated by Belgium colonists. Hutu and Tutsi were required to carry cards identifying their ethnicity. The Belgians also supported Tutsi dominance, offering quality education and government jobs. The Hutu were typically delegated to labor roles. Near the end of their rule, the Belgians attempted to set up tribal power sharing. In 1960 a civil war drove out many of the Tutsi, who fled to Uganda. In 1962, Rwanda achieved independence under a Hutu government. The current President, Paul Kagame, fled Rwanda as a child during this war. In 1990, Tutsi rebels, based in Uganda, tried and failed to overthrow the Hutu dominated government. A peace treaty was signed, but conflicted continued to build. In 1994, the Hutu government planned and led a genocide targeting Tusti citizens. No international aid was made available during the conflict. The UN felt unequipped to address the violence and withdrew its peacekeeping forces. The genocide was ended when the Tutsi army, led by current day president Paul Kagame, overthrew the Hutu government. Despite the end of the genocide, periodic massacres were committed and gorilla warfare waged by Hutu forces who hid with refugees fleeing to Zaire (now the Congo). The Congo's leadership had issues with their own Tutsi minority, which contributed to a conflict between the Congo and Rwanda for the next four years. (Some consider this time period to be one war, others refer to it as the Fist and Second Congo wars, due to power and alliance shifts halfway through.) (4, 1, 5, 6)
Map of Rwanda and surrounding region. Credit: BBC (3)
Politics and Gender:
The President, Paul Kagame, has controlled the Rwandan government since his rebel army ended the genocide and seized control of the capital. First as vice president, then as president for 3 terms (so far). His public image has shifted over time, from folk hero and liberator, to dictator. The press has limited freedom and most critical journalists are based overseas. (3)
So many men died during the genocide, the Rwandan government was forced to call upon women to fill the gaps. Now Rwanda’s parliament is half women, an amazing degree of gender inclusivity. Yet traditional gender roles haven’t changed. Unlike other countries that experienced a ‘feminist uprising’ that gradually forced inclusion, Rwanda never had a feminist movement. Women were asked to be patriotic and sacrifice for their country. Women’s political presence is not considered a right, but a privilege, and female parliamentary leaders are still expected to maintain their traditional roles of wife, mother, and caretaker. Young women today, chafe under this contradiction. The older generation who came of age before the massacre are largely unwilling to protest. They want national stability and security. The younger generation of women, were children during, or born after the genocide, are more willing to make tentative, yet bold gestures of independence. Such acts include pursuing higher education in greater numbers, starting businesses, and choosing to work after childbirth. Young men are becoming increasingly used to seeing women in the work place, and seemingly independent in public. The next generation will continue this shift of accepting "the new normal." However, Rwanda doesn't yet have a tradition of feminism, these ideas are just beginning to build. Widespread, but private, gender violence, gender differences in poverty rates, and stiff government control of the media and any criticism made sustainable change a slow process. (2,9)
Rwandan Flag, from Wikimedia Commons
At least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus died in the Rwandan Genocide. Today the average life expectancy is 54 (men) and 57 (women). Agriculture is their strongest economic sector, as tea and coffee are the main exports. A majority of the population is employed in agriculture, or live in a rural environment. (3, 6)
A landlocked nation, with poor transportation infrastructure to neighboring countries, Rwanda hopes to attract investors and develop local business by setting up economic zones and developing the internet and communication infrastructure in these areas. (8)
Rwandan students, 2015, Randazzo. Photo Credit: UNICEF (7)
Ethnic conflict was extremely disruptive to the national education strategy through the 60’s to the 90’s. However, after the genocide, the government focused on building up human capital, including increasing funding for education. In 2009, the national literacy rate was roughly 75%. Rwanda has roughly equal gender enrollment in primary school. This is promising growth. Completion of primary education fluctuates, but is often around 60%. (5, 7)
Despite 6 years of mandatory, government funded schooling, the average Rwandan will only receive 3 years of education, due to insufficient facilities and other obstacles. Infrastructure challenges are compounded by teachers’ frustration with too few textbooks that are often old, damaged or of poor quality. The teachers are also typically inexperienced, with 3-5 years teaching experience on average. Additionally, many Rwandan teachers report feeling underpaid, and if they pursue additional training or education, it is usually in a field outside of education. (5, 7)
Rwanda’s national education strategy hopes to create the foundation for it to become a center for information and communication technology. For these goals to become a reality, issues of unequal access to learning materials and teacher training and pay must be addressed. (5, 8)
1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2017/06/11/rwandas-children-of-rape-are-coming-of-age-against-the-odds/?utm_term=.82200fda4c0d \
In 1974, the Afrikaans Medium Decree was signed into place by the South African Minister of Bantu Education and Development, MC Botha. This decree mandated that the Afrikaans language be used alongside English as the primary language of instruction in black schools from the last year of primary school until the end of high school. Although it faced resistance from the African Teachers Association, the law still passed.
This assault on the native languages of many South African students did not sit well with very many people. Although the government's reasoning included an increase in efficiency, it did not take into account the values held by its citizens. During this time apartheid was still 17 years away from ending, and the legal segregation of black and white students was very much still a problem in South Africa. Seen as an attack on their culture, language, and race, between 10,000 and 20,000 students formed together to protest these changes during what would later be named the Soweto Uprising. Students from multiple high schools across Soweto joined together in protest, walking among the streets voicing their anger with chants and songs. After a clash between a police dog and the protesters, officers opened fire into the crowd, escalating not only the violence but the protest itself, ultimately leading to 23 deaths that first day. Not wanting the protests to continue any longer, 1,500 heavily armed police officers were deployed in armored vehicles to patrol the streets and forcibly end what had now turned into a riot against the brutality. Although no official death toll was given, estimates range from 176 to 700. The protests in total lasted approximately two weeks.
Every year since June 16th, 1991, the International Day of the African Child works to bring awareness to the students desire for equality and education. Created by the Organization of African Unity, the day honors those who took a stand against an oppressive government. Even though the past is worth remembering, the day does not stop there. It also raises awareness for the continued need for improvement for African students. Governments and organizations across the globe use this day to take part in discussions related to this goal, with a different theme every year. This year, the theme is “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for Children in Africa: Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunity.” Events around the world aimed to discuss ways in which to promote this goal, leading to funding being given and plans being implemented helping to meet this goal. Every year, roughly 100 events in over 40 countries participate, showing that people across the world are dedicated to creating change. Some recent examples have been campaigns to end child marriage across Africa and freeing young children from armed groups in the Central African Republic. To put it simply, this event works to bring harmony to all Africans, not just children.
 Harrison, David (1987). The White Tribe of Africa
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Swaziland is one of the few modern-day nations ruled by an absolute monarchy. The capital is Mbabane. One of the smallest nations in Africa, it is populated by mostly ethnic Swazis, who speak Swati and English. The average age of their citizens is 21, and a third of their population is under 14. A landlocked country, it’s neighbored by South Africa and Mozambique. Swaziland has a small, fragile economy that is very dependent on South Africa’s economy. 3/4th of the population is employed in subsistence agriculture. While a geographically diverse and beautiful country, Swaziland struggles with health issues. Aids and tuberculosis are major causes of death. 1 in 3 adults have HIV. They have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, at 50 years. They have a critical shortage of doctors and medical infrastructure. They have a growing tourist industry that focuses on their wildlife parks and cultural events. (1,2,3)
Swaziland Flag. Credit: Wikimedia commons
An absolute monarchy is one where the monarchy controls the majority, if not all, of the government. Unlike a constitutional monarchy, an absolute monarchy’s power is not restricted by laws or other governing bodies. However, while the monarch appoints the prime minister, the senate and several seats in the house, there are elections every five years to determine some of the seats in the house of assembly. A former British colony, Swaziland gained independence in 1968. Popular protests in the 90’s gradually pressured the monarchy to introduce reforms, including a constitution in 2005. An economic crisis in 2011 enabled South Africa to pressure its neighbor to introduce additional political reforms, in return for a sizable loan. (1)
Swazi Students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/ IPS
Despite their other national challenges, Swaziland has a surprisingly high primary school enrollment rate, and strong gender parity. The enrollment and graduation rates of boys and girls is almost the same. Over 90% of children complete primary education. Education receives significant national focus. In 1976, adult literacy was just 55% and by 2015 it had grown to 87%, averaging 12% growth every year.(4,5,6)
Primary education is not mandatory, but it is supposed to be fully funded by the government, including meals, books, uniforms and all school supplies. (5) During the 2011 economic crisis, primary schools suffered from unreliable funding, especially the funding set aside for orphaned and vulnerable children. (7). Primary school includes seven years of schooling, after which children complete a test to determine their eligibility for additional education. (5,6)
Secondary school is not free, and is intended to be academically rigorous, in the hopes of preparing students for college. 80% of children who complete primary school do not continue their education and work to support their families. There are 3 primary reasons: 50% of Swazis live in poverty and can’t afford further education; despite high rates of primary school completion, Swazi children often test below their grade level; and there are very limited “seats” in secondary school. Of the 20% of students who attend secondary school, only 5% go to college or other higher education. (5,6)
Given the national focus education receives, Swaziland’s education statistics will likely continue to improve.
Like the world over, gender roles in East Africa are changing.
Traditionally, women keep house, bear children, grow food, carry water and are considered subservient to their husbands. Husbands are responsible for the material support and protection of their households. Sons typically inherit their fathers' property while daughters are married to a suitor her father approves of. These gender roles are reinforced by poverty, discriminatory social attitudes and violence against women.
This is an old pattern, one found throughout history and still common in many countries. Yet these restrictive gender roles are not sufficient to meet the demands of a modern, global society.
Due to changing economic pressures, and increased access to education, more and more women are starting businesses. They have a stabilizing effect on their local economy by providing employment, selling to residents and buying from local vendors. Women who contribute to or fully provide the family's income have more power at home, and are more likely to assert their political rights.
In Tanzania, family structure depends on the tribe, but is increasingly being affected by western ideas of family. Yet change comes slowly.
A man is always the head of a household in Tanzania. He earns the majority of the money, and makes the final decisions on issues of importance. A woman, on the other hand, earns respect by bearing children. Once a woman has children, she will often no longer be referred to by her first name; instead, she is identified as the mother of her eldest child, or in some instances, her eldest son. For example, our teacher Grace could also be called Mama Chris.
Children spend the majority of their time with their mother and other female relatives. It is not uncommon for older female siblings to help raise the children, in some cases even discontinuing their education to help out. In cases where a man has a daughter from a previous relationship, she is responsible for caring for her father’s new wife's children. In addition, families who can afford more help will often hire a young woman to raise their children. She will live with the family until her service is no longer needed.
Many of these traditions are beginning to diminish as urbanization and westernization become more prevalent. The nuclear family is becoming more common, and women are finding roles outside of the home. For example, our head teacher Grace, like other women in her community identified a need in her community and sought to meet that need. She worked with Felicia to build and lead a non-profit school. East African women are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial, and are beginning to build their own solutions to their problems, whether that means providing a community service or starting a business.
Happy Africa Day!
May 25th celebrates the creation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. This intergovernmental group aimed to establish peace and better the lives of Africans. In 2002, this organization was replaced with the African Union, and includes all African nations. This shift was partly due to a need to focus on economic, rather than political challenges. Defeating colonialism is no longer a unifying factor, and now many African nations are struggling with how to best approach inter-continental trade, appropriate tariffs, and free travel across borders. The African Union aims to address these and other challenges to create a unified, peaceful and prosperous Africa.
Africa Day often has a theme: last year it was unity, this year it’s youth. Or more specifically “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in Youth.” Many African Nations, (And Tanzania is a good example of this) have very young populations, with a large percentage under 30. These young people have the potential to be a huge economic force, if provided good nutrition, healthcare, education, and economic opportunities.
Africa Day celebrations vary widely. Some African nations have declared it a public holiday, however it is celebrated across the continent with concerts, parades, and parties. Members of the African diaspora celebrate too. Celebrants often wear traditional dress, and prepare dishes from their nation of origin.
Tanzania, like many developing nations, has ambitious goals for economic development, yet struggles with unemployment. The Tanzanian government has several top-down initiatives to increase economic growth, including partnering with China to fund infrastructure development and working with neighboring countries to lower trade barriers.  Yet there's also an impressive and growing "grass-roots" style movement of individuals creating their own business. An increasing number of these entrepreneurs are women. [7, 1, 9 ]
The economy is a critical part of the quality of life in any community. When a developing economy struggles to provide enough jobs, people try their hand at running their own businesses. If successful, these ventures create streams of income throughout a community as they purchase supplies and materials, sell goods and services, and hire employees. Successful small businesses bring stability and income to an area. [7, 8
Entrepreneurship is growing in Tanzania and throughout Africa, with a number of organizations providing support and training for young entrepreneurs. [9,2] One example, run by UN Women, is the Joint Program on Youth Employment, which taught women “entrepreneurship, marketing accounting and cross-border trade.”  Other organizations serve as business incubators, to encourage individuals to grow their businesses from a solo act or a handful of employees to medium size or large businesses. “Today, 96% of the entrepreneurs in Tanzania are micro entrepreneurs.”- Dr. Donath Olomi 
Mary Mtaki with her mother at their Tunduma store, Tanzania. Photo Credit: UN Women, Tanzania, Deepika Nath 
Business incubators and entrepreneurial workshops are critical resources that help business owners navigate the challenges common to businesses everywhere and the challenges unique to developing nations. Young businesses and entrepreneurs have some significant stumbling blocks to work past, including limited access to capital, poor infrastructure such as limited roads and railways, and unreliable phone lines, internet connections and electricity. [3, 9]
When people hear ‘entrepreneur’ they think tech start up, or a one-man shop that that makes and sells something. Even in African countries, this is a common perception. YET, almost 80% of the Tanzanian work force is employed in the agricultural sector  and there’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity happening there as well. Individual farmers, and farming families (aka “smallholders”) struggle from the same setbacks as other types of businesses. A lack of access to funding, or small loans makes it difficult to invest the capital needed for upgrades to their farms, and poor roads make it difficult to rural farms to access urban city dwellers. [5, 6]
The Tanzanian government has a special interest in entrepreneurs wanting to start new agro-businesses, as this could have the double benefit of stimulating economic growth, and increase food production. So many young people are moving to the cities, that there's a real deficit of "the next generation" of farmers. [4, 5, 6]
Yohana Issaya at his maize farm in Ndurugumi, in Kongwa District, Tanzania Photo Credit: Feed the Future, 
Organizations like TechnoServe provide rural Tanzanian youth with business training and introduce modern agricultural techniques that increase produce yields. When rural Tanzanians can move beyond substance to commercial farming, young people are incentivized to return from cities and build thriving agricultural ventures. Like other types of businesses, these successful “smallholders” create jobs and economic stability in their local communities. Unlike other business types, motivated young people building ambitious farms goes a long way to addressing the growing food needs of a booming Sub-Saharan population. [4, 5, 6]
Located in the Northwestern part of Tanzania, jutting into Kenya and Uganda, Lake Victoria holds the title as the world's largest tropical lake, meaning that the lake never dips below freezing point. With a surface area of 26,660 square miles, Lake Victoria also holds the title as Africa’s largest lake. The lake was named after Queen Victoria, a British queen who funded an expedition for Richard Francis Burton to locate the source of the Nile River. Although lacking the interesting creatures and activities that come with oceans, Lake Victoria offers a variety of worthwhile charms that beg to be seen. For this last installment of National Travel and Tourism Week, we aim to convince you this is no ordinary lake. Although the lake is worth visiting, heed this warning; Lake Victoria remains unswimmable due to its numerous diseases and dangerous insects and animals. This shouldn’t dissuade you, however, as the best activities don’t require a swimsuit.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Stonehouse
The wildlife around Lake Victoria includes many powerful animals, including hippos and alligators. Along with that, over 400 species of birds call this area home, with otters, monkeys, and rabbits sharing space in this healthy ecosystem. As the Tanzanian government has found that it is not advisable to simply wander this wilderness alone, Rubondo Island National park was created, located within Tanzania's lake boundary. Touring with a guide in an “armored” vehicle provides protection from the variety of predators that are continuously on the hunt, bestowing upon you a safe yet exciting experience.
Just 30 miles north off the coastline of Lake Victoria lies Kakamega Forest National Park, all that remains of a once great forest. Reduced to just 90 square miles, the park services does all that is reasonably possible to protect these last remnants, so don’t expect to wander unhinged. Famous around the world for its animal and plant species, Kakamega Forest offers species that are rarely seen elsewhere nearby, giving you a shot at spotting multiple rare animals. Being surrounded by green vegetation makes for a beautiful scenery, and it won’t be hard to spend hours simply walking around.
Photo Credit: Joshua Tabti
While the natural side to Lake Victoria is surely up to par with many other Tanzanian tourist spots, the surrounding Luo tribes offer a welcoming and unfamiliar experience to all those who visit. Surrounding large portions of the shoreline, many Luo villages have found peace in this unforgiving environment. Working primarily as fishermen, these groups oftentimes dress in colorful and traditional attire, a far cry from the more modern clothing worn by many Tanzanians residing near cities. A stay at the Mfangano Island Camp provides visitors the chance at a guided tour of the closest Luo village and their prehistoric artwork, hidden deep within nearby caves.
All throughout Tanzania lies unforgettable moments and amazing adventures. Although we have covered 7 throughout this week, many remain for you to discover, and many lie off the well-worn trails created by tourists like yourself. When visiting Tanzania, it is advisable to thoroughly research your opportunities, and you might just find yourself with a story unlike any other.
Stone Town, Zanzibar, is without a doubt one of the richest locations in Tanzania in terms of both history and culture. Located just off the Eastern coast of Tanzania on the island of Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, Stone Town has made a name for itself as a living portrait of the past. Named after the predominant use of coral stone as the primary construction material, Stone Town has a unique look that hardly differs throughout its entirety. With the tides of change including Arab, Indian, European, and African influences, Stone Town remains a true melting pot of tradition with a modern impact from its primarily Muslim population, offering an experience that combines both old and new. One reason many people choose to visit Stone Town is its unique and jam-packed history, which offers much in the way of sightseeing and tours. For National Travel and Tourism Week, we will highlight some of the historical artifacts that make Stone Town a living history lesson, with many of its attractions listed by the World Heritage Convention as sites of importance. When in Tanzania, the short boat ride to Stone Town will be well worth your time.
Photo Credit: Victor Ochieng
One of the most prominent attractions in Stone Town happens to be one of the forts guarding it, at least metaphorically. The Old Fort of Zanzibar, once a legitimate fort that provided protection for the city’s slave and spice trades, now stands unguarded and decommissioned, a relic of past times. Built in the late 17th century by Omanis as a means of defense from the Portuguese, the fort faced little action in its time, although reports say it did successfully stop an invasion at least once. However, its lack of action lead to a remarkably strong structure; so strong, in fact, that the local government briefly used it as a prison. It’s time as a prison was short lived, and eventually the fort was used both as a barracks and as a storage facility. Today, you won’t be readily reminded of the forts previous history, as much of it has been converted to attract tourists to the island. The fort’s main courtyard serves as a cultural center, with a variety of shops selling merchandise geared towards tourists. Part of the fort now also serves as an open-air amphitheatre, providing lively entertainment that starkly contrasts to its notable history. Although much of the fort is now used for much more cheerful reasons, its structural integrity still lends itself to the tours reminding us of its varied past. With many of the locations accessible with guides, it's not hard to imagine what it must have been like defending a city nearly identical today as it was hundreds of years ago.
Photo Credit: Flikr user Irene2005
Another glimpse into the past comes from the Hamamni Persian Baths. Constructed by Sultan Said Barghash between 1870 and 1888, the baths remained for public use until 1920, when the water was shut off. Built with Persian influences, the architecture may remind some of the times of Ancient Greece. Although no longer functioning, the baths remain in near pristine condition, giving your imagination an easy time when recalling the days when the baths were filled to the brim with citizens.
Finally, the Old Dispensary, locally known as Ithnasheri Dispensary, is a mix of Indian, African, and European architecture, for it passed through the hands of many owners before its eventual finish in the early 1900’s. During this time, it was owned by an Indian merchant, Haji Nasser Nurmohamed, who turned the building into a functioning dispensary, providing charitable help to those in need. Following the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, the building fell into disuse, although more recently restoration projects have brought it back to its former glory.
Throughout Stone Town’s history, the influences of numerable cultures have left their mark, each leaving behind a little piece of their own. Today, Stone Town remains one of Tanzania's most historically rich spots, with World Heritage Site’s around nearly every corner. Although much of what it offers is for those interested in history, the busy atmosphere, lively neighborhoods and close proximity to the mainland all make for great reasons to visit Stone Town.
With a population of nearly 4.4 million as of 2012, with a current estimate of 4.7 million, Dar es Salaam holds the title as Tanzania's biggest city, while being in the top 10 largest cities in the whole of Africa. Founded in only 1862 by Sultan Majid of Zanzibar, the city quickly grew to become a prominent center for business and trade. Throughout much of its early history, Dar es Salaam was influenced by the forces of international politics and colonization, with its Arab leaders overthrown by the German East African Company in 1887, and its German occupation replaced by British rule during WW1. The myriad of cultures have all left influences on the city, leading to a diverse and unique city that flourishes to this day. Today, much of Dar es Salaam’s downtown area is comparable to that of many other large cities. For National Tourism and Travel Week, we will be highlighting what makes Dar es Salaam a Tanzanian getaway unlike the rest.
Being such a large city, Dar es Salaam offers many of the typical attractions one would expect to find in any other large metropolis. One of the reasons many make the trip into the city is for its various water and theme parks, spread throughout the downtown area and its Eastern coastline. Water slides, lazy rivers, roller coasters and all of your favorite classic fairground rides can be found, giving you the fun you are used to mixed with an environment you aren’t. Popular parks include the Kunduchi Wet ‘N’ Wild Water Park and Fun City. Both of these water parks offer reasonably priced tickets and amenities, so you definitely won’t break your wallet having some fun. If roller coasters and lazy rivers aren’t exactly what you would call fun, a number of zoos are located here, housing a variety of local and foreign animals. The most popular zoo is the aptly named Dar es Salaam Zoo, which is covered by a variety of local plants, providing a unique experience that differs from the standard metal cages and fences that you are likely to find in the U.S.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Lucianf
Getting away from the classic attractions you are used to isn’t hard, however, as the Kariakoo market lies in the center of Dar es Salaam and will be sure to make you question what you are seeing, even when you decide to pass up on a purchase. Open for business all day and all night, the market is lined with fresh, local, and bizarre produce and game, offering a fun guessing game for those too scared to ask. You can’t say you have really experienced a new country until you’ve tried something that at first scares you, be it goat stomach or roasted fruit bat. Locals often visit the market for a quick bite to eat or for ingredients for that night's dinner, so there's bound to be something that piques your interest. Rainbows of spices reaching multiple feet high will constantly make you drift towards their smell, and handmade trinkets that make great souvenirs can be found in abundance. Nothing says “I love you” like a piece of handcrafted jewelry of unknown content. Dotting the busy roads lie street performers, offering exciting entertainment for a small token of gratuity. However, due to the nature of big cities across the world, it is ill-advised to bring valuables such as jewelry and expensive cameras, for no matter what country you visit, there is always someone looking to make a quick, unethical buck off an unsuspecting tourist.
Photo Credit: Marco Zanferrari
Given that Dar es Salaam lies just off the coast of the Indian Ocean, maritime activities range from high-end Jet Ski tours to lazy days in a rented canoe. The local fishing economy means that the water is always busy from sunup until sundown, providing a perfect opportunity to simply sit and watch the normal hustle and bustle. Its close proximity to the water makes the land surrounding the city full of life, and local businesses have capitalized on this opportunity with a myriad of opportunities. All in all, a visit to Dar es Salaam will offer you the experience of any large American city, yet while at the same time encouraging you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new.
Many islands are boring - barren land, rock-filled beaches, and no access to the internet. However, its National Travel and Tourism Week, and we wouldn’t want to disappoint you with one of those. Welcome to Mafia Island, one of Tanzania's best tourist hotspots. Boasting a rich history and culture, excellent marine activities, and beautiful scenery, Mafia Island has something for everyone, from history buffs to daring divers. Despite its enticing atmosphere, Mafia Island remains rather unknown, making it the perfect place to get away from the crowds that flock to many other Tanzanian locations to enjoy some quality quiet time. Although the name may be off-putting, rest assured, as the name “mafia” comes from an Arabic word meaning archipelago. With an area of 152 square miles, it may not be the biggest island, but it certainly has a lot to offer.
Photo Credit: David Bacon
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when on an island, do as islanders do. As it turns out, Mafia Island earns most of its income through the sea, meaning that it is the perfect place for anyone wanting to get their feet wet. Instead of tagging along with a group of fisherman on a commercial fishing trip, plenty of opportunities exist for you to try your hand at deep sea sport fishing. Sailfish, marlin, barracuda, and yellowfin tuna, alongside many other large and powerful fish, lurk in the waters off the island, meaning that no matter what you catch, you will be sure to get your money’s worth. Fishing close to shore is forbidden, however, so be prepared to be out in international waters, away from any nearby shoreline. The best fishing season is from August to March, so plan accordingly.
For those not wishing to catch wildlife, charter boats around the island offer both whale and shark seeing charters, perfect for people wishing to stay dry. Coming up close to a whale shark is a humbling experience, for their size is unmatched by anything else on Earth. The captains of these boats are especially knowledgeable on these animals behaviors, an understanding that comes with years of practice. This skill makes for a high chance of finding these creatures, meaning your time won't be wasted. Shark-seeing cruises are also exciting; however, these are often accompanied by chum to draw them to the boat. If you are feeling adventurous that day, various businesses give you the chance to swim alongside whale sharks, providing a truly eye-opening experience. And, should that not be enough for you, time spent in a shark cage surrounded by feeding sharks is sure to get your heart racing.
Photo Credit: David Bacon
And finally, for those wishing to keep safe on land, Mafia Island offers plenty of attractions to keep you entertained. With a history dating back to the 8th century, Mafia Island contains plenty of centuries-old buildings and a culture to match, providing an exciting and hands-on history lesson. Its unique position as a trade outpost provided it with plenty of wealth which translated into infrastructure, some of which still stands to this day. Should history bore, you, the island's ecosystem is full of lush trees and exotic creatures, meaning that a day spent in the wild is sure to provide you with a fun-filled trip. While Mafia Island may be rather unknown to the global community, its charm, excitement, and relaxed atmosphere make it one of the best places to travel to while in Tanzania.
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