One of East Africa’s most established tourist destinations, Tanzania is the country that brings you the postcard pictures of Africa that you’ve always imagined. Whether it’s getting up close and person with the animal kingdom on a safari, the charm of the Masai, the allure of Zanzibar or Mount Kilimajaro it becomes apparent pretty quickly Tanzania more than lives up to it’s reputation.
Population: 44 million
Economy: GDP (PPP) – $53 716 (84th); Per Capita $1416 (156th)
Human Development Index: .531 (151st)
Exchange Rate: USD$1 = 1500 Tanzanian Shillings
Sporting Trivia: Tanzania’s only two silver coloured Olympic medals were won in the 1980 Moscow Olympic games on the track. Their football side hosted Brazil in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup, going down 5-1 in a friendly.
>>> Traveller Information: You’ll find an abundance of travellers in Arusha, all ready to head off into the Lion King style Africa that we all imagine. Tanzania is pretty tourist friendly, cheap prices, low value currency and incredibly friendly local people. Another great thing is that there are plenty of opportunities to socialise (drink) with locals and other travellers, which is a great opportunity to find out more about Tanzania and get some inside secrets. Zanzibar has all sorts of tourists and all of the ferries are packed daily as Zanzibar is incredible and is set up to cater for the regular influx of tourists with beautiful resorts and also small lodges in the heart of old town.
Visa Requirements: We didn’t want to travel thousands of kilometres to Tanzania without a Visa so we headed to their embassy in Maputo, Mozambique. The original visa we required cost $50 but after issues changing money, as the embassy didn’t like old US notes, we short changed it for a much cheaper transit visa. We rolled the dice on the Tanzanian visa in the end but we managed to enter the country twice on this visa and didn’t have to pay anything on top of the $30 visa we got, despite a thorough inspection on the second entrance. Win.
Learn the Lingo: English is the european language that is spoken here. One of the greatest things about Tanzania is that locals challenge you to speak their largest local language, Swahili. Spoken by 50 million people and it’s probably our favourite language we came across. It’s the language of ‘The Lion King’ and you’ll become accustomed to phrases like “Mumbo Jumbo” and talking to your friends ‘Rafiki’. Our advice here is to get out there and greet as many people as you can and you’ll share many a smile with Tanzanians.
The transport hub of Southern Tanzania, Mbeya is packed with two things – trucks and bars. We arrived pretty late, watched some football and took off first thing in the morning so we didn’t really get much of an insight into this city.
How did we get there: A long day coming up from Nkhata Bay changing mini buses a couple of times. We had some major dramas at this border crossing with money changers ripping you off. We got across the border hot and frustrated with the bus up to Mbeya taking about 2 hours – standing room only. We arrived pretty late to a hectic bus station where you’ll find plenty of touts who will help you find accommodation and we reckon it’s probably best just to choose one dude and get a hand, especially if like us you are wrecked after a long day of travel. Afterall, bus stations and transit points are not the nicest places to be loitering around in after dark.
Where did we stay: We followed the lead of a rasta tout to a place directly across the road from the bus station as we were taking off super early the next morning for Arusha. The three of us grabbed a two bed room for incredibly cheap, about $10 total a night.
Getting a feed: For not much more than $1 we were able to grab some local rice and meat off the main strip.
On the town: This was our location for the World Cup Final. We found a good local bar and for some reason the owner loved us and shouted us copious amounts of beers.
Learn from us: When crossing the border into Tanzania from Malawi do not swap any currency on or around the bridge. It’s no man’s land and there is an elaborate system of hawkers working together to systematically offer tourists varying rates of exchange before eventually stealing your hard earned cash never to be seen again. Yep, we got stung and we’d like to think of ourselves as some pretty hardcore hagglers.
Arusha, is the gateway to the safari sights of Tanzania. Situated close to Serengeti, it’s home to many Masai and as a transit point for tourists, Arusha is a great place to find your feet in this incredible part of the world. You’ll be greeted with open arms by people all over town in Swahili, so make sure you brush up on the basics.
How did we get there: A lazy 20 hour bus trip from Mbeya on a big coach was the option we went for. This bus did cost a bit more than a few other options but was reliable and considering the distance of the journey it is probably worth the 45000 Shillings ($30) as it’s the most direct and fast option.
Where did we stay: A late night arrival left us at the mercy of the touts at 11pm. We jumped in a taxi who took us to the hostel but it was a bit too pricey. We then got dropped off at Michel’s Place which got us a 3 bed room for 15000 ($10) a night. This was a pretty basic place amongst the back streets but did the trick for the three of us. We had a bit of a heated disagreement over prices with the taxi driver but it was all sorted in the end – always keep your cool.
Getting a feed: There are plenty of samosa stands throughout town and most of the bars around town will also sell good meat and pap dishes to suit your taste buds for not more than $3.
Out on the town: There is a distinguishably up market area of town where you’ll find most of the tourist offices and a few nice hotels. This isn’t where we went out, instead, we chose to hang out with locals in bars along the bumpy backroads. Picnic Bar might look seedy but at least it doesn’t disappoint in delivering on its seedy charm and a night out here wouldn’t be complete without a few beers in Shivers just across the street which is a mix of live music, beats and all sorts of dancers.
Difficulties: Getting rid of old US notes was hard here. It seems to be the case across East Africa, any US notes before 2000 are pretty hard to get changed into local currency. So have a good look at any notes you exchange to make sure you don’t get stuck with anything prior to the year 2000.
@ Dar Es Salaam
Dar, as it’s often known is the largest city in Tanzania and despite no longer being it’s capital is home to much of the nation’s administrative infrastructure. It’s the place to fly into from most international destinations and is your gateway to Zanzibar.
How did we get there: A 9 hour bus ride from Mombasa got us here. We then jumped across town and onto a ferry to get us to the place we were staying 5 minutes across the bay.
Where did we stay: We took the ferry from Dar which costs about 30 cents to get across the bay to the strip of beach resorts and tranquil camping places. The Mikadi Beach campsite we ended up at came highly recommended with BYO tent and other accommodation options . It was also a place that numerous safari vans stop at with their groups. The driveway is rather long and dark so be aware of your own security and just jump on a moto or taxi right at the gate just to be on the safe side.
Getting a feed: As soon as we got off our bus from Mombasa we were on the hunt for food and we stumbled across some cheap chicken and chips for 4000 Shillings ($3.30). We’re not going to lie, the street food here is pretty special to be honest combined with the charm of the outdoor setting friendly faces running the stalls.
Unfortunately, we tried to recapture the magic on our final night but most stalls was closed for some reason on a Tuesday. There are plenty of street side restaurants that will give you the normal Tanzanian specials at an unbelievable price.
Out on the town: Our night here was spent at the beach backpackers across the bay and then our final night in Africa back on the mainland was spent getting a haircut, grabbing a feed, a few final Kili’s (the nickname for Kilimanjaro – a local Tanzanian Beer and yes it’s good) and then a night stay at the airport.
@ Stone Town (Zanzibar)
This is definitely one of the gems of Africa. Zanzibar is a much heralded idyllic island and it’s reputation as an island getaway is much deserved. This is an island paradise you must get to, the mix of African and Arabic cultures is something to behold. The tranquillity of Arabic cobbled streets and the groove of African culture meet here to give you an amazing experience.
How did we get there: There are reasonably cheap flights but the best way to get a feel for Zanzibar is to cross the beautiful waters by ferry from the mainland. There are about 4 each way daily, the trip will set you back USD$35-40 for the 2 and half hr trip. There’s not really any point trying to negotiate the prices, you’ll see they are unfair but we got nowhere after numerous attempts and countless hours.
Where did we stay: We rocked up without accommodation. Don’t panic, although year round accommodation is close to fully booked here, the touts will find you with a room. We followed one though the charming alleys of Stone Town to a pretty good place for the 3 of us where we scored a 3 bed room for about USD$12.50 each after a bit of negotiation. Zanzibar is known for high priced rooms so we were happy with this and came with breakfast.
Getting a feed: Where do we start? This place was an island paradise for our taste buds. The daily staple has to be the ‘Zanzibar mix’ which is a spicy soup with some vegetables, spices and meat thrown in. As night falls comes the real challenge at the seafood markets, which are designed for the tourist market. It has a great energy and is a lot of fun with all sorts of seafood available and sales techniques on display. The prices vary a lot and is a whole lot more than what you’d pay at most other local spots. Sample a few treats and take some great photos, but if you are up for a bit more movement on prices head back late at night to try pick off a few bargains as they close up. Across town is a great local market, with sting rays getting cut up on the ground, spices and whatever clothes you might need or just get for the sake of it.
Out on the town: Zanzibar’s drinking spots come in all shapes in sizes from luxurious bars stocked with patrons sipping champagne watching the sunset over the water, to the to local bars stocked with Kili beer, bottles of spirits and patrons still watching the sunset over the crystal clear water. You’ll find some interesting characters around town, but it is definitely a good night out here and the island lifestyle gives life to a pretty relaxed atmosphere to drinking at least at these establishments.
Difficulties: No, you can’t negotiate the ferry price. Despite a thorough search it is pretty hard to do. The tickets are divided into local and foreign classes.
>>> The Amateur Low Down
Highlight: We can’t go past Zanzibar and everything that goes with it. What a way to finish our African experience. We begun in the Arab north in Agadir so it was fitting to finish up in the Arabic influenced Zanzibar. Zanzibar comes with breathtaking beaches, a unique culture and charming cobbled stone streets. Zanzibar posses a culture that is quite different to many on mainland Africa, it’s a place where Arab traders never left, and it was pretty hard for us to take off as well.
Around every corner is a postcard worthy photograph and if you’re like us and love the challenge of getting a bargain price, you’ll find plenty of chances to hone your bargaining skills here.
Biggest Surprise: How much safaris cost. Well it wasn’t a total shock, but it’s the sort of thing you hope you can get for much cheaper when you get there and get locally sourced in the formation. To Tanzania’s credit they have an organised tourism board that ensures environmental and social standards are kept up and give a decent living to locals.
The cost to go on ‘safari’ at Ngoro Ngoro, Serengeti, Masai or any other parts will generally start at USD $160, the disappointing thing is that the daily cost doesn’t seem to drop on longer tours. We didn’t make it out on safari in this part of the world, we had seen the wildlife in other parts of Africa, and along the road, our dodgy cameras didn’t justify another trip out there. If it’s the thing you want to do there are plenty of reputable places to get on a safari when you arrive, just do a bit of shopping around and ask some questions.
One thing you can do to break down a barrier: Ok, so we couldn’t go through this whole time without mentioning one of the biggest shocks in Africa. Albinos in Africa. It was something we never expected and you’re probably reading this thinking we are having a joke. Albinos face discrimination on a number of fronts, some traditional beliefs still mean that Albinos are killed for their body parts. This practice is now outlawed but it remains a major issue for the hundreds of thousands of Albinos in this part of the world. There are an estimated 200,000 Albinos in Tanzania who still suffer from discrimination, although promisingly we also during our time in Africa saw a few on TV as members of Parliament.