Being the largest country in East Africa, Tanzania offers a wide variety of things to do for a variety of travellers. While world-famous Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest peak and the world’s highest free-standing mountain) is one of the country’s main attractions, Tanzania offers so much more. With its stunning landscapes and spectacular diversity of its wildlife, safari in Tanzania is a truly unique and unforgettable experience. There is a multitude of companies providing a wide variety of safari options for every taste and budget all year round. And for those looking for an exotic beach vacation, will find it on a spice island of Zanzibar and on Tanzania’s coast.
There are a number of tips I have in regards to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but for the country in general, here are a few useful tips:
1) Canadians may purchase Tanzanian visa upon arrival for USD 50 (to be paid in cash)
2) There is a low risk for yellow fever exposure in Tanzania; however, there is definitely a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during certain seasons in the country, which should not be taken lightly.
3) There are two rainy seasons in the country: the long one occurs from March to May and short rains last from November to December.
4) Generally, game viewing in Tanzania’s parks is at its peak between June and October (with June and July possibly having the best chance of seeing the wildebeest migration in Serengeti). The best times to climb Mount Kilimanjaro are either July to October or January to March, while the best times to visit Zanzibar are between June and October.
5) Tanzania still is largely a cash society, so have some Tanzanian shillings handy when visiting local stores and restaurants; while most hotels will exchange your USD, EUR and GBP for Tanzanian shillings, it’s probably best to obtain at least some local currency before departing your home country; ATMs are normally located in city centers only; credit cards can only be used in large hotels and resorts.
The only hotel that I stayed at on my trip to Tanzania was Stella Maris Lodge. It is situated in the village of Mailisita on the outskirts of Moshi. All rooms have a private balcony with some offering spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro. All rooms have A/C and satellite TVs and there is also access to PCs in the lobby as well as free Wi-Fi throughout! The service I received definitely exceeded my expectations: the staff is very friendly and polite and always available to answer any questions you may have. The lodge also has a large airy restaurant located on the ground floor with a wide selection of food items and beverages for buffet breakfasts and a la cart dinners, while the top floor lounge, offering unobstructed views of Mount Kilimanjaro, is a perfect place for after dinner drinks and socializing!
By staying at the lodge, not only you get all that, but you will also provide the direct support to the primary school adjacent to the lodge, In fact, the income from the lodge goes exclusively to paying the teachers and buying food for the children. There are a few activities that can be booked through the front desk at the lodge and our group took advantage of that by arranging an afternoon trip to Kikuletwa Hot Springs, which was amazing! I would highly recommend visiting the springs to anyone visiting the area!
The top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the climax of my entire trip, was definitely my favorite place in Tanzania. It was not until I actually touched the wooden board that says “Africa’s Highest Point” with my own hand that I fully realized that I “made it”! It’s just impossible to describe the feelings that I had at that moment, standing there, although completely exhausted, but still enjoying the magnificent views around me while breathing in that crystal clear mountain air… That was definitely a moment I will always remember!
The best times to climb Mount Kilimanjaro are either July to October or January to March. Although our group did the climb before mid-March, i.e. just at the very beginning of the long rainy season, we still received a fair share of afternoon showers and almost no sun during 4 out of 6 days of our journey, which, let me tell you, was not very pleasant indeed! Day 5, however, that is, our summit day, was a perfect sunny day with just a few clouds, which was absolutely amazing!
Having completed this trip to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Roof of Africa, I would like to share some important packing advice to anyone keen on following in my footsteps:
1) Personal hygiene and well-being
a) You do want to have some water purification methods (either in form of tablets or some mini water filtration system). Both of these do a good job in rendering water potable. Although our guides assured us that they do treat water, I’d rather be extra cautious and not take any chances.
b) Hand sanitizer/antibacterial hand wipes. I can’t stress it enough: you do need to have a sufficient amount of that. Realize that you will be in the middle of nowhere for days with no access to running water to wash your hands with soap.
c) Toilet paper. Do not forget that one or else it’s gonna be a mess! One roll should be fine.
d) Your personal medical kit should contain: lip balm with sunscreen, ibuprofen, malaria pills, band-aids, antiseptic cream/spray, Imodium, rehydration powder, throat lozenges, insect repellent, and any other prescription drugs you may be taking.
e) Sunscreen. But don’t just take any sunscreen! At high altitudes, the sun intensity is gonna be high, so you need a sunscreen with at least SPF 30. It should also be sweat resistant.
f) Altitude sickness is not something to be taken lightly. Using a drug like Diamox, for example, will help you with acclimatization. These drugs do not cure altitude sickness but are rather taken as a preventive measure to reduce the risk of having altitude sickness symptoms.
2) Footwear, clothing, headgear, and sleeping
a) Well-worn waterproof hiking boots along with wool trekking socks (avoid cotton or cotton-blend socks!)
b) Realize that trekking Kilimanjaro is trekking through four climatic zones, so weather will range from tropical (at the base of the mountain) to freezing (on the summit). To remain comfortable in each zone, layering is critical: you have to be able to layer up and layer down as the weather changes and, let me tell you, it does change quickly!
c) You do want to have a good sun hat to protect your face and neck from sun burn and keep your head cool.
d) A warm sleeping bag is a must for Mount Kilimanjaro, regardless of when you trek: you’d rather want to be too warm than too cold. Also, although it is possible to rent a sleeping bag locally, I’d recommend bringing your own: reusing a sleeping bag that has been used multiple times before may not be a very pleasant experience!
3) Other accessories
a) Realize that on Kilimanjaro an average trek length is 6 days, with 5 to 8 hours (and even longer on the summit day) of hiking each day. Add to that the rough terrain you’ll be going through and you’ll have a rough picture of what to expect. Such long-distance trekking does put a lot of stress on your knees and joints. Possibly the best way to somewhat reduce that stress is by using good trekking poles.
b) Get a good rain poncho: not that cheap plastic one-time-use you may think of, but rather a more durable one that would cover yourself as well as your backpack. No matter how waterproof your clothing and/or your backpack are, they will still be soaking wet after just a few hours of walking under pouring rain. And if there is no sun after the rain is over, there is no way you would be able to thoroughly dry them for your next day journey, which might bring another rainstorm you hated so much the day before… A good single-piece rain poncho will protect all your clothing and equipment and is so much easier to dry compared to drying multiple pieces of clothing.
c) Waterproof duffle bag and a daypack. Don’t take that big plastic suitcase on wheels (yes, the one you’d think of taking on your all-inclusive trip or on a cruise ship) on your trip to Kilimanjaro! Guess what: you’ll have to say goodbye to that bag before leaving the hotel and put all your stuff from there into a duffle bag provided to you locally. So, unless the hotel you’re staying at would provide some storage area for your plastic suitcase (while you’re trekking), you may not see that suitcase ever again, but it will definitely not go with you on the trek. So, your best bet is to have a duffle bag of your own. Just make sure the total weight (including the weight of the bag itself) does not exceed 15 kgs. Anything over will have to go either into your daypack or else stay at the hotel. Just realize that if you do decide to put everything else into your daypack, you’ll be carrying that daypack with you at all times, so you really do not want it to be too heavy.
d) I’d say that travel bag organizers, like packing cubes, offer the best way of organizing your stuff. Realize that you’ll need to do some major packing/unpacking each and every day at campsites, so you’ll have to know exactly where each and every piece of your clothing/accessories is so that you could find it quickly without making a mess. I believe packing cubes offer the best solution to that. In fact, they are perfect for any trip, so it’s not going to be your one-time-use purchase!
e) Do have some spare batteries for your headlamp and your camera: you don’t want to run out of “juice” during the summit night and not being able to take that picture of yourself on the Roof of Africa! Or else have some way or recharging your batteries on the go. Just keep in mind that if you decide to go with a portable solar charger, you may end up having little to no sun for days, which will render your charger pretty much useless.
f) Have some energy bars handy at all times! With such an intense energy-consuming long-distance trekking, you do want to keep your energy level high to be able to make it all the way to the top!