Often overshadowed by more popular African destinations like South Africa and Kenya, Tanzania may be the continent’s most underrated gem. With vast areas of wilderness, Tanzania is the best destination to experience a real African safari and catch a glimpse of the Big Five game animals.
Karibu – Welcome to Tanzania
Fewer crowds and more wildlife make Tanzania the ideal location for nature enthusiasts. It is here that you can explore the African plains in Serengeti National Park or climb to Africa’s tallest mountain in Kilimanjaro National Park. Smaller areas like Ruaha National Park also provide plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse of Africa’s famous wildlife.
Hugging the Indian Ocean, most travelers are unaware of Tanzania’s coastal beauty. With over 885 miles of coastline, Tanzania is also home to several islands and the Zanzibar Archipelago. Further inland, Tanzania is a flurry of cultures and traditions. Some of the most famous groups of people that call Tanzania home include the Chaga people and Maasai warriors. With song and dance, Tanzanians will welcome you to their country with a warm heart and open arms.
Tanzania’s capital, Dodoma is all work and no play. With dozens of government buildings, this city is not normally a tourist highlight as taking pictures is often forbidden. An artificial character also plagues the city, which makes it seem too stiff and over-controlled. Originally, Dodoma was custom-built to be the home of Tanzania’s parliament buildings. However, most officials only visit the city when the government is in session.
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
History of Tanzania
While Tanzania is still hidden from mainstream tourists, the country’s history is significant in the story of human evolution. Home to “The Cradle of Mankind”, Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania is where Louis Leakey found prehistoric stone tools and fossils in 1959. Nearby, the Laetoli footprints were discovered by Louis Leakey’s wife, which are estimated to be over 1.8 million years old. These sites have been essential in understanding our story and connecting the dots between our ancient ancestors.
Beyond the story of our ancestors, Tanzania’s history is mostly situated around the coast. Acting as a point of contact between Arabia and East Africa, the coast helped develop the rest of the country, which was once known as Tanganyika. European influences began to change Tanzania in the late 1800s, when Germany took interest in the land. Shared with Britain, the country was divided into two parts – British East Africa and German East Africa.
Germany’s hold over Tanzania broke after the end of World War I, when the British blocked the Germans from providing assistance to the country. By World War II, there were fears that Germany could claim Tanzania again with Hitler in power. For the country to develop, Tanzania needed to rely less on imported goods and gain independence.
In 1961, the territory once called Tanganyika gained its independence and was renamed Tanzania. However, since it has gained its independence, the country has still struggled to thrive. Poverty is the biggest issue with 36% of the country living below the poverty line. Other issues in the country include development and lack of education, which has prevented Tanzania from becoming a developed nation.
Similar issues are present in Zanzibar, which has a slightly different history from mainland Tanzania. Zanzibar was greatly influenced by the Arabic people and then the British, who claimed the archipelago as their protectorate. By 1963, the islands became independent and they established a constitutional monarchy. However, a close relationship with mainland Tanzania was always maintained and it led to the two nations uniting.
Just a year after gaining independence, Zanzibar created a political reunion with Tanzania and the two officially became known as the United Republic of Tanzania and Zanzibar. To this day, the country remains closely linked to Tanzania.
Culture in Tanzania is complicated because it is Africa’s most diverse country. While Swahili culture is dominant throughout the country, there are hundreds of local tribes living in Tanzania and each one has their own traditions and culture.
The Chaga people are a famous ethnic group in Tanzania, who came from Bantu dependents. The group lives beneath Mount Kilimanjaro in the foothills and they are known for being expert agriculturalists.
Another famous ethnic group in Tanzania are the Maasai people, who are most well-known for their warriors. The Maasai people live nearby the African Great Lakes. Most visitors will notice the groups distinct clothing and unique culture.
However, those are only two groups of hundreds. Throughout all of Tanzania, there are over 130 spoken languages. The country’s official language is Swahili followed by English. However, the vast majority of Tanzanian people only speak Swahili. English is more commonly used by government officials.
Yet, Tanzania’s growing reliance on tourism means that the popularity of the English language is becoming more prominent in the country. Especially in popular tourist areas, the local people will likely speak English as the tourist attractions have helped create jobs to boost the economy.
Similar to most African countries, Tanzania has strict rules for tourists entering its borders. US citizens are required to obtain a tourist visa for entry into Tanzania. Travelers have the choice of applying for a visa online or waiting until they arrive at the airport in Tanzania.
You can apply for an e-visa through the Tanzanian government’s immigration website. The cost is around $100 US dollars and you can pay by credit card or bank transfer. If your e-visa application is approved, you will receive an email with a “grant notice”. You must present a copy of the grant notice to the immigration officer upon your arrival to the airport.
If you choose to wait to apply for a visa, you will need to complete the process at the airport before you are given an entry stamp by immigration. The tourist visa upon arrival also costs the same amount in US dollars and it is better to pay in cash because electronic transactions are not always possible.
It’s important for travelers to note that volunteer activities cannot be completed with a tourist visa. If you want to volunteer in Tanzania, you will need to apply for a different visa prior to your arrival to the country. For more information, you should consult with the Embassy of Tanzania, which is located in Washington D.C.
Other requirements for US travelers include having a valid US passport with one blank page. Your passport needs to have 6 months validity remaining at minimum to be granted entry into Tanzania. You should always carry your passport with you while you are in the country, as officials may ask for your proof of ID and status within Tanzania.
Tanzania also has a yellow fever requirement. If you are traveling from or have transited through a country that is listed with having yellow fever, you will need proof of a recent vaccination. There are no other currency restrictions. However, the US government always recommends that you are up to date on all your boosters before you travel.
Currency restrictions are set in place for entry into Tanzania and travelers must declare any currency that is valued at over $10,000 US dollars. Your declaration of currency must be made upon entry or exit from Tanzania. It is also illegal for non-residents to import or export any number of Tanzanian Shillings.
When it comes to estimating a spending budget for your trip to Tanzania, you will likely come across a wide range of numbers. This is because Tanzania is expensive, but how much you spend will come down to which experiences you wish to check off of your list. Safaris are the main attraction in Tanzania, but prices can be exorbitant. For budget travelers, finding places to stay and things to do in Tanzania will be difficult.
A spending budget can help you prepare for your trip to Tanzania and help you plan the cost of your trip. In addition to the airfare, accommodation, food, drink and transportation, travelers need to include the price of a safari in their spending budget.
Tanzania is not a budget-friendly destination and the cost of flights are no exception. Most travelers will spend $1,600 US dollars on a flight to Tanzania. The lowest price for flights is usually about $1,000 US dollars, which would be during the tourist off season. The tourist high season in Tanzania is when the weather is dry, which occurs from June to October.
Finding accommodation in Tanzania is also tricky because prices are often very high. The most affordable options will cost about $45 US dollars per night. However, the amenities in these locations will be basic and minimal. Nicer accommodation options will cost about $90 US dollars per night. Luxury options like safari lodges can costs hundreds or thousands of US dollars per night.
Most accommodation options do not include the price of food, unless you have booked an all-inclusive safari experience. Tanzanian cuisine is not very famous, but it is certainly a unique experience for travelers looking to dive into the local culture. Rice is a staple ingredient in many dishes, but meat and fish are also an important part of local diets.
Mchuzi wa samaki is a white fish, which has been drenched in a sauce made of curry powder, vegetables, and lemon juice. Another fish-based dish is called wali wa nazi, which steeps the fish in a coconut milk broth. While it is delicious with fish, wali wa nazi can also be cooked with chicken and meat.
Chipsi mayai is one of the most unique dishes in Tanzania, which combines eggs and French fries. The dish is commonly served as street food and it is like an extra crispy egg omelet with a few French fries thrown into the mix. For a small snack, you might want to try mandazi, which is a type of Tanzanian bread. Finally, everyone should try Tanzanian pizza, which can be made with sweet or savory flavors.
One way you can save on your budget is with food, which is very inexpensive throughout the country. In local establishments, most dishes cost about $5 US dollars. However, in touristy areas, you can expect prices to be higher. In Western style restaurants or tourist popular establishments, you might have to pay up to $15 US dollars for a meal.
If you want to include the price of drinks with your meal, you should tack on an extra $5 US dollars. Most alcoholic beverages are inexpensive in Tanzania and on average, people tend to spend less than $8 US dollars per day on alcohol.
While some aspects of your trip don’t seem that expensive because of the budget options, everything can change with the cost of activities. Without safaris, most people will spend $50-$100 US dollars per day in Tanzania. However, Tanzania is home to some of the best safari experiences on the continent and it is understandable that you would want the opportunity to get out and experience Africa’s wildlife.
Whether you’re visiting Tanzana only to go on safari or you simply want to throw a safari into your mix of experiences while you travel around the country, you need to be prepared to pay the high cost of park fees and tour guides. On average, people will pay $350-$400 US dollars per day of their safari.
The vast majority of people choose to go safari for a week, which gives them the best chance to get out and view Africa’s Big Five game animals (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo). However, travelers who are on a budget may be able to find a safari experience that costs about $300 US dollars per day. To save money, budget traveler will normally only go on safari for one or two days.
At a minimum, a weeklong safari will cost $2,500 US dollars. However, luxury safari experiences will cost significantly more and at a minimum, you should expect to pay $7,000 US dollars for a weeklong experience. However, safaris really do go all out and some of the most expensive safaris in Tanzania cost up to $14,000 US dollars per person for a weeklong adventure.
How to Get Around
Another big expense during your trip will be the cost of transportation. Domestic flights are the fastest way to get around but not the most affordable option. Buses are affordable but not very reliable. Driving yourself can be a hassle, but if you can afford it, a private driver is an alternative option.
For travelers who are willing to board small planes to travel quickly, domestic flights are the best option to getting to all your must-see Tanzanian destinations. There are multiple domestic airlines that service the country and they can fly all around the mainland or to Zanzibar. However, most domestic flights will cost $78-$260 US dollars per trip.
Travelers on a budget should use the local buses to get around the country. While the buses have a wide network of routes, they are not always the most reliable with schedules and they are often overcrowded. However, the introduction of express buses has improved the system and traveler’s experiences. Most bus tickets will cost $25-$40 US dollars per trip. Long distance traveling costs more but considering that some bus rides can be up to 15 hours long, the prices are very affordable.
Without experience, driving in Tanzania can be downright scary, but private drivers are an option for tourists who want a reliable and less crowded way to get around the country. While short transfer distances are more affordable and cost $30-$50 US dollars, private cars that take you on tours to game parks or reserves may charge up to $150 US dollars for their services.
Trains and Ferries
Other ways to get around Tanzania include trains and ferries. Trains are more convenient and faster than buses and they cost about the same. Ferries are an option if you want to visit some of the islands in Zanzibar and the tickets normally cost about $35 US dollars.
Top Cities to Visit
Unlike most countries where the capital is the star, Tanzania’s most popular cities to visit are far from Dodoma. From the coast to the African Great Lakes, here are the top cities to visit in Tanzania.
Located in Zanzibar, Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is an old trading port. The crumbling architecture of the town makes the destination unique, but beautiful. In Stone Town, tourists can explore the local culture and see how the foreign influences have combined with local traditions. Some of Stone Town’s most notable attractions include the House of Wonders, Old Fort, and Christ Church Anglican Cathedral.
Dar es Salaam
Acting as the mega port city in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam is a popular tourist destination. Dar es Salaam is also the country’s largest city and it is home to over 2.5 million residents. Most international tourists will arrive in Dar es Salaam, as the international airport is located just outside of the city center. With a busy waterfront, Botanical Gardens, and National Museum, there is plenty to see and do in Dar es Salaam.
Sitting at the base of Africa’s famous Mount Kilimanjaro, Moshi is the go-to town for people who will be or have climbed to the mountain’s peak. Moshi is also a region that is known for its production of coffee. For those who are not focused on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, other activities in the area include horseback riding, camping, and hiking. Other highlights include the Kikuletwa Hot Springs, Lake Chale, and Materumi waterfalls.
Points of Interest
While some cities have become popular tourist attractions, most people visit Tanzania for its famous points of interest. From wildlife parks to mountains, here are the top points of interest in Tanzania.
Serengeti National Park
Shared with Kenya (Masai Mara), Serengeti National Park is the most famous conservation area in Tanzania. It is also the place where most people choose to go on safari. This park is famous for being the location where more than one million wildebeest make their annual migrations. There are also over 2,500 lions within the park and it is here that you’ll have your best chance of viewing the King of the Jungle. The best way to explore Serengeti National Park is by booking a safari through the nearby lodges and cabins.
A major attraction for world-class climbers, Mount Kilimanjaro is an icon in Tanzania and the African continent. At the base of the peak is the Kilimanjaro National Park, which can provide chances to view local wildlife like elephants. If you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, you need to train. However, shorter pathways that go partially up the peak also provide great views into the landscape below.
Mafia Island is a world-famous scuba diving and snorkeling destination. The Mafia Island Marine Park is the main attraction and the protected waters give explorers the chance to see rare ocean wildlife like sea turtles and whale sharks. Beautiful beaches also line the island with Ras Kisimani being one of the most popular destinations.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Home to the Ngorongoro Crater, this conservation area is famous for having a high density of lions. Other wildlife species include black rhinos, hyenas, leopards, and cheetahs. Guided tours are available, and they are the best way to venture through the area.
Ruaha National Park
For a chance to see giraffes, you will want to head to Ruaha National Park. Less crowded than the more popular Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, this park gives you an excellent opportunity to the wild side of Tanzania. With sightings of cheetahs and even lions, this park is an excellent choice for travelers who want avoid hordes of tourists.
Lake Manyara National Park
At the heart of this national park is Lake Manyara, which takes up more than one third of the area. However, this freshwater resource is crucial for the local wildlife, which means that your chances of spotting an animal is almost guaranteed. The best time to view the local wildlife is from June to September.
Arusha National Park
This national park is most famous for being the site where Mount Meru is located. While the mountain is a main attraction, guests can also explore the park and even try a new experience. Unlike most of Tanzania’s parks where it is only safe to travel with a safari, the Arusha National Park is a prime spot for avid hikers and climbers. Guides are popular options for people who want to take a walking safari.
Lake Natron is deadly to most animals because of the high pH levels and chemicals. However, one animal that flourishes in the area are the lesser flamingos. Many people want to view this unique lake with their own eyes and view the large flocks of flamingos, which use the area as a breeding ground. However, the flamingos are not annual visitors, so you will have to time your visit just right. Usually, the flamingos are spotted once every three to four years.
Mikumi National Park
With plenty of flat grassland, Mikumi National Park has an incredible landscape where it is easy to spot the wildlife from a distance. As a safari only destination, you will need to have an approved guide take you through the park. However, some of the best wildlife sightings include giraffes and the unique midget elephants. With shorter tusks, these elephants have mostly avoided poachers, which means that they are able to flourish in this beautiful park.
Get Out and Go
As the location to some of Africa’s icons, Tanzania is one of the best places to explore on this vast continent. With less crowds than some of the other African countries, but home to famous national parks, Tanzania is the ideal location to go out on safari. There are dozens of opportunities to explore the natural landscape and when you aren’t watching the wildlife, you can soak up the local culture and cuisine.