The Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking to Tanzania
The Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking to Tanzania
Tanzania is home to a great mix of wildlife, fascinating cultures and natural, scenic beauty. From the classic, sweeping savannah of the Serengeti to the flamingo-lined shores of Lake Manyara, world wonder Ngorongoro Crater and Mount Kilimanjaro, to the palm fringed tropical islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia, it’s a dream destination. Tanzania offers superb safari-and-beach combinations. If you’re looking for real, life-changing, challenging adventure travel, then Tanzania is for you!
Enter the southern wilderness of the Selous, the tropical coastline and the island of Zanzibar via the Dar-es-Salaam International Airport. For northern attractions like the Serengeti and Great Migration, Kilimanjaro International Airport is your best bet. You’ll transfer to nearby Arusha to reach these destinations. International flights often arrive at Kilimanjaro Airport late in the day, so spending a night in Arusha is necessary. You’ll see and do more if you minimize travel time by catching chartered flights. Most road transfers and all game drives are conducted in open-sided 4X4 safari vehicles. If you go chimp trekking in Gombe and Mahale, you’ll have the advantage of a boat transfer across Lake Tanganyika. Avoid travelling on buses at night in a lot of places.
The best time to go to Tanzania
One of the best times to visit Tanzania for an unforgettable safari is during the great migration river crossing which takes place in July and August. The perfect time to explore the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara is from June and October during the dry winter season. During the traditional low season from January to March, you’ll enjoy the very best value for money and crowd-free game viewing. You can combine mountain trekking with both game viewing and relaxing on a tropical island from January to March or between July and October. The coast or islands during the long rains from March to May becomes very wet and humid.
All of your accommodation will be taken care of if you’re overlanding. If you’re on a self-drive, with your own camping equipment, you’ll usually be able to stay at most of the same camps as the overlanders. Many of the camps have dorms or tents you can hire or you could bring your own tent. There are backpacker hostels across Tanzania especially in Arusha and Kendwa. Dar es Salaam has a couple of hostels for the overlanders. Try to book in advance if you can as there isn’t an abundance of great places, especially in high season.
Where to Meet Other Backpackers
You’ll meet a few backpackers and a lot of locals, expats, NGO workers, holidaymakers, and overlanders. You’ll meet backpackers at the beach towns of Kendwa and Paje in Zanzibar. Hostel bars or trips to various tourist activities are usually the best way to meet people.
Language & Culture
Tanzanians are tolerant, gentle and friendly people. Be aware of the conservative nature of the people and dress accordingly. Keep your knees, chest, and shoulders covered ideally. English and Swahili are widely spoken throughout the country.
Budgeting & Money
From safaris, white water rafting, diving, eating in restaurants, there are plenty of free or cheap things to do with varying costs in Tanzania. Don’t be afraid to negotiate as most prices are flexible. Tanzania's unit of currency is the Tanzanian Shilling but you can use the US dollars in cash – although credit cards and traveller's cheques are widely accepted they incur hefty transaction fees. You’ll find ATMs in all the major towns but in case they are out of service always keep the backup cash. No US dollar bills printed before 2003 are accepted in Tanzania. MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted compared to American Express.
Health & Safety
Make the proper medical preparations for vaccinations and anti-malarial shots. Staying healthy usually consists of keeping yourself clean, protected from the sun, watered and as mosquito repellent as possible. Remember malaria is rife in some areas. Don’t travel at night, the roads are often bad and unlit with people/animals on them and there are bandits in many areas. Don’t get too drunk. Avoid areas with known political unrest.
Visa & Passport Requirements
Almost all visitors to Tanzania require a visa. Before departing your home country, always try to obtain a Tanzania visa. At Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro International Airports, visas can be bought on arrival for some nationalities and they can pay cash in US dollars. Your passport must be valid for six months after your arrival date in Tanzania. To be on the safe side, check entry requirements before you go. Have at least 3 free pages in your passport at all times.