Backpacking Tanzania: ULTIMATE budget Tanzania travel guide

Lions watch wildebeest in the Serengeti - one of the unique places to visit in Tanzania

Backpacking Tanzania: Top experiences

  1. Watching the sunrise from the Roof of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro
  2. Witnessing the wildebeest migration in Serengeti National Park
  3. Trekking through small villages and meeting the country’s friendliest people in the Usambara Mountains
  4. Diving and snorkeling off the coast of Mafia Island
  5. Strolling the ancient streets of Stone Town, Zanzibar

Jump to the list of posts from Tanzania, or read on for my comprehensive Tanzania backpacking guide.

Tanzania itinerary ideas

Traditional dhows, seen while backpacking in Zanzibar
A typical Tanzania itinerary includes some beach time on Zanzibar.

Most people planning a Tanzania itinerary want to divide their time between a safari and the beach. Ten days is the minimum for this type of trip — you could rush through Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks and the Ngorogoro Crater on a four-day safari, then head to Zanzibar for a few days of beach time.

If you want to do a bush-beach trip and have your heart set on visiting Serengeti National Park — and you probably should — you’d need at least two weeks in Tanzania. This is because of the very long drive from Arusha and size of the park itself. This would also give you enough time to see both the beaches and Stone Town on Zanzibar.

Beyond the bush and the beach, Tanzania’s other big draw is Mount Kilimanjaro. You’ll need at least a week to climb it, but if you have ten days, you can choose a route that gives you a better chance of summiting.

With more time, there are tons of off the beaten path destinations to explore. You could trek in the Usambara mountains, visit the lesser-known beaches of Mafia Island or Pangani, check out the Kondoa Rock Art sites, climb other mountains in the Crater Highlands, or track chimpanzees in Gombe National Park — where Jane Goodall did her research. There’s also a well regarded (albeit very seasonal) southern safari circuit that takes in Ruaha and Selous National Parks, but it’s not as accessible for people backpacking Tanzania on a budget due to the lack of campsites or travel groups.

Tanzania weather and when to visit Tanzania

Views from the summit of Kilimanjaro
If you plan to take on one of the epic Tanzania hikes, prepare for below-zero temperatures up high.

Tanzania is in the tropics, so the temperature stays pretty consistent year-round. The main factors dictating the best time for traveling in Tanzania are the rains and the wildlife patterns.

Weather in Tanzania

Tanzania has two dry seasons: the long dry season from June-September, and the period after the short rains from January-March.

The long dry season is the most popular time to visit. Prices are higher, crowds are bigger, and the dust can be unbearable. On the flip side, the weather is tolerable on the coast, it’s easy to assemble a group for a safari, and wildlife is super accessible.

The short dry season is a great balance between weather and crowds. You won’t run into many other tourists — many hostels are nearly empty. It might rain a little bit, but not every day and not for long. This is also the ideal time for a Kili climb because the snow pack tends to be intact at the top, but the temperature is warmer. The downside is the coast is brutally humid. It can also be harder to find a group for a safari. I visited during the short dry season and it was perfect for the type of trip I wanted, but it was very hard to find travel buddies.

The rainy seasons bring radically lower prices, but a lot more inconveniences. Many camps and tourist services close altogether during the long rains (March-May). It’s harder to spot wildlife in the densely vegetated landscape. Kili climbs and other hikes can be brutal — many trekking operators won’t run rainy season trips for safety reasons. Roads in remote areas become impassible. But the landscape is wonderfully lush and you’ll hardly find another tourist in the parks.

I’d recommend a dry season trip for folks hoping for a bucket-list safari experience, or who are traveling to East Africa for the first time. Seasoned Africa explorers who are looking to access lodges or camps above their typical price point could find visits during the rains very rewarding.

The wildebeest migration

Wildebeest running from a pack of hyenas
If you choose a budget safari in Tanzania, the short dry season is a great time to visit to pair the migration with lower prices.

The Great Migration — the movement of 1.3 million wildebeest between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya — is one of the greatest natural phenomenons on Earth.

There is no single “migration season” — the migration is happening somewhere all the time, as the wildebeest spend the whole year moving in a giant circle. However, there are a few periods people often want to time their trip around:

  • For a few weeks in February, the wildebeest give birth to up to 8,000 calves a day on the Ndutu Plains. The population swells to 2 million. Predator activity is intense as new life makes easy targets.
  • In August/September, the wildebeest cross the Mara River. It’s more common to visit Kenya to see this, as the river is a shorter drive from the Maasai Mara side. But if you’re willing to endure the long travel days deep into the northern Serengeti, you can also see the crossings from the Tanzania side.

The odds of timing your trip perfectly to see a spectacular migratory movement are almost nil. Additionally, Ndutu and the northern Serengeti are expensive due to limited accommodation options and high fuel costs. So you risk adding $1,000+ to the cost of your safari to see the same things people paying far less can see.

If seeing the migration is important to you — well, frankly, I’d recommend going to Kenya in August instead. But on the Tanzania side, you have better odds of a good experience in summer, mainly because even without the migration the game viewing in the central Serengeti is unbelievable.

That said, I took the risk and timed my trip for calving season. I witnessed both a river crossing with lions present and a massive chase between hyenas and a 10,000+-strong herd. The central Serengeti was dead quiet, but the southern Serengeti exceeded even my guide’s expectations (and no one else was there). So it’s all a matter of luck!

Language in Tanzania

View of the Pare Mountains from Mambo
The Usambara Mountains are one of the best places to learn and practice Swahili while you travel around Tanzania.

The dominant language in Tanzania is Swahili. It originated to help Africans who spoke Bantu languages communicate with Arabic-speaking traders on the coast. So you’ll hear a lot of Arabic-derived words, but with easier pronunciation.

It’s worth picking up a few words of Swahili before you visit Tanzania. In particular, knowing how to greet people appropriately is important (and complex). Here are a few of the common greetings:

  • Habari, habari gani or habari za leo?: How are you? You can answer “Nzuri” or “salama” or “safi“, all of which mean good/ok/cool. If you want to get a smile from people, answer “freshi.”
  • Shikamoo: A respectful greeting when encountering someone older than you or in a position of authority or status, like a police officer or a priest
  • Marahaba: The response to “shikamoo,” useful when children greet you
  • Mambo: What’s up? The response is “poa”
  • Za asubuhi/mchana/jioni: Good morning/afternoon/evening
  • Umeamkaje/umelalaje: How did you sleep/wake up? The response is “salama”

One thing you’ll notice from this list: “Jambo” isn’t on it, even though you’ll hear it constantly in touristy places. This is because jambo, which means “hello” in Swahili, is only used with tourists. Greeting someone with the above phrases instead will instantly earn you traveler cred.

In addition to Swahili, many Tanzanians speak a tribal language. These languages bear little resemblance to Swahili. You won’t hear them much outside of people’s homes or community spaces.

English is an official language in Tanzania. In cities and larger towns, and in any setting geared toward tourists, most people speak excellent English. But as soon as you get out to small towns and rural communities, it can be hard to find an English-speaker.

Even when English is an option, it’s amazing how much people open up when you make an effort to speak in Swahili. Literally just a greeting is enough to build trust that you aren’t just another package tourist. I found people went straight from “Mambo/poa” to “What’s your whatsapp, let’s hang out later,” whereas if I started with English it became a very transactional conversation.

Budget for Backpacking in Tanzania

Tanzanian shillings -- the main currency you'll use backpacking Tanzania
Wondering what to do in Tanzania on a budget? Aim for cheaper treks like Meru, shorter safaris in parks closer to Arusha, and more off-the-beaten-path exploration.

I’m not going to lie: a Tanzania backpacking budget is not exactly broke-student friendly. Tanzania competes with Rwanda for the title of “most expensive East African country.” Like everywhere else in Africa, I recommend splitting your travel budget into a “daily costs” bucket and a “special activities” bucket to make it clearer what you need to save for.

You’ll need about $30 a day if you stay in dorms, eat at local restaurants, travel by bus/dalla dalla and don’t party. Add $15-20 a day if you want to do day tours. Staying in private rooms and eating at tourist-oriented restaurants bumps the minimum budget to $50 a day. The coast and islands are more expensive than inland for daily costs, but you can also find more free and cheap activities like hanging out at the beach.

The big-ticket items are where your trip budget can get out of control. Tanzania’s national park fees are extremely high. That creates fixed costs that push safaris, treks, and other adventures into the out-of-reach range for many budget travelers — before you even get to transport, accommodation and food. It’s always cheaper to share activities with others, but even a shared camping safari will run you at least $250 a day.

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Don’t forget to budget for tips, which are more or less mandatory. For a day tour (like a spice tour on Zanzibar), 10,000 shillings — $4 — is sufficient. On safaris, $20 per day from the group as a whole is a good tip for the guide, plus $10 per day for the cook if you have one. Kilimanjaro climbs are their own beast with tipping. Expect to spend about $400 per person on tips for a 6-7 day route. If you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford the tour.

Currency woes

Both US dollars and Tanzanian shillings are accepted in Tanzania — sometimes, but not always, interchangeably. I generally got discounts of up to 20% on small items when a price was quoted in dollars but I paid in shillings. However, I was quoted absurd exchange rates to pay in shillings at a couple tourist-oriented places. So make sure you pay attention and know the exchange rate.

You can’t get dollars out of the ATM in Tanzania. And when withdrawing shillings, you can only take out 400,000 — about $170 — at a time. You can do multiple transactions, but they each come with big transaction fees if you don’t have a fee-free card.

As a result, it’s important to confirm with tour operators how to pay any large expenses before you leave your home country. If you can’t pay in advance, make sure you have a way to get enough of the required currency once you arrive. For something like a safari you may need to start planning your ATM withdrawals a few days in advance.

Bonus: You can sometimes pay with a Visa credit card, but only if the Internet is working and your card plays nicely with the machines. And, sometimes you won’t find ATMs for days at a time (~ cough ~ Zanzibar’s east coast ~ cough ~ Usambara mountains ~ cough ~ the entire NCA and Serengeti ecosystem). And, even reliable ATM’s often run out of money. And, not all ATM’s accept foreign cards, and they definitely don’t accept anything other than Visa (unless you get super lucky and find one that also takes MasterCard).

So carry more cash than you think you need, ideally a mix of dollars and shillings, and always make sure you know where your next reliable ATM is.


Tanzania has a bargaining culture. Almost every price is negotiable (with the exception of park fees) — so go ahead and ask for a better deal on your safari.

For best success:

  • When buying small items like fruits at the market, a gentle “can you make it cheaper” is appropriate, but knock-down, drag-out fights over prices are not.
  • At tourist-oriented shops, aim to buy at about half- to two-thirds the original asking price. But don’t be a jerk, keep smiling, and remember the goal isn’t the cheapest possible price — it’s a mutually acceptable price. Deeper discounts are possible on more expensive things; don’t spend an hour arguing over a keychain.
  • For big trips, it’s easier for operators to throw in extras or give you better-value experiences than it is to lower the price significantly (because park fees limit how low they can go). I negotiated a free private transfer from Arusha, hot springs trip, and three nights of accommodation as part of my Kili climb. I got my safari company to nix the single supplement for my accommodation, which bumped me up from lodge-safari range to small-tented-camp range, and they threw in an extra game drive in the Serengeti.
  • If someone is willing to drop the price of a tour significantly, that could be a warning sign that they’re shortchanging you on the experience in a way that really matters. For example, dodgy safari operators might drop the price by adding strict fuel limits that can make it hard to see much wildlife. Or a Kili operator could cut staff from your crew, requiring the remaining porters to carry too much weight.

Sample costs

Private room in a hostel: $40

Meal at a local restaurant: 8-12,000 shillings

Cup of coffee at a high-end cafe: 2,000 shillings

Museum admission: 10-20,000 shillings

Luxury bus from Dar Es Salaam to Arusha (ten hours): 30,000 shillings

Guided trek from Lushoto to Mambo (all-inclusive): $50 per person per day

Five-day group camping safari from Arusha to Serengeti and Ngorogoro: $1,500 plus tips

Tanzania visa requirements

Views of the Afro Alpine Ecosystem on Kilimanjaro
If you fly into Kilimanjaro Airport, it’s faster to buy a visa on arrival.

Citizens of most countries can enter Tanzania either visa-free, with a visa on arrival or with an e-visa. Entry requirements are the same whether you arrive on the mainland or on Zanzibar.

If you’re from this list of 69 countries — primarily in Africa and Asia — you do not need a visa to enter Tanzania. Everyone else needs one. The cost is $50 for single-entry for everyone except Americans, for whom it’s $100.

There is debate about whether it’s faster to do the e-visa in advance or fill out the form at the airport. On my flight into Zanzibar, it was faster to have the e-visa — I was through customs in 5 minutes, but the line for on-the-spot visas was long. Kilimanjaro Airport is known for having longer lines for e-visa holders.

If you do the e-visa, apply at least a week in advance to allow processing (although it usually only takes 24 hours). You must have a printed copy of your approval — you cannot show them on your phone.

Tanzania is not part of the East Africa Tourist Visa (EAT) scheme covering Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

You must show proof of yellow fever vaccination if arriving from a yellow fever-endemic area. This includes layovers of 12 hours or more, and it includes arrivals from Kenya. I’d also recommend bringing your COVID vaccine card/QR code. Officially it wasn’t required when I visited, but the customs officials pulled people out of line to get tested if they didn’t have proof of vaccination.

Accommodation in Tanzania

Tents below the summit while climbing Kilimanjaro
Budget travel in Tanzania involves camping on treks and safaris.

Accommodation is the most frustrating element of planning a budget trip to Tanzania. Value for money is poor. Unlike in Uganda, camping is not widely available except in national parks.

All the major Tanzanian travel hubs have hostels with dorm beds, helpful staff, an activity desk, and places to meet other travelers. A bed in a dorm costs $10-15 a night, while private rooms consistently cost $40 a night. A good breakfast is usually included. Hot showers are often available, but don’t always work.

Hostels are great for onward travel information and availability of food in the evenings, when walking to a restaurant is unsafe. Hostel staff are also the best people to ask about forming a group for a safari or trek.

But if you don’t need help from the staff, or you’re staying outside major tourist centers where there are no hostels, local guesthouses offer better value for money. A clean room with private bathrooms and hot water, a good mattress, huge buffet breakfasts included and good WiFi costs about $15 a night. Staff often don’t speak English and don’t know much about tourism, and you’ll mostly meet business travelers from Tanzania instead of buddies to share tour costs with. (But it’s a great way to meet locals!) If you’re looking for these places, look for “resorts,” “self-contained,” or “B&B’s” — a quirk of Swahili English is that “hotel” means “local restaurant” rather than a place with rooms for travelers.

In national parks, the only budget accommodation is camping at designated campsites. These have plenty of space for a few groups to set up tents. They often have meal-prep blocks (but no cookware). They also have restrooms, but be forewarned that they can get extremely gnarly.

Usually your tour company provides camping gear, which tends to be good quality, name-brand stuff. For serious treks like Kilimanjaro, it’s worth bringing your own cold-weather sleeping bag, especially for women — the rented gear is too big to keep you really warm. But there’s no need to carry a full camping kit with you.

Food in Tanzania

Swahili cuisine in Nungwi, Zanzibar
If you’re backpacking Zanzibar, you’ll eat lots of local food like this – a full meal for around $3.

Tanzania has the best food scene in East Africa, and is the easiest country to eat well on a budget.

First of all, Swahili food — what you’ll find on the coast and islands — deserves a place on any list of the world’s best cuisines. The Swahili coast is a historical trading center between Persia, mainland Africa, Madagascar, Arabia, Southeast Asia, and India, and the food reflects it. Think fragrant coconut curries prepared with fresh spices, fish purchased straight from the dhows as they pull in, and tropical fruits like mangoes and pineapple. If you don’t eat meat or fish, be sure to try “maharage ya nazi” — a red bean coconut curry — and spinach cooked in coconut milk.

You can eat very well on the coast for nominal cost. Even in super-touristy Nungwi, local restaurants serve whole fish with beans, rice and mixed veggies for 8,000 shillings.

Inland, the most common meal is rice with a beef, chicken or goat stew. Sometimes it’ll be ugali (a cornmeal paste) or chapati instead of rice. You can also look for nyama choma — barbecued meat. Pescatarians can seek out tilapia, and vegetarians can always get beans and rice. If you eat at a local restaurant or at the market, meals like this will run you 4-10,000 shillings.

You’ll inevitably encounter the national comfort food at some point during your trip — chipsi mayai. It’s literally a French fry omelet. It’s served with copious amounts of ketchup or chili sauce. Not exactly healthy, but it’ll fill you up for 4,000 shillings.

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Most visitors to Tanzania eat at tourist-oriented restaurants or have a chef who travels with their tour group. This makes practical sense — it’s not safe to drive anywhere after dark in national parks, and aside from a few places on Zanzibar it’s not safe to walk after dark either. The food ranges from pizza and burgers to three-course menus. Standards vary enormously, but there will be always be more than you can possibly eat. If you’re eating at a hotel restaurant, expect to pay 10-15,000 shillings for a meal. On a safari or trek the costs of food are included. Vegetarianism and other dietary requirements are not always well-understood — you’re better off asking for specific dishes you can eat in Swahili than trying to explain broadly what you can and can’t eat.

A lovely quirk of Tanzanian restaurants is most places cook your food to order. So food can take…a long time. Expect at least an hour wait, but it can be much longer — on Mafia Island you have to order dinner first thing in the morning! Long waits apply even at hotel restaurants, so when you check in to a new place, be sure to ask how much notice they need for food orders. If you’re impatient you can get pre-prepared food at the markets.

Drinks in Tanzania

Cappuccino at Zanzibar Coffee House in Stone Town
If you’re traveling Tanzania on a budget, you won’t find many places for fancy coffee like this – hit up Zanzibar Coffee House for a rare treat.

There’s nothing better than sipping a cold drink while watching a pride of lions hunt from the safety of your safari vehicle.

Tanzania’s tropical climate means easy access to fresh fruit juices. Mango, passion, watermelon, and orange juice are the most common. Prices are 2-4,000 shillings for a large glass.

Sodas are available, but rarely cold. Coke, Fanta, and Stoney Tangawizi (a ginger soda that’s somewhere between ginger ale and ginger beer; it’s heaven in a bottle) are the most common. You’ll pay 1,000 shillings for a bottle.

For hot beverages, tea is ubiquitous. You might find “Swahili tea,” brewed with spices like ginger and cardamom, on the coast. If you want milk in it, ask for “chai maziwa.” However, the milk in Tanzania is almost always powdered due to lack of refrigeration.

Even though coffee is a prolific crop on the footslopes of Kilimanjaro, it’s mostly exported. Instant coffee — the brand Africafe — is the only option most of the time. If you want a good espresso drink, Union Cafe in Moshi and Zanzibar Coffee House in Stone Town are two of the only places to get something made by expert baristas.

Tanzania produces a few local beers, the best of which are Safari and Kilimanjaro. Beer runs 3-4,000 shillings a bottle. Wine is imported from South Africa and costs upwards of 7,000 shillings a glass. Prices for alcohol are significantly higher at safari camps, but at least your drinks have a reasonable chance of being cold.

Local moonshines include banana beer, millet beer, and coconut wine. Depending on who’s making it, it could really be a beer, it could be more like a wine, or it could be fire water. I didn’t try any of it, but seeing the expressions on people who did, I can’t recommend it.

Activities you can do while backpacking Tanzania

Elephants in Tarangire National Park
Because it’s closer to Arusha, elephant-dense Tarangire National Park is one of the best places to go on a budget safari in Tanzania

Travel in Tanzania is very activity-focused — you probably aren’t flying all this way to walk around villages. That means costs add up quickly.

Safaris are the most popular activity, and deservedly so. I’ve been on safari in many places, from Namibia to Uganda, and Tanzania’s game parks are on a whole other level. I saw more wildlife on the first five minutes of my safari in Tarangire than in 8 hours driving around Queen Elizabeth National Park — and Tarangire was the least wildlife-dense park I visited in Tanzania.

At a minimum, budget $250 a day for a group camping safari out of Arusha. This is largely out of tour companies’ control; park fees and permits push it into that range even before you account for a vehicle, gear and guides. Be sure to clarify expectations around the number of game drives and whether they’re pre- or post-breakfast (pre- is better for predator activity), the parks you’ll visit, and restrictions on milage (especially in the Serengeti).

If you like hiking and trekking, the opportunities are endless. Kilimanjaro is the classic expedition. But Mount Meru, Ol Doinyo Lengai, and Mount Hanang are other peak-bagging options. The smaller mountains offer huge cost savings, far fewer people, and more last-minute booking options. For a lower-altitude trek, the Usambara Mountains are incredible, or check out the remote Udzungwa Mountains.

You’re generally required to hike with a guide and porters in Tanzania, and even when hiking independently is possible it’s usually unwise. You’ll pay as much in unnecessary fees trying to organize logistics yourself as you will to hire a guide to take care of it for you. Verify that any trekking companies you book with follow the porter code of ethics established by KPAP.

The ocean is the other big adventure destination in Tanzania. While you could spend weeks lazing on the beaches of Zanzibar, you can have a more active aquatic holiday if you prefer. Sand bar tours, snorkeling, diving, dhow cruises, swimming in freshwater caves and lagoons…the options are endless. However, the reefs of Zanzibar are in really rough shape — most snorkelers/divers come away disappointed — and many of the dolphin tours are unethical. Mafia Island is a far better destination for divers, although the beaches aren’t as nice.

Transportation in Tanzania

A land cruiser parked on the Ndutu Plains during a safari
For safaris in places like Tarangire National Park, the Ngorogoro Crater and the Serengeti, you’ll need a 4×4 Land Cruiser.

The golden rule of travel in East Africa is there’s always a way to get where you want to go, but you never know what it’s going to be until you get there, and it definitely won’t be comfortable. This holds true for Tanzania.

Before you delve into road transport nightmares, it’s worth checking internal flight prices. Flights can run as low as $30. The best prices are usually at the airport within two weeks of travel, but there are good deals online too. If you can swing it financially, it’s always worth flying from Zanzibar/Dar to Arusha/Moshi.

Inter-city transport

Buses are the main method of ground transportation. The best companies are Dar Express and Kilimanjaro Express, whose luxury buses have toilets, air conditioning and one-person-to-a-seat rules. Plenty of other companies offer “luxury” buses that don’t live up to the same standard — my “luxury” trip from Lushoto to Moshi involved 8 hours to go 130 km, sharing a seat (not a row, a seat) with two other adults and a baby, no A/C, no toilet, no toilet break, and a stop every 30 seconds to pile in more dead fish and bananas. I can only imagine what circle of hell the “budget” buses occupy.

Further down on the transport spectrum are dalla dallas, which can be anything from minibuses to trucks to 4×4 share-taxi’s. These are cheaper than buses and cover more routes, but they’re slower, more crowded, and they only leave when full. Unlike buses, you won’t get a ticket on a dalla-dalla, so be wary of mzungu pricing. They can let you off anywhere you want to go along their route.

Buses and dalla dallas start leaving around 4:30 am, and most routes are out of the station by 6. You can buy tickets on the spot.

On the plus side, inter-city road transport is relatively safe in Tanzania. The country is heavily policed and buses are big paydays for the cops because the companies can afford large bribes, so drivers tend not to speed.

On the minus side, arriving at Tanzanian bus stations is terrible. The safari touts, trekking companies, hotels, taxi drivers, and other people vying for your attention before you even get off the bus is extreme. Expect to be grabbed, pulled, poked, attempted-to-be-pickpocketed, yelled at…oh, it’s not fun. The Arusha bus station is the worst, but Dar, Lushoto, Moshi, and Stone Town are all pretty terrible. On your way out of town, the tuk tuk/taxi driver who brought you to the bus station can get you on the right bus without the hassle for a few hundred shillings’ tip.

Tanzania also has a rail network. But unless you’re traveling to Zambia, it doesn’t make much sense to use. The network is improving and may be more relevant for travelers in a few years.

Never rely on local transport to get you into a national park. You’ll have to pay park fees — which can cost upwards of $70 per person per 24 hours — but you won’t see any wildlife from the roads served by transport. And you have a good chance of getting stuck in the park (and accruing more fees) when no vehicles are around to take you out.

Local transport

Getting around cities/towns can be a real budget-killer in Tanzania. If you can figure out how to use the local dalla dalla system, it’s cheap as chips. But you probably won’t figure out the local system on a short stay, which means you’re looking at private transport.

It’s very common to hire a car with a driver for certain trips in Tanzania. This includes safaris, of course, but also day trips like the waterfalls and hot springs around Moshi. Costs depend on the number of people, but range from $30-100 for a day.

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If you need to get from a bus station to a guesthouse, bajaji — the local word for tuk tuks — are a good option. Prices are about half that of taxis, and the drivers are less hassle-y.

In really remote areas, sometimes the only option is a boda, piki-piki or moto — which all refer to riding on the back of some dude’s motorbike. The driving standards are truly terrifying. Avoid these at all costs, and if you must use them, find a reliable (preferably at least 16 years old and definitely sober) driver through your accommodation.

For all of the above, you’ll have to negotiate on price.

You can also combine activities and transport for a nominal fee. For example, a couple traveling from the east coast of Zanzibar to Nungwi/Kendwa can stop at Jozani Forest on the way for $5/person, when doing it as a separate trip would be $50/person.

If you find a local driver you like, don’t be shy about asking for their WhatsApp number and organizing all your transport with them.

Finally, if you’re tempted to try to get to remote local destinations by public transport — aside from national parks, it’s usually possible. However, the required-guides-at-your-destination, mzungu pricing for entrance fees, and relentless demand for tips add up to the point where you save a marginal amount of money in exchange for a significant amount of hassle. After a decade of extensive Africa travel on a budget, I can tell you: the “cheaper” way leaves people feeling stressed out, ripped off and unsatisfied. The “expensive” way usually leaves people enjoying their trip and feeling like they got a good deal. The cost difference usually ends up being, like, $5-10. I’ve done it both ways, and at this point I wouldn’t consider doing trips like Chemka Hot Springs or Materuni Waterfall on my own.

Safety when backpacking Tanzania

The alpine desert zone near the summit of Kilimanjaro -- one of the best Tanzania hikes
Extreme altitude and sun exposure are to major dangers in Tanzania on hikes.

Tanzania is overall a very safe travel destination. Even Dar Es Salaam and Arusha, are fine to walk around during the day with only minor precautions.

The #1 rule to staying safe in Tanzania is to avoid going out on foot after dark, even in a group. Almost everyone is home with their families in the evening — so the streets empty out, the shops close, and the only people who have a reason to be wandering around tend to be up to no good. The exception is Zanzibar, where all the cities and towns felt safe enough for me to walk around alone until 9 pm or so.

Pickpocketing and bag snatching are on the rise, particularly in Dar. My hostel recommended not carrying a bag when walking around. Be vigilant at bus stations and on buses as well. But really, the level of petty crime seemed low everywhere, especially compared to Nairobi or Addis.

Activities in Tanzania present their own safety issues. On safari, never leave your vehicle outside of designated picnic areas, lest you be trampled by a hippo. Altitude sickness, very rough sea conditions, and flash floods can impact trekkers and watersports lovers.

Perhaps less exciting, the two biggest risks to be mindful of are road accidents and malaria.

Driving standards have improved greatly in areas with a police presence, but they’re still not good once you’re off the tarmac. Drunk driving is common. Pre-teen children operating motorbike taxis are common. “Drive on the left” is taken as a suggestion rather than a law. Roads are a mess, especially after rain. Few drivers use their headlights.

The best ways to protect yourself are to avoid traveling by road after dark, and to decline the well-intentioned offers to sit next to the driver, where you’ll be the first to die in a head-on wreck. (Air bags? What air bags?)

For malaria — I’m not a medical expert, but from everything I’ve heard from doctors both locally and in the U.S. over a decade of Africa travel, it’s reckless to travel in East Africa (Tanzania included) without anti-malarials. I take malerone, which has few side effects and is mostly covered by my insurance. You should also protect yourself from bug bites with repellent, and if you’ll be outside a lot, consider treating your clothes with permethrin. Long sleeves, long pants and socks at night also help. Definitely use your mosquito net whenever one is provided.

If you have symptoms of malaria, head to the nearest clinic immediately — even the smallest rural clinic can do a malaria test and prescribe treatment. Malaria is treatable when mild, but extremely dangerous if it progresses to the cerebral stage. There is no viable trip to Tanzania that keeps you out of malaria zones — even if you only climb Kilimanjaro, the days you fly into and out of Moshi put you at risk.

Tanzania travel advice for women alone

Taking a break while trekking near Lushoto
Solo female travel in Tanzania is easy and safe

Tanzania is an easy, relaxed place for solo female travel. There are very few dangers in Tanzania specific to women. This is consistent with my belief that East Africa is the easiest part of the world for women to travel alone. Most men are friendly without being flirty. I came home with a WhatsApp full of new buddies, almost all of whom were guys.

However, I got more unwanted attention in Tanzania than in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya or Ethiopia. It wasn’t much by global standards — maybe once a week. It was more of an issue on the coast (on Mafia Island, I went to a local beach and was immediately approached by three different men! which matches the experience of a travel buddy who’d been there a week earlier), but I had issues in Moshi too.

A few tips to avoid it:

  • Everyone, regardless of gender, is expected to cover shoulders and knees if you aren’t on the beach or on safari. This includes walking around beach towns — if you aren’t standing on sand, cover up. Of course it doesn’t justify men hassling you if you ignore this cultural norm, but the reality is you’ll get more hassle if you walk around villages in shorts and bikinis.
  • If there’s a football match on, a pub nearby, or any other reason for there to be lots of drunk guys hanging around, keep your distance.
  • Personally I got tired of doing activities where I was by myself with a younger (like under-25) man. Part of this is probably because I look much younger than I am — I’m often mistaken for a student — but these younger guides consistently shifted the conversation toward “where is your boyfriend” etc. etc. It was never threatening, just annoying. If you want to avoid this, ask if others will be joining your tour before you book or insist on meeting the guide in advance. I had entirely great experiences with guides who were over 30, regardless of whether they were single or married.

One of the nice things about backpacking in Tanzania is the many opportunities to meet women working in the tourism industry. About half my guides were women, and lots of guesthouses and tour companies are managed by women. Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with these folks and learn more about their lives — they’re usually excited to share stories with solo female travelers.

The other big hassle — although not a gender-specific one — is beach boys. On Zanzibar, these touts walk around trying to sell low-quality tours, transport, and souvenirs. The bad news is you may be approached dozens of times in a single hour of sitting on the beach. The good news is, they don’t want to waste their time any more than you do, so a simple “hapana asante” (no thank you) and going back to your book does the trick. If they’re more persistent…well, you tried to be polite, so at that point you can walk away or ignore them. I’m not going to lie, they’re annoying AF and definitely detract from the beach experience in Nungwi and Kendwa — even the locals call them “ticks” — but try to keep in mind they’re just doing what they can to make a living. (Of course, their tours and products are garbage at best and scams at worst, so I’d never recommend that you buy or book with them.)

Finally, if you’re an extrovert, you will love traveling in Tanzania. The cultural expectation is that you’ll meet and greet everyone you encounter. Quick questions usually turn into long conversations. Children want to have their photos taken…about 1,000 times. It’s all very friendly, but if you’re introverted, it can add up to a lot more social interaction than you’re accustomed to. Try to build in some time to hang out at your guesthouse pool, or at a restaurant or cafe, where you can recharge.

On that note, this was my first trip that I did with a large and difficult-to-cover tattoo. I got a lot of attention for the tattoo. None of it was negative attention — in fact, it was mostly local women who were curious about it, asking me if it hurt, how I decided what to get, etc. But I had that conversation 10+ times a day, every day I was in a town. If you have visible tattoos and you want more alone time, I’d suggest covering them.

Ready to get started? Check out the posts from Tanzania!

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Safaris in the Serengeti. The beaches of Zanzibar. The summit of Kilimanjaro. These are just a few places you can go while backpacking Tanzania. This guide will give you all the tools you need to plan a low-budget trip to the most exciting country in East Africa. #travel #safari

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Margarita Ibbott
5 months ago

This was amazing. Great tips (love the language and currency tips). I’m bookmarking and sharing! #bps

5 months ago

This is a great resource for anyone wanting to travel to Tanzania. I’ll be using it whenever I go.

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