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.

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.

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.

Three days in Stone Town

Three days in Stone Town

June 18, 2012

This morning I woke up at 5am in my hotel in Stone Town hearing screams. It wasn’t hyenas this time. It was even scarier. A drug dealer was trying to get money from a client that didn’t want to pay. I don’t know what happened at the end, but I guess the English guy was able to escape. Risking to be beaten for 10 pounds?

Jackson. I met him in the street today. It was touching talking to him. He was born here, but his ancestors are from Congo, former slaves. He’s one of the 2% of Christian Tanzanians. He doesn’t think it’s a problem, as long as you don’t go out looking for trouble. He’s against the separation of Zanzibar from Tanzanyika, because it would mean weakness, for both countries. He’s Christian, but he believes there is only one god for everyone, Love. While we are talking we hear some screams coming from Jaw’s Corner, where people meet every afternoon to play domino, after the 4pm prayer. They are discussing about independence and the role of the islamic movement, he explains. Later when I walk past there, my friend Ali confirms that they are all a bit too excited. It’s better if I go back later. Ok, I’ll go to the Slave Market.

Visit to the Slave Market in Stone Town

As guide I have Joseph, a law student. Nice, kind, Christian, and he tells me a lot of stories. Because he saw me taking notes, he started to tell me the story about slavery in Zanzibar. The Portuguese started the slaves trade in the 15th Century, from Eastern Africa they brought labor to Brasil and the Caribbeans. At the end of the 17th Century the Portuguese were replaced by Arabs from Oman, who took over their trade. The destinations also changed: they were now sent to Madagascar, to work on sugarcane fields, the Seychelles, stayed in Zanzibar on spice plantations, or were sent as concubine to Oman and India. The slaves were kept in rooms large about 15 sqm. They could host 50 men or 70 women and children. Chained, they received water and food once a day. The rooms, with tiny windows, had mud floor and a sewer in the middle as toilet, that was cleaned once a day by the high tide. Many died of hunger, asphyxiation and disease before they were sold. They were chained to a jojoba tree where they were lashed one at a time. The loudest one screamed, the cheaper he was. On June 6, 1873 the English government forced the Arabs to stop the slaves trade. The market building was closed down. But the trade kept on going, secretly, and in place of Stone Town slaves were kept in caves in the North-Eastern coast of Zanzibar, until 1907. A missionary bought the building of the former slave market and built a church on it. Inside it there’s one of the oldest pipe organs in Africa, dating 1880, brought here from England. At the entrance of the church there are two pillars, standing upside down. The bishop that was supervising the works at the church had to go away for some time, and when he was back he found the pillars in the wrong position. Tanzanians didn’t know how to put them, as they had never seen them before.

4.10pm I’m at Traveller’s Café. Coffee is a bit expensive, 2.500 Tsh and it’s a Nescafé, but the location is adorable. There’s a stretch of beach in front of me, where kids play football. I went back to Ali earlier. He explained to me that they prefer to separate from Mainland because all the taxes they pay go to Dar Es Salaam and they don’t get anything back (I’ve heard similar talks in Italy). School and health systems are terrible, and they were better off before unification. I never know how to reply, because I don’t know what is true and what is popular belief, if truly the capital doesn’t invest in the island. What I know is that in the South of Tanzania they are living worse than here. Talking about the burning churches, Ali thinks it was the government who gave fire to them, to put muslims in a bad light. They have nothing against Christians. They grew up together, eat together, play domino, have been living together for centuries; in Zanzibar was built the first church of Eastern Africa and the cathedral is very close to a mosque. Ali was born in Zanzibar, his father in Pemba and the mother in Tanga, I think, along the coast of the Mainland. But his grandparents were from Muscat. He was married but his wife cheated on him and he couldn’t forgive her. Now she’s married to a Dutch and lives in Europe.

Maybe I could also bath with my clothes on like these kids, who cares? The problem is that it would take me a long time to get dry. At a nearby table there’s a Dutch man that is also on holiday. He has been for the last 8 years. He can’t leave. I love the mix of races of Zanzibar. Everyone has ancesters that come from different places of the globe. They are good looking. And they speak a good English. Which doesn’t help me in learning Swahili, unfortunately, but it’s nice to be able to communicate.

7h45pm and I’m back to the Gardens and was caught by Oki Doki, who wants to come the the Northern coast with me. Because he wants my holiday to be better than I expected. I can’t get rid of him. Rafiki rafiki he calls me, friend. Right. We go to get a drink at Sunrise, we are late for the Italy match, and after the first half time I go back to my hotel. There were some Europeans watching the match too, but they were supporting Spain.

sunset in stone town

Prison Island, also known for its turtles, in Stone Town

June 19

I don’t know what time it is. Asubuhi, anyway, morning.

Prison Island. It was never a prison actually. The monsoons on the Indian Ocean from December to March brought a lot of boats to the coast of Zanzibar full of goods, Indians, Arabs and diseases. For this reason they decided to use this island as a quarantine place for the ill.

Now on the island there’s an expensive hotel and a centre to safeguard giant turtles. The oldest is 150 years old. 150 years spending every single day eating and sleeping. I don’t know if I would enjoy it.

We do some snorkelling nearby. There are beautiful corals and fish. And jelly fish. That scare me a lot. I don’t resist too long in the water. A short break on the beach to dry up and then we go back to Stone Town.

I have lunch at my favorite place where I can have chapati and a lovely soup made with tomato, onion and pieces of meat. Then coffee at Jaw’s Corner (the old man sells coffee at 0.05 euro, but he sells so many that at the end of the day he has some money to buy food. And coffee is good, it’s made with a moka). There’s a Barber Shop at Jaw’s Corner, where Ali hides his bottle of whiskey that he drinks in between domino matches, hidden from his muslim friends’ view. Barber Shop is quite busy, everyone goes there for a cut, they don’t have electricty at home, so while they are having their hair and beard cut they can recharge their phones (the shop has chargers for any type of phone).

8pm. I’m at Sunrise with Ali this time. I like him, he’s fun and kind and he tells interesting stories. We are here with his friends, having an aperitif with gin & tonic before dinner, if they remember to eat. A belgian man, that has been living here for 12 years, is married to a local woman and has 4 children; they opened one of the most popular places in Stone Town, but now his main occupation is consulting (I haven’t understood what type of consultancy though). There’s Joy, so called because when he drinks he starts singing and dancing. Creamy, I don’t know what he does. They are all about 50 years old, wealthy, according to the money they are spending in alcool. Here comes another one, younger, looking for advice because his wife wants to divorce him but he doesn’t want to, he’s too close to her, and even if she cheats on him, he spent most of his time with her and wouldn’t be able to live without her. For him she converted to Islam. There is only the third divorce left, the last one. Yes, he seem sure now, he’s gonig to sign tomorrow. Ali receives a call. A family from the Mainland has just landed in Stone Town and is looking for a house to rent for one month. Three people are now trying to find a place for the family. A fourth man keeps talking about his wife, a bit to himself, a bit talking to me. She doesn’t love him anymore, but he doesn’t care, he wants to live in the same house. As long as she is discreet. Another guy comes, an artist, looking for free pot. The Belgian guy is happy of his marriage, he tells me, but when his wife sees him going home every night drunk and stoned, is she happy?

June 20

I’m still in Stone Town. I can’t leave. Tomorrow, hopefully. I’m at the beach in front of the Traveller’s Café. Edi is teaching me some Swahili. Well, too much actually. Probably I won’t remember one single word of the thousands he is trying to teach me. In exchange I teach him some Italian, that he already speaks a bit. Oki Doki told me that Italians are good tourists. Many come here, usually on a group tour, on a day trip from one of the resorts by the beach, and they spend some money in souvenirs. So people in Stone Town like them and welcome them. And for this reason many people speak a bit of Italian. The other day a guy spoke with a strong Calabrian accent that made me laugh. I’m sorry for the people that come to Zanzibar and only stay at the beach resorts. They miss a lot.

3.30pm Jaw’s Corner. The tournament is in half an hour. But coffee is ready. I’ve been waiting for one hour. In the meantime the guy from the Barber Shop transferred some music to a usb drive and invited me to drink something and offered to go North with me. He’s 26, married, and introduced me to his son. The face of the Indian guy when he plays domino! And how he gets upset when his mate does something wrong! They remind me of the elderly at the community centres in Italy.

6.20pm I’m again at the beach at Traveller’s Café. I came to see my friend (can’t remember his name) playing football. I’ve been here for five days and everybody knows me. I think I would enjoy living here. Some kids came to the beach to train doing leaps.