Tanzania must have had some Kellogg’s for breakfast because it’s got it all. The country is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 5,895 metres, the vast plains of the Serengeti, the animal paradise of the Ngorongoro Crater and the picture perfect beaches of Zanzibar and the Indian Ocean Coast.
Tanzania is an amazing destination, but it does still hold certain challenges for visitors. One of our consultants, Leigh-Ann, recently travelled to Tanzania and came back with these practical travel tips.
All the guides and transfer drivers generally speak good English and are always eager to give information. But most of the population speak Swahili and very little English. Swahili is one of those languages where for the most part you say it like you spell it, so it is extremely easy to pick up a few key words to help you through. Jambo – hello, Karibu – you’re welcome, Sante – thank you, and so forth. Ask your guide about some key words and keep a short diary of these to use along your travels.
Currency in Tanzania is the Tanzanian Shilling, but US Dollars are widely accepted as long as the print run is past 2005. I found that most places will give you change in USD if you pay in USD, and TZ Shilling if you pay in Shilling, even the smaller shops and vendors. All tourism services will accept US Dollars and guides welcome tips in USD. If possible, travel with smaller denomination notes. Credit cards are also accepted at most properties with telecommunications signal.
Arusha, a city in the north of Tanzania and the main hub for safari tourists, has two airports – Kilimanjaro Airport and Arusha Airport. Arusha Airport is mainly used for regional (internal) flights and is about 10 minutes from the city centre. Kilimanjaro Airport is used for the international flights and is about an hour from the city.
If you have an international departure flight with a delay of more than five or six hours at Kilimanjaro Airport we recommend returning to Arusha city and arranging a day room at one of the properties close by, such as Legendary Lodge or Arusha Coffee Lodge, and then transferring to Kilimanjaro Airport closer to your departure time. Kilimanjaro Airport has one restaurant and a few kiosks, but no comfortable areas for guests in which to spend a considerable amount of time.
Tipping has become a way of life for all involved in the tourism industry in Tanzania. As visitors, it is important to attach the correct value to service and not encourage an expectation for tips. For example, locals have learned to ask for money whenever their picture is taken, so it is good to check with your guide first before you snap away. You will need to allow a certain budget for tips throughout your trip though. Your consultant will give you some brief information about tipping before you travel, do check if there is anything you are unsure about. Tips are accepted in US Dollars as well as Shillings and preferably in cash.
Always check the inclusions and exclusions carefully for your trip. There are various packages available at every lodge and the inclusions differ throughout. Many lodges can only offer complimentary services within the confines of their lodge grounds. Experiences such as bush dinners, bush sundowners, even bush walks require special permits and are charged separately. Chat with your consultant about experiences which are high on your to-do list and your consultant will try as best as possible to accommodate your requests before you travel.
Don’t underestimate hydration on safari. Guides will always supply water on vehicles and in camps, but it is worth it to travel with your own sturdy water bottle and bring rehydration salts. Changes in elevation and wind chill factor on safari are often factors overlooked for dehydration. Water is not necessarily always safe to drink at the tented camps, but mineral water will be provided instead. Most camps in the Serengeti do not have permanent status and their water is not considered safe to drink. They will provide bottled water for consumption and to brush teeth.
Tsetse flies are a nuisance and there is currently no prevention for their painful bites! They will bite through thick material. Locals have found that a mixture of equal parts Dettol (antiseptic solution), water and baby oil in a spray bottle sprayed directly on the skin may work the best as a deterrent. It may be worth preparing a solution before you travel, although it is never foolproof. They are attracted to dark colours like black or blue, so sticking with neutral light colours is your best preventative. To alleviate bites, the best bet seems to be a natural astringent oil like tea tree oil. It is worth chatting with your GP before you travel, particularly if you are susceptible to insect bites to ensure you travel with the correct antiseptic creams and antihistamines specific to you.
Prepare yourself for long stretches on the road, even if transferring between airstrips and lodges. Most airstrips service several lodges and are not private. In some instances, the transfer can be up to two hours. Much ground is covered during game drives as well so guests can expect to be out of camp for a considerable amount of time. If you find you tend to get a little hungry between meals it is advisable to keep snacks in your bag. If you can’t bring your own snacks chat to the lodge about preparing a small snack pack for you before you head out for the day. Many vehicles may not stop in the national parks for bush breakfasts or coffee stops without special permits so they tend not to pack any mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks.
Binoculars are extremely handy on all game drives as well as a good zoom lens of some sort on your camera. This is because there is no off-roading permitted in the national parks and game can sometimes be a fair distance from the road. While there is generally a decent road network in place, it is not always possible to get up close to a sighting.