Tanzania is a kaleidoscope of cultures: approximately 100 tribal groups, most of Bantu origin, live here. The most numerous groups are the Sukuma of Lake Victoria, Chaaga of Mount Kilimanjaro, Nyamwenzi of Tabora, Hehe of Iringa, and the Gogo of Dodoma.
In Zanzibar, Arab and Persian influences are strong. The blend of Arab and Bantu cultures resulted in the Swahili language, which is now widely spoken throughout eastern and central Africa. Though Swahili is the common language of Tanzania, English is widely understood, especially in urban areas.
Tanzanian cuisine, especially the traditional fare of Zanzibar, is delicious. The coast favours seafood and rice-based dishes, while mainland Tanzania offers traditional African grains and meats. The country is famous for its music, which is popular throughout eastern Africa.
As Tanzania tours and safaris have grown evermore popular, the nation has become a hub for international travel. Tanzania’s international air gateways are centred on Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro (50 km from Arusha); these cities are served by major international airlines from Africa, Europe, North America, and Asia.
International ferry service connects Kenya's Mombasa to Dar es Salaam. On Lake Tanganyika, a passenger service runs from Kigoma to Bujumbura in Burundi, Congo (DRC) and Mpulunga in Zambia. Additionally, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority runs a passenger train service from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. Road connections to Rwanda and Mozambique are poor and are only adequate for those traveling for adventure.
Most visitors to Tanzania require an entry visa, which should be obtained, in advance, from a Tanzania Embassy or High Commission. Visas may also be issued upon arrival in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro international airports and at the Namanga Gate on the Kenya/Tanzania border, but this process may slow travel time.
Your passport must be valid for six months following your arrival date in Tanzania. Those traveling to Zanzibar should be aware that the islands are nominally independent, so passports and Tanzania visas are required even for a days visit. These requirements are subject to change, and should be verified prior to travel.
Tourism is a major industry in Tanzania, so the nation's accommodations excel at catering to travellers' needs and preferences. Most Tanzania tours frequent hotels with Western standards, which are common throughout the country, especially in Dar es Salaam, Moshi, Arusha and the northern game parks such as Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire and Manyara. In national parks and reserves, 5-star hotels, lodges and tent camps are popular; camping is a budget option.
Local flights operate daily, connecting major towns and cities around Tanzania. Flights are common on Tanzania tours, and are especially convenient when hopping the Indian Ocean to get to Zanzibar.
Rail service is available between many major towns, and bus service connects the country's main towns. Tanzania rental cars are reliable, although chauffeured cars are often preferable to self-drive rentals. Tanzania's towns and cities are connected via paved, all-weather roads for speedy travel between Arusha, Morogoro, Moshi, Lushoto, Tanga and Dar es Salaam. Outside these popular routes, however, road quality deteriorates, so always check with your travel agent about road quality and estimated travel times.
Before traveling to Tanzania, confirm that your health insurance covers international travel – or purchase a policy that extends to Tanzania. Additionally, buy travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation.
Tanzania's climate is quite diverse, especially between the mainland and Zanzibar. Coastal areas, including Zanzibar, are typically hot and humid with average daily temperatures hovering around 30º C (86º F). Cooling sea breezes temper the climate, and June-September brings cooler temperatures around 25º C (77º F).
Back on the mainland, the months of October through February bring the warmest temperatures, while March-May host long rains and November welcomes short rains. In general, weather and climates vary by region. The peaks of Kilimanjaro are chilly, with lows below freezing, whereas the climate is temperate in the northern national parks. Likewise, the central plateau hosts a dry and arid climate with hot days and cool nights, while the southern and north-eastern highlands are cool and temperate.
Before embarking on a Tanzania tour or safari, all travellers should verify that they are current on regular vaccinations, like measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and the yearly flu vaccine. We also recommend that visitors discuss additional vaccines – hepatitis A, typhoid, rabies, and hepatitis B – with their medical providers. If necessary, pack protection against STIs, including HIV-AIDS.
Malaria is a risk in much of Tanzania, so precautions should be taken to have a healthy vacation. Ask your doctor if you should take anti-malarial medications before traveling, and always wear insect repellent. Cover up with long sleeves and pants, when possible, and sleep under mosquito nets in high-risk areas.
Yellow fever vaccines are recommended for long-term stays and for travellers who will be heavily exposed to mosquitoes. Additionally, Tanzania requires all visitors (over age 1) who have travelled to countries at risk of yellow fever, to provide an international certificate of vaccination against yellow fever. Exemptions are made for citizens of certain non-endemic countries, including those of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Be aware that some freshwater lakes and rivers carry the risk of schistosomiasis (bilharzia). To be safe, never paddle or swim in freshwater. Chlorinated pools at reputable hotels may be considered safe for swimming. Major hospitals and chemists (pharmacies) are located in Dar es Salaam, Arusha and other major urban centres. If you suffer from a life-threatening condition or serious allergies, always wear a medical alert bracelet.
Tanzania's local currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (TSH). There are no legal restrictions on the import or export of foreign currency, although certain amounts must be declared. The export of Tanzanian currency is prohibited by law.
In Tanzania, plastic is not highly rated or trusted, which means credit cards are not widely accepted. When they are accepted, the exchange rate is often unfavourable. Nevertheless, it is still a good idea to carry your credit cards in case of emergency. Note that hotels and lodges are an exception to the credit card rule: at most larger resorts, credit cards are accepted.
Travellers cheques may be exchanged at banks, hotels and Forex Bureaus throughout Tanzania. The best exchange rates are for U.S. Dollars, Euros, and British Pounds Sterling. Do not change money on the street, no matter how favourable the exchange rate may appear.