© Corinne and Noel Fenech 2019

Shots and Tales - Enabling Independent and Responsible Travel

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    Top Tips for Travel to Tanzania and Zanzibar

    In each one of our Shots and Tales articles, we give detailed insights into our journey.  This article provides a collection of our top tips when it comes to:

    Zanzibar Tips

    Zanzibari culture is very different from Tanzanian, mainly because of historic as well as religious differences.  Zanzibar is 99% Muslim.  Zanzibar hospitality is very good, and we felt safer in Zanzibar than in mainland Tanzania, even though the cultural differences are very pronounced.

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    If you want to go to for a boat ride from Nungwi, ignore touts and travel companies.  Go to the beach early in the morning and talk to the person who distributes boats.  Bargain for $35 per person or less

    Dress conservatively in line with local customs. Zanzibari people are not too strict but if you veer away from touristic places, people are more aware that you are an outsider

    If you have time for just one boat ride, choose Tumbatu over Mnemba. There are less fish, but also much less people, and the coral reef is still alive and fascinating

    Money Tips

    Money is a big deal in Tanzania.  It’s important to get it right, as one may end up spending way more than required. Our article Money Matters in Tanzania gives all the details.  In the meantime, here are a few tips:

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    ATMs are not easily found outside of main areas, so it is wise to plan ATM stops ahead.  Get dollars from home and dispense Tanzanian Shillings from ATMs. Cards usually allow you to withdraw 400,000 shillings per day. We preferred to use Lombard and CRDB bank ATMs as they are from larger, more reputable banks. Try to use up Tanzanian Shillings before dollars, as it is easier to change back Dollars to other currencies once outside Tanzania

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    Roaming calls and data in Tanzania can be very expensive.  It pays to buy a local Sim Card, especially to use data.  We opted to buy an Airtel Sim card, loaded with 10GB.  This was much more than enough data to go around.  We had quite good coverage but it is expected that there is patchy coverage in wilder areas, especially the Serengeti Lobo area

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    You are expected to bargain hard, so never buy a souvenir at asking price.  When the seller gives you the talk that he cannot go down any more, it’s probably fake.  Think…would I buy a souvenir at this price in my country? And then divide by two

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    Keep small change for tips, because you need a lot of it!

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    Most hotels offer wi-fi in main areas, but not in the rooms.  This is obviously very good for sales as you are expected to buy at least a drink when using wi-fi.  Having said that, there was quite good wi-fi in most of the places

    Many tours will take you to ‘Tip Traps’.  These are places where people play on generosity of tourists to get some extra income.  Most of these causes are probably worthwhile, but the way it is done is a bit cheeky.  These are some examples:

    1. We visited a family home in Zanzibar.  After explaining how a household works, the guide says “this is a very poor family and they have just got married” and leaves it at that with an awkward pause of silence

    2. A big prominent tip box in the middle of the classroom at the Maasai Boma.  Which heartless tourist wouldn’t donate for a school? Right?

    3. Being invited to look at a school, kids sing for tourists and then they are asked for a donation.  Again…which heartless tourist wouldn’t donate for a school?

    4. People who ‘assist’ in souvenir shops want a tip for their services

    5. Porters literally swarm to get your bags and visibly get angry when you carry them yourself. This is common practice both at hotels as well as at airports

    6. Tour guides take tourists to shops for a cut of profits.  The shopkeeper explains how things are done and then there is an expectation to buy.  Mind you, this does not just happen in Tanzania, but in Tanzania there is more expectation to buy than in other places

    In Tanzania cash is king and you will hardly ever find places where credit cards are accepted.  You will need a mix of Dollars and Tanzanian Shillings.  In Zanzibar, people tend to prefer Tanzanian Shillings whilst in Tanzania mainland, particularly Arusha and Serengeti areas, people prefer dollars.  Keep a good note of the dollar-shilling conversion rate as when you are asked a price in one currency and you prefer to pay in the other currency, the rate of conversion is always higher than the normal rate

    Apprehension as approaching Tanzanian airports is very evident for many people.  It is an experience in its own right.  With the right attitude, it is not an insurmountable experience:

     

    Safari Tips

    A safari in Tanzania usually means that you will ride on a 4x4 vehicle.   There are open top as well as open air vehicles.  Safaris, take place in National Parks as well as Conservation Areas and vehicles are driven on designated game drive, dirt roads.  Given that wildlife is abundant, toilet and lunch breaks are usually done in selected areas, though it’s not unusual for a short toilet break behind a bush after a thorough scan of the area. Benches for lunch and toilets in lunch stops as well as camps are usually clean.  Safari guides and drivers keep radio contact, and it is normal to have a fridge and power supply in the vehicle.  Nights can be spent in a variety of lodges from luxury resorts to camping grounds.  For more insights, have a look at the Shots and Tales from our safari adventure.  These are our top tips:

     
     

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    Bring appropriate clothes but don’t over-do it:

    • Opinions vary about whether you should wear neutral colours, so it is best to follow guidance from your safari operators

    • You will see people covered from head to toe and others wearing skimpy shorts.  We chose trousers and short sleeve t-shirts and we were just fine

    • Remember to carry a jacket as well as lighter clothes since temperatures can vary widely

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    Spend as many days in nature as possible.  Luxury in accommodation will only diminish the impact of the beauty of nature

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    There’s no such thing as just another zebra.  When spending multiple days on safari, it’s natural that when you see an animal you have already seen before, it will no longer be a novelty.  The moment you feel that ‘Oh it’s just another zebra’, remember that the only zebras you will see in a couple of weeks, are the ones painted on the streets

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    Don’t go just looking for the elusive cheetah or leopard.  Enjoy every minute of it, marvel at nature, animals, sunrises and sunsets

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    Be aware of Insects:

     

    • Tse tse flies can be a real bummer! They are a fly-mosquito hybrid, abundant especially in woodlands and during the hottest hours of the day. Spray Deet and close the windows when near trees.  If you get bitten, don’t fret, it will pass

    • Mosquitoes are a nuisance and malaria is a treat (though it may not be as big as we imagine it).  Cover the feet but it’s OK to wear a t-shirt.  There’s no need to cover the neck, head and  hands and no need to be afraid of every insect that dares land within a two meter radius of the vehicle

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    If you plan on camping don’t forget to take with you:

    • The best zoom camera you can get your hands on

    • Towel

    • Toilet paper

    • Toiletries

    • Headtorch

    • Sleeping bag

    • Binoculars

    • Power bank

    • A first aid kit (hoping you won’t use it, but it may come in handy)

    • Malaria tablets (sometimes cause some nasty side effects though)

    • Deet spray

    • Sunblock 

    • Swimsuit (there are lodges with nice swimming pools)

    • Cap or Scarf to cover your head (when roads are dusty, so will be your hair, your clothes and everything in the vehicle)

    • Plastic sandals, to be used for the shower and for the evenings

    • Some soap for washing clothes

    • Pegs

    • A clothes' line (to hang any clothes you need to wash)

    • Pen and notebook

    • A keen sense of adventure

     

    Airports Tips

     

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    If you are stopped at airport desks, use the privilege of being a tourist! If this is your first visit, it’s ok to say it.  This way, you are not expected to know about bribery (“buqxiex”)

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    When landing at Dar es Salaam airport, note that the internal and international flight terminals are located in different buildings. As soon as you exit the airport you will be inundated with touts, so it’s best to be prepared.  Check beforehand whether your internal flight operator provides transport between terminals and head off to your internal flight operator’s desk.    We had not realised that Coastal Air offer free transfer, so we paid $10 for a 5 minute drive

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    If you are taking internal flights, travel light.  Internal flights have a 15kg limit (including hand luggage).  Note also requirements for luggage sizes and luggage types as soft bags are preferred

    The amount of bribery that goes on in airports is astounding and we had our own experience as well.  With a bit of people watching you will see a lot of 10,000 shilling bills going around.  However, officers in airports tend to be more demanding of Tanzanian citizens.  Do not bribe airport officials or police, this only gets them more into the habit.  If you have a good reason, fight it off by asking to call the Embassy or by speaking to their superior

    Number 1 Tip:  Tips are there to help you get by easier, so don’t let them dampen your spirits.   They are there to help you enjoy more your adventure.  As you will see from our Shots and Tales section, none of the nuisances spoilt our fun.  On the contrary, they made the experience more authentic, whilst learning a lot.