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Located in eastern Africa, Tanzania borders eight countries – Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both ethnically and culturally diverse, the country has much to offer its visitors and residents.
The vast expanse of wilderness across Tanzania, are home to many of Africa’s exquisite wildlife species and unique geographical features including Mount Kilimanjaro (the continent’s highest peak), the Great Rift Valley, the world’s largest caldera, Lake Victoria (the world’s second largest freshwater lake) and the Ngorongoro crater.
As a large country, Tanzania has a varied climate – with tropical conditions in most regions, including along the coast and temperatures rarely dipping below 20°C. Within the highland areas, temperatures can be significantly cooler ranging from 10 – 20°C. Tanzania has no discernible seasons like summer and winter, rather two distinct ones – wet and dry.
During the peak of the dry season, temperatures can soar to extremely high temperatures – typically above 35°C. For some respite, you can head to the coast where the cool ocean breeze can make conditions easy to tolerate, yet the humidity is much the same.
With little rain and low humidity, landscapes become barren and water is scarce. Taking necessary precaution during this time is extremely important – avoiding the midday sun, using high factor sun cream and staying suitably hydrated.
There are two rainy seasons through the year, yet in central areas it tends to remain arid and dry. The short rains occur between October and December and the longer rains last from March until June.
During the wet season, as you can imagine, landscapes bursts into life. This can be a wonderful time to explore national parks and catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring native wildlife.
However, in the wettest months – the period of long rains – you can expect some resorts, attractions and national park trails to be closed or access restricted.
With a population of over 55 million people, Tanzania is one of the most diverse countries in Africa – home to more than 100 ethnic communities, including the Maasai. Culturally, the country has much to offer its residents, with a wonderful mix of African, European, Arab and Indian influences.
Tanzania has a rich history which has shaped the unique culture that we see today. The country was given its name in 1920 by a British civil servant which was translated from Swahili – tanga (meaning sail) and nyika (meaning bright arid plain). The land is also home to the world’s oldest discovered archaeological hominid settlements – dating back some 3.8 million years.
A strong resonate connection to the country’s raw natural landscape and magnificent wildlife is ingrained within the culture. Sadly, continued exploitation of land’s natural resources has resulted in once abundant species and ecosystem, facing severe threat of extinction.
Citizens of Tanzania are cohesive and demonstrate a strong sense national pride, which is likely how the country has remained at peace amidst its war-torn neighbours. The peace and unity that emanates across the country is almost immediately evident to its visitors and may well be in some way attributed to the its religious freedom since its independence, with many religions playing a part in the nation’s history.
However, despite this, the country remains one of the poorest nations in the world and is still subject to corrupting and repressive influences.
Swahili is the official language of Tanzania and is generally the most commonly used across the nation. This Bantu language historically developed through interactions between Arab traders and Bantu communities in coastal regions.
However, overall Tanzania is categorised as a multilingual nation, with some 126 languages spoken across the country, but no one specific language is favoured. There are many ethnic groups who typically communicate in their native tongue which are either connected to the Bantu or Nilotic language groups. Among the Nilotic languages spoken include Massai, Ngasa, Ogiekm Datooga and Kisankasa. Minority languages are wide ranging and include Hadza and Sanawe, which are click dialects with Khosian origins.
English is widely used and taught in some schools, making it relatively easy to communicate from town to town and even get by in some of the more rural areas.
The most popular way to get around Tanzania is by road. The country has road networks of over 53
miles which are maintained by the Tanzania National Roads Agency, making it quite easy to get from A to B in a car. If you choose to rent a car, most often you will have the option to have a driver which can be a safe way to navigate this unknown terrain, at least to begin with.
However, local routes are also accessible by dalla-dallas (minibuses used for public transport). In more rural areas you can expect public transport to include the use of jeeps and trucks. Whilst this is a budget-friendly option, you should bear in mind that these modes of transport are often over crowded, make frequent stops and accidents are a fairly frequent occurrence. In order to minimise risk, it can be advisable to travel early in the day rather than at night.
If the bus options don’t hold much appeal, there are an abundance of Taxi available in all major towns in the country. Taxi’s in Tanzania don’t have meters as you might be used to, instead you simply agree a fare with the driver before setting off. In larger cities that you may also experience some companies who have a fixed price list. For safety, avoid hailing street taxis and use the ones stations at legitimate taxi stands and hotels.
Although Tanzania has a rail network for freight and passengers, it isn’t the most efficient mode of transport. Train speed is slower than you might be used to and delays to services are commonly experienced. However, if you need to travel a long distance and have plenty of the time, train routes can offer a unique scenic opportunity.
In terms of medical risks in the country, Malaria is endemic in almost all of Tanzania and cholera and typhoid are relatively common diseases. Therefore, expats should take necessary precautions and take preventative measures. Tap water is not deemed safe to drink and it is advisable to always opt for bottled water.
Moreover, before you travel to Tanzania you must visit their GP prior to travel to ensure all necessary vaccinations are administers, these include – tetanus, typhoid, diphtheria, rabies, polio, hepatitis A and B and MMR.
As you might expect from one of the poorest countries in the world, healthcare standards are low, and facilities limited. This is in part due to the country continuing to suffer from insufficient funding and resources – technology, staff and medical supplies.
Urban areas are by far the most established in terms of available medical facilities and the best hospitals can be found in Arusha and Dar es Salaam. However, in some cases of serious medical emergency, it may be necessary to transport patients to Kenya or South Africa.
As such private healthcare insurances is usually a preferred option, providing that much needed reassurance to expats living in Tanzania.
For more minor health complaints, you will be able to be treated in the major hospitals where most doctors speak English. Its also worth baring in mind that payment for treatment is often expected upfront and in cash.
Pharmacies are also found across the main cities but are unlikely to stock certain medications for chronic conditions. In comparison to the UK, medications are often in short supply.
The official currency of Tanzania is the Tanzanian Shilling. You’ll need this to pay for everyday items such as groceries, bus tickets etc. However, in most of the tourist areas, you will find that US dollars – except for those issued prior to 2006 – are also accepted and in some way, even the preferred currency.
Banks and ATMs are easily accessible with the major cities so accessing money shouldn’t be a problem. Although, to be on the safe side, opt for ATMs which are located within a bank. If you need to exchange any currency, this can be done in the usual places such as bureaux de change and local banking facilities.
Furthermore, credit cards and VISA cards are accepted in larger establishments and this can be a safer option for many, but small shops, cafes, and markets will generally only accept cash.
For expats working in Tanzania, you’ll likely require a Tanzanian bank account for your wages to be paid into. It would also certainly be cheaper to open an account to avoid bank card charges.
You can open a bank account in Tanzania as long as you have a work or residence permit. For a private bank account, you will also need confirmation of your employment and a minimum of 50,000 Tanzanian shillings to open the account with. Thankfully, all banks use English as well as Swahili in their communications and correspondence.
Tanzania’s education system is both private and public and includes pre-primary, primary, secondary ordinary, secondary advances and university level. The curriculum is standardised, yet due the system being catered towards wealthy families, many children fail to make it to secondary school. Children most often drop out in order to help their families and this has increased charity efforts with the aim of achieving improvements in this and other areas of concern.
The Tanzania school system continues to be a high priority on the government agenda and has subsequently seen much improvement over the years. In 2005, education was a key component in achieving the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty and the important role education plays in Tanzania’s social and economic development.
As educational facilities can vary widely across the country, most expats living in Tanzania choose to enrol their children in one of the International schools. There are several to choose from – Hazina International School or Kwanza International School for primary education, Dar es Salaam International Academy, International School of Tanganyika Ltd for up to secondary and International School Moshi specially set up to serve local expat communities for children aged 3 to 19.
In doing so, expat families can be sure their children will receive a stable education programme, on a par with more western standard teaching practices.
Tanzanian cuisine has been hugely influenced by Indian cuisine over the years and includes spices you would commonly see in India. Local food usually consists of grains, beans, fruit, meat, fish and local fruits and vegetables.
The exact dishes served across Tanzania varies considerably in each region. Although there is one dish – ugali – which is considered Tanzania’s national dish and is widely available throughout the entire country. Ugali is a starchy dough made from cornmeal, sorghum or millet and is served alongside meat, fish or vegetables cooked in a sauce.
Along coastal areas, dishes are usually spicy and many features coconut milk. In most regions, meat such as goat, beef, chicken and/or fish are consumed, together with a range of local veggies such as okra, green peas, beans and cassava leaves. Bananas or plantain are also grown widely in Tanzania and as such the fruit is commonly used in dishes such as soups and stews.
Other popular Tanzanian dishes include nyama choma which is roasted meat served with a side of vegetables and typically ugali or rice. Ndizi kanga is eaten as a snack or as a side and is quite simply, fried plantains or bananas cooked with brown sugar, butter and nutmeg. Pilau is found almost everywhere and is essentially middle eastern spiced rice.
In terms of beverages, the drink of choice among Tanzanian locals is chai tea. Coffee is also popular and cold drinks are usually fruit juices – such as pineapple, orange and tamarind. The legal age for drinking in Tanzania is 18 and for those looking for an alcoholic beverage, there are a range of local beers to choose from – including one made from bananas! As a mainly Muslim country, alcohol is not widely consumed outside of the tourist establishments.
Overall, most visitors to Tanzania have a trouble-free experience. However, armed crime is on the increase and muggings, burglary and armed robberies do frequently take place.
As with most other developing countries, crime hot spots are usually within the major cities and Dar es Salaam is no exception.
It is imperative for visitors to keep their wits about them and take sensible precautions, such as avoiding walking and cycling alone, after dark, in remote areas, and near the roadside, carrying large volumes of cash, valuables and your passport.
Historic robberies have occurred when tourists have used unlicensed taxis and travelled with strangers. To reduce this risk, be sure to arrange transport through reputable companies and check their identification. Under no circumstances should you accept lifts from any unknown individuals.
Expats residing in the country should ensure their residential property has adequate security, especially at night. As a rule, most residents have both security guards and dogs.
When travelling across the region, check local travel advice and be cautious with your choices. Be wary of public transport which doesn’t appear to be fit for purpose and always follow on-board safety instructions. For road travel, you can expect lower driving standards than you might be used to. Large numbers of accidents occur, and these often involve long-distance buses.
Perhaps more obvious is the need for care to be taken with regards to local wildlife. When visiting national parks, always follow regulations and use reputable travel companies and tour guides.
What is there not to do in Tanzania, that is the question! As you might expect, the country has much to offer in terms of natural landscapes and incredible wildlife encounters, all of which will are not to be understated and once witnessed, the memories and magic will remain fondly etched in your mind.
During the wildebeest migration – between January and February – the plains of Tanzania’s largest national park – the Serengeti, come alive with great herds of wildebeest, buffalo and zebra as they embark on an epic journey in search of lush pastures to graze upon.
A popular way to truly capture the magnitude of this unique natural wonder, is to get a bird eye view in a hot air balloon.
Home to a famous volcanic crater, Ngorongoro is a must for wildlife lovers. This protected area is one of the most popular locations in Tanzania for viewing wildlife – lions, elephants, rhinos, Thomson’s gazelles, buffaloes, wildebeest, zebras, hippos, flamingos and other bird species – all thanks to the permanent water supply which sees a vast array of native species popping in for a drink. Moreover, the 3-million-year-old crater also happens to be the largest intact caldera on the globe.
Also laying within the conservation area is the Olduvai Gorge which has been an important archaeological site for early human remains and evolutionary evidence.
The largest peak in the entire African continent can be found in Tanzania. Not surprisingly, this makes Mount Kilimanjaro an extremely popular attraction and the park welcomes masses of visitors every day.
This world heritage site was formed over one million years ago. The mountain is quite the spectacle. and the towering snow-capped peak certainly stands out against the flat savannahs of the Tanzanian landscape.
The island of Zanzibar is an extremely popular holiday destination, boasting beautifully pristine, white, sandy beaches, which many claim to be some of the best beaches on the planet. For those looking to relax and unwind among a serene landscape, will certainly not be disappointed.
In the heart of Zanzibar, visitors will find Stone Town which has remained relatively unchanged for more than 200 years. This provides a unique opportunity to glimpse the country’s historic past and glimpse agriculture built in the 19th century.
A visit to the interesting landscape of Lake Manyara National Park, is a superb opportunity for a close up view of some of Tanzania’s most iconic species, with tree-climbing lions, huge herds of elephants and vast troops of baboons.
The landscape is a mixture of grassland, woodland, forest and swamps, which is not on offer in many of the other Parks. Visitors typically enjoy jeep, canoe and mountain bike tours in the Park and bird and wildlife watching are among the most popular activities.
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