Guest Post: 18 Things to be aware of when backpacking and hitchhiking in Tanzania and Zanzibar
Backpacking and hitchhiking in Tanzania and Zanzibar
1) Visa friendly for much of the world
Depending where you’re from but it’s possible to get three months entry for $50. And if you visit any country in East Africa such as Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zanzibar, you won’t have to pay on re-entry.
ⓐ No visa – 90 days
Citizens of the following countries do not require a visa to enter for up to 90 days:
Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Gambia, Ghana, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey, Guyana, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Jersey, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Swaziland, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe
ⓑ Visa on arrival – 90 days
Citizens of all other countries except the ones listed below can get a visa on arrival for 90 days:
Afghanistan, Abkhazia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Palestine, Senegal, Somalia, Somaliland, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan Sri Lanka
The entry requirements (documents etc..) for visiting Tanzania can be found here.
ⓒ Mandatory Yellow Fever vaccination
Yellow fever vaccinations are obligatory for citizens of the following countries:
Angola, Argentina, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, French Guiana, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan, Suriname, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Venezuela
Crossing to Zanzibar
2) No visa drama and how to get there
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago that, although has its own president and parliament, still answers to Tanzania’s ruling (the name Tanzania is a combination of Tanganyika – the colonial name under Germany – and Zanzibar). You don’t need a separate visa to travel to Zanzibar (assuming you have a Tanzania one) but you still need a passport to get in even if you got stamped in Tanzania.
To get to Zanzibar you can fly in or take the ferry from Dar es Salaam. There’s the fast ferry that takes 90 minutes or the slow ferry that takes three hours and is cheaper (cheapest ticket is with The Flying Seahorse ticketing office). Going back to Dar es Salaam is either the fast ferry or the night ferry which leaves at 8 p.m. and arrives at 5 a.m. the following morning. You sleep on the ferry when it docks somewhere in the south of the island. Just make sure it runs as I was caught out with the night ferry being serviced in Mombasa. You can also get a local fishing boat from Pangani about a hundred K’s north of Dar. A bit pricer unless you have 15 people together to share the $150 boat hire and it goes to Nungwi in the north rather than Stone Town in the central west.
Food & Drink
3) What food to expect
Like everywhere else I’ve been in Africa, the staple local cuisine is ugali (pap in South Africa, nshima in Zambia, nsima in Malawi) made from corn flour (or maize, as is the local term) which they eat three times a day. I can only tolerate it once a day as it sits like a brick in your stomach. It has no protein and is 100% carbohydrates. It is also very hot (temperature-wise) so let it cool down a bit. In Tanzania, in the Msouma area around Lake Victoria, they also offer red ugali which has more flavour as it’s mixed with cassava.
The fruits are mainly pineapples, mangoes and passion fruit. Avocado and apple-pears are also popular. Spiced porridge is also a popular entrée before dinner and is mainly spiced with cinnamon.
Rojasoup / Zanzibar soup is a great breakfast dish full of potatoes, pastries, meat and some undecipherable stuff that tastes great. You shouldn’t pay more than 1,500 shillings.
Zanzibar Pizza is a savoury pastry dish filled with your choice of veggies, meat or, for the sweet palates, Nutella with choices of banana, mango, peanut butter, cinnamon and pieces of Snickers or Mars Bars. Quite the heart-stopper.
Stone Town hosts a night food market full of culinary wonders from seafood to sweet stuff. Always get the price before buying or you’ll get taken for a ride. And I’d avoid the seafood at the market as you don’t know how long it’s been out. By all means, eat seafood but as a rule, however, I only eat seafood in towns by the sea. Cause then you know it’s fresh.
All food is cooked over charcoal fire, usually outdoors. Order food about an hour before you actually want to eat. It takes that long to cook. African time.
4) Short on cash?
Ugali is the cheapest feed you can get with a side of chicken/pork/goat/beef/fish and some steamed vegetable like spinach. It’s traditionally eaten with your right hand.
Rice and beans are also popular. A dish will cost you about 1500 Shillings at a local eatery and is eaten everywhere (to compare, western food – pizza, burger – ranges from 10,000 to 20,000 Shillings).
Goat soup is traditionally a breakfast dish, chapatti, skewers of beef or chicken (I recommend the beef over the chicken) and my favourite – Chips Miyi: hand-cut potato fries with egg, salad and chilli sauce, 2000 shillings in local places.
5) What to drink?
Chai is the local spiced tea and is served with or without milk.
Tanzanians drink sodas such as Coke or Fanta. A lot of them will drink beer or Konyagi, the local gin. It’s cheaper to buy a small flask at about 4,000 shillings and share that around with tonic. Cheap spirits are sold in plastic sachets. These are the burn-a-hole-in-your-stomach kinda spirits so eat something before getting on the piss. A local homemade moonshine is called pombe made from papaya. Jebel is coconut liquor. And there’s also banana beer which I didn’t get a chance to sample (and have heard that I haven’t been missing out).
In Zanzibar, avocado smoothies are a must. Coconut and sugar cane juice are on all street corners. The former is a great hangover cure, the latter in a great pick-me up after a night of drinking
Tea is more popular than coffee.
On the mainland water from the tap is best boiled first or sip it slowly to allow the stomach to get used to it. I didn’t have any issues drinking from the tap but then again, I have the stomach of a Tiger shark. Please note though, that in Zanzibar water safety is an issue. The water from the tap tastes as thought it’s filtered directly from the ocean. Although I used it for brushing teeth and showering, don’t drink it. Even locals buy bottled water.
Local beers are Kilimanjaro, my favourite with a great slogan – “If you can’t climb it, drink it”. Safari is alright. Serengeti and Tusker are strong flavoured. Ndouvo is perhaps the best and the only beer sold in a 330ml bottle. The others are all sold in 500ml bottles.
6) Where to sleep?
You’ll be surprised where you can find couchsurfers in Africa. From the smaller, lesser known towns and villages to the big cities. I only stayed in one guest house in Dar es Salaam called Q-Bar down in Coco Beach. Accommodation options vary widely, with limited options off the normal tourist hot spots.
The peak season is July, August and the Christmas holidays so you can expect higher prices at these times. During off season, especially from March to June, it is often possible to negotiate prices down, sometimes up to 50%.
I’m sure that wild camping is available. As is with any African nation, always ask permission from the locals to pitch a tent.
7) Mostly hot, hot, hot but watch out for the rain
There is a great variation of weather within Tanzania, mostly depending on the season and the elevation. In the highlands temperatures range from 10 – 20 °C regardless of the period (hot or cold seasons). The rest of the country is a lot hotter with temperatures rarely falling below 20°C all year round. The hot season, which lasts from November to February on average, has temperatures ranging from 25–31°C while the colder period, between May and August, temperatures are closer to 20°C.
It’s hot in the day with temperatures reaching mid-30s. From the crack of dawn it can already be in the late 20’s, cracking the 30° by 8 a.m. Depending on the season, the nights are cool, especially in the south of Zanzibar but a fan is a must.
There are two wet seasons in Tanzania which cover different areas of the country. Between October – April, the southern, central and western parts of the country experience extremely wet weather. From March – May, the areas north of Lake Victoria and east to the coast are the ones to get wet. And when it rains? Bring a kayak.
Culture & traditions
Tanzania is mix of Muslims, Christians and pagans that still practice in witchcraft (they believe that Albinos possess powers and will kill or take a limb from them when they’re babies. Lesson: don’t be born an Albino in Africa). Everyone believes in either Jesus or Allah. Call for prayers for Muslims are five times a day starting at 4.30 a.m. Friday is the holy Muslim day and Sunday is the Christian day of rest. Zanzibar is predominately a Muslim country although, there are pockets of Christians.
9) Clothing – what’s appropriate and what’s not
It’s inappropriate for women to wear short-shorts and revealing skirts in the day (go to a club/bar and it’s a whole different world) but you don’t need a head scarf. It is recommended for women to cover their shoulders.
There’s no issue in wearing bikinis while going for a swim although it might be better to wear short-shorts rather than the bikini bottom (a lot of African men I’ve encountered have aspirations of sleeping with a white woman. Regardless of marriage).
Men can wear shorts. In Nungwi a lot of Italians go for their resort-catered holidays and all the men wear Speedos. Some things just don’t need to be seen.
Women tend to wear shitenges (African sarongs). Their hair is usually a weave made of either synthetic material or those that have money, human hair.
10) Gender roles and LGBT rights
Women do a lot of the field work. I’ve heard from volunteer medical professions that women will give birth and then 40 minutes later walk out with the baby strapped to their back and work in the field.
There is no gender equality. Once a man is married, the wife slaves about the house, cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping. She serves the man and any guests, pouring the water over his hands before meal times and at the end, setting the table and then clearing it.
Men and women don’t sit together at the table in most homes. The women will sit with the children on the floor in a separate room for meals while the men sit comfortably on seats and chow down.
Monogamy is non-existent on the male side. They’ll go out and have no qualms about sleeping with another woman. The wife, who may or may not know, won’t leave him either. He’ll probably father some kids from several different women.
Liberal attitude towards LGBT are scarce. Some places of accommodation have signs in the room that state that no two same-sex people can share a bed or even the room. Freddie Mercury, perhaps the greatest rock singer/performer ever to exist was born in Stone Town and although his home is a mini-tribute to him, the government refuses to make a proper tribute like a statue or name a street after him because of his sexuality (after he died, some British fans came to Zanzibar and had a party on the roof of his childhood home. The police broke it up).
11) Cleanliness and hygiene
Folks that live by a waterway use it for washing, bathing and cleaning of the dishes. You’ve never seen anyone so meticulously scrub themselves down like an African.
Toilets are usually outhouses and squats. Always carry toilet paper in case (most lodges have western toilets).
12) Conversation pointers
You’ll always be asked if you’re married and if you have kids. Also, be prepared for the look of incredulity if you say you aren’t and you haven’t.
Africans love the English Premier league. The majority support Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United.
Handshakes are in the 3-form variety – from the usual stance, to the switchback to the usual. And knuckles which you then tap your chest above your heart.
They’ll say ‘pole’ (pronounced: Po-lay) if anything happens to you: If you trip, rip your bag, swallow a fly, spill a drink.
Africans talk loudly as though they’re yelling and use a lot of hand gestures. Make sure you don’t get whacked in the head. They also struggle to pronounce the letter ‘L’. It will be pronounced as an ‘R’.
The Maasai tribe is one of the most feared tribes in Africa and therefore the warriors are used as security at almost every hotel, lodge and store front. You wouldn’t want to mess with someone whose bar mitzvah is to go into the bush with nothing but a spear and kill a full grown lion.
In Zanzibar you’ll see Maasai warriors on the beaches. They are fake Maasai, locals who have taken on the tribes fame to make a buck. A lot of them are gigolos swooning old European ladies for money.
14) What languages will you need?
There are over 120 languages spoken in Tanzania and no one language is spoken natively by a majority of the population. The most useful languages are Bantu Swahili (which is also spoken in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and English which serve as the two official working languages. The various ethnic groups in the country normally speak their mother tongue and, to varying degrees, the official languages.
The remaining languages can be divided into two broad language families: Niger-Congo, spoken by Tanzania’s Bantus and Nilo-Saharan, spoken by the Nilotic population.
Money & Costs
15) What are the costs?
Tanzania’s currency is the Tanzanian shilling (TSH). Bill denominations are 10,000, 5000, 1000, 500 with coins of 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 & 1 shilling(s). The smaller coins are rarely used.
Also, note that US dollar bills from before 2006 are not accepted for exchange anywhere.
Tanzania has local prices and tourist prices (locals pay less than a dollar to enter the national parks. Serengeti will set you back $60 USD a day). Always haggle as almost everyone will try and ride your pocket. Or, if you’ve made friends with a local, ask them to purchase something for you. Just keep in mind, everyone wants to make money off tourists – even friends.
Health & Safety
16) Health issues – mosquitoes, where not to swim and careful with the water
Mosquitoes are found everywhere so malaria is an issue. Travel with a mosquito net, use repellent and don’t camp by water ways. I don’t use any anti-malarial medicine but that’s not to say that you shouldn’t.
Don’t swim around Dar es Salaam. The city pumps its sewage into the waters. Also, don’t swim in Stone Town. It doesn’t have a sewage treatment facility so guess where all the waste gets pumped into? I spent some time with a marine biologist who confirmed this with tests she conducted concluding that “Stone Town is the only place in the world I’ve ever gotten an ear infection from diving”.
As mentioned before in Zanzibar the tap water is unsafe. Beer is a great substitute.
17) Crime issues – use your common sense
I always felt safe in Tanzania & Zanzibar but at night it is recommended to walk around in groups (especially females) as there are many drunks – especially in the main cities. I didn’t experience any crime but as is with anywhere, keep your valuables close. Always ask permission to take a photo of someone.
Police can be at parties as undercovers looking to catch people smoking weed as it is done openly. I was arrested at a party but I made the cops laugh and told them I had no money and in the end, with the help of the bar manager and her well connected local friend, I was released after a two-hour debate in which they failed to install fear in me (read the full story here.
Furthermore in Zanzibar be especially careful on the beach as boys are notorious for harassing tourists, especially girls.
18) Wild animals
Wild animals are everything African you can imagine. Most are contained to the national parks but I stayed in a village on the outskirts of the Serengeti National Park (which isn’t fenced) and was told how two lions came in the previous night and killed three cattle. The villagers killed the lions (the previous month 8 lions were killed in a similar raid).
The man-eaters are lions, leopards, hyenas, and crocodiles (although with the cats, it’s usually when they’re too old, diseased or have broken teeth that they resort to human flesh).
Although the grazers are more dangerous: elephants, hippos (biggest killer in Africa after the mosquito) and Cape Buffalo.
To ward off predators, you must do the unthinkable and charge at them without making eye contact (they see it as a challenge. Rather, stare at their nose). With grazers, run like Usain Bolt.
Baboons are ferocious beasts. Don’t fuck with them (their canines are longer than a lion’s). They’re not afraid of white folk and have a tendency to attack women. But they are scared of locals (so I’m told. I didn’t test this theory out).
I didn’t swim or snorkel on Tanzania’s coast having done all of that in Zanzibar. But there are marine reserves on the coast. Fire coral stings if touched and there are blue-bottle jellyfish that pack a punch. Watch out for sea urchins. If you step on one, DO NOT attempt to pull out the barbs (they’ll just break off). Wash the area with papaya juice (ask at any resort/restaurant and they’ll provide) and then whack the affected area with a wooden spoon to break up the barbs. It’ll make it easier for your body to absorb. I stepped on one and had six barbs in the bottom of my foot. I did the above and was partying that night and walking without a problem.
In Zanzibar the wild Red Colobus Monkeys can be found in the Johazani National Park. Snakes, spiders and reptiles like lizards and geckos are also around as are sand crabs, hermit crabs and coconut crabs.
written by: Simon (The Nomadic Diaries)
Tired of society’s rinse ‘n’ repeat lifestyle, Simon has decided to dedicate the rest of his life to hitch-hiking the globe without flying or using money. Instead, he barters for food and board and adventures. Life is one shot. Go live it.
Check out his blog at: thenomadicdiaries.wordpress.com
Photo courtesy: The Nomadic Diaries (unless stated otherwise).