In many ways Tanzanian history is the history of humankind. Fossils found at Olduvai Gorge, one of the world's premier archaeological sites, suggest that Tanzania has been settled by hominids for over two million years. Iron Age migrations from West Africa were followed by European and Arabian merchants, missionaries and slavers, and by the mid-1800s Zanzibar had become the centre of the East African slave trade. Colonised first by the Germans and then the British, independence came peacefully to mainland Tanganyika in 1961; the addition of Zanzibar in 1964 created the modern state of Tanzania.
Rich in mineral wealth and natural gas, Tanzania's economy is nevertheless dominated by agriculture which employs 75% of the workforce and produces half the country's GDP. Tanzania's main exports include gold, coffee, tea and cotton but it is tourism, increasing in importance year after year, which is the country's biggest foreign exchange earner.
Tanzania's 46 million inhabitants are overwhelmingly young and non-urban: half the population is under 15 and more than 80% live in rural areas. Some 120 ethnic groups make up the African population and there are significant numbers of Asians, Arabs and Europeans but Tanzania has long promoted a harmonious national culture, one that is based on a subtle but strong social code of courtesy and respect.
English and Swahili are the official languages.
Lying between the two arms of the Rift Valley, Tanzania's huge central plateau is bounded to the west by Africa's great lakes, to the north by mountains (including Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak) and to the east by the Indian Ocean coast. Most of the country is covered in grassland, open woodland and savannah but significant pockets of rainforest exist in remote mountain ranges.
Home to 20% of Africa's large mammals, Tanzania is the continent's premier game viewing destination. More than 25% of the country is given over to conservation and several Tanzania animal reserves rank among the biggest in the world. Most visitors head for northern Tanzania where the most famous and accessible animal reserves are but huge, virtually unvisited savannah and rainforest reserves lie in south and central Tanzania, delivering genuine off-the-beaten-track safaris.
Tanzania wildlife highlights include the wildebeest migration which moves through the Serengeti from November to July; abundant predators; East Africa's easiest Big 5 game viewing at the Ngorongoro Crater; chimpanzee trekking in Gombe Stream and the Mahale Mountains; plus - with a bird list of 1 100 - some of the world's best bird watching.