Explore Tanzania culture and tribes
Tanzania is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. From the tall and graceful Maasai warriors, to the ancient ways of the Hadza bushmen, the Chaga farmers and traders at the foothills of the Kilimanjaro and the mixed Swahili culture at the coast.
Travelling independently with your own Roadtrip car provides you with plenty of opportunities for cultural encounters. We have listed the most interesting sites and activities for an authentic cultural safari.
Lake Eyasi, hunters & gatherers
The Hadza (or Hadzabe) are a unique tribe numbering around 2,000 people around Lake Eyasi who still live their lives like our oldest ancestors did. They are truly the last hunter-gatherers on this planet. With their ancient lifestyle and tongue-click based language, they are considered living fossils. Hunting with poisoned arrows and collecting honey are usually men’s activities and provide for 20% of their food intake. All animals not owned by people are considered fair game. Women and children are responsible for the other 80% of their consumption, consting of mainly fruits, seeds and roots. The Hadza live in nomadic family bands numbering around 20 adults each. Their huts are built of light materials gathered from the surroundings and every month or so they simply abandon camp and build a new one a little further away. Most Hadza people still dress in animal skins. Fashion for men would be furry skins like baboon, while women prefer impala. Nowadays both like to combine their outfit with dirty, worn out Nike jumpers or similar. They have a reputation for living in the present and do not comprehend the concept of saving for another day. This reluctant attitude is probably a result of the little influence they have on their surroundings. Most visitors to the area join the Hadza men on a morning hunt. The hunters move fast and seem careless about the fact that some tourists have to try to keep up. You would expect the regular visits of tourists to affect their ancient way of life. So far, this influence seems little though. The whole experience feels genuine and is highly recommended. The Hadza allow you into their world to have a unique peak of how humans lived their lives over 98% of our existence.
The visits to the Hadza must be arranged for in advance with one of the three guides at the Head Office. You’ll find the office on the left side of the road near a village called Mang’ola, approximately 10 km before you reach the lake. Payments are also made from this office. A small fee of $2/pp is charged for visiting the area and a top up of around $15 is required for the guide who escorts you on the hunt. After the hunt it’s also common to tip the chief of the hunters to show your appreciation.
Other local activities that make a visit to the area worth your while are: a visit to a local blacksmith still producing arrowheads and bracelets made of brass or copper using ancient methods, or visit a Datoga family and witness their daily activities like dancing, cooking, brewing and tattooing.
Lake Eyasi is mostly known as home of the Hadza but the lake itself is also worth a visit as it hosts hundreds of thousands of flamingos and a variety of other water birds. Early morning and late afternoon the views are most spectacular. The size of the lake can be 80km during more wet periods but can also completely dry up, leaving a white crust.
Babati, the Datoge tribes
Babati is a market town about 170km south of Arusha. The area around Babati is home to the Datoga tribes and known for its lakes. The Datoga have changed their traditional lifestyle little over the past century. Most tribal villages welcome visitors but none are focusing on tourism. Most famous (and most visited) is the Barabaig tribe. The women of Barabaig can be recognized by their heavy goatskin or cowhide dresses and colorful orange and yellow beads. The best way to explore the region is with the company Kahembe Trekking. This local organization is experienced in organizing visits to the surrounded local villages and lakes.
In Babati you can also make arrangements for a visit to Mount Hanang with Kahembe Trekking. Mount Hanang is an extinct volcano with a height of 3.418m, which is the fourth highest point in Tanzania. Although not often visited by tourists, the climb can be an affordable alternative to the expensive Kili and Meru climbs. The rates charged by Kahembe Trekking are around $40/pp/day and include all meals, accommodation (in Katesh) and fee to climb the mountain. Accommodation and meals are not luxurious by any standard but the trips are well organized. The springboard to climb Mount Hanang is a dull and cheerless town called Katesh. From there you can also make arrangements for the climb by yourself. Accommodation and guides are easy to find in Katesh and the fee for the climb can be paid for at an office in town. You will definitely save some money since It’s impossible to find a hotel room for more than $15/double and the most expensive meal you’ll find in Katesh costs around $3.
The climb and descent of Mount Hanang will take a full day and you can have your lunch on the top. The climb can be considered tough but not too technical, and the unpredictable weather has a big influence on the climbing conditions. If the sun comes out the climb can be extremely hot and if it rains or clouds cover the mountain, it can get really chilly. Both extremes can even happen in a day, so make sure you go prepared. Your guide might suggest you start walking from your accommodation. Be aware that if you choose to do so, you’ll add another 8km (one way) to your already heavy program. Therefore it’s recommended to start the climb at the foot of the mountain. You can use your car (or better, take a Boda Boda during wet season) to get to the starting point.
Kondoa rock sites
The district of Kondoa, especially around the tiny village of Kolo, lies at the centre of one of the most impressive collections of ancient rock art on the African continent. It's also one of Tanzania's least-known and most underrated attractions. If you can tolerate a bit of slow rough road travelling, this is a worthwhile detour. Little is sure about the age and meaning of the paintings or who the artists were. Most certainly, you will be impressed by the fine details and surreal characteristics of the animal and human portraits. Estimations about the age go from 200 to 4,000 years. A more accurate year would be 2006, when the sites became UNESCO World Heritage. Still, not many tour operators have added this remarkable site to their itinerary, so don’t expect to stand in line to have a peek.
To visit, stop at the Antiquities Department office along Kolo’s main road to arrange a permit (per adult/child Tsh27,000/13,000) and mandatory guide (free, but tips expected), some of whom speak English.
Most visited are the Kolo sites, 9km east of Kolo village. You’ll need to climb a steep hill at the end of the road to see them. The most interesting figures here are humans with what are either wild hairstyles or masks.
One of the most impressive of the Kondoa rock-art sites is the excellent Fenga complex, whose dominant feature is a painting of people who appear to be trapping an elephant. It’s around 20km north of Kolo and just a bit off the Arusha–Dodoma Rd, followed by a hilly 1km walk.
The most varied, and thus best overall, collection of rock paintings in the Kondoa area is at Thawi, about 15km northwest of Kolo and reachable only by a rough road.
Bagamoyo, historical slave trade settlement
During the second half of the 19th century Bagamoyo was one of the most important settlements on the East African coast. The town was the terminus for the slave trade caravan connecting Zanzibar all the way to Lake Tanganyika. After suffering on the long, challenging and dangerous journey, reaching Bagamoyo felt like coming home for the traders. The town marked the end of a severe time and was therefore worshipped. Songs still exist telling the stories of excessive luxury, liters of wine and willing women, giving Bagamoyo an almost divine status. The goods retrieved from the inlands like slaves, ivory and salt were loaded from the white beaches on to Dows and shipped to Zanzibar. Legendary explorers like Livingstone, Speke, Burton and Stanley started and ended several of their epic journeys in this historical town.
Bagamoyo is also known for hosting the established Freedom Village. This remarkable outpost was built by French missionaries in 1868 and served as a refuge for redeemed slaves. From 1887 to 1891 Bagamoyo was the capital of German East Africa, making it the most important settlement in East Africa and in 1888 Bagamoyo was the centre of the revolt against the colonial government. Due to the shallow waters of the port, the Germans decided to transfer the capital to Dar es Salaam in 1891. From there the downfall started, Bagamoyo slowly dozed off, and hasn’t woken up since.
Many historical sights still remain showing the town’s significance in the old days and are definitely worth a visit. The centre’s colonial buildings, narrow streets and the wooden carved doors are reminders. An easy way to go sightseeing is by tuc tuc. Usually you can arrange for a driver/guide from your accommodation.
The beaches in Bagamoyo are lively and a great spot to enjoy the Swahili coastal culture. The mix of fish auctions, football, children, fishermen, hawkers and tourists are a lusty sight and the busy Dow traffic in the port and along the shores still gives you a pretty good feel of what was going on back in the day. The place is not perfect for swimming though - especially at the busy stretches, where you can expect an occasional encounter with a plastic bag while swimming. Although the people of Bagamoyo are friendly, women usually feel more comfortable wearing a sarong over their swimsuit when on the beach.
If your timing is right you can visit the famous Bagamoyo Arts Festival: an interesting week of dance, poetry, drama and music performed by local and regional artists. Usually the festival is held in September. For the exact dates you can check the link.
The brave have an opportunity to sail from here to Zanzibar on a Dow for the modest amount of $2/pp.
Dar es Salaam
Things to do in Dar
- Kariakoo market
- Fish market
- Explore the centre by foot
- Coco beach
- Bongoyo island
- Street food
- Bike tour
With a population of almost 4 million and growing, Dar is by far the biggest city of Tanzania. With the second largest port in East Africa, it's also the economic and cultural heart of the country. The city is expanding fast, trying to keep up with the modern world. Despite its fast growth and development, the city keeps its down-to-earth attitude. The mixture of African, Arabic and Indian makes Dar a showcase of urban Swahilli culture. Temperatures are usually high, streets are colourful and traffic is busy. In addition to a handful of sights, Dar hosts excellent markets, shops, a great variety of restaurants and some beautiful beaches and nearby paradise islands. You haven't visited a country if you skip the capital city. Although Dodoma officially has the honours, Dar is truly the cultural heart of Tanzania and definitely worth visiting for a couple of days.
Located in the heart of town, on Dar’s busiest market, you can have the authentic local Tanzanian shopping experience. This is the place where locals hunt for the best bargains. The market is very lively and the people are friendly, loud and outgoing. If you don’t speak Swahili, your skills of communication with your hands will be tested here. You’ll find all the usual touristy stuff you don’t want to buy here and if something catches your eye, be ready for some bargaining. It’s a fun experience to visit the market but the place is not particularly clean, and you'd better keep an eye on your pockets.
Dar Es Salaam Fish Market
The best time to visit the fish market is early in the morning (around 6:30 AM), when the fishermen unload their catches and stall their goods. By the time the sun rises the place fills up with people and turns into lively organized chaos. Groups gather around heaps of fish that are about to be auctioned. The bidding starts and voices are raised. For a nice bird's eye view of the spectacle, you can climb the stairs towards the offices. If you want to purchase fish yourself it’s better to go to the more quiet stalls were they display, clean and cut your catch to fillets. You’ll find the fish market next to Kigamboni Ferry pier at walking distance from downtown.
Explore the city centre by foot
You can easily explore the centre of Dar es Salaam by foot. The centre is fairly small and a visit gives you a nice impression of what city life in East Africa is about. If you wander around the centre, a few (modest) highlights, some colonial buildings and some places of historical importance cross your path. The highlights mentioned below can easily be combined with a visit to the markets and the National Museum.
- Askari Monument is one of the most well known statues in Dar. It’s a reminder of the Tanzanian soldiers who fought in World War I. The bronze statue resembles a soldier pointing his rifle with bayonet to the harbour. It’s located exactly in the middle of the city, on a small roundabout.
- Azania Lutheran Church was originally built by German missionaries in Tanzania, and is an iconic structure located at Dar es Salaam’s harbor front. When you visit the church, it is likely somebody will approach you and start to guide you around. If you’re alright with this, just let him show you around and make a donation to the church at the end. The guide can also take you to the top of the church to see the bell tower.
- You can enjoy the best view of Dar es Salaam and the harbour from the Sawadee Thai restaurant located near the Azania Lutheran Church.
- If you are walking around downtown, take a stroll down Temple Road, where you’ll find a selection of religious temples. There’s nothing much to do, but you can visit some of the temples and have a look around.
Coco Beach on the Weekends
Coco Beach, also known as Oyster Bay, is a stretch of beach located on the Msasani Peninsula of Dar Es Salaam. If you are looking for fun things to do in Dar Es Salaam, head over to Coco Beach. Especially on weekends, the stretch is packed with local Tanzanians and Asians. Plenty of stalls offer a wide variety of street food and drinks. The open area is also a place where frequent concerts and parties take place, so if you’re lucky you can attend one while you’re in Dar. You can check the city events guide for the program.
Swimming is not really recommended at Coco Beach, though some choose to wade in the water.
This islands off the South shores of Dar es Salaam are a great getaway from the hectic city. The islands have been part of the Marine Reserve system of Dar since 1975. The beaches are attractive and swimming and snorkeling in the warm tropical waters makes a visit to these islands truly a highlight of Dar es Salaam. You take a boat from the Slipway shopping centre to get to the islands. A transfer costs around $25/pp (round trip).
In the centre of Dar es Salaam you’ll find the national Museum. The museum is famous for housing the fossils of the 'nutcracker man', but usually only a copy is available for the public. The museum also attends to several other topics like the Zanzibar slave trade and the colonial periods. For vintage car lovers there is a modest collection of classic cars. The masterpiece of the collection is a Rolls Royce used by the British government and later by Julius Nyerere. A ticket goes for 6.500 Tsh and the museum opens daily from 9:30 AM to 6 PM.
While in Dar es Salaam you should enjoy some of the lovely food this city has to offer. The menu of Dar has a wide variety of flavours brought by the many cultures the coastal area was influenced by throughout the centuries. The taste is best described as a mixture of the African, Middle Eastern and Indian kitchen. The delicious flavours are widely available and best tasted at markets and street restaurants. If a stall is busy, the food is probably fresh and safe to eat. Try the Mishkaki (marinated and roasted beef or chicken on a stick served with chilli and lime), Nyama Choma (roasted goat meat on a stick) or Zanzibari mix (cocnut milk curry). The less brave can have snacks such as Chapati or roasted maize. Have your street meal with a locally brewed beer and top it up with a street coffee.
Off course, Dar es Salaam also offers a wide variety of restaurants and coffee shops nowadays. All types of restaurants are available, and you can choose from many.
The old city of Zanzibar
Of course, Zanzibar is best known for having the most beautiful beaches in the world. But honestly, the beaches on the mainland are almost equally pretty. What really makes Zanzibar worth a visit is in our opinion, is the cultural heart of the island, Stone Town. The old city of Zanzibar, little changed in the last 200 years, make you believe you’ve ended up in the fairytale of One Thousand and One Nights, and was recently and deservedly declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The old centre, with its narrow alleys, colourful bazaars, mosques and historic Arab houses, can only be explored by foot, so arm yourself with a city map and be ready to get lost for a couple of hours in the lively labyrinth. Most of the coral rock houses in the centre were built in the 19th century when Zanzibar was one of the most important trading centres in the Indian Ocean region. The houses of Stone Town are famous for the more than 500 brass-studded wooden carved doors, symbolizing its owner’s wealth. As you walk through the town, please remember that Stone Town is very much a real community, where real people live and work. It is not a museum piece or theme park created for tourists, and sensitivity should be shown to the local people. Besides exploring the old centre, there are plenty of other historical sights to visit.
The Darajani Market located in Stone Town is famous for its vibrancy, colour, and range of vendors. This exciting market is well worth a visit and will give you a great taster of local life. Food lovers and culture vultures will love this chaotic market. Dried squid, barrowfuls of fresh fruit, packets of spices and meat weighed out on big brass scales – this is where Zanzibaris come to get their food fix. The market is a great place to visit even if you don't want to buy anything. It is a vibrant place where everything under the sun is bought and sold. People bring their produce here from all over the island, and other people come to buy things they can't get in their own villages.
The palace museum is also known as Sultan’s Palace, and is one of the most prominent historic buildings in Stone Town and well worth a visit. The Palace Museum is situated on the waterfront and was built in the 19th century to house the Sultan’s family. After the 1964 revolution, the site was used as a Government building and renamed “The People’s Palace.” Nowadays the large white building, once residence of the Zanzibari royalty, serves as a museum and showcases relics of the history of Zanzibar’s Sultans. Climb the central staircase and wonder off into rooms archiving the sultanate era (1828-1964) with an mix of leftover furniture, paintings, porcelain and the like. Each floor represents a different period, but make sure to spend time in Princess Salme’s room.
The House of Wonders
The House of wonders is a very prominent building in Stone Town and functions as one of the main landmarks. The very large square-shaped building is topped by a large clock tower and was built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace for Sultan Barghash. It was the first building in Zanzibar to have electric light and an electric lift. This was the reason why the local people called it the House of Wonders. Today, it is still one of the largest buildings in Zanzibar and it is a fascinating exhibition of Zanzibari and Swahili culture.
The Old Fort
The Old Fort is Stone Town’s oldest building. The Fort is located on the seafront next to the House of Wonders, opposite the Forodhani Gardens. The Old Fort was built in the end of the 17th century by Arabian Omans and its purpose was to defend the island from attacks from the Portuguese. The fort is open to visitors and now contains various shops and an open air theatre.
Anyone visiting Zanzibar simply must go on a spice tour. Tours are easy to organize from Stone Town and take about half a day. You’ll visit one of the interior plantations (many of which are no longer commercially functioning) and a local guide will walk you amongst vanilla pod vines, fields of lemongrass, cumin seed pods and turmeric root. The smell and taste make the experience a sensual journey into the spices that flavour our food. We have to admit the tour smells a bit like a tourist trap, but the experience is well worth it and a great way to learn more about one of the island’s major industries.
This ancient market is a sad, painful yet interesting place to visit to learn about Zanzibar’s history of the slave trade. Although the only visible remainders of the slave market are the few holding cells underneath St Monica’s Hostel, the site is still a sober reminder of one of the dark pages written in our history.
Forodhani food market
As the sun sets in Stone Town, locals and tourists flock down to Forodhani Gardens on the waterfront, where a nightly food market serves up hot griddles loaded with seafood. Quench your thirst with freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, sample skewers of octopus dipped in tamarind, lobster and crab claw, platters of prawns and the famous Zanzibari pizza (pancake stuffed with mince meat, egg, mayo, onion and chilli). If you’re looking for a nice place to go for dinner, we recommend the rooftop restaurant ‘’The House of Spices’’ in the middle of the old centre.
The Kilwa ruins
Kilwa is the collective name given to three different areas on the Tanzanian coast: Kilwa Kisiwani, Kilwa Kivinje and Kilwa Masoko. Visitors come here to explore the remains of the largest mercantile cities that once lined the medieval Swahili coast. The Kilwa ruins have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981 and are a must see when you visit Kilwa. The ruins are located on the island Kilwa Kisiwani, and the oldest parts date from the 12th century. If you want to visit the ruins you’ll need to get a permit (1.500 Tsh/pp) from the District Commissioner’s office in Kilwa Masoko and you’ll need to arrange for a guide from Antiquities Office or the Kilwa Seaview Hotel. Local boats usually leave early in the morning from the port of Kilwa Masoko, so be sure to make ticket and guide arrangements the day before. The island has no restaurant whatsoever, so don’t forget to bring some drinks and food. Most visitors stay at Kilwa Masoko, a small settlement on the mainland. Besides the history and architecture, Kilwa is a good place to immerse yourself in traditional Swahili culture. Jimbizi Beach is good place to base yourself to go fishing, diving, snorkeling and enjoy the beautiful beach.