Archives February 25, 2021

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Tanzania Safari

Planning a safari conjures up images of stunning landscapes, spectacular animals, and luxurious lodgings set amidst pristine landscapes. Alas, it also conjures up some very expensive price tags. This was the exact dilemma I faced while planning my trip to Tanzania. Faced with a seemingly impossible dilemma, I dived into research and discovered camping safaris.

1. You Don’t Need Camping Gear. At Least, Not Much

Most camping safari outfitters include tents, camping chairs, all food and cooking supplies, and even mattress pads. You have the option of renting a sleeping bag, but I took my own — and I’m glad I did. I was just more comfortable having something that was never used by anyone else. I bought a very small, very lightweight sleeping bag for about $30 back home. It only took up a small corner of my bag. At the end of my trip, I asked my guides if I could give it to them and have them donate it to someone in need, and they were thrilled to do so.

2. Relax. You Will See Animals

Luxury lodges have their own airstrips but camping safaris have a whole lot of dusty driving and not much in the way of wildlife before you reach your initial destination. Whatever you do, don’t think of this as wasted time. Take the time to get to know your guides and pepper them with questions about the plants, flowers, trees, and birds. Their knowledge is extraordinary, and they’ll likely have field guides you can borrow to read up on all that you’re seeing.

Before you know it, you’ll be seeing animals. Lots of animals.

3. Don’t Get Too Hung Up On The Big Five

The lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros make up the “Big Five” — the ultimate safari bucket list. And while it’s fun to have a list, some folks take it a bit too far. I’ve seen guests who considered their adventure a failure because they didn’t see all Big Five on the trip. Your chances of seeing the Big Five (or not) on a camping safari are the same as any other kind of trip.

Speaking of the Big Five … in all my years of travel, I’ve never seen a leopard. But at least one leopard has seen me, and it’s all thanks to camping. Urgent bathroom needs convinced me to sneak out of my tent one night — just for a minute! — to quickly pee. The next morning, our guide pointed out the fresh, feathery remains of guinea fowl and reported that a leopard had spent the night just steps from our tent, enjoying his snack. After that report, I learned to hold it!

4. Camping Means Close-Ups

While not every safari participant has the opportunity to see a leopard, there’s no denying that this way of travel allows you to get up close and personal with the wildlife. On one memorable occasion, we awoke to see a firm path of deep, intimidating lion footprints — the pathmaker had meandered directly through our site just hours earlier. On another occasion, a hyena lay on its belly and watched us, from a safe distance, as we finished our evening meal. Birds loved visiting us as we set up camp. And because we stayed in the heart of Serengeti National Park, the minute we got in the jeep, we saw big animals.

5. Early To Bed, Early To Rising

The best safari experiences start early in the morning as the animals are enjoying the cool dawn temperatures. A camping safari is no exception. You’ll be awake before there’s light in the sky. However, unlike safaris that are based at a lodge, you won’t be coming back home for a quick nap after your first game drive of the day. Every day means packing up camp just as light is beginning to break. Typically, you go to bed in the early evening after the dishes are done.

If you’re not used to a 5 a.m. wake-up call or an 8 p.m. bedtime, a camping safari is a big adjustment. If I had to do it all over again, I would have gradually adjusted my sleep schedule a few days before my departure so my body would be used to the schedule.

6. Camping Food Is Impressive

If you think camping cuisine means beans and wieners, you’re going to be mightily impressed on a camping safari. We enjoyed fresh bread every morning, baked in the embers of last night’s fire. Dinners included chicken curry, stir fry with noodles, and a South African-style braai feast of sausages, steak, and more. We enjoyed desserts and sophisticated salads like beet and feta and, overall, I was thrilled with the food and the portions.

7. The Coffee Is Not

My only food-related complaints applied to coffee and tea. The instant coffee available at breakfast and break time left much to be desired. I suddenly realized just what a coffee snob I am! I had some coffeeshop brand instant coffee and latte mix with me, and it offered a welcomed change. Tea drinkers will want to note that just one kind of black tea is usually available. If you love tea, a box of assorted flavors would be a welcome treat for the entire group.

8. Your Camping Chores Are Actually Pretty Easy

Some camping safaris offer deluxe tents (which are set up for you as you’re enjoying an evening game ride), spacious outdoor showers, and some extra comforts. But the most hands-on and affordable experience is a participatory camping safari. “Participatory” is just a fancy way of saying you’ll be helping out with the chores. Turns out, they’re pretty easy. You’ll assist as the guides set up your tents, you’ll help unload folding chairs and tables from the truck, and you’ll lend a helping hand when the canvas frames of the shower and toilet are being installed. You truly need no camping skills, just a willingness to help out.

9. Think Twice About Your Safari Wardrobe

You’ll dress much differently for a camping safari than you would a lodge trip. Cool, casual clothing is paramount for your comfort. I’m glad I brought thin, loose, comfortable trousers made from quick-dry material. I even slept in them some nights! I was especially thrilled with my choice when it came to the awkward climb in and out of the safari vehicle. I was equally happy that I brought along a classic Tilley hat, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt (for layering against the early morning chill), and a somewhat stereotypical “safari” shirt. While I never put the endless pockets to use, it was incredibly lightweight and dried in an instant.

Far less comfortable were the athletic-style tops that promised to wick away moisture and keep me cooler than a regular cotton shirt. They just clung to my body and didn’t allow for any fresh-air circulation. All. Day. Long. If I could do it all over again, I’d swap them out for extra safari shirts and regular everyday t-shirts.

10. Camping Showers Are Awesome (And A Bit Awkward)

I’m not sure a shower has ever felt so refreshing as the one I enjoyed after two days of safari adventures. Thanks to my clingy wardrobe of athletic fabrics, I was overheated, horribly sweaty, and dust clung to me like that was its job. Our camp shower consisted of a simple four-sided canvas shelter with a flap of fabric for a door. A perforated rubber mat was comfortable underfoot and ensured you didn’t stand in the mud. A folding chair just outside the fabric flap was convenient for storing towels and supplies, while a cone-shaped bucket with a showerhead nozzle hung from the tree overhead and provided a surprisingly strong stream of water. A quick scrub never felt so good! But wriggling in and out of my vexing wardrobe was an exercise in frustration! Yet another reason to bring a few things that are loose and breezy.

Pro Tips: When To Visit And Additional Safari Advice

Serengeti National Park is gorgeous all year round but would-be visitors should note that the dry season typically runs from July to October and the rainy season goes from April to May. Game viewing is considered best between late May and November, but in April and early May, the lush grass is thick and long after months of ample water. As such, animals have superb camouflage and game viewing is more challenging.

Tanzania Travel Tips & Useful info

Planning a safari adventure to Tanzania and want to know a little more about the country? Not sure if you need to take malaria pills or whether you’ll have much WiFi access over there? You’ll find the answers to all these questions and more with our Top Travel Tips covering everything from pre-travel health advice to money, shopping and more.

What vaccinations do I need for Tanzania?

You should seek medical advice from your local health practitioner before travelling to Tanzania and ensure that you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations. As a guide Polio, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid and Tetanus is strongly recommended. Meningitis and Rabies are also recommended.

A Yellow Fever International Certificate of Vaccination is required if arriving from countries infected with yellow fever or if you were in transit through infected areas (unless you remained on board or at the airport). This is particularly relevant if travelling from neighbouring African countries. If visiting Zanzibar from mainland Tanzania, a yellow fever certificate must be produced to gain entry.

Do I need anti-malaria tablets for Tanzania?

There is a risk of malaria in Tanzania so it is very important to check with your doctor before you go, to see whether malarial medication is required for the areas you are visiting. Generally, it is good practice to avoid mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved, light-coloured clothes and wearing a mosquito repellent that contains at least 50% DEET. For more information on the malaria risk in Tanzania visit the NHS Fit to Travel page or the CDC Traveler’s Health page.

What is the plastic bag ban?

Tanzania has introduced a ban on plastic bags effective from June 1st 2019. All travellers arriving at a Tanzania airport could face heavy fines for using plastic bags in any way, shape or form. These include shopping bags, garbage bags and “zip-lock” plastic bags used for transporting liquids and cosmetics.

We recommend that you avoid packing any plastic bags in your suitcase or carry-on luggage before travelling to Tanzania. If you do purchase any items at your departure airport, be sure to take them out of their plastic bags. Double-check your hand luggage before disembarking and leave any plastic bags on the plane.

Is it safe to drink tap water in Tanzania?

The tap water in Tanzania is not considered safe to drink. You should drink bottled mineral water, which is readily available from shops, hotels and restaurants. Make sure you purchase this from reputable outlets and that the seal on the bottle is not broken.

What’s the food like in Tanzania?

The most common staples found in Tanzanian cuisine are rice and ugali, a thick, white paste made from cornmeal that is served alongside a sauce-based stew or meat dish. Chapatis, as can be found in India, also make the base of many meals along with beans and mchicha, a green vegetable that resembles spinach. Accompanying these staples are several different meat-centric dishes, such as grilled chicken or nyama choma, roasted beef or goat.

Once you hit the coast, seafood makes more of an appearance and one delicious dish is octopus in a creamy coconut curry. Snacks are also widely available, a popular choice of which are samosas, brought over to Tanzania from India. Roasted corn with lemon and chilli salt is also a favourite with locals and can be bought from street-side grills. Meals can be washed down with a hot cup of chai tea or a local beer, such as Safari, Kilimanjaro or Castle.

Safe eating while travelling in Tanzania

Be wary when eating outside of high-end lodges as sometimes the quality of the meat and the way in which it has been prepared might not be suitable for a sensitive western stomach. Also be aware that food hygiene in Tanzania is much more basic than you will be used to so if something looks unclean, old or badly cooked, it is best to avoid it altogether. It is also a good idea to avoid ice in your drink and eating salad as these might have come into contact with unhygienic water.

Is it standard to tip in Tanzania?

There is no set procedure when it comes to tipping in Tanzania but be aware that most people in the service industry earn very little and depend on gratuities to make up their income. Safari guides should be tipped the equivalent of about USD $10-15 per day and a few dollars should go to the driver, cook and porters when travelling on an overland safari. If you eat in a restaurant then 10% on top of the bill is a suitable amount to leave. When it comes to taxis, rounding up the fare is a nice way to show your appreciation, especially if they have successfully navigated the chaotic streets of Dar es Salaam for you.

What is good to shop for in Tanzania?

The most popular purchase for travellers in Tanzania is a traditional wooden carving, usually in the shape of a mask or tribes person. A close second to this are the soapstone sculptures that can be found in boutiques as well as marketplaces. Another excellent item to take home with you is a Maasai blanket, which are brightly coloured and similar in pattern to tartan and can be used as tablecloths, picnic blankets or even clothes.

If you’re looking for something to wear, colourful kangas, which look like sarongs, are widely available. You might also want to look out for some tinga-tinga art, a unique style to Tanzania that encompasses bright colours and a cartoon-ish style and usually depicts safari animals or African scenes. Another uniquely Tanzanian product is Tanzanite, a deep blue precious gem that can only be found in the country. If you want to buy one of these stones it is a good idea to do your research beforehand or take a trustworthy and knowledgeable guide who can make sure you’re getting the real deal.

Is bargaining acceptable in Tanzania?

Bargaining in Tanzania is not just acceptable but it is expected and you will find that as a tourist you will be told a much higher price than a local would be offered. Don’t let this annoy or offend you as chances are you have more money in your wallet than most of the other people in the market will see in a month or even a year. Don’t let yourself be ripped off but also be prepared to pay slightly over the odds for something.

Is it safe for a single woman to travel to Tanzania?

A lot of travellers visit Tanzania as part of a safari tour and in this context, visiting Tanzania is very safe for solo women as they will be away from crowded cities and under the protection of their guide and lodge at all times. However, those who visit Tanzania independently might have a slightly different experience. Harassment from local men is common but is usually just an annoyance rather than a threat. Nevertheless, you will want to avoid this by dressing conservatively, wearing sunglasses to avoid eye contact and carrying a photo of a man in your purse who you can say is your husband. You should also try to limit your night time travel as much as possible.

How about as a member of the LGBT community?

Currently, homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania, and sexual activity with someone of the same gender is punishable with prison, especially for males. Whilst an outdated view, this does not mean that Tanzanians are inhospitable or unfriendly people. In fact, Tanzania is generally a very welcoming country, homosexuality is just not accepted like it is in other parts of the world today.

Any LGBT traveller wishing to explore Tanzania would be best to behave with discretion and not to engage in any flirting or sexual activity with anyone of the same sex whilst visiting the country. As long as travellers act with discretion, there is no reason to expect any problems.

What is the duty-free allowance for Tanzania?

Travellers over 17 are permitted to bring the following into Tanzania:

  • 250g of cigarettes, cigars and tobacco (combined weight)
  • 1 litre of spirits or wine
  • 500ml of perfume and eau de toilette, of which no more than a quarter may be perfume

Unlicensed firearms and ammunition are banned from being imported into Tanzania.

What is the currency in Tanzania?

The official currency in Tanzania is the Tanzania Shilling. Check OANDA for the latest exchange rates.

Euro, British Pounds, US Dollars, South African Rand and other major currencies can be exchanged locally or in advance of departure. Additionally, exchange facilities are available at various bureau de changes and banks in major towns have ATMs. It’s advisable to request bank notes in smaller denominations, as it can sometimes be hard to get change from large notes and smaller notes are handy for smaller purchases and gratuities.

Traveller’s Cheques are not recommended as they’re often difficult to exchange and incur high fees.

What do things cost in Tanzania?

Generally, those on safari will have their accommodation and food costs included in their tour package. However, those heading to the big cities should expect to pay around USD $50 per night for mid-range hotels and around USD $100 for the best accommodation options. Street food is widely available and costs anything from a few cents to USD $3 depending on how hungry you are. A sit-down meal with a beer can cost up to around USD $10. Public transport is cheap and long bus journeys can come in at as little as a few dollars.

What sort of plugs do I need for Tanzania and what is the voltage?

The standard voltage is 230 – 240 volts. Primary sockets generally require the 3 square-pin variety, similar to the United Kingdom sockets. We recommend that you pack a universal travel adaptor. You will need a voltage converter and plug adaptor in order to use U.S. appliances.

Is WiFi widely available in Tanzania?

WiFi is common in Tanzania’s main cities but be aware that connections can be slower and less secure than you might be used to back home. In the national parks there is very rarely a WiFi connection as guests are encouraged to disconnect and immerse themselves in nature.

What time zone is Tanzania in?

Tanzania is 3 hours ahead of GMT and does not observe daylight savings.

Travelling with Children

In Africa selected departures of our overland safaris are classified as ‘Family Friendly’ and these are noted under ‘Prices and Dates’ on the relevant tours. Family Friendly departures welcome children aged 6 – 17 years travelling with their parents on tour. Please note children will be occupying a seat on the overland truck, therefore they pay full price. Parents must be aware that travellers aged 18 years and older still frequent the trip and the tour is a participation overland tour.

Children aged eight and above travelling with a parent or guardian are also welcome on lodge safaris in Tanzania on a request basis and subject to the agreement of the other passengers. Please note that children aged 12+ pay adult price. We can tailor-make private safaris for families and those travelling with younger children.