Full disclosure, Tanzania wasn’t exactly my favorite place to visit. I was often uncomfortable, or dripping with sweat, or unable to walk down the street in peace. This can happen almost anywhere, but it happened to me in Tanzania. I blame a large chunk of my unhappiness with the lodging I chose, but if I went back and stayed in a $500/night suite, I can’t say my feelings will change much.
Having said all of that, I hope you visit and decide for yourself whether Tanzania is the place of your dreams. I’d definitely go back and visit other areas and try different activities, but here’s what you should know before you visit Tanzania:
You’ll Most Likely Need A Visa
If you’re American like myself, then I’ll just tell you your visa to visit Tanzania is $100. You have the option to get a visa upon arrival (and risk standing in a long line after a day of flying) or you may be able to get a visa in your hometown. Because I’m based in Washington, DC, there is an embassy that I was able to visit. At this particular embassy, you can drop off your full application packet.
- You need to print out the document provided on their website and fill it out with requested information such as your itinerary and copy of your flight information.
- Have your $100 payment that can’t be cash or personal check (I opted for a money order).
- Two passport sized photos.
- Your passport (not a copy) and it must be valid for at least another 6 months.
Non US citizens can pay much less for their visa but the rules may differ slightly. Check out the Tanzanian Embassy Site to find out the rules for you. I dropped of my application on a Tuesday and was told to come back the following Tuesday to pick it up. It was that simple.
If Something Is 20 Minutes Away, It’ll Take 40 to Get There
You can blame the amount of time it takes to get from Point A to Point B on the roads (unpaved and pothole filled) or on traffic. The answer is usually both. It just is what it is so make sure you plan for it. If you know it’s going to take you an hour to get to/from the airport, allot two hours to be safe.
Don’t Count On Uber
When I needed to get from my hotel in Dar Es Salaan to the ferry to go to Zanzibar, I requested an uber an hour and a half in advance. Although the ferry was only about 15 minutes away, I wanted the full 30 minutes to be safe. I also wanted an hour of buffer time because I had no clue what to expect at the port and still needed to buy a ticket.
My first uber swas just 10 minutes away and seemingly on its way to me…until it wasn’t. After waiting about 15 minutes I looked at the app only to realize that the driver had cancelled for some reason. No biggie as I had ample time to spare. I just requested another ride. The second driver cancelled after just a few minutes of my eagerly staring at the app. I was hesitant to order a third uber as I was running out of time to comfortably make it to the ferry. I considered just going to the reception at my hotel and asking for a taxi but opted to try for one more uber. I stared at the app as the driver dropped someone off and appeared to sit in the same place for about 10 minutes.
Frantically searching the internet trying to figure out what’s the deal with Ubers in Tanzania, I came across an article (not Tanzania specific) that mentioned drivers purposely waiting so that it forces the rider to cancel, leaving the rider to forfeit money. Was that what was happening to me? Were they trying to force me to cancel? I would’ve hopped in a taxi and let them continue to wait before caving in and cancelling my ride.
Eventually my ride came and you guessed it, it was a long ride to the ferry. We made it with a few minutes to spare for me to buy my ticket and be escorted to the ferry. Third time’s a charm, right?
Ladies, Dress Modestly
I stumbled upon a Youtube video about what to expect in Tanzania a few days before boarding my flight. I’m not the “research beforehand” type of lady, so it never dawned on me to do so. I was looking to see what people actually did in the area of the country I’d be visiting, and found out that because of the large muslim population, women are expected to dress modestly. Even in 90 degrees, you ask? Yes, even in 90 degrees.
I quickly searched through my trunk of clothes for lightweight, long sleeved shirts, dresses, and pants. I had a few options that would hold me over until I made it to Zanzibar, where it was sort of okay to not follow the modesty rules as you’re mainly there for the beach and water activities anyway.
Everyone Will Want to Talk To You
What mostly put me off about Tanzania (especially when I arrived in Zanzibar) was the fact that I couldn’t walk down a single sidewalk without someone (read: everyone) trying to talk to me. At one point I started questioning myself. Is it me? Are my introverted ways turning me into an anti-social asshole? Possibly, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being annoyed. Annoyed at everyone expecting me to stop and chat, and when I didn’t I was often followed. And I won’t get into the instances when I didn’t even understand the Swahili being spoken to me, but the fact that I had my shoulders uncovered made it feel like whatever being said was 100% sexual harassment.
A friend who visited around the same time as me mentioned in a facebook post that everyone seemed to want something. And that’s when it dawned on me. I wasn’t being a bitch and annoyed for no reason. 98% of the time people stopped me or followed me to chat because they wanted something! I admire a hustle, but how many tours to the Old Slave Market does one woman need? I can remember one man who simply wanted to chat, although it seemed like he was flirting, but every other time, someone wanted me to allow them to whisk me away to some part of the town or another island, and pay them for their troubles. And that was beyond exhausting.
Hakuna Matata is a Real Phrase
If you visit the Old Slave Market in Stone Town Zanzibar, you’ll be required to purchase a ticket that comes with your own personal tour guide. I won’t spoil the tour, but know that there’s no entering the “market” without a ticket. Upon entering a church my guide explained the phrase “Hakuna Matata” and why everyone was saying it. If you watch my vlog (above) you’ll get the original meaning, but yes, it essentially means “no worries,” just like Simba said.
Don’t Go to Restaurants Hungry
I didn’t eat out much during my time in Tanzania whether it was Dar Es Salaam, Stone Town, or Nungwi Beach. I had the damndest time finding restaurants in certain parts and because of the heat, I barely had an appetite. However, when I did eat out, I could always expect to wait about an hour for my food.
I found out about this beforehand but it was very interesting to witness in person, especially when I didn’t order anything extravagant. I guess they make each order as they get, but still, there’s something weird about the wait. In any event, don’t wait until you’re starving to eat.
You May Want To Fly to Zanzibar
My flight arrived in Dar Es Salaam at about 11pm. That was the only reason I ended up staying on the mainland for two nights. Once it came time to head to Zanzibar, the ferry seemed to be the most affordable and quickest option. I could just head down the the port (not too far in advance like I’d have to do with a flight) and spend two hours sailing to Zanzibar. Or so I thought.
After exiting my uber, I was shuffled through a huge crowd of men hoping to become my porter for the day and guided to a ticket booth. The ticket was about $20 and not the $35 I’d expected, but I realized the ferry had a different name and that must’ve been the only difference. Wrong. I was on a ferry that took about 3.5 hours to reach Zanzibar, and from the looks of it, it wasn’t as fancy as the express version I’d seen online. Do yourself a favor and get your ferry tickets here.
If you’re staying near the airport, keep it simple and take the 20-30 minute flight to the island. It’s less of a hassle and sometimes just as cheap as the ferry. I wasn’t in the mood to go through the ferry experience again so to get from Zanzibar back to Dar Es Salaam to return home, I booked a $67 flight. I have no regrets.
Zanzibar’s Beaches May Be The Most Beautiful You’ll Ever See
I saved the best for last but also the one thing you can’t dispute when it comes to Zanzibar. It is home to some of the most beautiful beaches on earth. Clear blue, warm water that will cool you off on the hottest of days. I mean so clear that you can look down at your feet and see little fish swimming around them. The beaches were also pristine for the most part. It’s not often that in this day and age you come across beaches with virtually no litter, so enjoy it when you can.
While you’ll most likely come across chatterboxes, entrepreneurs, or plain ol’ admirers while trying to get your tan on, the beaches are enjoyable for the most part. I recommend finding somewhere quiet to set up shop and enjoying the sun. Also don’t be like me. Stay hydrated and be sure to slather on the spf. That sunburn is no joke.