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Tanzania's Swahili coast - Everything you need to know

Explore Swahili culture and stunning coastlines without the crowds



Tanzania Specialist
Published on

10 Dec 2019

Updated on

21 Jul 2020

The  Tides  Lodge  Beach

Looking for an authentic beach experience after your Tanzania safari holiday? Very much overlooked as a destination, the Tanzania coast offers a great alternative for those who wish to escape the more popular and often slightly crowded resorts of Zanzibar.

Tanzania has 880 miles of coastline, which is largely undeveloped, offering the more adventurous traveller the opportunity to experience the Swahili culture and visit some truly virgin beaches, staying in small, usually owner run, ‘pioneer’ lodges. These lodges typically have formed a good relationship with their local communities and as such offer excellent and truly authentic cultural experiences.

Ras Kutani Private Plunge Pool
Plunge pools at Ras Kutani Lodge

The Swahili culture, like it’s people, is a mix of Arabic and African, as a result of the trading posts that were established for centuries along the east African coastline. The Arabs sailed down from the Middle East on the south westerly monsoon winds and established trading posts along the coastline - trading slaves, ivory and gold in exchange for cloths, beads, oils and painted pots. When the winds changed six months later, they would sail back.

The coast of Tanzania has some historically significant towns and ports, such as Pangani and Bagomoyo in the north and Mikindani in the south, which were important trading posts, dating back many centuries. They later became important posts for the Germans, when they presided over the country, before it was handed over to the British, following the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

Ushongo Bay Near Pangani
Ushongo Bay near Pangani

The history of Pangani, like many of these coastal towns, goes back many centuries, as evidenced by the old Portuguese graves that can still be seen outside the town, dating back to the 15th Century. Indeed, there are even earlier references to the town, dating back to the 1st century, in the writings of the anonymous author of Perlipus of the Erythrean Sea. These describe a settlement at the entrance to a river, where, at the end could be seen a white capped mountain. This could well have been Mt Kilimanjaro, which is the source of the Ruvu River, which meets the sea at Pangani.

Pangani was the headquarters of German East Africa, which ended in an up-rising by a local chief, called Abushiri, who tired of the Germans brutality and fought back, in what became known as the Abushiri Revolt of 1888. It spread to Tanga and as far south as Mikindani and resulted in the Germans having to retreat to the two strongholds of Bagomoyo and Dar es Salaam.

Pangani Circa 1880
Pangani circa 1880

Small ‘pioneer’ lodges have appeared over the years on some of the best beaches along the vast stretch of coastline, many of which offer a high standard of accommodation and service. They are mostly small and rustic, in keeping with the style of a safari lodge or camp. They are usually associated with a coastal village, running sustainable development projects to support these communities, developing skills and working with them to help protect the local environment. This usually provides opportunities for authentic cultural village visits.

Visiting one of these lodges is a very different experience to the busier beaches of Zanzibar, where you are commonly treated much more as a tourist than a visitor. There is no denying that Zanzibar offers idyllic tropical beaches, but if you prefer to follow a path less trodden, a Tanzania beach holiday may be an enticing and equally special post safari break.

Ras  Kutani  Pool
Ras Kutani lodge on the Tanzania coast

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  • Marc


    Africa Specialist

  • Alistair


    Tanzania Specialist

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