Traveling To Tanzania? Here’s EVERYTHING You Need To Know

Tanzania in Eastern Africa is hands down one of THE most magical places I have ever been.  From the real-life Lion King vibes of the Serengeti to the turquoise-watered horizons of Zanzibar, the adventures are endless!  I’ll spend time here talking first about mainland Tanzania, and will highlight Zanzibar in a subsequent post – there is just wayyyyy too much to say for it to possibly fit into one article!

Hot Tips:

  • A tourist visa is required for Tanzania; this can be done in advance online, or at any port of entry. I’d suggest getting it in advance in order to avoid delays upon arrival.  Additionally, your passport must be valid for a minimum of 6 months beyond your date of entry into Tanzania. Make sure you meet all these requirements. Or get stuck at the airport in Tanzania. Your choice. 
  • Typhoid and malaria vaccines are recommended but not required. I also got the rabies vaccine just in case….They say it is only necessary if you are in contact with wild animals. And you better believe I would pet a lion if I could.
  • Tanzanian currency is the shilling. The exchange rate is roughly $1 = 2,299 shilling (this constantly changes, but current rates can be found here). There are NO ATMS throughout the national parks, so it is super important to pull out and exchange all cash prior to getting on your safari.  You should definitely pull out cash tips for your driver, and also if you’d like to give any money to the Maasai tribes in exchange for a tour of one of their villages. We tipped our safari driver roughly $60 per day, which was plenty! 
  • Julius Nyerere Airport near Dar es Salaam (DAR); Arusha Airport in Arusha (ARK); Moshi Airport near Kilimanjaro (QSI). We flew into Arusha (coming from Zambia), and we flew out of DAR (en route to Zanzibar.) 
  • Believe it or not, there is Uber in Tanzania, and also plenty of taxis (in the cities.) That being said, if you are taking an all-inclusive safari, your transportation should be taken care of from the moment you land in Tanzania to the moment you leave.
  • The national language of Tanzania is Swahili, but most Tanzanians speak English as well.  Some easy Swahili phrases to remember are “Jambo” (hello) (Mean Girls, anyone?); “Asante” (thank you); “Asante-Sana” (thank you VERY MUCH!); and “Habari” (good morning).
  • Generally speaking, the best time of year is between June and October – this is dry season. This is also when the great migration is most active (this is the scene when Mufasa was killed in the stampede! #RIP.) I went during mid-September.  But, you really can’t go wrong most of the year because you are almost always guaranteed to see tons of wildlife at any time – the only time to really AVOID is April to May, because that is the heaviest wet season.  Unless you’re into that kind of thing. 
  • Because we were constantly on the move, in our safari Jeep, staying in lodges, and hopping on small, 11-person planes, we opted for 45L backpacks that we each carried. Some of the hopper flights to Zanzibar had a weight requirement of less than 15 KG per bag (about 33 lbs), so we obviously didn’t want to exceed the weight limit, get rejected from a plane, and stranded in Simba’s territory. Plus, it was easier to just pick up your pack and go! 
  • Some key essentials: comfy closed-toed shoes, neutral colored clothing, bug spray, sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen, and your nice camera (bring long-distance lenses if you have them)! If you have space, I’d also recommend a solar charger so that you can charge your camera/phone while out on game drives.  The power plug adapter used in Tanzania is Type D or Type G.  (PS. I LOVE this universal charger. I will shamelessly plug it in all of my blog posts. #NotAnAd) 
  • Tanzanian food consists of a lot of rice, ugali (porridge), meat and plantains.  However, the meals on our safari (which are provided by your safari group), were pretty random but pretty delish!  Our lunches would literally consist of an entire personal pizza, a sandwich, pasta, and cheesecake. Not sure what the inspiration was. Perhaps gluttony? Unclear.  

OUR SAFARI

Mainland Tanzania is comprised almost entirely of national wildlife parks.  During my 5-day safari throughout the country, I explored Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti.  There are plenty of amazing safari tour groups out there, and I chose to work with Good Earth Tours, mainly because they have offices here in the states so it was very easy to communicate with them.  Good Earth took care of our pick up from the airport, all of our lodging, all of our meals, and our own private driver/jeep throughout the duration of our safari.  They even helped us with our outbound flight into Zanzibar (11 person plane.. this was a wild experience.)  They have different packages, ranging from simple (cheapest) to luxurious (most expensive.) We went the middle-of-the-road route, and we LOVED the lodges we stayed in. Because we wanted to visit so many parks in such a short time, we were constantly on the go. We basically arrived at a new lodge each night, had dinner, went to sleep, then woke up early the next day to game drive through a new park and get to our next lodge before sunset!  Basically, we were on our very own season of “The Amazing Race.” But with food. And a driver. And a set itinerary. And 0 stress.  Same same but different.

Photograph by Danielle Brennan

TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK

Our first stop was Tarangire National Park. It was VERY hot and dry there – and little to no wind so you definitely could feel the heat.   Pro tip: there are lots of tsetse flies in Tarangire, so you are advised to wear long pants and shirts that are neutral colors. Tsetse flies are attracted to dark blues and blacks, so avoid wearing these colors.Tarangire is a smaller park, so we only spent one day driving through and exploring it. Despite its size, though, the concentration of wildlife in Tarangire was suuuuper diverse. In our first day of game drives throughout Tarangire, we already saw 4 out of 5 of the “Big 5” game! Lions, leopards, elephants, and cape buffalos. No rhinos… yet.

Photograph by Danielle Brennan

NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA

Our next stop: Ngorongoro Crater. Hands down my FAVORITE park. The love child of Jurassic Park and the Lion King.  Ngorongoro resulted from a huge volcanic explosion that happened millions of years ago, which IMO is pretty dope.  Temperatures in Ngorongoro were a lot milder – still warm during the day but not dry and heavy.  What I loved most about Ngorongoro was the fact that it not only had diverse animal wildlife, but also TONS of greenery. The middle of the crater felt like the desert, but littered with small lakes and ponds. The perimeter, on the other hand, felt straight up like the Jungle Book. (Have you noticed I really enjoy children’s movie visuals?)  We saw plenty of lions basking in the sun and monkeys swinging through the trees. Our lodge was up on the edge of the crater looking down into it, so we had a pretty epic sunrise sitting above the clouds in the morning.

Photograph by Danielle Brennan

THE SERENGETI

We spent 3 full days (and 2 nights) in the Serengeti. Because the Serengeti is MASSIVE.  The weather in the Serengeti was similar to Ngorongoro – warm, but nothing crazy. But it DID get very cold at night.  We spent our first two nights at the same lodge in the central Serengeti. This is where we first saw the Maasai tribe – the indigenous tribe native to Tanzania that still lives among all the wildlife in the national parks.  No joke, they are so accustomed to living among the animals that they can drink water out of the same water holes as hippos and are totally fine! If you have cash, they’ll take you on a tour of their villages/huts. It’s pretty awesome!

Next, we headed north toward the Kenyan border. This is where we got to watch the Great Migration – where thousands of wildebeests are migrating across the park.  (Again.. the scene where Mufasa dies. Sad.) This is also where we saw our first rhino.  Fun Rhino fact: they are so endangered that there is literally a team of researchers monitoring and observing every known rhino in the park 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to protect them from potential poachers. Crazy huh?

Photograph by Danielle Brennan

The lodge in the Serengeti was definitely the most remote. You are really OUT THERE.  At nighttime, if we wanted to go to the communal tent in our campground for wine or games, we had to be escorted by a guide with an AK-47 in case a lion or hyena was nearby.  Honestly, less scary then walking through the Tenderloin in San Francisco alone at night though.  One night, we couldn’t take showers because an elephant stepped on the water pipes and they burst! Classsssic.  

The Serengeti was our last stop in mainland Tanzania before heading to Zanzibar island. Watching the sun go down over the Kenyan border… not bad, not bad.

Written by travel writer and photographer Danielle Brennan