TANZANIA: THE MAINLAND
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, they say.
Well, so does this trip!
Sometimes it is all about the experience, no matter how uncomfortable it is. We always hated to go to poor countries and stay in resorts as if nothing from the outside could touch us while the locals perhaps not even have access to potable water.
So, when we booked our tickets to Tanzania, we just decided to do most of the things the same way locals do it.
Therefore, this article is about truly experiencing Tanzania while keeping the costs to a minimum as well.
We will write about the main things that we did and probably the most important: safari, trekking, interacting with the locals, going into villages, enjoying landscapes, rain forest and meeting some of the last hunter-gatherers.
We spent a month in Africa which was divided into 3 weeks on the mainland and 1 week on Zanzibar island, but we will write about Zanzibar separately, in the next article.
We booked our tickets to and from Dar Es Salaam, which is usually the main entrance point into the country. All the subsequent flights are usually made from here.
We got our visas on arrival but this depends on the nationality, so you should better check before you book the tickets.
We had 4 main stops within the country: Dar Es Salaam, Usambara mountains, Arusha area and the national parks and Haydom village. The rest was just traveling to and from these places, but beware, traveling within the country takes A LOT! Because this is Africa! ☺
We booked all the accommodation via Booking except the safari, a 3 day trip we made in the Usambaras and a lodge that we found on the spot.
What to expect?
Well, Africa is Africa, so you should prepare yourself for that. Things will move at quite a slow pace, transport will take ages and occasionally you`ll be fooled just because you are white.. or "nzungu", as the locals say. But in a way I tend to keep their side, as after all the bad things white people did in Africa in the past, they deserve to take something back.
Is it safe? Yes it is. Because is so touristy, Tanzania is among the safest countries in Africa, so you shouldn`t be worried about that. Even though some of the locals may seem to harass you, mostly in big cities, they are inoffensive.
Expect low standards everywhere you stay, expect not having hot water to shower or even not having water at all. Take a lot of wet wipes with you and expect to be washing in a bucket sometimes. ☺
As you would probably imagine, using credit/debit card is not possible in most of places, so it would be better to bring cash ( Tanzanian shilling or USD ) or to withdraw money whenever you are in a bigger town.
Expect poor breakfast, usually some bread with one or two eggs, or "eggy" as they call it, and that`s all. Even though there are so many coffee plantations over there, you`ll only get instant coffee in most of the places. And the places that have regular coffee are usually the most expensive hotels.
BUT, the good thing is that this is the country of AVOCADOS! So, if you go from December onward, for a few months, you`ll have delicious, organic, ready to eat avocados literally everywhere. Along with a lot of other organic vegetables and fruits!
So, what we used to do was to just buy avocado, tomatoes, peppers, onion and make guacamole to accompany our "eggy" breakfast. And in the end was just delicious!
Apart from breakfast, the rest of the food is good, mostly cooked food and fairly organic. But it`s always nice to buy some organic fruits and vegetable from the side of the road for some more vitamins. Fresh pineapple is a must try one!
Expect a lot of dust and dirt everywhere. Expect to be squeezed in local transportation and having to keep your backpack in your lap unless you buy an extra seat. ☺
Vaccination and medication
As well as other African countries, a visit to Tanzania requires some vaccines. The recommended ones are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, typhoid, yellow fever as well as boosters for tetanus, diphtheria and measles.But you should consult your doctor prior to this.
However, bear in mind that for most of them there is a buffer period so you should plan having them as least 15 - 20 days before your arrival.
What about Malaria?
Well, as you may already know, there is no vaccine for Malaria, therefore you can only take some kind of antibiotic treatment prior to and after your trip.
Basically, there are three types of tablets and all need the doctor`s prescription: Doxycycline, Mefloquine and Malarone. The problem with these is that they all have side effects and even without side effects, any medication taken for a long period destroys your liver and so on.
By the way, Mefloquine is the worst one in terms of side effects.
Therefore, if you go only for a week or so, you might take one of the three just for the sake of being relaxed.
If you go for a month, like we did, there is an alternative: be very careful mostly at dawn and dusk, wear long sleeves and long pants throughout this time, buy an anti-insects spray with a high DEET concentration ( typically 40% or even 50%) which can be usually found in hiking equipment shops and as soon as you land in Tanzania, buy some Coartem tablets.
The tablets are for the worst case scenario: the treatment of malaria. So if you get the feeling of being very cold ( in a tropical country ),profuse sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, you probably got Malaria and this should be the time to take those pills.
Although Malaria can be a deadly disease, in reality, if you treat it properly from the first symptoms, you`ll get cured fairly quickly.
During our one month stay in Tanzania, we just took care as mentioned before and didn`t have any problems. But we met few people which stayed longer and got Malaria few times but they got totally cured.
The Usambara Mountains of northeastern Tanzania in tropical East Africa, comprise the easternmost ranges of the Eastern Arc Mountains. The ranges of approximately 90 kilometres (56 mi) long and about half that wide, are situated in the Lushoto District of the Tanga Region. The highest altitude is 2630 m .
With their wide vistas, cool climate, winding paths and picturesque villages, the Usambaras are one of Tanzanian's highlights.
Getting to West Usambaras
The main location to get to and from the Usambaras is Lushoto.
You can get to Lushoto from Dar Es Salaam via bus. All the buses from Dar Es Salaam leave from Ubungo Bus Terminal ( on the West side of the city ) very early in the morning, so you`d better be there around 5.45 am.
Some people say that it is better to buy the tickets the night before or just check with the hotel you are staying to avoid cheating. To be honest, we just went there early morning and bought the tickets on the spot. In reality we got fooled a bit as the bus was not a direct one as we were told initially but we got there pretty much in time.
The bus ride takes approximately 8 hrs and most of the buses don`t have A.C, so be prepared for some African fragrances. ☺
Tips: try to get your tickets for a bus that is already almost full as they don`t leave until the bus gets full and bear in mind that sometimes they try to charge you the full ticket price to Arusha although Lushoto is half way.
In Lushoto, we booked 2 nights via Booking at Green Farm Friends but we didn`t like it. There was no running water and we were constantly told that it`s just a temporary problem but it wasn`t. Breakfast was poor as well.
In Lushoto there is Irente Viewpoint Hike that is pretty nice and then you can visit Friends of Usambara Information Center where you could book some tours around the area. A nice tour could be to go to Mtae village.
We did the mistake of booking the three day trek to Mtae village through out host which might have fooled us. As far as we remember, we paid around 150 - 200 USD including 2 nights and a guide plus all the food, which is pretty expensive for this area.
The trek was actually going more or less along side of the main road. We walked 27 km on the first day plus some bus ride and 20 km on the second day.
We spent the first night at some catholic monastery - Rangwi Sisters Guesthouse - which was ok for the African standards. There was lots of cooked organic food which was very nice. However, we had no hot water for shower, only cold water. But at least we had running water. ☺
On the second day we walked from Rangwi to Mtae via Mtai village, where we visited the people making pottery. We had lunch at a family on the way to Mtai.
Our night in Mtae was pretty epic and the climax of being out of our comfort zone. Basically this was a house which looked like something in between prison and stable, with no bed sheets and very dirty and a lot of weird people making a lot of noise over there and building fires in the building. We tried to sleep with our clothes on but we couldn`t manage to close our eyes and we were even considering to walk in the dark night to Mambo View point where we heard there is a guest house. ☺
In the end we waited until the sunrise and we walked 12 km with empty stomachs to Mambo view point. There we found 2 guest houses: Mambo Cliff Inn and Mambo Viewpoint Eco Lodge. The first one is cheaper but the second one is epic. Basically this lodge was built by a Dutch couple which is also living there. The accommodation actually on top of a cliff and is divided into big tents with own bathroom and proper rooms. Obviously, the rooms are much more expensive.
We got only a tent with a view for ourselves but after a week of not showering, the outside bathroom with hot shower was just heaven. Plus it had decent breakfast and a very nice lobby with wifi! ☺
We just loved it here so we spent 3 or 4 nights, before heading to our next destination - Moshi.
From the lodge, we did several walking trips to Mambo village and the surroundings, where we took a lot of photos and shot videos.
Over all, this whole trip was kind of a life changing experience and we don`t regret a single bit of it. After staying in such conditions, whenever we go to a bad accommodation we`re like: "Come on, it`s not that bad, we had worse in Africa!". ☺
In order to get to Moshi from Mambo Viewpoint Eco Lodge, we needed to wake up very early (around 3 am), walk 8 km to the first junction, get a local bus to Lushoto and then change in Lushoto for a bus to Moshi. The whole trip took us around 10 hrs.
In Moshi we stayed 2 times at Basecha Garden Lodge, which was ok if you consider African standards. They ladies over there did their best and woke up early morning so that we can have breakfast at 5, which was very nice!
Apart from Kilimanjaro trips, safaris are among the most expensive experiences in Tanzania, and definitely the most expensive on our trip as well. But is definitely a must try one! The fact that you can be in the middle of the wildlife over there is just incredible!
In Tanzania there are several national parks but it`s impossible to do them all. The most important ones, though, are: Serengeti National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. Out of these, we managed to do only the first three.
All the safaris start either from Arusha or Moshi, therefore you have to find a way of going there.
Basically, there are two ways of organizing a safari in Tanzania: on your own or through a tour agency.
We made a lot of calculations and we thought a lot about how to do it, but for just the two of us, we reached the conclusion that it`s going to be cheaper and more efficient with an agency. Why?
Well, because just adding the cost of renting a 4 wheel drive car, the park entry fees ( which are a lot ), the tent and the food was pretty much at the same price as an organized safari tour. Then, because the entry fees in the park were so expensive we couldn`t afford to stay so many days therefore the itinerary had to be efficient as well. Because the parks are SO HUGE!
However, this doesn`t mean that it cannot be done on your own. And by the way, we saw many people doing the safari by themselves.
Someone recommended us this tour agency which proved to be very nice in the end - Lens Trekking, in Moshi. Basically, they are doing all sorts of trips within Tanzania, including Kilimanjaro and Meru trekking and of course, the safaris.
In February 2017 we paid 200 USD person/day and we had a 4 days safari.
We quickly got in touch with Mr. Livin R. Ngolly from Lens Trekking and we managed to customize our trip. This meant that we could choose which parks to do, when to do it and we didn`t go with a big group, it was just us and a Chinese couple, which was great.
We had to pay 200 USD in advance for confirmation.
During the safari we had our driver and our cook which was providing us with breakfast and dinner plus a lunch box. We had our fully equipped own tent during the safari but we recommend bringing your own sleeping bags.
Our pick up point was Moshi and we started our safari with with Tarangire National Park for a day, then moved to Serengeti for the next day and finally to Ngorongoro Crater during the last day.
Due to the big distances in between the parks and within Serengeti itself, the second day was mainly just going from one park to the other. But once we entered Serengeti, things started to become interesting.
On the way back from Ngorongoro we stopped at a Masaai village but we didn`t feel it was too authentic. We managed to do some nice pictures, though.
There are, of course, more expensive ways of doing the safari which include accommodation in special lodges in the national parks but isn`t it exploring the nature and its wilderness the whole point of the trip?
Another amazing thing to see is the Wildebeest Migration.
It is rated as one of the world's most spectacular natural events - every year over a million wildebeest, zebra and antelope migrate clockwise around the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem, taking in two different countries and making time for birthing, courting and mating on the way.
But for this you need to check the migration location against yours so it might be more difficult to arrange.
Both doing a tour or doing the safari on your own can be nice, it all depends on your time and money. All the national parks are nice.
Tarangire is smaller and more compact, therefore you have more chances to see more animals in a shorter time, especially herbivores.
Serengeti is more epic, is part of the migration, it has a lot of big cats but is huge so unless you are extremely lucky, you need a longer time in order to taste it properly.
Ngorongoro crater is the place where you see everything at once, it`s like a zoo just it`s natural and all those animals simply choose to stay there because they have enough food and water. Therefore, especially if you don`t have a lot of time, Ngorongoro is a must!
Expect lots of dust in all the parks!
DO NOT wear blue/ dark blue/black/ white/ very pale clothes as these can attract tsetse flies.
DO NOT wear camouflage clothing either as it identifies with the soldiers.
DO WEAR larger clothes just in case tsetse fly tries to bite you. DO WEAR natural fiber clothes as it is going to be very hot in the savanna. Have some long sleeves for the night.
DO BRING DEET spray against mosquitoes.
We wore large long pants and has a lot of spare light green and grey T-shirts and that was pretty much it. We wore long sleeves during the evenings and during the nights.
We had also rented two mountain bikes from Lens Trekking, so, after the safari, our guide dropped us in Mto Wa Mbu village, where we spent a night at Lilac Campsite and had a short bike ride into the village and the acacia forest nearby.
We chose Mto Wa Mbu in the hope of doing some cycling, perhaps even to our next destination - Haydom ( or Haidom ).
Unfortunately, the bikes were not as good as we hoped plus the road was pretty hilly so we just ended up cycling from Mto Wa Mbu to Karatu for about 30 km. But it was a hell of a ride with the broken gears and hills and the hot weather and it took us almost the whole day. ☺
At some point, while starving, we just saw an unusual sign on the side of the road: Rhotia Valley Coffee Corner. And I say unusual, as you never find cafes in Tanzania in the middle of nowhere!
We went there in the hope for some bite and we ended up on an amazingly decorated terrace, with proper coffee and great food.
On the opposite hill they also had a very nice lodge - Rothia Valley Tented Lodge - but, unfortunately, it was too expensive for us - about 300 USD/ night. However, if you can afford it, you might want to give it a try.
In the end we made it to Karatu and spent the night over there by finding a last minute deal on booking. We also chose to get a bus from Karatu to Haydom, instead. ☺
Haydom and the Hadzabe tribe
Haydom is our next and last stop before our trip to Zanzibar island. We reached Haydom via Karatu village but you can reach Haydom directly from Arusha.
No matter which one you choose, usually, the transport is the public Land Cruiser from either of them.
We actually took a bus from Karatu initially, then changed to a Land Cruiser at some point on the way. It was roughly a 5-6 hour drive. We left the village via Arusha, with the same kind of transport.
Tips: we suggest on booking another 2 seats for your backpacks as the Land Cruisers get super packed and you`ll end up keeping your luggage in your lap for 5-6 hrs.
For more information on how to get to and from there, you can check out the Haydom Lutheran Hospital website, the place where we stayed, as well.
Haydom itself is pretty small and there is not much to do around there apart from visiting the tribe. Luckily we had our bikes with us, which we transported on top of the public vehicles that we used
( D`oh! It`s Africa! ☺ ), so we could just ride in the surroundings.
So, the main reason we got here was the hunter - gatherers tribe: Hadzabe.
About the Hadzabe
With an estimated population of less than 2,000 individuals, the Hadzabe are one of the last tribes to stay true to their tribal history. Existing far from the crowds and globalization that inevitably follow tourism, they exist much as they always have.
The Hadzabe people live in caves near Lake Eyasi, and their isolation and shrinking numbers have allowed them to avoid the HIV epidemic and other diseases that have spread due to intertribal marriages.
An interesting facet of Hadzabe culture is their language. Believed to have some kind of relation to the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, the Hadzabe language is a distinctive tongue of clicks that is similar to that of the famous Bushmen.
Getting to the tribe involves someone someone from 4CCP ( 4 Corners Cultural Programme ) which is in the Cultural Center. You cannot go to the tribe by yourself as you need someone that knows them and speaks their language, as they don`t speak Swahili.
The Cultural Center is also a museum and presents a lot of information about the 4 main tribes of the area.
Once you get there, let them know you want to go to Hadzabe and they will give you more details. Bear in mind that sometimes might take 2-3 days for them to make the arrangements.
What is 4CCP?
Haydom is the only place in Africa where the four major language groups of the continent meet in one place. This is the reason why the Four Corners Cultural Programme was started.
The four major language groups are Datoga, Iraqw, Hadzabe and Isanzu/Iramba. These tribes represent the south, the west, the east and the north of Tanzania, and all have different traditions and languages.
We went there with the guide from the Cultural Center and a driver in a AWD Toyota. The drive was about 2 hours but their location always varies so each time might be different. On the way, we stopped at some point and we picked up a very unusual looking and very small person. It turned out that he was their leader. For us it was weird and interesting as this person looked so much different than any other person that we ever saw.
We reached their campsite and spent few hours there. Their life is simple, they just hunt animals and gather plants throughout the day. In the morning, the women go collecting roots, fruits and other plants and the men go hunting and collecting honey. In theory, they don`t store anything, they share and eat all at once. Once they got everything they could from an area, they move to the next one.
They showed us their archery skills, their dances and we could communicate a bit with them through our translator. They know about some of the things that exist in the world but they are happy the way they are. They don`t want to live our live.
Unfortunately, nowadays, due to the lack of land available, it`s harder and harder for them to get their daily food intake, therefore, the people from 4CCP try to help them to start harvesting plants and grow animals, so the tendency is to be less and less wild and more adapted to the rest of the world. Which is a pity, in our opinion.
Anyway, the whole experience was remarkable and impressive. It is unbelievable how, after 10,000 years of civilization, there are people who still have a hunter gatherer lifestyle.
After this last experience on the mainland we headed back to Dar Es Salaam via Arusha and Moshi, where we dropped off the bikes. This time, we managed to take an early morning AC "luxury bus" from Moshi and reach Dar Es Salaam in about 12 hrs. Alternatively, you could take a domestic flight from Arusha airport.
Below, there is all the footage that we made during these 3 weeks on Tanzania mainland. The video was posted at the beginning of the article.
Gear used: Olympus OM-D M5 ( 12 mm, 25 mm and 75 mm ) for photos and Samsung NX-1
( 16-55s mm and 50-150s mm) for the video.
We hope you found this article useful!