10 Things You Should Know before Travelling to Tanzania

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Who is better at giving travel advice? A fellow tourist or a native of the place you are going to?

Most travellers rely on the advice of fellow tourist’s as it is often more relatable. An outsider to a place will recognize the differences and nuances in the culture more than an insider. That’s why most travel books, blogs, and TV shows are hosted by travellers (outsiders to the culture).

Nevertheless, there are a lot of things that we can learn from the locals of the places we want to visit – that are missed by many travel experts. This is especially true for places like Tanzania, where there is a huge language barrier if foreigners do not speak or understand Swahili.

So, we asked some Tanzanian’s what they wish travellers knew before they came to the country. Here are some of the things they had to say:

1. Don’t say “Jambo”

Jambo! ” means “Hello” in Swahili, however, the first time most Tanzanian’s hear or use this word is usually when they interact with tourists. While your Swahili phrase book may tell you that it’s a common greeting term, no local actually uses it in daily life. Instead say, “Habari yako?”; meaning “what’s up?” or “how are you?”

2. Learn some Swahili phrases and slang

Unlike Kenya or Uganda, it’s difficult to get by in Tanzania without any Swahili. Unless you have a translator 24/7, if you are interested in interacting with locals, it’s in your best interest to learn some key Swahili phrases. Important ones include:

  • Shilingi ngapi? : How much is it?
  • Naomba ____ ? : Can I have ____?
  • Jina langu ni _____ : My name is ____
  • Nataka kwenda _____ : I want to go ____
  • Ahsante : Thank you
  • Ndiyo :Yes!
  • Hapana : No!
  • Tafadhali punguza bei : Please reduce the price.

There are many more phrases that you can learn. Luckily, there are plenty of Tanzania-based Swahili tutors and courses that you can take online and in person, to help you with your Swahili.

Tip: You should write important phrases down in a journal that is easy to carry around.

3. Know when Ramadan is

Almost half of the Tanzanian population is Muslim, making Ramadan a noticeably significant time for everyone in the country. A lot of restaurants (usually Muslim owned) close down during the day and open only in the evening. The social scene tends to be duller as many people are observing the holy month, and their non-Muslim friends are also staying home.

So, unless you are interested in observing Tanzanian culture during Ramadan or looking for a sombre vacation, it’s best to avoid travelling to the country at this time. Especially if you plan to spend significant time in places with large Muslim populations like Dar es Salaam, Tanga and Zanzibar.

4. You will be ripped off (but you can negotiate…)

It’s unavoidable. Unless you speak fluent Swahili and look like you could be Tanzanian, chances are you will be paying a little extra for your souvenirs, street food and transport (anything that doesn’t have a fixed price).

Nevertheless, know that you can always try and negotiate the price. For instance, if you are on a taxi ride and they charge you TZS 60,000. Try and get it down to TZS 30,000. Chances are they doubled the price.

To help you in your negotiating efforts, you should learn phrases like, “tafadhali, punguza bei”, which means “please reduce the price”.

Also, never get into transportation or use something you have to pay for (food) without negotiating the price first. This gives you the upper hand as you have the option of getting the service elsewhere. If a taxi doesn’t budge on price, walk away, chances are they’ll call after you and agree to a lower price.

Tip: Avoid paying in dollars, euros or other foreign currency with a higher value than Tanzanian shillings. Always pay in TZS.

5. Understand the different transportation systems

If you plan on exploring a city like Dar es Salaam or Arusha, you will probably have to use local transport to save money, unless you choose to rent a car. Apart from private cars, the most popular forms of transportation in Tanzania are:

  • Daladala : Public buses
  • Bajaji : 3 wheel motorcycle with seating compartment
  • Boda Boda : Motorcycle
  • Taxi : Taxi

The best method for exploring a city is to make arrangements with a bajaji person for the whole week (depending on the kilometres you will travel). However, in Dar es Salaam, there are places that bajaji’s can’t go, in those cases, take a taxi. Remember, always negotiate.

6. Immerse yourself in local culture (clubs, recreational activities)

The worst thing a tourist can do is travel all the way across the world, just to go hang out with other people from their home country – in places filled with other tourists. Instead of sticking to what makes you comfortable, ask the Tanzanians you meet for advice on where to go.

Tip: If you say, where should I go? They’ll promptly direct you to the touristy bars, restaurants and nightlife. But if you ask them, ‘where do you go?” They’ll probably direct you to a local place with great food, local beer and music.

7. We are more developed than you think…

Don’t be surprised to see tall buildings, tarmacked roads and nice houses. And if you are shocked, please keep it to yourself, don’t tell any Tanzanian that you are “so impressed by such and such development” or “so surprised to find KFC” etc.

8. Don’t take pictures of people without asking (it’s rude)

Ok. So we know that there’s a lot to see in Tanzania and it’s all so exciting and you must get it on camera for your Snapchat or Instagram. But, if you are within close proximity to someone, do not take a picture of them without making sure they are ok with it.

Say, “Naomba kukupiga picha”, which means, “Can I please take a photo of you?” If you can’t learn that, try and ask in English or gesture with your hands, and if they are unresponsive –don’t take the picture.

While most people will not confront you about it, it is still disrespectful. Simply put, don’t make people feel like animals at the zoo, have some manners.

9. Be prepared to squat – Turkish toilets

At some point, you may have to use a toilet that’s simply a hole in the ground (usually with some plumbing system). All you do is squat, make sure your pee or poop lands in the hole or sink; wash up and flush.

10. Every man for himself on the road

Traffic laws are only ‘kind-of’ followed in Tanzania.

Just because the green light says you can walk, or you are on the zebra stripe area for pedestrians – doesn’t mean that cars will stop for you. Only cross the street when cars are a clear distance away, or you can see that they have stopped at a red light or the traffic cop tells you to do so.

There’s more to preparing to travel than packing

In addition to taking your anti-malaria pills and packing your sunscreen, do your best to prepare to handle the culture of the new place you are going to.

If you are going to travel to Tanzania; you will know where you will stay, what you will be doing and the things you need to bring. You should also know these 10 things, to ensure that you have the most fun and least culturally insensitive trip ever.

 

Iman Lipumba
A digital storyteller, experienced in creating content that improves website visibility on search engines, enhances the user experience, and nurtures brand loyalty. With a background in the social sciences, an expert in researching complex ideas, and communicating them in engaging language to multiple audiences.