Travel Hacks For Tanzania, The East African Paradise

Rod Waddington/Flickr
Rod Waddington/Flickr
Photo of Shannon Thomson
9 February 2017

Tanzania is an exciting and wonderful place, but traveling in the country is not for the faint of heart. For some, travel in this East African paradise can seem a bit daunting. But with a few of these travel hacks, you’ll be well on your way to the trip of a lifetime in this incredible country.

Helmut Spudich/Flickr | Helmut Spudich/Flickr

Get connected

Most people in Tanzania communicate by phone, and if you need to reach someone, the best way is to give them a quick call. Emails can stay unread for weeks on end, so if you really want something done, pick up the phone. You can get all kinds of bundles that make text, calls and data cheap during your stay in Tanzania. To register a Tanzanian SIM card (for use in an unlocked phone), you will need a photocopy of your passport and can register at any mobile carrier shop. Be sure to ask them how to put a bundle on your phone while you’re there. You can buy vouchers for credit from any local kiosk — just tell them the name of your service provider and how much you want to buy.

Buy a kanga

The word kanga comes from the verb kukanga, which means ‘to wrap.’ Kangas are handy pieces of fabric that local women use to wrap around themselves, which can come in really useful when you are travelling in Tanzania. If you are female and you plan to visit rural areas, there are cultural expectations about dress and modesty (see point #3), which kangas can help with. Also, if you want to try your hand at Tanzanian cooking, kangas help to keep you clean while you try to fit in with social norms. Kangas can be bought in many shops and near most central markets. They all have a phrase or saying in Swahili across the bottom, so ask the seller to translate it for you if possible before buying, to make sure you are comfortable with it. Some kangas will have proverb type phrases on them, such as Polepole ya kobe imemfikisha mbali, which can be translate as “The slowness of the tortoise has allowed it to get far.” Others will have more religious messages, such as Neno la Mungu ni lamilele, which translates as “The word of God is eternal.”

Luigi Guarino/Flickr | Luigi Guarino/Flickr

Hide your knees

Tanzanians, especially in rural areas, have fairly strong views on modesty and don’t like seeing women in tight trousers or skirts above the knee. It’s also somewhat uncommon for men to wear shorts. This is, of course, not as applicable in urban areas and more important if you are visiting a rural area. Wrap your kanga around your usual clothes if you need a quick fix, or better yet, visit a local tailor and have a new skirt made out of Tanzanian fabric.

Travel by plane if you can or by bus if you have a good recommendation

There are a growing number of good options for low-cost plane travel in Tanzania through Fastjet, Auric Air and Precision Air. You can travel between most major cities by plane and this saves you hours on dusty roads. Tanzania is a surprisingly large country! Some places can’t be reached by plane and require bus travel, but do this with recommendations on good bus companies from local people. There are a number of good buses out of Dar es Salaam: Shabiby, ABC and others. If you do travel by bus, be sure to get your ticket at least one day in advance from the company office at the bus station.

Andrew Moore/Flickr | Andrew Moore/Flickr

Embrace your inner VIP

Travelling in Tanzania creates opportunities to take advantage of well-priced VIP options. When travelling on some buses (especially those out of Dar es Salaam), ask for a VIP bus and you’ll get air conditioning, on-demand movies and cold soda on your journey. If you’re attending a local football game or a music event, ask if they have VIP tickets. You’ll be thankful you did.

Warren Rohner/Flickr | Warren Rohner/Flickr

Attend local events

Once you’ve embraced your inner VIP, look for opportunities to attend local events. These are often advertised on the road with big fabric banners. Keep an eye out when you are coming into town on the bus or in your taxi for what’s coming up. If you miss the banners, ask a local resident what’s on and where you can find good entertainment. Be particularly attentive to signs for local music, craft and curio sales and food fairs — they’re all good fun.

missy/Flickr | missy/Flickr

Master some Swahili basics to help you on your way

Having a few basic Swahili phrases will really help you to get by in Tanzania. Although many people can speak English, particularly in urban areas, Swahili attempts are appreciated and well received.

Here are a few websites below give a good introduction to the language:

Here are some absolute basics:

  1. Habari? – How are you? (Literally, what’s the news?)
  2. Response – Nzuri (Good)
  3. Shilling ngapi? – How much (does it cost)?
  4. Moja (1), Mbili (2), Tatu (3), Nne (4), Tano (5), Sita (6), Saba (7), Nane (8), Tisa (9), Kumi (10), Elfu (thousand)
  5. Ndiyo (Yes), Hapana (No)
  6. Asante (thank you), karibu (you’re welcome)
  7. Sawa (okay)

Carry solar-powered lights

These Luci solar lights are fantastic because they are light, inflatable and charge up pretty quick. Leave them in a sunny spot during the day, so that when the power goes off at night, you won’t be stuck (be prepared that this does happen fairly regularly!). It saves you the trouble carrying a bulky flashlight and batteries. Speaking of batteries, carry a USB battery pack as well for charging phones, kindles, iPads, etc.

Conceal your valuables

This is a hard-and-fast travel rule anywhere you go, but consider this especially in densely packed urban centres in Tanzania. Where there is a lot of movement and people, it’s really easy for someone to pick out one of your valuables from your bag for themselves. Keep a hand on your bag in marketplaces, or even better, leave your valuables in a safe at your hotel and only travel with a little bit of cash.

Rod Waddington/Flickr | Rod Waddington/Flickr

Expect to wait for food

Expect to wait for food, especially in hotel restaurants. Most meals will take an average of 45 minutes to an hour to arrive — so get to the restaurant early, ideally before you are ravenously hungry, and have a drink or two and chat while you wait. If you want something quick, go for local food, a place with a buffet, or street food instead of hotels.

John Hickey-Fry/Flickr | John Hickey-Fry/Flickr

Travel with US dollars

Most ATMs can service international debit and credit cards but in some areas, they can be unreliable because of power outages, network problems or unstocked machines. Travel with US dollars to exchange at exchange bureaus to save you from getting stuck, but be careful that your bills are from 2006 or later, as many bureaus won’t accept bills older than 2006. In addition, travel with denominations of $50 or $100 for better exchange rates than on smaller bills. As above though, keep these safely out of sight and ideally locked away to avoid theft.

Use daladalas if you know the area, Bajaj or taxis if you don’t

If you know the area well, you can use daladalas (mini buses), but if you are new in town, these can be confusing as they are marked with areas of town that will not be familiar to you. Choose Bajajs (tricycles with covered seats) or taxis to get around if this is the case. Try to avoid bodabodas (motorcycles) if you can, as these drivers can be a bit reckless and you’ll often have to travel without a helmet.

Gary Gale/Flickr | Gary Gale/Flickr

Be careful to avoid getting sick

One of the worst setbacks on your trip to Tanzania is traveller’s diarrhea. Avoid this by carrying hand sanitizer with you so you can clean your hands before eating. When choosing what to eat, be cautious with street food. Some street food is amazing and well worth the trip down an alleyway to get it. Other street food is dubious at best and should be cautiously avoided. Try to get recommendations from other travelers or local people before venturing out for street food.

Charlotte Nordahl/Flickr | Charlotte Nordahl/Flickr

Take photos, but not of people unless you ask them

Tanzania is an exciting and beautiful place, and you will want to remember your trip through the photos you take. However, err on the side of caution when taking photos of people. Ensure that you ask them if it’s okay to take their photo (pointing to your camera and giving a thumbs up or asking ‘sawa’? or ‘okay?’ will be understood). Some people will want a small payment for taking their photo, if you are happy to give it, feel free. If you are not, look for another photo opp.

kaythayney/Flickr | kaythayney/Flickr

Barter, no price is a fixed price

Tanzanians love to barter, and they are good at it. Make it into a game so you don’t feel too awkward and see if you can get a lower price than what they originally offer. Ask them if they can ‘reduce a little’ to try to bring down the price or if they can ‘help you out;’ these phrases are often understood as part of the dance of bartering. Expect that they will push back to try to get a higher price, so don’t be afraid to use your best negotiating skills. You will eventually reach an impasse, though, so know what you are willing to pay and if the final price is still above that, just walk away. You can often find something similar in another shop and give it another try.

Roman Boed/Flickr | Roman Boed/Flickr

Say hello or Mambo!

Tanzanians love to greet, giving a quick hello in the street, on the phone or in local offices. Be prepared for this as you walk down the street, as many people will want to say hello to you and some may even want to walk with you a little way. Be friendly and say hello to those you pass by. Kids especially like to say hello to visitors and love it when you return the greeting. That said, don’t be afraid to tell someone who has decided to walk with you that you prefer to walk alone, particularly if they have something to sell that you aren’t really interested in buying. Saying ‘asante’ (thank you) is understood by many as ‘no thank you,’ helps you be polite but avoid unnecessary badgering.

Michael Denne/Flickr | Michael Denne/Flickr

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