Things to Remember
Don’t leave home without it…here are a few last-minute reminders, FAQ and things that you need to know about travel in East Africa.
Make sure that you have a few clean pages in your passport before you leave home. African immigration officials are not that different from bureaucrats the world over and will rarely miss a chance to make life difficult if they see something they don’t like. If your passport is cluttered or due to expire less than six months after your departure date you will be given the third degree, perhaps even disallowed, so make sure you check before you leave home.
Tourist & Transit Visas Tanzania
For most overseas travelers, including those of the US, a visa is required to enter Tanzania. Theoretically all citizens of commonwealth countries, with the exception for the UK, India and Nigeria are visa exempt, but do not bank on that.
A single entry tourist visa can be obtained at your port of entry. It usually costs the equivalent of US$50. If you feel inclined you can get your visa ahead of time at your nearest Tanzanian Embassy, but this is not strictly necessary.
It is a great idea to travel with a handful of passport type ID photographs, since sometimes these are required and sometimes not. They are always very useful to have.
For anything other than a single entry tourist visa, for example a multiple entry or business, is required you will need to apply for this before travel.
You will only need a transit visa if you move from one port of entry/exit to another. For international flight transfer these are not required.
Visa application form
Visas For Other Regional Transfers
Depending on where you are flying in from, you might effect a flight transfer from any number of regional hubs. The main ones are Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, Nairobi and of course Dar es Salaam. Usually these transfers are trouble free, but if for example you are transferring in Nigeria, even if you do not leave the airport, you will be required to have a transit visa, even though there appears to me no mandated requirement for this.
Nigeria is a very tricky country, the corruption capital of Africa, so it is always worth covering your back if you are stopping over or transiting there.
Addis Ababa is usually a trouble free hub. Ethiopia has a good reputation, and Ethiopian Airlines is a very highly rated carrier. Usually transit through the airport is smooth Kenya is also usually trouble free. Like Nigeria, Kenya is wickedly corrupt country, and although it does not confront you quite so abruptly as it might in Nigeria, you still need to watch your back.
If you run into any trouble in Johannesburg it will usually be because the airport is so extensive. Johannesburg is the developed world, and transit is as slick and trouble free as anywhere in the west.
Transit Between the Main Regional Centers and Kilimanjaro
You can sometimes save a bit of money and add an extra dimension to your trip by routing your flight to one of the regional capitals and overlanding to Kilimanjaro. One thing you can guarantee about Africa is that life is centered along the freeways, and the most concentrated cultural interchange tends to happen at bus stops and train stations.
From Nairobi to Moshi is an easy trip to arrange. There are several bus-lines that offer the trip, and a million and one matatus ply the route every day. You can either book your fare in advance with KilimanjaroExpress (luxury bus) which is the BWA recommended carrier, or you can wing it by getting out onto the road an waving down some local transport. Either way it is a great little journey.
From Dar es Salaam to Moshi is also a nice extra, and although it can be rough travel, you can also use Scandinavian Lines and see a little bit of the Tanzanian hinterland without the photoshop touch ups you will get on an organized safari.
From Further afield the trip from Zambia is long, but there are a few options, the best of which is the TAZARA rail link to Dar es Salaam from Kapri Mposhi, and then overland to Moshi.
From Uganda you can bus to Bukoba and catch the Lake Victoria ferry to Mwanza and then overland it to Arusha. This is a tough journey but one of the great East African epics.
Cash, Cards & Traveler’s Checks
All are relevant in Africa, and Tanzania in particular has a comparatively sophisticated tourist industry and mercantile and banking system. The greenback, however is king, and he who travels with Uncle Sam travels far and easily. Street deals to change money at border posts and other transit hubs are pretty standard, but keep your wits about you and brush up on your mental arithmetic. Do not take any cash that has been stuffed into an envelope!!! This will almost always end up being newspaper cuttings. Tanzanian street dealers are quicker and slicker than David Copperfield!
Credit cards work with hotel bills, flights, and mainstream shop purchases, but you need to carry hard currency for the many tips and transactions you will make outside the mainstream. Try and change either at a bank or a hotel, but check the exchange rate first, sometimes black market rates on the street are much higher.
Unless you are traveling in the mainstream traveler’s checks are an encumbrance. You have to change them at a bank and the rate and commissions don’t make much sense. It is the safest way to travel though, and if you are nervous about the prospect of carrying all your money in cash then convert to TCs.
Credit cards are almost always subject to a commission or some other percentage charge. This is usually against international regulations but you could waste a lot of time and energy arguing about it.
It is a surprising fact to some people that Kilimanjaro has its own international airport. Kilimanjaro International (JRO) is situated more or less between Moshi and Arusha, and serves the bustling tour industry in the region. This is the jump off point for Kilimanjaro and all the major reserves and game parks concentrated in this amazing part of the world.
Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines are two highly rated local carriers, and the odds are fairly high that you will come in on either on or another of these. If you are flying in from the Antipodes or the Far East then you will probably fly in via Johannesburg in which case you will transit up to Dar es Salaam via South African Airways, arguably one of the world’s premier airlines.
London and Amsterdam are the main transit hubs for flights from the US to Tanzania. The KLM flight from Amsterdam is the only mainstream European airline that flies directly into Kilimanjaro International Airport. A popular connection from the US is to Amsterdam and then on to JRO. During peak seasons chartered flights are available, the main one being Condor Air from Frankfurt.
From the US Ethiopian Airlines out of Washington Dulles and via Addis Ababa is a reasonable and commonly used flight.
From Australia Qantas flies to Johannesburg from where the connection to Dar es Salaam on SAA is direct.
Precision Air is a locally own Tanzanian domestic airline that will almost always be your connecting flight either from Dar es Salaam or Nairobi to Kilimanjaro.
From JRO you can also reach Zanzibar direct on Precision Air, and direct connections also exist to Kigali inRwanda if your plan is top see the gorillas, Entebbe if you plan to go on to Uganda, or indeed Mombassa if you plan to hit the East African beaches.
This is a gray area of travel in Africa, and is something that tour operators with their need to accentuate the positive are often reluctant to talk about, but it is a fact of life in Africa, in particular in East and West Africa, but to some degree everywhere on the continent. Tanzania is one of the more notable centers of corruption in Africa, as is Kenya, and any transit through these countries requires awareness and caution. Here are a few basic warnings, but in general you need to be aware of the potential for scams, and at all times be wary of requests for help, offers of assistance, overly friendly people and in fact anything that seems to good to be true or abnormal.
If you are in a tight corner, and a uniformed official offers you a way out for a buck or ten, take it. If you run foul of the local bureaucracy appeals to fair play will serve no purpose. If this is the only game in town then go with it.
Buying drugs on the streets is a one-way ticket to major stress and expense. If you feel you need to try the local product make your connection at your hotel and backpackers lodge. Never walk out onto the street and try and score. The first connection is your lodge or hotel gatekeeper or security guard. There is nothing unusual in approaching this source, and usually no trouble will come of it.
Requests for help and financial assistance will come at you from all sources, and usually this is a standard exploitation system that with the advent of mass tourism has become very slick. You need a thick skin and you need to be able to say no. There is no doubt you will hand out some cash, it is hard not too, but try if you can to select out the genuine need from the obvious fraudsters.
Be very careful in the matter of local sexual adventure. Prostitution is a danger zone the world over but in Africa the trouble can be very ugly indeed. The most corrupt elements of society are usually the police, and at the merest sniff of police interest you can expect to pay. Keep as far away from the cops as possible, and in particular the heavy hand of arrest and detention. The bottom line is always cash, and the flow of capital is heavy and usually mono-directional.
Wherever you have relatively wealthy people coming into contact with large numbers of very poor people, crime and violence are inevitable. Don’t put yourself in the way of harm, don’t set out at night down unlit streets, or follow your ‘new friend’ into a dark and unlit alley. All these are obvious protection measures, and the usual rules of caution will help in many ways to keep you safe.