When it comes to unique travel experiences, few destinations in the world can compare to the magical continent of Africa. In fact, despite the negative media attention, corrupt governments and widespread poverty, this is arguably the most interesting and captivating travel destinations to explore. While South Africa, Botswana and Kenya are all incredibly popular in this regard, Tanzania in is arguably the most enticing gem where culture, scenery and wildlife encounters never fail to surpass even the highest expectations of the visiting tourists. Furthermore, there are many sides to this beautiful country in East Africa, for many unique experiences are located within easy reach of each other, from Zanzibar to Kilimanjaro to the wilds of the infamous Serengeti.
With this in mind, here is a guide to travel in Tanzania including things to do, how to get around and some of the most popular locations to add to your upcoming itinerary:
Tanzania: From the Roof of Africa to the Wilds of the Serengeti
As already mentioned, Tanzania is famous for Serengeti National Park where lion, elephant and the Masaai people roam free. For this reason, wildlife safaris are the most common reason which tourist choose Tanzania for an adventure but at the same time, the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro is also waiting to be climbed nearby. Finally, the white powdered beaches of Zanzibar are just off the coast and this makes the perfect place to relax after an encounter with any of the above.
In fact, the above locations are often included on the same travel itinerary as visitors will often choose to climb Kilimanjaro before embarking on a wildlife safari and then topping off the adventure with some beach time on the islands. Either way, Tanzania is an incredibly unique pocket of the African continent which seems to offer up a little piece of everything to visitors, from village tours and volunteer programs to overnight wildlife safaris and the opportunity to stand on the roof of Africa, Kilimanjaro.
How to Get Around in Tanzania
Tanzania is quite a primitive place and getting around is not always an easy task. That is to say, there are convenient albeit more expensive ways to travel between attractions but the truth is, the local infrastructure and transport system leaves a lot to be desired. From Arusha and Moshi to Dar Es Salaam and even the island of Zanzibar, there is always an option to travel between these places but you should know that each option is vastly different.
Organized Tours – Taking an organized tour or safari is the most common way for visitors to get around in Tanzania. Upon arriving at the airport, a guide will greet guests and take them to their hotel. From this point onward, all transportation is organized and taken care of by the tour company. As you might expect, this requires a much higher cost than taking local transportation and advanced reservation is always necessary.
Local Bus Services - Coach and matatu are the most popular way for locals to get around in Tanzania.In cape you might be asking yourself, a matatu is a small minivan which enables travelers to travel short distances, usually from one village or town to another. On the other hand, there are also coach services which travel much greater distances across the country. Although much bigger than matatus, the larges buses have a tendency to drive very fast and a reputation for being particularly busy in terms of the seating.
Taxi – As you know, Uber along with other applications have also arrived in Africa and these can be easily accessed by visiting tourists. However, you will also find official and non official taxis throughout Tanzania. In short, official taxis are much more expensive but the unmarked cars are often questionable. When or if you do take a taxi in Tanzania, you should seek to agree the fare prior to departure and never proceed in a car unless you feel confident or safe to do so.
Air – You should find that air travel is now as popular as ever in Tanzania with a number of small commercial airlines providing competitive rates for travel between cities. In most instances, Arusha and Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar is the most popular but Dar es Salaam and a range of smaller destinations are also accessible. Although a ferry service is available between Zanzibar and the mainland, airfares are now the best way to get around Tanzania.
Money and Security in Tanzania
Indeed, you will need money to spend in Tanzania but rest assured, ATM machines are extremely popular in towns and cities. Moreover, the machines are usually paired with visa and MasterCard. On the other hand, the US dollar is still kind on the continent and this is easily exchanged in a Bureua de Change or local bank. Keep in mind, large notes ($50/$100) receive a better exchange rate than smaller denominations and regardless as to what you may read online elsewhere, travellers cheques are now very difficult to change.
In most instances, taking a combination of US currency and Debit/Credit cards is the best way to ensure that you do not run out of money. That being said, you must realize that ATM machines do not always work and you should seek to access this money ahead of time rather than the day on which you might need to use it.
As for security, Tanzania is an extremely safe and friendly country. Although crime rates are high in townships or slums, tourists are most often able to steer clear of such scenarios. In this sense, Tanzania is not more dangerous or different to anywhere else in the world but you should use common sense and try not to flash the cash or stand out from the crowd. In case you might be asking yourself, we simply mean that there is no need to wave $100 bills around in the local shops and expensive jewelery will do little more than attract unnecessary attention in this part of the world.
Most Popular Attractions in Tanzania
As you may know, the Serengeti is the most famous National Park in the world and the most popular wildlife safari destination in Africa. Located just east of Arusha and bordering nearby Kenya, this stunning wilderness is often a subject of interest for National Geographic and provides visitors with an authentic insight into a primitive world which seems to be disappearing quickly.
Whether you yearn to witness a lion up close of the Masaai people grazing the land, this is an incredibly memorable adventure and one with endless unique experiences. That being said, for those who do not have time or money to venture into the Serengeti, the awe inspiring Ngorongoro Crater is most certainly worth the visit. Known as the largest unbroken caldera in the world, this crater is full of wildlife and located on the outskirts of the Serengeti. While you will find wildlife safaris all over Africa, there is simply no wildlife experience that can rival the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater.
Affectionatly known as “Kili”, Kilimanjaro is the highest free standing mountain in the world and the highest peak in all of Africa. Although the park fees are quite high for the region, thousands of visitors come to climb the mountain every year. Featuring separate routes including the Machame, Rongai and Marangu, the mountain is scalable by those with just about any level of fitness. Either way, the mountain takes between six and nine days to climb and passes stunning vistas of the surrounding plains. If you wish to avail of their service, porters can carry your bag to the peak which makes the hiking a lot more bearable and with every meal provided by your guides, this is a rather straightforward opportunity to stand on a peak of this magnitude.
When you think of white powdered sands, exotic seafood and fascinating culture, the Spice Islands offer a truly exciting encounter to visitors. Located just off the coast of mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar is the most famous of these islands and the home of ancient Stone Town. Whether you wish to explore the remnants of a desperate slave trade, sample seafood at the night market or venture out to nearby prison island, Stone Town is a colorful introduction to the island. At the same time, most visitors arrive in search of the pristine beaches and both Kendwa and Nungwi are excellent resorts in the north with excellent hotels and a wide range of restaurants. As for the beaches, these are some of the most famous in the world for good reason.
Things to Do in Tanzania
In terms of attractions, there are endless things to do in Tanzania and this exciting pocket of East Africa is home to many famous attractions including Ngorongoro Crater, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti. Here are five incredible things to do in Tanzania:
1. Experience Wildlife at the Ngorongoro Crater
The Serengeti National Park might be the most famous attraction in Tanzania and this a truly remarkable place to go safari, but a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater is actually something that everyone should not miss during their trip to this East African nation. Incredibly, this immense crater was taller than Kilimanjaro prior to its collapse, and is known as the largest unbroken caldera in the world.
Although antelopes and giraffe find it difficult to trek down into the crater, there are several other wildlife animals that you’re almost guaranteed to spot at the Ngorongoro crater. Among these are rhinos, hippos, elephants, and hyenas. The best thing about this natural wonder in Tanzania is that wildlife will mostly stay within the confines of the caldera permanently. Thus, you’ll have a bigger chance of spotting some of Africa’s most exotic animals!
2. Witness the Annual Wildebeest Migration
You may have heard about the great migration in Tanzania. Between the months of November and December, you can witness the annual Wildebeest Migration, which is truly one of Africa’s most breathtaking experiences. During this time, the Ngorongoro conservation area is overflowing with millions of wildebeest moving out to another location in search of greener pastures. Simply put, this is a truly remarkable scene, and something you cannot witness anywhere else in the world.
Massive herds of wildebeest and some zebras will follow the rains all throughout the Serengeti National Park, which also requires crossing the notoriously dangerous Sand River. The migration will take them towards the Masai Mara of Kenya. Famously known as the Great Migration, this phenomenon is said to be visible from space. So if you’re planning to visit Tanzania, it may be a good idea to time your trip during the migration so you can witness this spectacular wildlife phenomenon.
3. Climb the Highest Mountain in the World
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro may come with a hefty price tag, but the experience is really worth it. Each year, thousands of people would trek the mountain while passing through the most popular routes of Machame, Marangu, Lemosho, and Rongai. Each route has a varying degree of difficulty, although all routes will allow you to enjoy the scenic nature views from the top.
Having said that, climbing Africa’s tallest mountain is certainly one of the best things to do in Tanzania. Starting from Moshi or Arusha, the climb will generally last up to six days and the trek passes through swamps, rainforests, steep ridges, and several wildlife areas. This experience might cost you a bit, but once you get to the top, you’ll realize that the money and the effort are well worth it!
4. Volunteer at An Orphanage, School or Village Construction
There are plenty of volunteering programs in Africa aimed at helping the poor areas of the country. An endless number of charities and Non-government organizations would seek for interested individuals to get involved in their efforts to “give something back”.
Aside from the opportunity to help, this experience is also a great way to meet with the local people and learn more about their culture, tradition, and customs. Volunteering at an orphanage, school, or village, is a great way to gain insights into the real African tradition that still exists in this modern age. The local people may need all the help they can get, but this experience can also benefit you in many ways. A lot of those who have experienced volunteering in Tanzania would agree that it’s one of the most rewarding experiences in their trip.
5. Visit a Local Maasai Village
Do you know that the Maasai ethnic group is considered to be a Roman Empire’s lost legion? This explains the reason behind their traditional dress, spear, and the superior combat training. Visiting the village where the Maasai tribe lives is truly an exciting thing to do in Tanzania. On this tour, a local will guide you through the inner workings of the village. You also get the chance to meet and interact with some of the tribe members, and perhaps, get inside their homes to witness how they go about their day to day life.
You’ll observe that every family of the Maasai tribe has a strong bond with each other and the men are entitled to have as many wives as they want to. Listening to the stories about their ancestry is truly captivating. It’s like stepping back in time when civilization doesn’t exist. After the tour, you also have a chance to purchase local handicrafts and souvenirs made by the tribe themselves. The money that you’ll pay for these products will go straight to the local who made it and not to a shop owner or some local organizations.
6. Take a Trip to the Spice Islands
Tanzania has been popular in the early times when high sea traders and explorers began arriving at the area searching for valuable produce. Unfortunately, this did not bode well for the locals and the infamous slave trade took place. However, as time goes on and peace was restored, Tanzania’s East Coast, including the archipelago at the Indian Ocean has been dubbed as the Spice Islands.
Of all these islands, Zanzibar is considered to be the most famous and visiting this island is truly one of the most amazing things to do in Tanzania. Aside from Zanzibar, the islands of Mafia and Pemba are also gaining popularity for their beautiful beaches and abundant marine life. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to get to these islands. You can either take a plane from Arusha and fly there directly or ride the bus to Dar Es Salaam where there’s a high-speed ferry that can take you to these beautiful islands.
7. Discover the Origins of Man at Olduvai Gorge
The Serengeti, Selous, or Mikumi National Park are some of the most popular attractions in Tanzania. These national parks are known for their plethora of wildlife, and thus, they are the best destinations for a wildlife safari. However, if you want a more interesting place to visit in your Tanzania trip, head over to Olduvai Gorge, where early evidence of mankind was first discovered, along with skeletal remains and ancient instruments and tools.
Olduvai Gorge has a fantastic museum that explains all that you need to know regarding the area, as well as its significance. However, if you’re someone who is not a fan of museums, there’s a local guide who can take you to the area where the evidence of mankind’s evolution was first discovered. Located in between the areas of the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti park, a visit to the Olduvai Gorge is something that you should include in your list of things to do in Tanzania.
As you can see, Tanzania is overflowing with unique attractions and offers a balanced insight into this primitive part of the world. That is to say, if you want to sample local culture and wildlife encounters but then climb mountains and relax on fine beaches, there is always a corner of this beautiful country to captivate every visitor. Indeed, Tanzania is the kind of place in Africa in which you are already planning a return visit before you even depart this magical destination.