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A Backpacker’s Guide to Tanzania

A Backpacker’s Guide to Tanzania

backpacker's guide to tanzania

Why Visit Tanzania?

From the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar to the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro, the vast untouched wilderness of Ruaha National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania has got it all.  With a favorable exchange rate ($1 = 2300 Tsh), not only is it budget-friendly, but has some of the best weather in the world.  The island of Zanzibar has made our list for the best places to visit in December, and it’s a popular honeymoon destination.  It might be the beginning of the rainy season, but the sun does come out to play.  It is also one of the best places to travel alone, solo-female traveler approved.  It is safe, and friendly Tanzanians curious about traveler are always happy to assist.  Getting into and around Tanzania is pretty easy.  Public transportation, though not very modern, is available and cheap, even in remote areas. For example, getting around the city of Dar es Salaam on the DART bus will cost you only 700 Tsh (~$.35). 

Most westerners will need a visa to enter the country, but you can simply fill out the application online.  A visa on-arrival is also possible, just make sure you have $50 or $100 notes for payments. TIP: the newer/crispier the notes, the better.  You do not need a separate one for the island of Zanzibar.  Again, Tanzania is a relatively safe country, especially since there is a heavy reliance on tourism, but petty theft IS an issue.  Like anywhere you travel, I always advise anyone to be vigilant and take proper precautions.  For example, if you are carrying valuable things, leave them at the hotel front desk.  They will keep them safe for you while you are out and about and provide you with a receipt.  For a list of things to know before you visit, check out our recommendations.

overview of Dar es salaam
City of Dar es Salaam

Start in Dar es Salaam…

As the biggest city in Tanzania and the one with the most international flights, flying into Dar es Salaam Julius Nyerere Airport is much cheaper than flying into the other airports in the country, Arusha or Zanzibar. Of note, KLM flights do have a direct from Amsterdam to Arusha, before finally continuing on to Dar es Salaam. Upon arrival to this coastal city, the best way to get from the airport to town is by taxi, Uber or public transportation. Taxi fare should be around 40,000 TZS (~$17) and you must settle on the price with the taxi driver before you leave. Depending on where you are staying in town, Uber fare should be at least 1/2 taxi fare. For buses, you have to leave airport grounds and walk to the main road, not ideal if you have a lot of luggage.

| Stay at Econo Lodge (basic with fan from $13, double with AC $39). If you want to splurge, another option is Chelsea Hotel (double from $39) located near the city center.

| For hostels, The Slow Leopard is one of the popular backpacker hostels and has good reviews.

| Do check out Kariokoo market, hang with locals at Coco beach or for privacy Kijiji beach, Mwenge Woodcarvers market for souvenirs.

| Eat at Samaki Samaki (karaoke on Wednesdays), Cape Town Fish Market, Shooters Grill. For an even cheaper but delicious meal, try Mamboz Corner, an outdoor bbq spot with the best chicken in town.

Jaw's Corner in Stone Town, Zanzibar
Jaw's Corner in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Next stop, Stone Town, Zanzibar..

After spending a couple of days in Dar es Salaam, move on to Zanzibar. Buy your ferry ticket the day before you leave to assure you get a seat. Recommend Azam Marine Kilimanjaro Ferry (economy $35, business $40, VIP $50 for one-way). Most hotels in Stone Town are within walking distance from the ferry terminal, but there are taxis available. The island of Zanzibar is very safe, especially for tourists because the people understand tourism is one of the primary drivers of the Zanzibari economy. If you are on a tight budget, your trip can cost as little as $25/day.

| Stay at Lost and Found Hostel ($5/bed) or Princess Salme Inn (rooms around $14). Kipepeo Backpackers near Nungwi beach in the north.

| Do Prison Island (around $14), Jozani Forest to see the red colobus monkeys, walking tour with a local (~$15 for 2 hours, and will include House of Wonders, former slave market, Africa house etc.), day tour to the beaches (for about $75 you can hire a taxi for the whole day with up to 3 people).

| Eat at Forodhani Gardens Food Market: a cheap spot with over 20 vendors selling everything from seafood bbq, coconut bread, sugarcane juice etc. Arrive early because the place gets packed around sunset.

zanzibar beach
One of the many beaches on Zanzibar

From Zanzibar to Morogoro…

Only 4 hours away from Dar es Salaam is Morogoro, Tanzania’s 6th largest city. There are plenty of buses departing Dar for Moro throughout the day, for only 8,000 TZS ($3.50). While there is nothing to really do in town, there is plenty going on around; with its location at the foot of the Uluguru Mountains, there are plenty of hiking opportunities.

| Stay at Amabilis Center (taxi from bus station 6,000 TZS/$2.75). Twin rooms are 20,000 TZS/$8.70 a night (doesn’t include breakfast).

Eat breakfast at Ricky’s Cafe next to the Post office on Old Morogoro Road. Have lunch/dinner head at New Acropolis hotel (only a 10 minute walk from Amabilis). The food is great, the sangria strong, and the service is very friendly. Ask for Dada Agnes if you want a massage or a pedicure/manicure.

Do go on a safari: Mikumi National Park is the 4th largest park in the country. Or you can go hiking at the Uluguru Mountains.

Aerial view of Morogoro with the Uluguru Mountains in the back
Aerial view of Morogoro with the Uluguru Mountains in the back

Next up…Iringa

About 4 more hours from Morogoro is the town of Iringa in the Southern Highlands. Iringa holds a lot of history; it was constructed by the occupying German military who used it as a fort to hold back the Hehe warriors. Just outside the town is the historic Gangilonga Rock, the spot where the Hehe chief, Chief Mkwawa held a meeting with his people on how to fight the Germans. Iringa was also ground zero for many battles during WWI and WWII. Bus fare from Morogoro is around 15,000 TZS ($6.50).

| Stay at Neema Crafts Guesthouse, a 10 minute walk from the bus station. Neema employs people with disabilities (particularly hearing-impaired) in an effort to change public attitudes. Single: 25,000 TZS ($11), double 45,000 TZS ($20), family room 65,000 TZS ($28.30), and dorm w/3 single beds 50,000 TZS ($22).  You can also stay at Alizeti Hostel (beds $6/night).

Eat at Neema Crafts Cafe. It serves delicious Tanzanian and western foods. The Mac ‘n cheese is delish. Another option is Hasty Tasty Too, right around the corner from Neema’s, on Uhuru Avenue.

| Shop on Maasai Alley for souvenirs. It’s right across from Hasty Tasty.

| Do a safari to Ruaha National Park, a 2 hour drive from Iringa, along the ‘Never-ending’ road. There are plenty of safari companies in Iringa offering trips to Ruaha and will pick you up from your hotel.

Day Trip to Isimila Stone Age Site.  In the 1950’s, archaeologists discovered tools estimated to be between 60 000 and 100 000 years old.  They also found fossilised bones of mammals; an extinct hippopotamus and something similar to the modern day giraffe but with a shorter neck.

Isimila rock formations
Isimila Stone Age site near the village of Mafinga (~30 min from Iringa)

Moving on to…Dodoma.

Take the early morning coaster (small bus) from Iringa for a 2pm arrival. Because there are plenty of buses between Iringa and Dodoma; early morning buses tend to be less crowded. Although coasters are much slower than buses, they are a more pleasant way to see the countryside. I have also found most to have plenty of legroom. Fare between the 2 cities is 10,000 TZS ($4.50). Although Dodoma is the capital of Tanzania, it is much smaller and less developed than Dar es Salaam. There is talks of a new bus station in Dodoma, but as of today, the main bus terminal is called Saba Saba (translates to 7-7). Saba Saba is located about 30 minutes outside of town, and the buses now don’t stop in-town. For most buses, you can let them know where to drop you off right as you get into town, as they will make a few stops then continue on to the bus terminal. To get back to town, there are plenty of taxis (around $6-7), but the small minibus should cost around 600 Tsh ($.30).

Independence Square in Dodoma
Independence Square in Dodoma

…on to Arusha/Moshi and the Serengeti

Buses for Arusha and Moshi leave Dodoma at 6am for a 2 pm arrival. The best bus is arguably Shabiby; modern and clean. Tickets for the bus should be about 30,000Tsh. Arusha is the 3rd largest city in Tanzania. It sits at the base of Mt. Meru volcano and used as a base/starting point for the northern circuit. The Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti are 2 1/2 and 6 1/2 hours from Arusha, respectively. Day trips are available to the Crater.

| Eat: Africafe near the Arusha clock tower.  Very good coffee, salads, and lunch options.

| Stay: Rich Hotel. 2 minute walk from main bus station. Clean with very friendly staff. For hostel options: Savannah House, The White House of Tanzania, The Greenhouse, Wakawaka Hostel etc.

Women selling fruits at mto wa mbu
Women selling fruits at a market in the village of Mto wa mbu

Because the Serengeti is a long ways from the town of Arusha, you can move closer and make your base in the village of Mto wa Mbu (translates to ‘river of mosquitoes.’  You will definitely want to bring your malaria pills because there are a lot of (big) mosquitoes.  It’s also a stone’s throw to the Maswa Game Reserve, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara National Park, and Tarangire National Park. The small town of Moshi is only an hour’s drive if you want to see Kilimanjaro up close.  To see Mount Kilimanjaro up close, the town of Moshi is only a 45 minute bus ride away.  Although the CDC travel recommends everyone to stay home while dealing with the covid-19 outbreak, use this inspiration during your mental break and plan for your next trip to Tanzania!

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