TANZANIA TRAVEL GUIDE
Tanzania is an adventurous traveller's dream, whether you're on an organized safari, or for the particularly adventurous, self-driving, or taking public transportation. If you take your time and truly explore the country, you'll experience all kinds of different climates, sights, and cultures. Take a step back in time and roam around the old streets of Stone Town and relax on the powdery beaches around Zanzibar; scuba the clear waters around Mafia island; or climb Africa’s mightiest mountain – all 5,895m of it. In 2009 we hiked the Rongai route to summit Kilimanjaro after which we had a well-deserved break in Zanzibar.
More than anything you will find that it is the Tanzanian people – with their characteristic warmth and politeness, and the dignity and beauty of their cultures – that make visiting Tanzania so memorable. Chances are you'll want to come back for more, to which most Tanzanians will say ‘karibu tena’ (welcome again).
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TANZANIA QUICK FACTS
Currency: The official currency of Tanzania is the Tanzanian Shilling (TSH). Tanzania is still largely a cash-based society and you need to make sure that you can withdraw cash from ATM's (cheapest way) or take a major currency along to exchange. ATMs are available in the larger towns, though may not always be in service. Credit card facilities are available at some hotels, though not always. Current conversion rate here.
Electricity: 220-240V AC electricity. Power outlets are mostly round three-prong sockets (type D) and two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin (type G). Be sure to pack your universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic gadgets.
Visa: No visa is required for stays of less than 3 months for citizens of all commonwealth member states (except the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Nigeria, India & South Africa). A Tourist Visa costs US$50 or US$100 for a three-month single entry and a three-month double entry visa, respectively. Obtaining a visa before arrival is recommended. Current requirements are available here.
Safety: Most tourists in Tanzania take a safari or tour, and in this case, you will be accompanied by guides or camp guards most of the time and they will do everything to keep you safe in Tanzania. With that being said, petty crimes are common so always keep a close eye on your belongings and never walk alone at night. Caution should always be exercised, particularly around the main tourist areas. While Tanzania has an impressive selection of tropical diseases on offer, you’re unlikely to succumb to most of the possible health hazards as long as you stay up-to-date with your vaccinations and take basic preventive measures. The main exception to this is malaria, which is a considerable risk throughout much of the country. Never travel at night as road accidents are especially common during this time, and choose buses or private transport over minibusses to minimize your risk.
Whatever you do, don’t travel without travel insurance! We would suggest checking out World Nomads or SafetyWing, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
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TANZANIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
12 January, Zanzibar Revolution Day
7 April, Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume Day
26 April, Union Day
1 May, Labour Day
7 July, Saba Saba (Industry Day)
8 August, Nane Nane (Farmers’ Day)
14 October, Mwalimu Nyerere Commemoration Day
9 December, Independence Day
Also, Good Friday through Easter Monday, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha.
FESTIVALS IN TANZANIA
With so many unique cultures within a country, there are bound to be some massive celebrations happening all around the year.
Sauti za Busara Festival - Meaning 'the sounds of wisdom' in Swahili, Sauti za Busara takes place in Zanzibar every year during February. It is the only Tanzania music festival that showcases rich African and Swahili music. Mostly Centred in the Old Fort, with some fringe events all around Stone Town - including a carnival street parade. Thousands of people from across the globe arrive to participate in the parades and carnivals while grooving to the beats across the island.
Serengeti Cultural Festival - A traditional art and dance festival that provides a great supplement for the Serengeti National Park Safari visitors. It usually coincides with the annual migration which sees a vast number of wildlife crossing the Mara river towards the north in search of greener grasslands.
Nyama Choma Festival - Nyama Choma literally means ‘roasted meat’ in Swahili and recipes are passed down generations. People from all around the world flock around Dar es Salaam and Arusha towns to try lip-smacking barbequed meats.
Unification Day - A big day for the people of Tanzania which celebrates the union of Zanzibar and Tanzania that forms today's United Republic of Tanzania. Cities all over Tanzania bustle with people participating in parades, waving flags, and preaching the proverb "Umoja ni nguvu" - meaning unity is strength. Cultural events such as African music and dance performances can be expected.
BEST TIME TO VISIT TANZANIA
Along the coast and in the offshore islands of Tanzania, the average temperature ranges between 27°C and 29°C, while in the central, northern, and western parts temperatures range between 20°C and 30°C. Temperatures are higher between December and March, and coolest between June and July. The long rains begin in March and end in May, while the short rains begin in October and continue to early December. In general, annual rainfall varies from 550 mm in the central part of the country up to 3690 mm in some parts of south-western highlands.
Winter (June-September) is the coolest period, with hotels and lodges in popular areas are full, with high-season prices - particularly July and August. Animal-spotting is easiest, as the foliage is sparse and animals congregate around dwindling water sources. The Great Migration across the Serengeti is actually a fairly continuous rotation, but the most dramatic river crossings usually happen in June or July – though the exact timing is not predictable.
The low season is also the main rainy season (March-May) and not necessarily a bad time to visit, though some outlying roads may become impassable. It seldom rains all day, every day and landscapes are lush and green however, some hotels close, and others offer low season discounts.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN TANZANIA
There are no ski resorts in Tanzania, but it is technically possible to ski on Mount Kilimanjaro, one of Africa’s highest mountains, if you are a professional and make the necessary arrangements beforehand.
HIKING & CYCLING IN TANZANIA
You can enjoy outdoor activities in Tanzania throughout the year. The best time for game viewing in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire are from June to October, but these are also the busiest months. The best weather conditions in which to climb Mount Kilimanjaro are between July and October or January and March.
BEACH OPTIONS IN TANZANIA
The best beaches of Tanzania can be found on the Island of Zanzibar. They can be enjoyed throughout the year, although it can be rather rainy from March to May. The best time is the dry months from June to October.
SURFING IN TANZANIA
Tanzania offers fantastic surfing off the reefs on the northern tip of Zanzibar. Although it is possible to surf of the coast of Tanzania, you often need a boat to take you out to a suitable surf spot. The best spots closest to Dar es Salaam are: Oyster’s Bay at Coco Beach, Sea Cliff, Bongoyo Island, Sinda Islands and Kasa Beach. Much more accessible are the surf spots of Nungwi Beach and Dongwe Doughnuts on Zanzibar! You will find the best swell from June to September.
KITESURF IN TANZANIA
You can find beautiful wind and kitesurfing conditions on the Island of Zanzibar from mid June until mid October and again from the end of December until mid March. The best times for stronger and more consistent winds are from mid June until mid September and again from the end of December until the end of February.
For more details on kite surfing in Tanzania expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN TANZANIA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
TANZANIA TRAVEL COSTS
Tanzania is not exactly a budget destination, but it is still possible to travel affordably. If you want to save money on accommodation, camping where possible would be the cheapest option with the odd stay in a backpacker sprinkled in. Camping in Tanzania can mean anything from very basic open plots in national parks to luxurious tented lodges costing upwards of $100 per night. Similarly, guesthouses and hotels range from budget flophouses to top-end resorts, and in essence, you tend to get what you pay for.
Food can either be unbelievably cheap or incredibly expensive in Tanzania. If you stick to local food and staples you can get by for $1-5 per meal and you will find seafood and fresh fruit to be extremely affordable.
TANZANIA TRAVEL TIPS
Getting Around Tanzania
The fastest and safest way is to fly around Tanzania and the best choice if you can afford it. Even the major roads are in extremely poor condition, and drivers are not known for their patience or great driving skills. Road accidents in Tanzania claim more lives than any other cause of death. Established domestic flights link Dar es Salaam with Moshi (near Kilimanjaro) and a number of other airports including Zanzibar; smaller airlines serve game parks and remote towns. Ferries traverse the larger lakes and serve Zanzibar and Pemba from Dar es Salaam. That said, busses are the most common way to travel around in Tanzania for locals. Although most of the 'local' buses are fairly basic, you will find 1st class air-con buses on the Dar Es Salaam-Moshi-Arusha route.
Unless you have your own overland vehicle and/or are familiar with driving on poor roads in Africa, it’s relatively unusual for fly-in travellers to tour mainland Tanzania by car. Self-driving in Tanzania is rare and really for the brave-hearted only. More common is to focus on a specific region of the country and arrange local transport through your tour or safari operator. Skyscanner.com is a fantastic tool for finding great flight deals. Also, check Momondo for flight comparisons or car rental deals.
There are a few small group adventure tours we can recommend if you want to take in more of the region, including:
ACTIVE SAFARI & ZANZIBAR EXPERIENCE - This 13-day G Adventures tour takes you from canoeing through beautiful lakes, hiking through craters, and spotting wildlife in Serengeti National Park to flying to the idyllic island of Zanzibar for some well-earned downtime on its sandy beaches. Search all G Adventures Tanzanian group tours here.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF TANZANIA
Although famous for its wildlife safaris, there is much, much more to see and do that just animal spotting, with diving, snorkelling, kitesurfing, cycling, hiking and trekking just some of the highlights.
Explore The Ngorongoro Crater
Ngorongoro means “the gift of life”, and indeed, with the lush and green jungle along the rim, the name is a perfect fit for this beautiful place. Although it can be pricey (mainly due to high park fees) we recommend you to spend a day here, as the place is pretty small and animals like zebras, elephants, wildebeests, and possibly even rhinos, can easily be spotted, as there aren’t a lot of places to hide.
Do A Safari in Serengeti
The major attraction of the Serengeti is the wildebeest migration, which occurs continuously between the Serengeti and Masai Mara of Kenya. Though pricing is generally through the roof, it is possible to do it more affordably by hiring a safari guide and a proper vehicle and save money on accommodation by staying on the outskirts of the Serengeti in the conservation areas for some of the trip. Or go during the low season (January, February, April)!
Throughout Tanzania, almost all trekking can be done without technical gear, by anyone who is of reasonable fitness. However, most organized excursions into wildlife areas – and all trekking or hiking in national parks – require being accompanied by a registered guide or a ranger. Treks on Kilimanjaro and in the Crater Highlands are expensive but most other treks in Tanzania can be done on a reasonable budget with a bit of effort, and a few are even cheap in comparison.
Tanzania's center for kite-surfing is at Paje, on Zanzibar Island's east coast. You will also find some kite shops and operators on the mainland, in the stretch between Dar es Salaam and Pangani. Kite surfing is a highly seasonal activity and best during the monsoon winds, but December to January and June to October tend to be good times throughout.
Explore Stone Town and the beaches of Zanzibar
The Zanzibar archipelago is considered semi-autonomous and truly a melting pot of African and Indian influences. Made up of many small islands and two larger, main islands, Unguja and Pemba, Zanzibar is the heart of Swahili culture and tradition. During the day, white sand, aquamarine waters, and picturesque sailboats sum up Zanzibar. Unguja, the main tourist island, is home to Zanzibar’s evocative capital Stone Town, a World Heritage city.
WHAT TO PACK FOR TANZANIA
In general, tourists to Tanzania should wear modest or more conservative attire, especially in Zanzibar, which is a predominantly Muslim society. Western women should take care to cover their bare skin as much as possible. 'Kangas', brightly-coloured wrap-around cloth, are affordable, available throughout the country, and can serve as a discreet covering.
The Masai people, with their colourful clothing, are tempting targets for any tourist with a camera. However, they will expect to be paid for it, and you should always ask for permission before taking pictures.
You should wear loose, cool clothes during this time when temperatures generally reach 30°-40° Celsius. Definitely pack a light jacket or sweater for evenings, when the weather can cool down closer to the coast. Avoid bright colours that can scare animals away and dark colours that can attract insects. Dress in layers so you can adapt to varying temperatures throughout the day. Especially during summer, you should wear long sleeves and long pants to deter insects - this also protects from the risk of sunburn. When on safari, avoid bright colours that can scare animals away and dark colours that can attract insects. Pack good walking shoes with a thick sole as you will need these for safari, hiking, and sightseeing.
Prepare for the hot, African sun. Bring a sun hat -- this is essential on safari. Also, bring your sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare. Find a good quality sunscreen which offers at least 30 SPF - however, this is something you will find available throughout the country.
Here are some of our recommendations for your Tanzania packing essentials.
TENT - When you have your own tent, you have the freedom and flexibility to set up camp just about anywhere. It rarely really gets cold but to cover all bases a 4 season tent like the North Face Stormbreak Tent would serve you well. Alternatively use a 2-3 season tent like the Featherstone 2 Person Backpacking Tent.
SLEEPING BAG - If you're heading out on a planned group tour, you'll generally have a sleeping bag provided to you. Always bring a sleeping bag liner (we use these Sea to Summit silk liners) with you to use with hired sleeping bags.
TRAVEL TOWEL - A microfiber towel is a perfect saviour when your hostel doesn't have towels or you need something to dry off with after a quick dip.
REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE & WATER FILTER - Our favourite combination is the Sistema reusable bottle for hot & cold liquids with the Survival Water Filter Pro. This has got to be one of our best travel buys, not only for our budget (by eliminating the need to purchase bottled water) but also for doing our part for the environment by reducing the use of single-use plastic bottles. Not to mention that it is also very handy in the case of an emergency when potable water may not be readily available.
HEADLAMP - Probably one of the most underrated items in any Africa backpacker's arsenal; the trusty headlamp, will help you navigate your campsite in the dark. Our favourite is the Black Diamond Cosmo as it has a dimming function as well as a red light which does not attract insects.
SUNSCREEN - It doesn't take long for that relentless African sun to do some real damage, so don’t forget your sunscreen. Sunscreen is rather expensive around Southern Africa and we would recommend bringing enough for your whole trip from home.
FIRST AID KIT - In the wild, vast spaces of Tanzania, it really does pay to have a well-stocked medical kit with you.
A GOOD BOOK / KINDLE - Distances are vast and travel times between destinations can often be pretty lengthy. You'll want to bring a decent book along with you - or a Kindle loaded with all your favourites.
WHAT TO EAT IN TANZANIA
Tanzania offers a variety of eating options, from small sidewalk stalls to modern Western restaurants. Especially along the coastal areas the seaside ambience, selection of exotic spices and mix of flavours will enhance each meal. From fresh-grilled fish to savoury-spiced coconut curries, Zanzibari food is an eclectic mix of Arabic, Indian, Asian and African flavours. Nightlife often centres around the joy of eating and socialising, never too far from a sea breeze.
Although much of Tanzania's population subsists on ugali (the main maize flour porridge staple) there are some treats to be found. Local specialities you should look out for:
Uji, a thin, sweet porridge made from bean, millet or other flour is a start for many Tanzanians and you will see ladies stirring the bubbling pots of it on street corners in the early morning. For another morning treat in the southeast of the country you should try Vitambua – small rice cakes resembling tiny, thick pancakes.
On Zanzibar Island, Mkate wa Kumimina, is a local bread made from a batter similar to that used for making Vitambua. Another Zanzibari treat is Urojo, a soup made with kachori (spicy potatoes), mango, limes, coconut, cassava chips, salad and sometimes pili-pili (hot pepper).
If there is anything that can be called Tanzania's national dish, then Ugali would most likely be the winner. A polenta-style porridge dish made with cassava or maize flour (usually accompanied by cooked meat or stew), it's eaten with your hands. Many foreigners find it bland and unappealing, but it's worth a try, and even some upscale establishments serve it. In general, good ugali should be neither too dry nor too sticky. It’s usually served with a stew-like sauce containing meat, fish, beans or greens. Rice and Ndizi (cooked plantains) are other staples, and chips are ubiquitous.
Mishikaki (marinated, grilled meat kebabs) and Nyama Choma (roasted meat) are widely available. Along the coast and near lakes, you will find an abundance of seafood, often grilled or cooked in coconut milk or curry-style.
WHERE TO STAY IN TANZANIA
If you are on a shoestring budget, camping is possible as there are quite a number of campsites across Tanzania. Expect to pay $5 - $10 for a spot at campsites with basic amenities. You will find campsites situated in or near most major towns, near many of the national parks and in some rather scenic locations along a few of the main highways. You should expect to pay more than double the above rate for camping inside a national park and there will be additional park fees. Camping is not permitted on Zanzibar Island and you should rather not camp away from established sites. Visiting during the rainy season (February – May) may result in lower pricing accommodation options.
Basic private rooms at a budget hotel cost about $30 - $40. Mid-range hotels with better amenities will be around $60 - $70 for a double bedroom. There are many affordable lodges with swimming pool and in-house restaurants in the tourist areas, costing about $30 - $50 per night. It's definitely worth considering an Airbnb in some areas as you might find good value. Along the coastal areas of Zanzibar, you might find that all-inclusive packages (or even half-board) offer better value during low or shoulder seasons than just booking accommodation.
Airbnb Travel Tip: f you prefer to stay in your own apartment or house, we recommend using Airbnb in Tanzania. Check out our full article on how to get $65 coupon code for your booking or simply click here to get our coupon code to apply on your next booking.