Official name: United Republic of Tanzania

Area: 945,087 square kilometers (364,900 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 meters/19,341 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 P.M. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,223 kilometers (760 miles) from north to south; 1,191 kilometers (740 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: 3,402 kilometers (2,114 miles) total boundary length; Uganda 396 kilometers (246 miles); Kenya 769 kilometers (478 miles); Mozambique 756 kilometers (470 miles); Malawi 475 kilometers (295 miles); Zambia 338 kilometers (210 miles); Burundi 451 kilometers (280 miles); Rwanda 217 kilometers (135 miles)

Coastline: 1,424 kilometers (885 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Tanzania is located on the eastern coast of Africa, bordering on the Indian Ocean. The country shares land boundaries with Uganda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. With a total area of about 945,087 square kilometers (364,900 square miles), the country is slightly larger than twice the size of the state of California. Tanzania is administratively divided into twenty-five regions.


Tanzania has no outside territories or dependencies.


Tanzania lies just south of the equator; therefore, its climate is mostly tropical, becoming temperate in the highlands. The coastal area is tropical and humid with average temperatures of about 27°C (81°F). Further inland, the central plateau is hot and dry with temperatures that vary by season and time of day. In the more temperate highlands, the days are warm, but the nights are cool.

The rainy seasons in the north occur from November through December and from March through May. The south has only one season of rain, from November to March. On the coast, annual rainfall averages 100 to 193 centimeters (40 to 76 inches), but the central plateau receives only 50 to 76 centimeters (20 to 30 inches). The eastern section of Lake Victoria receives 75 to 100 centimeters (30 to 40 inches) and the western side receives 200 to 230 centimeters (80 to 90 inches).

The islands receive heavy rains in April and May with lighter rains in November and December. Drier weather occurs during the alternating monsoon seasons, which arrive from the northeast from December to March and from the southwest from June to October.


Tanzania lies between one and twelve degrees south of the equator. Most of the country consists of extensive rolling plains demarcated by the Great Rift Valley, a series of immense faults creating both depressions and mountains. Much of the country is above 900 meters (3,000 feet). A small portion, however, including the islands and the coastal plains, lies below about 200 meters (600 feet). The landscape is extremely varied, changing from coastal mangrove swamps to tropical rain forests and from rolling savannahs and high arid plateaus to mountain ranges.

Four major ecological regions can be distinguished: high plateaus, mountain lands, the lakeshore region, and the coastal belt and islands. The mountain ranges and the area around Lake Victoria (Victoria Nyanza) receive generous amounts of rain, but the vast plateau areas in the center of the country are so dry that they cannot support significant cultivation activity. About 5 percent of the land is arable, 1 percent of which is dedicated to permanent crops, 40 percent is utilized as meadows and pastures, and 47 percent is covered in forest and woodland.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Tanzania faces the Indian Ocean on its eastern border. The continental shelf off the coast is relatively narrow; in most places it is only 8 to 10 kilometers (5 to 6 miles) wide, but it extends about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the shore of the islands of Zanzibar and Mafia. Of the many fringing reef systems offshore, those farther out are better developed and more diversified. The most fully developed are the reefs off the Tanga coast and those near the offshore islands.

Islands and Archipelagos

The islands of Tanzania are basically composed of coral. Zanzibar, separated from the mainland by a channel that is 35 kilometers (22 miles) wide at its narrowest point, is the largest coralline island on the African coast. It is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) long and 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide, with a total area of 1,657 square kilometers (640 square miles).

Pemba, north of Zanzibar, is smaller. It is 67 kilometers (42 miles) long and 22 kilometers (14 miles) wide, with a total area of 984 square kilometers (380 square miles). Its topography varies, with small steep hills and valleys. Mafia, at 43 kilometers (27 miles) long and about 14 kilometers (9 miles) wide, is a low island situated about halfway down the coast of Tanzania near the mouth of the Rufiji River.

Coastal Features

The coastal belt is narrow in the north and south, with an average width between 16 and 60 kilometers (10 and 40 miles). It is broader in the center near the lowlands of the Rufiji River valley, where it almost reaches the Uluguru Mountains.

The 800-kilometer- (500-mile-) long coast is difficult to approach because of numerous coral reefs and shifting sandbars at the mouths of its rivers. The land slopes sufficiently toward the coast to cause rapids on most of these rivers, preventing navigation.

Much of Tanzania's coastline consists of palm-fringed sandy beaches. The best beaches are located on the islands of Zanzibar and Mafia, but a particularly good stretch of shoreline on the mainland is a 32-kilometer-(20-mile-) strip beginning at Dar es Salaam and continuing south.


Tanzania's lakes provide the country's residents with transportation, food, and abundant water supplies for irrigation use. With a surface area of 62,940 square kilometers (24,300 square miles), Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa and the second-largest freshwater lake on the globe. It is located in the north of Tanzania and is also shared by Uganda and Kenya. About half of the lake is situated within Tanzania. Lake Victoria is a major source for the Nile River.

Along the western border of Tanzania, Lake Tanganyika, the world's second-deepest lake, has a precipitous shoreline and a few poor harbors. Found in the south, Lake Malawi also has poor harbors. To the east of Lake Tanganyika, Lake Rukwa is small and shallow and tends to be brackish (containing both salt water and fresh water). Several small lakes in the northern part of the country also have salty water. Lake Natron is commercially exploited for salt and soda. Other lakes in the Eastern Great Rift Valley include Lake Eyasi and Lake Manyara.

Tanzania's lakes and swamps cover nearly 6 percent of the total land surface, not counting seasonally inundated flood plains and riverine marshes. The Sagara Swamp, which forms most of western Tanzania, is a huge flood-plain with an area of 16,614 square kilometers (6,415 square miles). It includes the Moyowosi Game Reserve and is home to many species of wildlife.


Ruvuma River, the longest river in Tanzania, forms most of the nation's southern border with Mozambique. The Ruvuma originates just east of Lake Malawi, in the hills near Songea, and runs west before arching around to head almost due east to the Indian Ocean, where it ends after traveling 704 kilometers (437 miles). Other streams around Lake Malawi empty into the lake and reach the Indian Ocean via the Zambezi River in Mozambique. A number of short rivers (except for the longer Kagera River in northwestern Tanzania) drain into Lake Victoria and ultimately join the Nile River, which empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Several rivers in western Tanzania, such as the Malagarasi, drain into Lake Tanganyika and ultimately join the Congo River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Streams in the north-central and southwestern sections empty into smaller lakes and interior basins, with the notable exception of the Great Ruaha, which originates in the Mbeya Mountains and flows northeast to the center of the country before turning southwest and eventually feeding into the Rufiji.

In the eastern third of Tanzania, the Pangani, Wami, and Rufiji Rivers all flow into the Indian Ocean.


There are no desert regions in Tanzania.


About a third of the country is covered with wooded grassland savannah. Two-thirds of Zanzibar Island is covered with bush and grass.

In the southeast coastal area, outcrops of isolated hill masses rise sharply from the surrounding land. On the western side of Zanzibar, several ridges exceed 60 meters (200 feet). At 119 meters (390 feet), Masingini Ridge is the highest point on Zanzibar. Pemba Island is hilly, with its highest point at 95 meters (311 feet).


Tanzania contains both the highest and lowest points on the African continent: Mount Kilimanjaro and the floor of Lake Tanganyika.


One of three major mountainous zones extends inland from Tanga to near Lake Manyara. It includes the Usambara and Pare ranges, which together form a wedge-shaped mass reaching a height of almost 2,300 meters (7,550 feet), and the Northern Highlands, which contain Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, rises in two peaks to an ultimate height of 5,895 meters (19,341 feet). The so-called glaciers on top of Kibo, the higher peak, are the rapidly decaying remains of a former, more extensive ice cap. The lower of the two peaks is Mawenzi. Both of Kilimanjaro's peaks are extinct volcanoes. Rainforest conditions prevail on the southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro between 1,700 and 2,900 meters (5,600 and 9,500 feet). Another extinct volcano, Mount Meru, is located west of Kilimanjaro and rises to about 4,560 meters (14,960 feet).

The second mountainous zone of the country stretches from the western shore of Lake Natron southward in a series of isolated summits and mountain chains. They are interspersed with lakes and craters and connected with the northern part of the Eastern Great Rift Valley. Between Lake Natron and Lake Manyara are the Winter Highlands, a volcanic region containing Mount Loolmalassin and the Ngorongoro Crater, which is roughly 100 to 110 kilometers (60 to 70 miles) wide and contains one of the heaviest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. The shores of Lake Manyara and the nearby Serengeti Plain also teem with wildlife.

The third major mountainous region stretches from the Nguru Mountains and the Uluguru Mountains to the Kipengere range, which descends sharply toward the eastern shore of Lake Malawi. Around the northern shore of Lake Malawi, the Mbeya range, which includes Rungwe Mountain at 2,961 meters (9,713 feet), completes the mountains of the south.


Olduvai Gorge, located west of the Ngorongoro Crater, is about 48 kilometers (30 miles) long and 90 meters (300 feet) deep. The gorge became famous after the archaeological excavations of Louis and Mary Leakey. In 1959, the Leakeys discovered the fossilized remains of a nearly complete hominid skull, now known as Zinjanthropus, or "Nutcracker Man." The skull is believed to be about 1.75 million years old. In 1961, the Leakeys unearthed the remains of Homo habilis, believed to be a more direct ancestor to modern humans ( Homo sapiens ). These finds, plus the discovery of thousands of fragments from prehistoric tools, supported the scientists' theories that the first human beings may have come from this region of Africa and that the human species was much older than anyone had suspected. Since then, the Olduvai Gorge has proved to be one of the richest fossil sites in the world; archaeological discoveries here have demonstrated the longest known sequence of early human activity.

The Great Rift Valley, which runs roughly around the western border of Tanzania, is a massive fault system that stretches over 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles) from the Jordan Valley in Israel to Mozambique. In general, the Great Rift Valley contains a wide range of mountains and canyons, with ranges in elevation from 395 meters (1,300 feet) below sea level at the Dead Sea to 1,830 meters (6,000 feet) above sea level in south Kenya. The western branch contains the troughs and rivers that have become part of the African Great Lakes system and Tanzania's Lake Tanganyika. The eastern branch contains the Olduvai Gorge and Mt. Kilimanjaro. A large number of volcanoes lie along this rift, which was created by the violent underground activity and motions between the African (Nubian) Tectonic Plate to the west and the eastern Eurasian, Arabian, Indian, and Somalian Tectonic Plates.


The high plateaus are characterized by monotonous undulating terrain cut slightly by mostly intermittent rivers. There are two major plateaus, the Central Plateau and the Eastern Plateau. The Central Plateau lies between the two branches of the Great Rift Valley. Its vast expanse forms a huge uplifted basin. Elevation here varies from roughly 900 to 1,800 meters (3,000 to 5,900 feet). The average elevation is about 1,200 meters (4,000 feet). It is a hard, dry plain dotted with granitic outcrops.

The northern portion of the Central Plateau slopes gently downward to form the large shallow depression containing Lake Victoria, which lies at an elevation of about 1,180 meters (3,700 feet). On the lakeshore are large flooded inlets. The gradual slope of the land permits agricultural development that is not possible along the steep embankments of Lakes Tanganyika and Nyasa. The area is densely populated, and the local people have a close cultural affinity with those living in the Uganda and Kenya portions of the Lake Victoria basin.

The Eastern Plateau is in effect a series of lower plateaus that descend gradually to the coastal lowlands. In the north it consists primarily of the Masai Steppe, an extensive semiarid plain covering almost 70,000 square kilometers (26,000 square miles). Varying in elevation from about 250 to 1,000 meters (800 to 3,500 feet), the steppe is semi-desert, with vast areas of dry bush and scanty grass. The Makonde Plateau in the extreme southeast is a poorly watered tableland of about 3,100 square kilometers (1,200 square miles).

A smaller plateau, the Ufipa Plateau, occupies the southwestern corner of Tanzania, wedged between the Mbeya Mountains, Lake Rukwa, and Lake Tanganyika. The Ufipa Plateau consists mainly of highland swamp with some grassland and forest cover.


The Great Ruaha River is the site of a major hydroelectric station; the Pangani River, which rises in the northeastern highlands, has three hydroelectric stations.



Africa South of the Sahara 2002 : Tanzania. London: Europa Publishers, 2001.

Asch, Lisa, and Peter Blackwell. Tanzania. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1997.

Blaur, E., and J. Lauré. Tanzania . Chicago: Children's Press, 1994.

Heale, Jay. Tanzania. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 1998.

Web Sites

"Ngorongoro: Africa's Cradle of Life." Public Broadcasting Service: The Living Edens. http://www.pbs.org/edens/ngorongoro/ (accessed May 5, 2003).

Tanzanian National Parks Department. http://www.habari.co.tz/tanapa/index.html (accessed May 5, 2003).

United Republic of Tanzania. http://www.tanzania.go.tz (accessed May 5, 2003).

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