Itinerary in Tanzania

Itinerary in Tanzania

40 days backpacking in Tanzania

When I leave for a trip I never have an itinerary in mind nor everything booked (just the first night). I can’t organise my trip in advance, nor do I want to do it. I might have a generic idea of the places I want to see, but then I let the people I meet and the feelings I have guide me. The same was when I traveled for 40 days in Tanzania.

I knew I wanted to see a bit of the continental part of the country to get an idea of how Africa is, and later Zanzibar, where I wanted to spend a few weeks relaxing at the beach, that I imagined wouldn’t have been the typical Africa. So the first part was a bit in a rush, in some places I arrived at midday and the following morning I left for the next destination (but there wasn’t much to see anyway, it was just to get the vibe), so that I could enjoy the last weeks in Zanzibar, that I considered a reward for the difficult travel I would have to face in the first part of the trip.

dar es salaam
Dar Es Salaam, playing checkers in the street

Itinerary

I arrived in Dar es Salaam on a flight from Milan, and stayed in town a couple of days to acclimatise.

Next I took my first local bus to Moshi, at the feet of the Kilimanjaro. I would have liked to do the hike to the top of one of the highest mountains in the world, but I could only do that with a guide and I didn’t want to pay.

From Moshi I went to Arusha, where I spent a couple of days looking for a safari at the prices I was able to pay. The safari was not in my original plan, but during the first days in Tanzania I met various tourists that told me how amazing their experience in the Serengeti had been, so I decided to go. I am glad I did, it was truly beautiful.

After the safari I moved to Babati, a small village where there’s a guy that organizes overnight stays at a Barbaig family hut; the Barbaig are a local tribe, and it was really interesting to see how they live and learn a bit of their culture and habits.

Barbaig family in Tanzania
The Barbaig family that I stayed with

From there I went to Dodoma, the capital city, that is roughly in the middle of the country. Then I headed South to Iringa, Songea, and East to Masasi and Mtwara, on the Southern Coast, at the border with Mozambique.

I would have liked to visit Lake Victoria, it must be really nice, but it will be for another time. Tanzania is really big, it’s impossible to see the most important attractions in one month. Unless you fly, but I’m for slow and road travel.

From Mtwara onwards I slowed down because I was along the coast and even though there were no attractions it was nice to spend time at the beach reading or talking to locals.

From Mtwara I followed the coast directed North, towards Dar es Salaam. The first stop was Mikindani, not far from Mtwara, because it seemed an interesting village and it was. In Mikindani I took advantage of a lift on a car to Lindi, where I stayed longer than planned because I loved it. There was nothing to see, but life in a fishermen village is very interesting.

lindi
Afternoons at the beach in Lindi

It was hard to leave Lindi to go to Kilwa, then Dar Es Salaam to take the ferry to Zanzibar.

I also considered going to Mafia, an island South of Dar Es Salaam, but I didn’t have enough time, I prefered to spend more time in Zanzibar.

Stone Town is a place that I love, for the architecture, the white houses, the maze of alleys, for the food, and in particular for the people. I didn’t want to leave, again. I stayed 5 days, then I forced myself to go to other parts of the island. So I first went to Kendwa, in the North-West coast. This part of the island is very touristic, and everything takes place in the resorts, while villages stay small and poor. I liked Kendwa too anyway, a few days doing nothing at the beach are not to dislike.

beautiful light in stone town
Stone Town

After Kendwa I headed South-East to see a different part of the island, in Jambiani. And I fell in love with this too. There are resorts and luxurious hotels, but also smaller and family-run hotels, where you are welcome as if you were home.

Still, it was nice to go back to Stone Town for the last days. Because at these villages by the beach it was difficult to find local restaurants where you can eat for little money, unless you eat the same thing every day (see my previous article Backpacking in Tanzania); the only other options were the restaurants at the resorts, that offer different dishes but were a bit expensive (well, 9 or 10 dollars is not expensive, but I couldn’t afford to spend that money for food every day). In Stone Town I could eat amazing food for 2-3 dollars.

Jambiani Tanzania
Jambiani

As I often do when I travel, I kept the part that I knew would be more challenging and tiring at the beginnig, with many hours of traveling and little known places; relax, beach and few movements I keep for the final part of the trip. I am happy I did this itinerary, I could confront a little touristy Tanzania with Zanzibar. And it was interesting.

Backpacking in Tanzania

Backpacking in Tanzania

Traveling solo and on a budget in Tanzania

In 2012 I spent 40 days bakcpacking alone in Tanzania. Backpacking for me is a lifestyle, it’s a way of traveling that allows you to interact more with locals (by sharing the same bus and eating at the same places) and it’s also the only option when you are traveling for some time and you don’t have a lot of money.

Africa is not cheap to travel, it’s not like Asia at all, but there are some tricks that can help you spend as little as possible. Rooms in cheap hotels cost from 5 to 15 USD, and I managed to spend about 30-40 dollars per day (with food and transportation).

Backpacking

So, as I mentioned before, backpacking is a way to travel saving some money. If you go on a tour planned from home it’s going to be more expensive because someone is going to plan it for you and there are more people involved. Backpacking means that you plan your holiday, book your tickets, look for the best options. It’s time and energy consuming, you need to do a lot of research and it’s not a relaxing holiday, but it’s a time of exploration and discovery.

When backpacking the transportation net is key. Backpacking in Tanzania is quite easy from this point of view. There are many buses that connect the various locations in the country. Usually it’s enough to book a ticket the day before (so normally when I arrive at a new town, if I’m only staying one night as soon as I get at the bus station I enquiry for the bus to my next destination) or the same morning. When there are many buses doing the same itinerary, often they don’t leave until they are full, so sometimes you have to wait for hours before departing. Long-distance buses leave very early, at sunrise, because they have to be at their destination before sunset.

Traveling on local buses has its risks. It’s not 100% safe; well, no transportation is, but bus drivers in Tanzania can be crazy, they drive very fast in rough roads and I did fear for my life a couple of times. But you are sharing it with locals, so if everything goes well, it’s a nice experience. In 2012 they were building new roads with the Chinese help, so I guess now things have changed and it might be easier and safer to travel around.

Check prices

This is very important in Tanzania. Checking prices before you buy anything is very important.

It’s something in Europe we are not used to, but even bus tickets don’t have a fix price, different companies doing the same itinerary might apply different rates, and they surely will try to overcharge you if their prices are not on sight.

I usually asked at the reception of my hotel how much a bus fare to my next destination would cost. They often knew. So when I went to the station I already knew how much I had to pay and this prevented me from being scammed (see this article on negotiating in Tanzania for more info).

I even did a safari, which of course was quite expensive, but nothing compared to what you would pay if planning from home: 480 USD for a 5 day safari. It took me some research and bargaining in Arusha, but I managed to pay what I was eager to spend.

Eat at local restaurants

Often when I travel I have some street food for lunch and something more significant for dinner, to save money. Tanzania is not the best place for this, there aren’t many street food options. I often ate omelette with potatoes for lunch and rice with vegetables for dinner. It’s not like how I imagine Mexican food is, in Tanzania there aren’t many cheap option.

The best place for food, in term of variety and price, is Stone Town. There are a few restaurants that are not expensive and serve good food and many different dishes. In Kendwa on the opposite I only found one local restaurant, and I sometimes had to spend 8 dollars at the resort’s restaurant for dinner. Or ate only chips (which is not healthy).

Anyway there are three types of restaurants in Tanzania: the one that is just someone’s house, that serve food on their frontdoor, where you can have breakfast for 0,25 euro and ugali for little more (often ugali is their only option for lunch and dinner); local restaurants where you can eat for 1,50 euro and pricier restaurants for wealthy locals or travelers. I did eat once in one of these, but I was always quite happy with the first two types of restaurants, where the choice of food is really minimal, but the quality is good.

colazione a jambiani zanzibar
This was a cool breakfast I had in Jambiani (it was included in the dorm price)

Accomodation

Accomodation was ok most of the times, there are hostels or cheap hotels everywhere. Hostels were my first option if there was one, because they are decently clean, dorms are cheap and they are a good place to meet fellow travellers that often have nice stories to tell.

Only in Kilwa I ended up in a very poor room, but this is because at the time there weren’t many other options in town, just high end resorts.

While backpacking in Tanzania I always chose my accomodation from the Lonely Planet; I don’t know, maybe today booking.com is also a good place to find accomodation.

I have never booked in advance, I was traveling in May and June and there weren’t many tourists around, in particular in the Mainland. The only time I had trouble finding a place was in Masasi, there didn’t seem to be any cheap option, I think I paid about 20 dollars that time.

So, even though Tanzania is not Asia, you don’t have to spend a fortune to travel there. If you live like a local or almost, you can spend about 30-40 dollars per day, including accomodation, food and buses.

The art of negotiating

The art of negotiating

In Tanzania I discovered a skill I didn’t know I had. I can negotiate. In Africa everything has a flexible price; the same pen can cost 15 cents in one place and the double in a shop two meters away. The same is for souvenirs, clothes, bus tickets, chapati. Of course it’s no surprise they try to get more money from foreigners, that normally earn ten times more than a local, but sometimes prices are really out of this world. I am not saying we should let them without a profit (sometimes I felt bad because I lowered the price too much), but if you are able to pay the right amount for something, you might save money that you can spend somewhere else.

Some simple rules can help you navigate in this activity that can be actually funny.

5 rules to remember to negotiate in Tanzania

  1. If possible try to know in advance how much something can cost. This is true in particular for bus tickets. For example in Arusha they wanted to sell me a ticket to Babati for 18.000 Tsh, but I knew the price was 5.000 (I had asked at the hotel) and after a brief search at the bus station I found a company that agreed to sell me a ticket at that price.
  2. If you are asked to pay 100, don’t feel bad to offer back 10. Most times this is the amount closer to the right price.
  3. Decide how much you are ready to pay for something. Even though you later find out that the price was actually lower, you have to accept the fact that you agreed to pay that price, that you thought was right (for the safari I paid 480 USD, while some of my companions paid 800; they agreed to pay that price, so they can’t complain about it just because I was better than them in negotiating, or luckier, because the agency needed a last person to fill the car).
  4. When the seller doesn’t accept your offer, go away, let them know you can live without that thing. Most times the seller will then accept your offer (even though not really smiling). If he doesn’t accept it means that the price was really higher, so in the next shop you know what you should pay.
  5. Never check further the price of something you have already purchased. It can be a big disappointment to find out that the price was even lower than what it took you so long and so much effort to negotiate.

Don’t be rude, just be aware that negotiating is the norm in Tanzania and in Africa, even among locals, so don’t feel bad if you do it.

Karibu Nyumbani

Karibu Nyumbani

Welcome home, in Jambiani

July 2, 2012

When you wake up at 6 am to watch the sunrise, you don’t expect to be alone, but at least quiet. Here at that time the village was wide awake. At the beach there were women picking shells, a guy that to save money slept on the sunbed where I usually get my tan during the day, while in the street the first dalla-dalla to Stone Town drove by honking and a seller of I don’t know what played his trumpette to inform of his arrival,

“Karibu Nyumbani”, Welcome home, said Leonard when last night I came back from my beach patrolling. I’m in Jambiani, on the South-Eastern coast of Zanzibar. In fact after the first three hours in which I thought that three days here would have been super boring, I regretted I didn’t arrive earlier. It’s the first time I visit a country where I fall in love with every place. I couldn’t decide where to live. I like Stone Town for its lively atmosphere, the cafes, the good and varied food at reasonable prices, the lovely people; I love Jambiani because it’s so quiet and the people are lovely too.

The Kimte, the hotel where I’m staying, is like a large family. They are all siblings, not of blood, but they all live together happy and relaxed. They have breakfast with a pot and don’t stop until it’s time to go to bed. And they spoil me: one offers me a fresh fruit juice, another a slice of sweet pineapple, the other a bunch of potpourri that he did himself that smells delicious. There’s a boy with big smart eyes, Karim. Cappuccino, they call him, his father is a black man with dreads and his mother is from Sicily. He’s also spoiled from all the uncles and aunties he has here. And there’s a cute dog with a huge head that when you stretch your hand to cuddle him, he puts his paw on it. Sweet! This morning while I was on the hammock waiting for my breakfast, Bighead started barking against a shell. I had found one I liked that I wanted to take home, but the crab that was inside took it away from me (now I know you shouldn’t take shells from the beach).

To come here from Kendwa I had to take a dalla-dalla to Stone Town and another one from there, for a total of 4 hours, for a distance of about 50 kilmeters (30 miles). At one point on the dalla-dalla someone put a baby girl on my lap, about 2 weeks old. I thought I had to keep her while her mum got on the dalla-dalla, but no one asked her back. So I sat for one hour with this cute little dumpling on my lap, without knowing if the mother was actually on the bus; I was already thinking on how I could hide her to cross the borders. Yes, the mother was there (or sister, I don’t know) and took her back at one point. Here children always go on laps of strangers when they are on buses, but I didn’t think they would put one on a mzungo‘s lap! And what if she fell with all those shakes?

Jambiani is a village stretching for about 5 kilometers along a road by the ocean. You can swim only with high tide, a couple of hours per day. A few kilometers from the beach there’s a natural reef. With the low tide you can walk there, among seaweeds and mussel plantations. It looks like a lunar landscape with the low tide, there are many small craters full of water.

I watched the match against Germany on the beach, with a couple from Germany. At every goal by Balotelli Tanzanians got super excited. Because he’s a brother. But they also had fun when the German goalkeeper started to be “cheesy” running to the middle of the field. They were laughing a lot. And it was very cold. I wore a sweatshirt and had to sit next to the fire, with the smoke making my eyes cry. It’s June, super hot in Italy, and I go to Zanzibar to be cold? They really like fires in the beach here. It’s their favorite show, as most don’t have a tv at home. In Kendwa they also lit a bonfire every night, and there were always locals around it, while westerners were at the pub getting drunk (or sleeping, if they had little money, like me).

Last night Leonard asked me to go with him to a place. While we were walking I found out it was his home we were going to, where he had to take some honey for the cocktails. His house is weird. It looks like an egg with two poiting ends, white walls and a straw roof. Inside there are two small rooms and a bathroom. To cook he lits a fire outside. The house is basic, like all the others I’ve seen, with only the essential furniture. Two beds and a small closet. The clothes are in a bag. A pair of shoes and flip flops are out of the door, that he locks with a padlock. He doesn’t need much. He left me there while he went to arrange goats and chickens and to fart. He gave me some Jasmine flowers that he keeps in the garden; he uses them to freshen up the house. I wonder when was the last time he took some inside, because I could only smell mold.

Last night there were about ten people around the bonfire. A couple were playing the bongo while someone was singing a song with words created on the spot, and the others replied in chorus. There was Jacob, a maasai about 20 years old, that told me about his lion Mwobu, that he raised for 16 years feeding him only milk. He called him Mwobu that means “I cut and opened the stomach and took you out”, which is what he did. He took him from his mother’s womb after killing her because she ate his cows.

I’m gonna miss Zanzibar and Tanzania.

Beach boys in Kendwa

Beach boys in Kendwa

June 26, 2012

A relaxing holiday in Zanzibar

It took me a few days, but at last I’m getting used to this place. I spend my time reading, sleeping and sometimes eating, can I ask for more?

It was a bit of a shock at the beginning. I ended up in this resort full of white people that spend their days sunbathing, drinking cocktails and playing beach volley (the Kendwa Rock; it’s actually cool, you don’t often have the chance to stay in a cool beach resort at only 14 dollars in a dorm). At first I wanted to flee. It felt like I was in any European beach, if it wasn’t for the green waters of the ocean. The place is lovely, but this is not exactly how I like to spend my holidays abroad; I like to move and meet locals, eat with them.

Walking towards Nungwi, the nearby town, the beach is lined with hotels and Italian holiday villages. It’s so far from the Tanzania I was used to! I’ve actually been here for 5 days, and could stay longer, because

  1. breakfast is great
  2. I’m tired of carrying backpacks.

The annoying part is that I can’t find any local restaurant. Only places for tourists, a bit expensive (4-5 euro per dish). There are a couple of local restaurants, but the menu is beans and krapfen or krapfen and beans, lighten up by the feeble light of an oil lamp; I went there a few times, but I miss Stone Town soups.

To avoid spending too much money for food I’m eating as much as I can for breakfast, as it is included in the dorm price, but it doesn’t help, because at one I’m hungry again. So this morning I tried to have breakfast a bit later, maybe I can resist until 3, when they start serving fried chips that are cheaper and can calm my hunger; in the evening I will have to spend the usual 4 euro for dinner.

The resort is lovely, there are nice sunbeds where you can lay in the sun and burn your butts (luckly it’s often cloudy; during the only 30 minutes that the sun was out I got sunburnt), and there are few people bothering you. The “Beach boys“, guys that sell boat tours, snorkelling, t-shirts, scarves, huge shells and tattoos, can’t enter the resort borders, signed with a line of palm trees. But they can call your attention by talking to you, waiting for hours holding their goods until someone finds the strength to lift their pink butts from the sunbed, and of course they come to you as soon as you cross the border.

The ocean is beautiful but I don’t bath very often because there are many jellyfish that scare me, even though they say they don’t hurt. In the evening you can stay at the beach here or go to the “Raggea Bar”, just outside the resort, the non-touristic place with most clients here in Kendwa, probably because it’s the only one. I went there a couple of times to eat chips, and there’s always somebody drinking and smoking, at any time of the day.

Here too there are people offering to take me to my next destination, with the promise of an unforgettable holiday and to experience the true Zanzibar with local people. I listen because I’m polite and I keep silent, I don’t know how to answer anymore.

One of the kids that work at the reception told me that he’s very disappointed because last night I didn’t go back to him. He had to talk to me.

“About what?”.

“About my NGO. I have this project about teaching kids at kindergarten and I needed your opinion.”

I don’t know what kind of opinion I could give him about teaching to kids, and why my opinion would be more useful than those of his real friends, but now I have lost his trust and there’s nothing more I can do.

Kendwa beach zanzibar

6.15pm. The sun is setting on the ocean in front of Kendwa. Everybody rushes to the beach to take a picture. But no picture can reproduce the magic of this moment, the calm and energy at the same time. I’m drinking a Sex on the Beach while I enjoy the last rays of sun (the only indulgence I allow myself), but I don’t think it’s the drink that gives me the shivers.

Today it was sunny almost the whole time, for the first time in 6 days, but I don’t think I got much darker. A guy is playing a bongo with his back leaning on a pole and his eyes looking at the red ball that is now the sun. What is he thinking? Do I really want to leave tomorrow? To go somewhere that has no sunset on the ocean but only sunrises? I got used to wake up at 7am, but it’s already too late for sunrise.

kendwa sunset zanzibar

6.43pm. I don’t know what is wrong with me but I can’t socialize with other Mzungo. They are playing beach volley and I would really like to join them, but I can’t get closer. I usually find the excuse that they’re even players in the teams, but this time they are not; and still I can’t approach them.

Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll be able to leave? This morning I had my rucksack packed but when I came to the beach to have breakfast I couldn’t leave. I’m worried I might miss the sunset, as I’m going to the Eastern coast, but if it is so, I can still go back earlier to Stone Town, where I know the places to eat well at good prices.

It’s also the music that keeps me here. From the beach club there is always nice music, in particular during the day, Buddha Bar style, while in the evening it’s more dance. Like now, when my butts are on the chair, but the rest of my body is moving. It’s a song I’ve heard in Italy too, I don’t know who the artist is, someone like Rihanna, but in Italy I never had this reaction.

Music plays all day long, a part from today, because there was a black out that continues. They have a generator for black outs, but apparently they don’t use it during the day, when there is enough light.

kendwa beach at sunset

Two Italian girls are trying to order their dinner from a table next to mine.

Tonight a boy is waiting for me at the Raggae Bar, another one at the reception, two here at the beach. To avoid disappointing one of them I think I’ll go to bed early.

It’s 7.28pm. I should go to the restaurants or there will be no beans left for me.

Mwanda. He’s just introduced himself while I was plugging in my notebook. He lives 2 kilometers South from here, in a hut along the beach, and he’s happy it’s soon full moon because the solar panel that he uses to make electricity isn’t very helpful and he doesn’t have much light in the home. This reminds me that Saturday there will be the “Full Moon party” right here. People will come from all over Zanzibar for the occasion. Even more than usual, Mwanda tells me, because it’s the last party before Ramadan. I must go before that. To live he raises hens and goats, while some women grow seaweeds on the beach in front of his home. He lived in Germany, but after 7 years he missed Zanzibar, which is not surprising. The see is too cold there. He has also offered to take me to the Eastern coast, even though I had just told him this is exactly the reason why I don’t smile much to people here.

I’ve already seen two shooting stars. I’m on the beach, in a place where internet connection is slightly better; but the notebook battery is very low. And mosquitos are biting me no-stop. I had grilled calamari for dinner, with rice and chips. Really good. Before saying goodbye, because he realised I was very busy, he suggested I use lemongrass to keep mosquitos away.

Ok, good night.

Postcard from Stone Town

June 21, 2012

If you have no news from me, do not worry. It won’t be because I was kidnapped by pirates, but because I decided to burn my passport and live here like a ghost for ever and ever.

After I went to Kendwa and Jambiani I came back to Stone Town for a couple of days to say goodbye, before going back to Dar es Salaam to take my flight to Italy.

beach in stone town zanzibar
The beach in Stone Town in front of the Traveller’s Café, where I went almost every day
dhow zanzibar
Dhow

This is a dhow, a typical boat of Zanzibar, with the triangular sail.