Updated: Mar 17
Sing it with me!
Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze
It means no worries For the rest of your days It's our problem-free philosophy Hakuna Matata!
If you actually sang as you read, you're my kind of person. Caribbean-esque weather, tropical landscapes, warm and inviting people, I'm talking Tanzania! It's no wonder that phrase (Hakuna Matata) was created and coined there. Yes it really means "no worries" in Swahili (score one for Lion King's accuracy) and not only will you hear people say it regularly, they live it. I spent a week there for MAPD Episode 8, and as usual I have come to spill the beans with you.
Secret Flying for the Win
First things first our flight was just $620 from Dulles Airport in Virginia to Dar Es Salaam, thanks to the sensational Secret Flying. I can't rave enough about it. I set my parameters for Washington D.C to Africa (I wasn't particular, just wanted to reach the motherland), set a notification, and waited for the magic. About a month later the aforementioned deal arose and four months after that I was on my way.
We spent just a night in Dar Es Salaam (more like a few hours since it was past 2:00 a.m by the time we checked in) and headed to the ferry terminal the first thing in the morning for Zanzibar. Direct flights to Zanzibar were outrageously priced, so the pricing worked out better this way, plus there isn't much to do in Dar Es Salaam anyway.
P.S- DO NOT stay at Safari Inn in Dar Es Salaam. It was awful, not well kept, and unprofessional. The plan was always to stay for just the night anyway, but even the $27 we paid was too high. Let's just forget it happened. Deal? Cool, on to Zanzibar!
Also, disclaimer on the flight; there was a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam going to Dar Es Salaam and a 6 hour layover on the way back. This probably had something to do with the price, figured you'd like to know. 6 hours was enough for us hit the Amsterdam Central strip for a bit to kill time.
Ferry well then...
The ferry will run you $35 dollars for economy, or $40 for business. Pay the extra $5. The seats are bigger and more comfortable and located more centrally (closer to the snacks and restroom). You can pay $50 for VIP, but for a 2 hour ride I don't think the extra $10 is worth it. $10 stretches far in Shillings.
Things to note:
The terminal in Dar is hectic, representatives from different companies will rush you to try to win your business. Stay calm and don't agree to anything until you are sure. And don't let anyone help you with your bags. They will expect a tip whether or not you asked them to carry your bags. Say no
Pay in USD. There ferry terminal will try to hike up the exchange rate if you pay in Shillings. The USD price is static.
Once on the Ferry, don't hesitate to involve an agent if someone is in your seat. The ferry is rarely sold out, so many will buy an economy ticket and try to sneak their way into a vacant business seat. I'm no snitch but I'll be damned if I have to downgrade my seat because guards can't be bothered to regulate who sits where. Speak up. We had a frosty encounter with a lady who refused to budge until an agent stepped in. I wasn't about to go back and forth with her, I kindly asked the agent to do his job
Try the snacks! They have a delightful Apple flavored soda. Sensational
Zanzibar is exactly how it appears on social media and on TV. Glorious. Sweltering at times, but glorious. The water is indeed THAT blue, and the people genuinely want visitors to feel welcomed. One guy insisted on showing us where our place was and walked with us without asking for a tip. He even shared some nice spots to eat and visit while we walked. My guy.
What surprised me though is although the entire Zanzibar is obviously an island, the best beach spots are actually an hour and half or two hour drive from Stonetown (which is where you will arrive from the Ferry). As a Jamaican I should have been able to figure out that not every part of an island will necessarily lend itself to a beach, but nonetheless I naively assumed you could go for a swim at any turn. Not the case. Stonetown is where the ferries from the mainland dock so that section is blocked off, and along the shore, smaller boats line up to take people to Prison Island so swimming there isn't great. There are some small pockets to swim but you are better off two hours away in Nungwi. Keep that in mind when booking a place.
We stayed in Stonetown for it's history and character. Nungwi is a nice morning or day trip. You can swim with turtles there too. I didn't, but that's what all the cool kids on social media are doing. If you're into that.
Speaking of Stonetown, it is a storied old town full of shops and vendors and pockets of sheer character. You'll see shopkeepers and artists displaying their items outside and in alleyways, restaurant workers shuffling people in, farmers selling fruit and sugar cane juice (amazing - buy a cup, or three). Think Havana, Kingston, and Cartegena all wrapped into one. It's a walk-able town, you can visit all the hot spots (with the exception of Prison Island which is a short 15 minute boat ride) on foot within a day and then spend the evening perusing the shops.
We spent two days there, and rather than detail our every step I'll leave a list of the points of interest.
East African Slave Trade Exhibit - self explanatory, absolute must especially for black travelers. There are panels detailing the history of both the traders and the slaves and some really mind-boggling facts and figures. Did you know that there were slaves who earned small wages and actually invested in fellow slaves themselves to earn more money? WTF right? Crazy. The quarters where they used to house the slaves will have you in your feelings and really brings it home. Entry fee is about $20,000 shillings (a little over $8)
Prison Island - given that name because it was originally built to serve as a prison but never did. It did house slaves on quarantine however but these days it's a huge tourist grab that houses Aldabra giant tortoises. If you are regular here you know I'm not huge on gimmicky touristy things, but I loved this place. The tortoises are fascinating (live up to 400 years old and you can feed them) and the ride to get there is fun in itself. Worth it. You'll have to pay a boat driver to take you, negotiate. It shouldn't cost more than $20 and I was told even that is high. Entry fee is about $5 once you get there.
House of wonders- Former palace of the sultan and the largest and tallest building in Stonetown. It was closed for construction so I actually didn't go in, but I've heard good things. Not too much by way of activity, just a cool place to visit
Forodhani street market, and all street vendors and shops in general- Spices, teas, magnets, clothes, paintings, food. Name it. So dope and so fun to browse. We got our souvenir shopping done early here. I bought a half dozen packs of tea, a spice kit in the shape of Africa, and a Tanzania football kit (soccer jersey for you Americans). ALWAYS bargain. The dollar goes far and they know it.
Nungwi beach- Two hours away from Stonetown like I mentioned before, but offers the best beach and a great change of pace from the hustle of bustle of Stonetown. You can swim with turtles at the Mnarani Marine Turtles Conservation Pond or just relax by yourself at the beach. There is a restaurant not too far from Nungwi called the Rock restaurant. Great views and great food
The Old Fort of Zanzibar- Not much to actually do, but very cool to visit a piece of history. The amphitheater is used to this day for events
Ocean View Restaurant - The name explains the location, food is great.
Mercury House restaurant- Right by the coast and the ferry terminal so you can sit and watch the ferries come and go or watch the water and people in general. It is where Freddie Mercury was born hence the name. The calamari will change your life
StoneTown View Inn
We stayed two nights here and while it's not the best it was a nice budget spot and centrally located. Our room was small and hot, and the water pressure wasn't great. In fact at one point the water went out for a few hours. Wifi also didn't work but that was less of a big deal than the water pressure for us (keep in mind as well that there is no curtain or anything to separate shower and bathroom). We paid $123 total for two nights for a triple room. Divide the price by three people and it comes up to just over $20 per person per night. Can't beat that, and since we are rarely in the room to begin with, the aforementioned complaints were small inconveniences. The rooftop restaurant is nice piece. Food isn't spectacular but the view is and it is a great place to relax and lounge. I'd recommend if you are the budget type. We booked on booking.com. I touch on it in the 12:44 mark of the full Episode but here is a brief walk-through in case you don't feel like opening a new tab.
From here we hopped on a small domestic flight to Arusha. We paid $220 round trip from Zanzibar to Arusha. From Arusha we went on into the Serengeti for a Safari! After the Safari we returned to Zanzibar for one more night (this time a Forodhani park hotel) and then caught the Ferry back to Dar for our flight back home. We'll get into that later though, Safari time!
$1100 for a Safari?! How?
Short answer; we did a shorter, and more private Safari (3 people, 3 days). Email Paul Justine at email@example.com.
Long answer; I found out something interesting about Safaris I thought I’d share. Those exorbitant prices you usually see are linked with length of stay, bigger and more sophisticated vehicles, huge gourmet meals, and 5 star accommodations. People pay upwards of 5k, 6k, and beyond to spend weeks in the Safari, stay at the Four Seasons, cruise in a 2017 or newer Land Rover, and eat 3 course gourmet meals during lunchtime. To each is own, but from experience, Safari days for as amazing and fun as they are, are 12 or 14 hour days easily. Spent driving for miles hoping to encounter animals. Not a complaint, it was one of the most memorable times of my life, but they were LONG days none the less. 3 days was more than enough for me, I have no desire to go any longer than that. Nor the funds lol. But mostly the desire. I could never see myself paying twice or three times the price simply for a slightly newer and bigger vehicle, more lavish lodging, and more appetizing food. Not to mention staying for anything over 3 or 4 days. Because again. 14 hours of driving (passenger technically but you know what I mean). I'll take the bare bones package any day. It's about the adventure for me.
I said all that to say that I stumbled upon Road Side Tanzania Expeditions, who are a smaller and more private Safari service company, offering custom tailored packages and shorter trips for small groups should you so desire. Most companies won't entertain any package shorter than a week and prefer larger groups. We only had 4 days to spare in Arusha, and that included getting to and from Arusha from Zanzibar.
We conveyed our schedule to Paul and in no time he devised a plan that would allow us to see as much of the Safari (both Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater) as possible and get us back to Arusha in time for our return flight. Keep in mind that the drive from Arusha to the Serengeti is 6 hours in itself, and that's before you even enter the Serengeti to drive around for your game drive which is anywhere from 8 to 10 hours usually (hence the 14+ hour days). So our time was extremely limited, but Roadside made it happen. We agreed to wake up early every day (5 a.m most of the time) to give ourselves as much time as possible, and decided before hand that the only way we could make this work is if we are CONSTANTLY moving.
We had 7 days total to tackle Zanzibar and a Safari (not including the one night in Dar), and that's how we chose to do it. 2 days in Zanzibar, 3rd day was spent getting to Arusha from Zanzibar (only a 1.5 hour flight but directly in the middle of the day and getting to and from the airport is a process). That leaves day 4 and day 5 solely for the Safari so to say we where on the move is an understatement. Day 6 was spent going back to Arusha from the Safari to catch a return flight back to Zanzibar, which gave us enough time to comfortably check in before the next day's ferry to Dar and then departure back to the US.
You're schedule of course could be different and you could have lots more time. Roadside works with any schedule. You could fly directly into Arusha and give yourself a week or do a variation of what we did but reversed. Up to you obviously, but you have to be in Arusha as your starting point for the Safari. Reach out to Paul with your projected schedule and he will help you construct a plan.
So what's all included in the price? Here's the breakdown (actual screenshots of the PDF Paul sent me when confirming our package):
We paid online beforehand (not on the website, Paul will send an invoice) and didn't pay a single penny more when Paul met us at the Arusha airport. Nor did we pay a single penny more when checking into the Tulia Hotel, Kati Kati camp, or Rhino Lodge. We did however buy food at the restaurant at the Tulia Hotel, which operates separately from the hotel. The latter two provide food as part of your stay. The packed lunches for breakfast and dinner on the Safari were not particularly great, but there was good food at the lodging arrangements afterwards which more than made up for it (as if the awesome price and experience and service didn't already pay for itself twice over). Our driver's name was Edwin. Great guy and knowledgeable guide. Ask for him if you book and go!
My thoughts on the Safari itself? Sensational. You usually only get to see animals in their natural habitat on tv and social media, so actually experiencing it in person was surreal. Sappy cliche answer I know, but it's straight from the soul.
I enjoyed the Ngorongoro Crater more than the Serengeti. It's smaller and more concentrated and thus the probability of coming within close proximity to animals is higher. It was in the crater that a lion walked directly in front of our vehicle and proceeded to pee on our windshield. The closest we came to a lion in the Serengeti was about two football fields away. Not that getting your car peed on is a great accomplishment, but I think you get where I'm going with this.
If you watch the episode you will see our vehicle got stuck in the Safari for a few hours. We didn't and still don't blame the company or our driver. Dirt roads are unpredictable, rain makes them even more unstable, shit happens. We lost a few hours and rolled with the punches, and before long we were right back it. It does nothing to sway my opinion on the experience and the service. I'll be back.
I did a video walk through of each place during the episode, but here are some photos.
Tulia Hotel, Arusha
Kati Kati Tented Camp, Serengeti
I forgot to take still shots of the tent and camp itself, but we did a MTV cribs run through lol.
Rhino Lodge, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Watch the full video to see how close those Water Bucks (deer looking animal) are to the room!
We're in the home stretch now. En route back to Arusha from the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, we asked our driver to stop by the Maasai village. What an experience. The Maasai are a nomadic and Nilotic ethnic group who originally inhabited Sudan in first millennium A.D. before migrating to southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. Despite the Tanzanian government's pleas for the tribe to assimilate to modern society, the Maasai have refused, opting to adhere to their ancient traditions. King (and Queen) energy at its best ✊🏾. We talked and laughed with them. They insisted we join their ritual dance and jump (we did and it was awesome). They graciously showed us into their homes and schools and shared with us some of their history and tradition.
If you are ever in Tanzania (or Kenya) and have a chance to visit, do it. There is a small entry fee (we paid $20 total for our carload) and after the tour they will offer you the chance to purchase hand made crafts and trinkets made by tribe members in support of the village.
Here's where it get's tricky. The pressure can be a bit intense after they so graciously welcomed you into their village (and allowed you take pictures and videos). Like with any other vendor, hold your ground (respectfully) and negotiate and don't feel obligated to buy anything. I enjoyed my visit and wanted to support the Maasai school and village, so I bought a small wooden hand crafted Zebra but not for the $30 they wanted. I paid $12 after negotiating and then refused to buy the wooden staff that was offered in addition. The tribe were still kind enough to let me take a picture with it though, such was the nature of our new rapport.
Now watch it all come together!!
Not captured in the Episode:
After returning from Arusha back into Zanzibar we checked into Forodhani Park Hotel, which is pretty highly rated and pricier than Stonetown Inn. We opted against it the first time since it cost more for one night then Stonetown Inn did for two nights ($150 vs $120), but went ahead and splurged for our last night in Zanzibar. We would only be there for a night before catching the ferry back to Dar the next day, and we decided $50 per person was worth it for a night of luxury (so to speak). There is a rooftop pool (not large enough to really swim in, but refreshing to cool off nonetheless), lightning fast wifi, and an in house restaurant. It is also a 10 second walk from the Old Fort and perfectly placed for one last stroll down Stonetown.
We enjoyed our stay and then requested the late checkout the next day. Our ferry back to Dar didn't leave until 4 and the flight from Dar back home to Maryland wasn't until 11 p.m at night so we weren't in any rush.