An Essential Guide to Running in Tanzania

Running shoes on sand
Running shoes on sand | TheHilaryClark/Pixabay
Gill Lange

While everyone needs a break once in a while, there are also many who like to keep up with their fitness regime during a holiday. If you can’t bear to part with your running shoes, then here’s an essential guide to getting into your stride in Tanzania – where the streets of Stone Town offer twists and turns, the beaches of Zanzibar provide beautiful white sand, and the wilderness brings a breath of fresh air.

Don’t make a meal of yourself

If you are staying at a lodge or wildlife camp in Tanzania, then your running opportunities will probably be limited to your direct camp site. Many of Tanzania‘s wilderness lodges receive visitors of the wild variety in their immediate vicinity, so running off down a gravel road into the wide blue yonder is not recommended. Discuss your requirements with your accommodation establishment, as they will be able to tell you if there are any designated ‘safe’ areas for a jog. Most lodges however offer gym facilities, so a training circuit of two will still work up a sweat.

Wildlife of Tanzania, elephants

Timing is everything

Tanzania is a tropical country and as such can get very hot and humid. Due to its location close to the equator, the weather doesn’t vary much in temperature from summer to winter and generally hovers between 24 °C (75.2 °F) and 28 °C (82.4 °F). Add the humidity factor to the equation and midday runs could end up leading to dehydration and exhaustion. Even those acclimatised to running in the heat could find the sultry, tropical weather difficult to bare. Runners will fare best in the early hours of the morning, or just before sunset when conditions are cooler.

Sunset in Zanzibar

Time and tide wait for no man

So you’ve planned your route and set off at a sprightly 6:30am to hit the beach for a peaceful run along the shoreline, only to find when you get there that the beautiful, sandy trail you were planning to follow has disappeared! Some of the beaches in Zanzibar offer very little sand when the tide is high, and other elements such as the phases of the moon can also affect how far the sea encroaches on the shoreline. Make sure to check a tide table before heading out on your run, as wet trainers and soggy socks are no-one’s idea of fun. Also, bear in mind that wet sand and dry sand present completely different running conditions – each with its own benefits and challenges.

High tide

Respect the local culture

The vast majority of inhabitants in Zanzibar are Muslim and follow the Islamic faith. As a devout and deeply spiritual society, there are certain norms and religious expectations that travellers should take heed of and respect. While it may be enticing to kit up for a run in the tropics in little more than shorts and a vest, this would not be a wise move. Religious dress is conservative (especially for women), and at the bare minimum shoulders and midriff should be kept covered up. Although the jury is still out on exactly how conservatively one should dress when running, try to keep it as modest as possible.

Traditional Zanzibar dress

Never lace up after dark

No matter how tempting it may be to step out into the coolness of the evening for a moonlit run, joggers are strongly advised to keep their exercise regime to daylight hours. This is really a matter of common sense and could be true for many places in the world, especially if you are unfamiliar with the territory. Stone Town can become a maze of shadows and alleys after dark, and a lone jogger on a deserted beach is an easy target for an opportunistic lurker.

The shadows of Stone Town

Check the weather

Tanzania lies close to the equator and is often hot and humid. The country has a long and a short rainy season, when tropical downpours can be extremely heavy, and a dry season that generally lasts from June to October. However this doesn’t mean it never rains in the dry season, so check the weather before heading out on your run, as a light drizzle can soon turn into a torrential downpour.

Have a sense of humour

As strange as this may sound, having a sense of humour about yourself will make your running experience in Tanzania a lot more pleasant. Although the country has a couple of Olympic medals under its belt for athletics, the population as a whole does not really pursue running or jogging as an active pastime. Runners are therefore likely to be met with bemused expressions and sometimes stares while working up a sweat in their trainers. These baffled grins will often be accompanied by the local greeting of ‘jambo’ so wave, smile back and say hello.

Laughing children

Find a running buddy

This is more for the ladies than the guys, as Western women wearing ‘unusual’ clothing can attract unwanted attention. The old adage of ‘safety in numbers’ applies here and runners can have better peace of mind if they know there is someone with them. Firstly, remember that simply by running you are doing something that a large part of the local population considers rather odd, and secondly you are in your running kit, even though it may be modest. Although Tanzanians are mostly a courteous and friendly bunch, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

Two joggers

Keep your eyes open

If you choose to skip the beach and head for the colourful lanes of Stone Town or the dusty roads of Arusha for a run, then make sure you are alert and aware at all times. Although towns in Tanzania are a fascinating concoction of sounds, smells and colours, the streets can also get very busy. Cars, motorbikes, mopeds, bicycles, animals and other people all offer possible hurdles along your running trail, and one or more will most likely need to be negotiated along the way. Arusha is notorious for its chaotic traffic conditions and, unless you have an excellent sense of direction, it’s best you stick to the main roads that circumnavigate Stone Town, as they are less confusing to follow than the lanes of the inner city.

Football anyone?

While the Tanzanian locals may consider running an unusual and comical pastime, football is taken seriously and is a very popular leisure activity in the country. If you feel uncomfortable striding out onto the public roads or hitting the beach for a morning run, then a possible alternative is finding a football field. Here you can lap the circuit until your heart’s content and, if you bring along a football, you will soon find yourself with an eager team – willing to help you get some exercise and test your footy skills at the same time.

Football on the beach

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article