Four friends of mine were regaling me about their January visit to Tanzania – a country I’d not previously considered visiting, and knew very little about (the one factor being linked to the other, of course).
Their experiences were very different to – and much more positive than – my uninformed impressions, and so perhaps you too should reconsider the thought of a visit to Tanzania.
My friends not only enjoyed a splendid wildlife and big-game safari, but also all four of them climbed Mt Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in all of Africa, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, and the fifth most prominent. They are far from experienced mountain climbers, but rather ordinary big-city dwellers, and one aged each in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. They claim that if they can do it, so too can I – and by extension, possibly you, too, dear reader.
Here’s some more information about Tanzania so you can better consider it as a future travel destination.
In this first part, we provide a general overview of the country; and in our second part, some tourist-specific information about what to see and do in Tanzania.
A Quick Introduction to Tanzania
Tanzania is located on the east coast of Africa, immediately below Kenya and above Mozambique and Zambia. It is approximately twice the size of California, and slightly smaller than Egypt.
The modern ‘United Republic of Tanzania’ was formed in 1964 when the two nations of Tanganyika and Zanzibar united. They were formerly British colonies, and received independence in 1961 and 1963, respectively.
Zanzibar remains as a semi-autonomous part of the union, although it is massively the smaller part – it compromises two main islands and several smaller ones off the coast, and has a population of only 1.4 million (compared to a total population of 51 million). Tanzania’s population is rapidly growing (and therefore young – the average age is 17, and life expectancy at birth is 62). 76% of males and 65% of females over 15 can read and write, these being literacy rates broadly comparable to those found in neighboring countries.
English is an official language as well as Swahili. The country comprises mainly members of 130 different Bantu tribes, and is split into more or less thirds as between Christian, Muslim, and indigenous belief followers.
Economically the country is poor (68% of the population are below the poverty line), but its economy is growing rapidly (6.5% annually between 2009 – 2014), due in large part to the growth of tourism, which now accounts for 12% of the nation’s GDP and employment. Unemployment is thought to be around the 10% mark. Its main trade partners are India and China, and its major exports are gold, coffee, cashew nuts, cotton, and manufactured goods.
The country has few landline phones, but has good cell phone coverage, and (of course) internet access, although speeds are sometimes slow.
Their currency is the Tanzanian shilling, and it has been steadily but slowly weakening against the US dollar. In August 2015, US$1 = 2130 Tanzanian shillings.
The largest city is Dar es Salaam (4.4 million people). In 1974 the country started a transition of its capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma, something that took 20 years to sort of complete, but Dar es Salaam is still home to much of the central government bureaucracy. Notwithstanding the loss of some government offices, it is the third fastest growing city in Africa (and ninth fastest in the world). Although rapidly growing, it is not a wealthy city – 70% of the population live in ‘informal settlements’. Dodoma is now the country’s fourth largest city, with a population of only 415,000.
Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa and one of only two mountains on the continent that has glaciers (the other is Mount Kenya). The country is in large part bordered by three of the largest lakes on the continent: Lake Victoria (the world’s second-largest freshwater lake) in the north, Lake Tanganyika (the world’s second deepest) in the west, and Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) in the southwest.
The country is politically stable and has a relatively low crime rate, as reported by this World Bank research paper.
How to Get to Tanzania
The major airport gateways are Dar es Salaam (airport code DAR) and Kilimanjaro (airport code JRO). Emirates, Etihad, KLM, Qatar and South African Airways are among the major airlines that fly into Dar es Salaam. Kilimanjaro is also served by KLM and Qatar Airways as well as various other airlines.
You could instead fly into Nairobi in Kenya, which is relatively close to the border with Tanzania. It is a 4.5 hour bus ride from there to the city of Arusha, close to Kilimanjaro, but this would require you to get a Kenya visa as well as a Tanzanian visa.
Note that roads in Tanzania are not of a standard comparable to our roads, and so distances take longer to travel, and flights within the country if you’re traveling longer distances might be preferable.
The country is very slightly south of the equator and has a hot climate for most of the year. Temperatures occasionally reach into the 90s, and seldom drop below the 70s. The coolest months are May – August.
Visas and Health
Citizens of most countries require a visa to visit Tanzania (here is a complete list of countries and visa requirements). Although these visas can be issued at the major entry points (Dar es Salaam Intl Airport, Zanzibar Intl Airport, Kilimanjaro Intl Airport and the Namanga Entry point on the border with Kenya) it is generally recommended you get a visa issued prior to starting your travels. The visa application process is not complicated, and typically there is about a one week turnaround for approvals.
As for vaccinations and other health issues, the US CDC rates Tanzania as having a moderate risk of malaria and also suggests Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations, plus potentially some additional protections as well. Safari parks are higher risk zones for malaria than the cities, and the November – May period has the mosquitos more active.
HIV and AIDS is a factor, with 5% of the adult population afflicted. This average however masks significant differences in infection rates as between high and low risk population groupings, so you should be prudent and avoid high risk activities. On the other hand, Ebola is not an issue (Ebola mainly being a factor on Africa’s west coast, and Tanzania being on the east coast).
You are generally advised only to drink bottled water and to be cautious of uncooked food.
If you are bringing US dollars to Tanzania, you should try to bring new currency notes that are in reasonably good condition and without markings. Banks in Tanzania have been known not to accept foreign currency older than 2003.
Tanzania’s Tourism Attractions
So, why would you actually choose to visit Tanzania? There are two main reasons, and several supplementary reasons.
For information on these topics, please now click to part two of our article on Tanzania.