Sunset in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
I am so excited about this year’s series. We have some fabulous contributors and some great destinations both near and far. I know some of these destinations might be in more of the dream category than reality category but I think it’s super fascinating to read about what it might be like to travel and live in different parts of the world.
To kick off our series, Lisa Welsien from the popular blog Life in Dar tells us all about travelling to Tanzania and her current city of Dar es Salaam.
Read on to learn more about amazing safaris, the deal with car seats, how not to try to get better customer service and her insider advice after living in East Africa for over 8 years.
While I am American and never grew up imagining a life outside of America, I fell in love with a guy from Denmark who always dreamed of working in Africa. Five months after we got married, we moved to Nairobi, Kenya for his job with the United Nations World Food Programme. Four years later we moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with the World Bank. After 8 ½ years in East Africa, we will be moving back to America in June 2016.
East Africa is a great place to raise children for many reasons and two of our three children were even born in Kenya. East Africans love children! Expatriate culture strongly encourages expats to employ local residents and labor is much less expensive than in our home countries, so we have been fortunate to employ wonderful people to help us take care of our home and our three children. That is a very big perk to living here!
Another perk to living in Dar es Salaam is that we live on the Indian Ocean so beach life and beach/water activities are a big and fun part of our social life. Kids can easily learn to appreciate and be good at swimming, snorkeling, fishing, sailing, etc.
There are some significant challenges to living here as well. Security is very different than at home…we live behind compound walls with security guards and gates and guard dogs and bars on the window. Crime is very common, so we have to be quite careful. Health care is not very good in Tanzania, so for any kind of major illness or accident we would need to be evacuated to another country. When it was time to have our third child, I went home to the USA to do so. There is a constant risk of malaria and other diseases that we aren’t used to at home (dengue fever, cholera, etc.) and that can be very worrisome. We are very careful, especially with the kids! We also have regular power outages and water supply can be a problem. It certainly makes every day an adventure!
Overall, it has been a really amazing experience to raise our children, who are now 7, 5, and 2 years old, in East Africa. They have been exposed to a diverse community of friends and families from all over the world, speaking many different languages. They have seen incredible wildlife and they are really great international travelers!
Tourism is a very big part of Tanzania’s economy, and it is generally quite expensive but there is something for everyone at every price level. It is important to ask some questions ahead of time if you are traveling with small children because not every hotel/lodge will have baby cots or high chairs, and some places will not be flexible about meal times. You also always want to ask for any “specials” or discount rates because very often if it is a slow period they will give you a deal. Rates are always quoted as full board (including all 3 meals), half board (includes breakfast and dinner but not lunch), or B&B (breakfast only). There are hundreds, if not thousands, of hotels, lodges, camps and safari/tour companies in Tanzania. If using a tour company, it is important to find one who understands your needs as a family and your budget. Here are a few places to start looking for a family vacation:
For a Dar es Salaam city vacation, I can recommend staying at The Seacliff Hotel.
For a safari vacation, I can recommend trying the Serena Hotel Company for their lodges at different parks throughout East Africa. This is also a tour company.
When you are on safari or vacationing on a beach (for example, the island of Zanzibar), food quality can vary and is more often average than not, unless you are staying somewhere extremely luxurious (read: expensive). Buffets are very common, but can also be tricky if you have a sensitive stomach – so pack your Pepto-Bismol for sure, just in case! As I said before, be sure to ask about earlier meal times for/with little ones, as we have experienced some places that are quite inflexible and won’t serve dinner before 7 or 8 pm, which is obviously not ideal for little kids.
Dar es Salaam, particularly the Masaki peninsula where expats live and tourists frequent, has many nice coffee shops and restaurants. Quite a few restaurants have playgrounds and some even have outdoor playgrounds and indoor seating with air conditioning – the perfect combo in Dar’s heat. Be warned that service is not of the American variety – there can be wait times and frequent misunderstandings when ordering! Talk slowly in English and be patient!
Family friendly restaurants in Dar es Salaam are:
Note: Indian food is, in a way, quite “African” here because there are so many Tanzanian Indians that they are a very big part of the culture and the kinds of food are blended. Traditional Tanzanian food includes chapati, rice, ugali, nyama choma (roast goat), and mishkaki (chicken, beef or fish skewers). You can find MANY places on any street in Dar serving this kind of food – their hygiene and sanitation and quality would be questionable, however, so I don’t have so many to recommend. One place I haven’t been to but have heard good things about is a restaurant called “Golden Fork” at the Village Museum at Makumbusho. This would actually be a good activity with younger kids to learn about Tanzanian culture (my kids have always done it with their preschool) and you can get authentic Tanzanian food there too. It would not be an expensive place to visit. Any of the big hotels in the city center (The Hyatt, the Serena, the Ramada, etc) would usually offer a buffet lunch or dinner to include many African foods like stews, mishkaki, etc.
If you are coming to East Africa, you want to go on Safari. The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Ruaha, and Selous are a few of the biggest and best parks for seeing the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino) and other wildlife. You will be taken on game drives with safari guides in proper 4×4 vehicles. Every game drive is different and you never know what you’re going to see – this is really why you come here for vacation! Some lodges/hotels can plan these for you, but if coming from abroad is best to make all arrangement through a safari or tour company.
Swimming! Most hotels will have a pool, and spending some days on the beach is a must!
Afriroots City Bike Tour – If you have some time in Dar es Salaam, this is a great experience. With older children this will be an eye-opening experience for seeing the real life of regular Tanzanians (not expats and tourists only). If you have younger kids and still want to do the tour, you can do it in a “bajaji”, which is three-wheeled motorbike vehicle used as a taxi (admittedly, this is not normally a very safe option, but I think the guides provide some added security).
Hot Air Ballon in the Serengeti
In Dar, there are many great local craftsmen and women making wonderful gifts to bring home:
Mabinti Centre, trains young women recovering from fistula surgery in screen-printing, sewing, beading and crochet. They are known for their bags, baskets, table mats, and pillow cases. Very unique batik designs. Love this place! Support this cause!
Wonder Workshop sells hip recycled art, and employs people with handicaps.
Slipway is a hotel complex that has restaurants, cafes, and shops. The peninsula’s only proper book shop, A Novel Idea, is located here along with The Green Room, which sells unique “beach style” furniture and home decor, along various gifts from local artisans. Green Room goods are very popular in these parts. A very touristy spot at Slipway is the “Souk Market” which carries all different local crafts and artisan goods made by local Tanzanians. This is a great place to buy your souveneirs (although make sure to negotiate the prices!).
Handmade from Tanzania for beautiful textiles.
Tinga Tinga painting is a special style of painting invented in the late 60s in the Oysterbay neighborhood of Dar es Salaam (which is where I live!). If you ask any taxi driver to take you to “Morogoro Stores” you will find all of the Tinga Tinga shops and artists. It is a very unique style of painting that often includes images of African animals and safari scenes. You can get great pieces on canvas to easily take home and frame.
Sunrise from a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti
If you are visiting Dar, you really must use taxis with children. Car seats are not available for rent here so it’s best to bring your own. You can also use “bajajis” (also known as a “tuk-tuk”) around Dar es Salaam, but they are not a very safe option with small kids. If you are going on safari or on a Zanzibar beach vacation, your tour company will arrange all of your transportation with drivers and guides.
There are no car seat laws that I know of, or if there are any laws they are not enforced in any way. They are most often used by upper middle class or wealthy Tanzanians. Often you see Tanzanian kids in cars in the front seat, on the driver’s lap, in the back unbuckled, on motorbikes with no helmets, in bajajis, etc. Taxi drivers know that car seats are mostly for the foreign/expat population. As long as you’re paying the fare, they don’t care what you do. If you have a family you will want to try to get a “Noah” (minivan) taxi to fit everyone with car seats.
Elephant in the Ngorongoro Crater
Insider tips & advice
Learning a few words in Kiswahili before you come to Tanzania is an excellent gesture to show good will towards the people you meet. The word “mzungu” means foreigner/white person…so you will hear that a lot. “Asante sana” means “thank you very much” and “tafadali” means “please”. Most of all, if someone says “mambo” to you, that is like asking how you are and the appropriate response is, “poa”, which means “cool”.
Do not carry a bag on your shoulder if walking around Dar es Salaam. Keep a hidden money pouch or everything in your pockets. People with bags are often robbed/mugged by young men or thieves on motorcycles.
Take malarone or another anti-malarial medication, just to be on the safe side. You don’t want to go back to the US or Europe with malaria and have your symptoms show up when you’ve been home for a few weeks. In those places, they don’t really know how to handle malaria.
Be patient (“pole pole” means “slowly slowly” here) and very polite. Tanzanians do not respond to aggressive complaints. You have to be super polite, make a lot of small talk, and never yell if you want to make any progress in a customer service situation.
Negotiate. When you’re in Tanzania, unless you’re in a proper shop with fixed price tags, absolutely everything is negotiable. And all prices will be marked up for tourists, so you should offer a lot lower then what they ask you and then maybe can agree on somewhere in the middle. This is standard practice and applies to taxis as well as local goods and services.
Vaccinate. Entry into East Africa requires vaccinations that Americans or Europeans don’t necessarily get. This means you must see a doctor a couple of months in advance before coming to Tanzania to make sure that everyone has all of the vaccinations they need. Please check the CDC website for more information: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list/
Saturday Evening at the Beach
The BEST time of year to come is July/August because that is the coolest time of the year. It will feel like a lovely summer, instead of a horribly dreaded heat wave. And it won’t be raining, which means the risk of malaria will be lower. You can also see the wildebeest migration from Tanzania into Kenya at that of year as well, which is amazing.
Thanks so much Lisa! Dar es Salaam and Tanzania sounds amazing!
From last year’s series you can learn more about: