8 reasons to visit magical Tanzania

A couple of days ago, I was thinking about why I decided to go to Africa in the first place. I mean, it’s not the obvious choice for your first ever solo trip is it?

Tanzania

Tanzania was the reason. I wanted to go to Tanzania! I found it fascinating. For me, it epitomized the image of Africa – Kilimanjaro, beaches, safaris, it had it all.

Back in 2008, around the same time as I decided I wanted to take some time out to travel, I started sponsoring a little girl who lived there. Soon an idea began to form: I would visit her and explore the country. The rest of my Africa plans just developed from there.

And I’ll let on to a little secret… Tanzania is every bit as great as they say. Really. If it isn’t on your travel radar, hopefully it will be after I tell you about a few of my favourite places!

The Live Version of the Lion King in the Serengeti

No trip to Tanzania would be complete without a trip to the spectacular Serengeti, home to pretty much every animal you could hope to see on a safari. The Serengeti is adjacent to the Masai Mara in Kenya, and if you’re lucky, the annual wildebeest migration will be passing through in time with your visit. It really is a live version of The Lion King!

Lion in the Serengeti

Be prepared though. We’d been happily watching a giraffe family – mummy, daddy and baby giraffe – chilling out on the open plains before driving away to look for some elephants. After driving for around 5 minutes, the radio buzzed and another guide told us to come back to where we just were. We did a quick turnaround and when we got there, baby was no more. She was lunch for a pride of lions, mummy and daddy giraffe watched sadly from a distance, whilst a hyena waited patiently for the scraps, and behind him was a jackal waiting for his turn. It’s the ‘Circle of Life’… or something like that.

Whether you’re looking for a top end safari lodge, or a very rustic camping experience, you can find it all in the Serengeti. Either way, you’re likely to be lulled to sleep by lions roaring in the distance. If you’re camping, just remember to shine your torch around and look for eyes before you get out of your tent! The Big Five are all in the Serengeti.

Visit an Elephant Retirement Home at the Ngorongoro Crater

On your trip to the Serengeti, I suggest you tag on a visit to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a huge, collapsed volcano. The landscape is stunning, especially from the top looking in.

Ngorongoro Crater

Inside there is an abundance of wildlife. We saw hyenas, (endangered) black rhino, hippo, lions, cheetahs, but most of all elephants. Old bull elephants. Ok, so it’s not an actual retirement home but Ngorongoro is unique in that the elephants are all older bulls. It’s as if they have thrown up their trunks and said “I’m done with all that competing, I just wanna live out the rest of my life in peace, munchin’ on some trees.” They have a strange calmness that you don’t see in many elephants elsewhere. But you really need to go to experience it!

My highlights included seeing a herd of zebra accidentally running into camp whilst we were having dinner and an elephant stopping by the camp, too. Both caused quite a stir!

Climb to the Roof of Africa

In July 2009, I set about my biggest challenge to date (and still to this day) – climbing Kilimanjaro. Those six days, were probably the best and worst days of my entire life. I’ve never been so sick, hungry or tired, whilst at the same time feeling totally at peace and alive. The physical challenge was immense – I lost around a stone in weight – but the mental challenge was harder. Perhaps more so because I climbed alone. I had a guide and porters, but no other first-timers to share the experience with. This also meant I had no-one to moan to either; I just had to suck it up and get on with it!

Helen in Wonderlust Kilimanjaro

I chose the Machame Route. Starting off in the rainforest, you will make your way ‘pole pole’ (slowly) upwards, one small step at at time. The landscape changes dramatically over the course of the mountain, and the closer you get to the top, the more it feels like you are on another planet. Strange trees and plants appear and then give way to volcanic rock and glacier. From day two we were above the clouds, a strange limbo between heaven and the earth (or hell depending on how the altitude sickness is coming along)!

I still don’t quite understand how I made it to the top, but I did. Pure stubbornness maybe? Believe me, if you are looking for the experience of a lifetime, climb to the ‘Roof of Africa’!

Visit the Spice Island

Even the name makes me excited! Zanzibar, known as the Spice Island, is a former slave hub. It’s an intriguing place, full of history and sorrow but still so vibrant and magical. Spend at least one night in Stone Town, more if you can. You’ll wake up to the beautiful sounds of the call to prayer early in the morning before wandering the streets, admiring the architecture and beautiful doorways. You’ll get completely lost, but that’s half the fun.

Capoeira in Stone Town

Take a Spice Tour and visit the old Slave Market. Just before sunset, take a trip to the Africa House for cocktails and then head to the Livingstone Bar and Restaurant and watch the boys do capoeira on the beach. Walk along the seafront, and if you’re feeling mischievous join in with the ‘fun’. At night there’s the food market, something you do not want to miss! 

Stone Town

Be sure to visit the beaches of Nungwe and Kendwa. Nungwe is a little quieter and the perfect place for a romantic dinner on the beach. Kendwa is the place for dancing the night away to reggae music with the Maasai and the Rastas.

Zanzibar

Visit the Old Capital of Bagamoyo

I spent most of my time in Tanzania living in the coastal town of Bagamoyo, an hour north of Dar es Salaam. I was volunteering at the Baobab Home, running a summer school for the children who live in an around the home.

Bagamoyo

Each morning I would get up at sunrise and run (ok, I mostly walked) along the beach and watch the sun come up over the Indian Ocean.

Bagamoyo

BagamoyoBagamoyo is steeped in history, but a place that tourists rarely visit. In the 19th century, it was an important hub in the slave and ivory trade, due to it’s position opposite Zanzibar. The word Bagamoyo actually means ‘lay down your heart’ – a sad tribute to the slaves who passed through or died there. If you go, visit the Bagamoyo Museum and the Kaole Ruins.

Me and Lumilezi

BagamoyoNowadays, Bagamoyo is mostly known for being a fishing village, as well as a place where dhow boats (traditional African sail boats) are made. It also has an amazing arts scene, with the Bagamoyo College of Arts. They hold classes as well as lots of concerts. I watched the Miss Tanzania competition here, as well as attended my first reggae concert. Bagamoyo has a a large Rastafarian population, some who became good friends during my time there. My friend Rasti, a very talented painter who runs art classes, showed me how to make coconut rice and beans from scratch, and Lumilezi, another artist, taught me how to dance to reggae properly! Rastas rock!

Take the Tazara Train to Zambia

Taking the Tazara train is one of best ways to travel across Africa. The two-day train ride, is far from luxurious, but it is an epic adventure! From the window of your cabin, you can take in the magnificent views and watch the scenery change from green and hilly in Tanzania, to flat and golden in Zambia.

The Tazara Train

The tracks are lined with people, coming to watch the train pass or to sell bananas, water, SIM cards and a whole host of other things when the train is still. One of my favorite things to do when we stopped was hop off the train and go and have a chat with anyone who wanted to. I was coming the other way, from Zambia, so I was practicing my Swahili before I arrived in Tanzania. My mispronunciation caused quite a few giggles. Just remember to be flexible – my train arrived 24 hours late!

The Tazara Train

Experience Spectacular Sunrises and Sunsets

I’ve written about this before, but Tanzania is the place where I’ve seen some spectacular sunrises, and sunsets! With its position on the Indian Ocean, watching the sunrise from either the coast of mainland Tanzania or from Zanzibar is always a treat! Especially when you get that moment when a traditional dhow boat sails past in perfect silhouette.

Serengeti Sunset

As for the sunsets, well, the best best place to see one of those is in the Serengeti. Due to the sheer size of the place, there is literally nothing around for miles and miles. You know that iconic African image – a sunset, an animal or two and a lone acacia tree? Well, the Serengeti is the place you’ll see that!

Try the Multicultural Food

Oh the food! I love Tanzanian food! It’s a real mix of traditional African food, with a strong Arabic/Indian influence, especially along the coast and in Zanzibar.

In Bagamoyo, my diet mostly consisted of fruit for breakfast, samosas, chapatis or mandazis (like a donut) for lunch, and rice and beans or plantain with a small portion of meat stew for dinner. I’d buy these from the metal container restaurant next to my house. One night we went out to a proper restaurant for dinner (below). All that was on the menu? More rice and beans! Still to this day, every now and again, I get a mad craving for rice and beans – although when I left, I never wanted to see a plate of rice and beans again.

Rice and Beans

On the coast and in Zanzibar, fish is widely available. We sometimes walked down to the beach and bought red snapper straight from the boats. In Dar es Salaam, there are a couple of big fish markets. Ugali is another popular food, as it is all around Africa. Ugali is a thick maize porridge (resembling mashed potato), which is usually served with a relish and occasionally meat. One of my favourite foods was chipsi mayai, which is basically a chip (french fries) omelette.

Stone Town Food Market

The Stone Town Food Market is the place to go for a massive selection though!

I’m a massive tea drinker, but we didn’t have a fridge and milk is not widely available anyway, so I switched to drinking delicious chai. In terms of alcohol, Konyagi (like a gin/vodka) in plastic bags was my poison of choice, usually mixed with a still Fanta (yeah, I don’t know why either) or a Mirinda soda. I’m also quite partial to a Kilimanjaro beer!

Zanzibar

So, there you have it! Some of my top Tanzanian experiences!

Have you been? Do you want to go?

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Helen Davies is a an adventurer, part-time traveller and full-time Africa lover. She writes about her travels in Africa (and elsewhere) on her blog Helen in Wonderlust. She's been gorilla trekking in Rwanda, dived with great white sharks in South Africa and climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro. Helen can usually be found on or planning an epic trip for herself or someone else. Having spent a year in Africa, she’s keen to encourage others to explore her favourite continent. Read more by Helen Davies and connect on Google Plus.

26 Responses to “8 reasons to visit magical Tanzania” Subscribe

  1. Lisa - Wee Wanders April 18, 2014 at 10:57 am #

    Wow Tanzania looks incredible, what an amazing experience! I’m hoping to make it to Africa in 2015…fingers crossed!
    Lisa – Wee Wanders recently posted..Benitses: A Kitten Here, A Spiros There

    • Helen Davies April 20, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Lisa!!! Definitely make it a priority for your 2015 plans!!! Tanzania is a great place to visit! Well, I love it anyway! Let me know if you go!

  2. Kemkem April 18, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Do l want to go??? Are you kidding me??? This is one of the most amazing pieces l have ever read anywhere! I lived it through your words. I am originally from W.Afrca so l am familiar with some of the foods and the people, but the Safari experience looks amazing. I can’t wait to start planning my trip there and l will use this as my reference. Well done and thank you for sharing.
    Kemkem recently posted..Flashback Video – Montego Bay, Jamaica

    • Helen Davies April 20, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

      Hi Kemkem! Thank you for such a lovely comment! Wow!!!

      Just give me a shout if you need any advice when you are planning! I’ve never been to West Africa but hopefully going soon! Where are you from????

      • Kemkem April 22, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

        Thanks for the offer. I am from Nigeria originally but have lived in the States since l was 13. I had hoped for S.Africa for my safari adventure, but my friend keeps putting off her marriage (sigh..they already live together so he feels no pressure! I warned her..lol) . Malawi looked okay to me, but reading your piece makes me want this instead…very much… I will reach out for help as offered when l get to that stage. Thanks for the generosity .
        Kemkem recently posted..Madrid : How to love it like a Madrileno, Part 1

  3. Jen Seligmann April 19, 2014 at 1:38 am #

    What a beautiful and rewarding experience this is. I’d love to visit Africa, especially Tanzania one day.
    Jen Seligmann recently posted..Interlaken in Pictures

    • Helen Davies April 20, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

      Tanzania was wonderful, and the charity I was working for are great too! I’m quite selective about volunteering programmes, but they were a really worthwhile one. It was like being part of a family! Tanzania has it all, really is the vison of Africa! I just felt so at home there. Hope you get to go soon! :)

  4. Rachel of Hippie in Heels April 19, 2014 at 2:31 am #

    wow, this is making me sooo want to get up and move again! I’ve been in Goa, India a year now and love expat life- but all my travels have been around Asia this year. Africa is my favorite place ever! When I went to Uganda to go to Bwindi jungle the world cup bombings happened and the buses weren’t safe, plus tourists were being targeted. I sort of ended up stuck in Kampala during that- then did make it to Jinja at least to raft & bungee. Because of the bus bombings I never made it anywhere else- I’m dying to go back!! I want to take a year and just wander around. Bookmarking this page! And Helen, I’m surprised I haven’t seen your blog before! I’ll add you to my feed :) Great article.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..A Soul Searcher’s Guide to Udaipur

    • Helen Davies April 20, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

      Africa is my favourite place ever too! I think we would get on! :) Africa is amazing! Shame that you couldn’t get around, but at least you made it to Jinja! Were you heading to Jinja for the gorillas? Did you manage to see them?

      I’ve never been to India! Will need to head over and read some more of your blog! :)

      Thanks so much, same here!!! :)

  5. rebecca April 19, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    love your work Helen! great article!
    rebecca recently posted..Chapter 15: David Shrigley Brain Activity

    • Helen Davies April 20, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

      Thanks so much Rebecca! :)

  6. Sand In My Suitcase April 22, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    You certainly explored a lot more of Tanzania than we did. We only added Zanzibar as a place to basically relax and recharge after safaris in South Africa and Zambia. But we did stay in a restored historic palace in Stone Town for 3 nights – a fascinating melting pot of many cultures (though most Islamic). We particularly loved all the magnificently carved Zanzibari doors in Stone Town – especially the spikes for fending off elephants. Next visits to Tanzania (hopefully there’ll be a next time!), we’d like to go on safari taking in the Ngorongoro Crater…
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted..Flora Farms dishes up yummy farm-to-table eats

    • Helen Davies April 24, 2014 at 8:44 am #

      Hi!

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      I was there for a couple of months, so managed to see quite a lot! Writing the post made me want to be back there! I’ll hopefully go back soon!

      The doors are beautiful in Stone Town. Something interesting at every turn.

      I met up with a friend there who lives in rural Zambia and he just couldn’t quite comprehend the craziness of Stone Town! :)

      Love Zambia too! Used to work there and it’s my favourite country! I’ll have to head over and read about your African adventures!
      Helen Davies recently posted..Finding Beauty in North Wales: Portmeirion & Criccieth

  7. Nita April 23, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Fantastic article! I’ve only been to South Africa but would love to visit Tanzania someday, even more so after reading this and seeing your lovely pictures. That sunset in the Serengeti looks right out of a dream, and it seems like you made lots of beautiful memories in Tanzania.. Well done, Helen! :)
    Nita recently posted..Fabulous Food Quotes

  8. David April 24, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    wow… absolutely beautiful…a great place for safari. Africa is amazing!

    • Helen Davies April 24, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

      I concur! Thanks David!

  9. jen April 26, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    Amazing pictures. Huge accomplishment hiking Kilimanjaro. Thanks for the inspiration!
    jen recently posted..Whitewater Rafting in Banos, Ecuador

    • Helen Davies April 28, 2014 at 1:59 am #

      Thanks Jen on both counts! Kili was really hard, but I would love to do it again! I must be mad! :)

  10. GiselleandCody May 12, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Oh Tanzania. What a beautiful country with beautiful people. We ended up backpacking through Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar for our honeymoon. Zanzibar is such a great island and it’s so fun to get lost in the streets of Stonetown :)
    GiselleandCody recently posted..The people of Myanmar

  11. Tom @ Waegook Tom May 24, 2014 at 11:19 pm #

    I shouldn’t have read this – I’m currently debating whether or not to go to Ethiopia as my first destination in Africa next year, with my other main choice being a Tanzania-Zambia combo. Bagamoyo sounds like a pretty interesting place (I’d never heard of it before!), and of course, all the food looks incredible. Also, fascinating that the bull elephants have made their own kind of retirement home – I don’t think I’ll be bothered with competing with younger guys at that age, either! ;)
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..The Best Things I Ate In The First 23 Days Of May

    • Helen Davies June 1, 2014 at 6:24 am #

      Hey Tom! I’ve never been to Ethiopia, but I can’t say enough good things about Tanzania and Zambia! Bagamoyo is cool. It was a great place to spend a while and I loved living there, right near to the beach.

      But wherever you go, I’m sure you’d have an amazing time! Have heard lots of good things about you from Brenna! :)
      Helen Davies recently posted..When Elephants Crash the Pool Party

  12. Mags May 25, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    I just got back from my first trip to Tanzania almost 2 months ago and these photos made me miss it like crazy. What a magical place.

  13. Helen Davies June 1, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    Aw, sorry Mags! If it makes you feel better, I miss it too. Nope, doesn’t make me feel better either. Guess we both need to book those return flights then! :) Truly magical!
    Helen Davies recently posted..When Elephants Crash the Pool Party

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