Travel Tips for Tanzania
As a country with some of the most famous sites in the world and most certainly in Africa, we would be hard-pressed to write about Tanzania without mentioning its highlights, namely Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and Zanzibar. Whether or not you chose to make the hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, or make the journey to the beautiful island of Zanzibar, however, you absolutely must go on a safari, making sure not to miss not only the Serengeti but also the nearby Ngorongoro Crater. This will not only be the highlight of your trip to Tanzania but may be one of the highlights of your life!
As the Tanzanians Do. . .
Stop taking life so seriously and learn to just kick back and relax, as the Tanzanians do. Hakuna Matata is not just a saying from the Lion King, but actually, something that you will hear many Tanzanians say to you during your trip. Stop worrying and just suck it all in and enjoy and you will definitely get the real Tanzanian experience. The country is laid back and, with the noted exceptions, accepting and the people are just looking to enjoy what has been given to them. Outside of Dar es Salaam, you will find very little hurry or urgency, which makes the country really perfect for visiting during a holiday.
The Tanzanian people are generally very open and accepting individuals, who will welcome you to their country with open arms. That said, there is a sad history, which continues today, of recurring harassment of homosexual individuals, as well as the Albino population.
Homosexuality is officially punishable by 30 years in prison, under Tanzanian law. Unofficially, there are an overwhelming number of reports of police harassment and abuse of individuals suspected of being homosexual. This includes a stigma on individuals with HIV, who are often assumed to be homosexual and are greatly shunned by the population. While the Government has made statements stating that they will work to reduce abuse of the LGBT community, as the law only officially punishes sexual acts, there is little indication that they have actually done so and there has been no promise made that the law itself will be overturned. The LGBT community should be aware of this situation when traveling to Tanzania, as it is a concern for safety. Moreover, the unfortunate reality is that the sentiment of the Government is also largely reflected in the general population.
Tanzania also has a long, extremely sad history of abuse of the Albino population. Due to a belief amongst witchdoctors that the body parts of individuals with albinism can bring good luck, the Albino population has been gruesomely targeted in violent attacks, where body parts are often removed. The Government has made some attempts to protect children with albinism, by placing them in state-run homes, however, the majority of the Albino population has found the need to go into hiding, so as to protect themselves and the problem has brought widespread attention from human rights defenders from around the world, who are deeply concerned about the current situation.
While the benefits of amazing experiences largely overshadow any annoyances when visiting Tanzania, there are two notable annoyances to point out.
The first is not uncommon in many countries and involves the heckling of tourists, particularly Caucasian tourists. When traveling around the country, particularly in cities, tourists are regularly approached and sometimes followed by individuals wanting to sell something or pretending to strike up a conversation. We absolutely recommend getting to know the Tanzanian people, as they are almost always very warm and welcoming people; however, when approached by someone, without solicitation, on the street, it is best to give a firm no to whatever they are offering and continue on your way. Unfortunately, striking up a conversation or showing too much interest can lead to uncomfortable situations and at times dangerous situations. Best to meet people more naturally, the way you would at home, rather than on the street.
Other than this heckling, the other annoyance has already been mentioned in the security section and is the annoyance of not being able to move around freely at night. Regardless of this annoyance, however, for safety reasons, we highly recommend avoiding unnecessary travel by foot at night, for your own safety.
The capital city of Dar es Salaam is a bustling, crowded metropolis, situated on the Indian Ocean. The city is similar in many ways to Nairobi, Kenya, but offers its own cultural flare. If you are a big city person, Dar es Salaam is most certainly worth the visit, offering a wide range of dining and entertainment, as well as some interesting sites. Otherwise, this large port city can seem a bit overwhelming, particularly for individuals who shy away from city life.
Without a doubt, however, Dar es Salaam is a great place to visit for art, as it offers pieces from a mix of different cultures and there are countless crafts markets to explore. Moreover, the city does have a number of nearby beaches that are worth a visit and is the leaving point for boats to Zanzibar. While it may not be worth a week, but at least plan a day or two exploring this growing metropolitan city.
Holidays to Avoid
Other than weather considerations, there are no specific times of the year that should be avoided in Tanzania. Be mindful that, as one of the most diverse countries in the world, there are various cultural, as well as religious celebrations carried out throughout the year. When visiting an area that is celebrating a holiday, it is important to try to understand what may be entailed, so as to not cause a distraction and to avoid acting disrespectfully. One primary example of this would be the holy month of Ramadan, which is celebrated by the large Muslim population and entails a month of fasting and modesty. The month in which this holiday is celebrated varies from year to year and should be investigated prior to travel.
Holidays Worth Traveling For
As one of the most diverse countries in the world, with one of the highest number of ethnic groups, Tanzania is not short on cultural celebration or festivities. That said, there are few holidays that are absolute must visits, as the day to day experiences in the country are equally as incredible throughout the year. Christian and Muslim religious holidays are celebrated throughout the country and are an enjoyable time to be in a community, particularly for Eid-al-Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan), as well as Easter and Christmas.
However, for a wonderful cultural experience, the Wanyambo Festival, held in Dar es Salaam in January, will provide you with an excellent insight into the cultural diversity of Tanzania, including the music, food, clothing and overall fun of various ethnic groups.
Dar es Salaam is really the only main city in Tanzania, which is a very geographically large and with a population that is dispersed more widely throughout the country than other countries.
That said, the small cities of Mwanza and Arusha, both in the north of the country, offer great starting points for safaris. Arusha is also very near to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and almost all treks will originate from the city. Both of these cities are relaxed and laid back and you can easily wander around, during the day, to get a feel of what day to day Tanzanian life is like. As the location of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and other international organizations, Arusha does have a large, albeit diminishing, ex-patriot population, from all over the world and there is a sort of cultural blending that you will feel there, more than in other parts of the country and does make Mwanza a better option, if you are looking for a more authentic Tanzanian experience. That said, both cities are worth a stopover and some exploring, even if it is as you prepare for the long trek up the mountain or safari.
Safety when traveling to Tanzania varies depending on where you plan to visit. However, the country is generally very safe, so long as you take certain precautions. Travel at night should be limited, unless in well-lit and busy areas, which are generally only common in the Dar es Salaam area. Travel around smaller cities, such as Arusha, should be limited at night, except for when taken door to door by a taxi or other transport service. Muggings can be frequent at night, which is why it is important to use caution.
In addition, during the day, travelers should use basic caution in traveling around, the same as would be recommended in any large city in the world. Keep your money and credit cards close to your body, avoid wearing flashy jewelry and limit your display of electronics, such as cameras and cell phones.
One important note when taking any form of transportation around Dar es Salaam is to keep your bags and other items under your feet and the window only cracked (not fully rolled down), as there are a number of incidents reported where someone will reach into the car and grab items off of laps or seats. All bags should be properly stored while traveling by car in the city.
Being generally aware of your surroundings is always recommended and applies the same in Tanzania as it would in most countries. Finally, avoid any protests or marches, as peaceful events can often time lead to escalated violence, not against any particular persons, but more generally and may present danger to onlookers.