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Backpacking In Tanzania Travel Guide

After spending several weeks on two different trips backpacking in Tanzania this is my advice for you on where to go, what to do, and how to have an adventure you will remember for the rest of your life.

Tanzania is an adventure traveller’s paradise and is one of my favourite countries that I have visited.

Backpacking In Tanzania

This post is definitely not the be-all and end-all for backpacking in Tanzania. It’s going to show you the main things that I recommend you to see to be able to get the best out of the country, plus an off-the-beaten-path destination if you can make it there.

But with so many things to do when backpacking in Tanzania, this would be a very, very, long post.

The 3 main gateways into Tanzania for backpackers are Dar-es-Salaam if you plan to fly into Tanzania and are going to Zanzibar first.

The other is if you’re coming down from Nairobi in Kenya overland to Arusha in northern Tanzania.

And the third is coming in from Malawi or Zambia to Mbeya in southern Tanzania.

Of course, you may not be coming into these places as Dodoma the capital of Tanzania also has flights. But the 3 mentioned here are the main ones.

I’ve chucked in loads of links to other articles (my own and others) to help plan specific parts of the trip and to some booking sites where you can book places to stay, tours etc (affiliate).

If you are only going on a trip to Tanzania and not neighbouring countries then I would suggest a Tanzania itinerary starting with flying into Dar es Salaam, having a few days relaxing in Zanzibar, before taking a bus up to Arusha and doing the things around there.

Arusha Tanzania

Arusha itself has nothing remarkable going for it except for the fact it’s the place to begin some of the best adventures in Tanzania.

Tour companies in Arusha are everywhere and you can book everything from a Serengeti safari to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

With so many tour companies there you should be able to easily show up and book a safari when there. This can also save you money if looking to do a budget safari in Tanzania.

Food tip for Arusha: The one thing I personally did love in Arusha was the amazing barbecued tandoori chicken at a place that is converted from a garage during the day to a street-side eatery at night.

Ask for the garage that does tandoori chicken and the locals should know what you mean. 

There are numerous budget hotels to stay at if you need somewhere cheaper to stay and a hostel or 2.

Otherwise plenty of mid-range and a few high-end places.

Find places to stay in Arusha here.

Arusha traffic.

Arusha Tanzania

Serengeti National Park Safari

The Serengeti National Park is one of the ultimate destinations for a safari in Africa.

If you have but one safari to do in Tanzania then make it to the Serengeti along with a day in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (see below).

The vast African savannah and abundance of wildlife are what make the Serengeti famous. You will see all the animals you could ever want when there.

An African roadblock…

budget safari Serengeti backpacking Tanzania

The Serengeti has so many different wildlife species to see. 

All the big cats are there, lions, cheetahs, and the most leopards I have ever seen on any safari in Africa.

Two leopards are seen in the tree on safari.

leopards serengeti

Lions are the easiest of all the big cats to spot though and you will find plenty of them around.

The best time to see lions is at sunrise or sunset when they are more active as during the heat of the day they tend to laze around.

But the safari guide will know all this and all the safaris start early in the morning at 5-6ish.

Lion looks straight at us before going hunting.

lion Serengeti budget safari

A hippo (one of the most dangerous animals in Africa) opens its jaws wide.

serengeti safari

Camping wild in the Serengeti is so much fun in itself and actually, one of the perks of being on a budget safari (in my opinion) as you feel much closer to nature than in a luxury tent.

The campsites for the budget safaris will have a simple basic open shack where you get the food prepared for dinner and breakfast, and a small toilet block area, for, well you know.

I’ve heard stories about someone going for a shit in the middle of the night and finding a lioness drinking water from the toilet bowl.

I have a suspicion his shit came out a bit sooner after seeing that! He wasn’t hurt.

When at these campsites a group of elephants decided to come and rub their asses against the toilet building, and on numerous occasions, hyenas came into camp.

Stay in your tent at night and make sure you piss and shit before sleep is my biggest advice!

Happy camping Tanzania style in the Serengeti!

serengeti safari camping

As you’ll be backpacking you may be looking for a budget safari in Tanzania to save some money. As mentioned before this is possible but you may need to spend a few days in Arusha to do this.

Some tour companies in Arusha work together and will add on an extra person or 2 at a discount rate to a group who already booked a safari in order to make a bit of extra cash.

This is possible but you may need to spend a few days in Arusha to get on a budget tour like this

You will still be looking at around $150 a day upwards for a Tanzania safari budget (if you go on safari in Tanzania please email me at: about the rates if they change).

Also if you are travelling in Tanzania during the low season then the safari rates should be a bit cheaper as well.

But seeing the wildlife during the best weather period is when the animals will be easier to see and the great wildebeest migration will be happening in the Serengeti.

The Tanzania July weather and August make for the best time for a safari in Tanzania as it’s the dry season. It will be busy with other tourists though due to that and prices will be a bit more.

backpacking Tanzania travel serengeti safari

Ngorongoro Crater Safari

Ngorongoro is not so far from the Serengeti and is a very beautiful destination just for the scenery never mind all the wildlife you can see.

It has the highest concentration of lions in Tanzania and most of Africa.

The area is a massive crater with a lake in the middle full of flamingos and when backpacking in Tanzania it’s one of the best places I recommend for you to go to.

Handily it’s on the way back to Arusha after the Serengeti and most people will include one-night camping on the crater rim and a one-day safari in Ngorongoro along with that trip.

An overcast day inside Ngorongoro Crater.

Ngorongoro sfarai Tanzania

Hyena amongst a flock of flamingos on the lake.

Ngorongoro safari

The best way for accommodation and to save money as well is to go on a camping safari as mentioned before. When backpacking in Tanzania the budget safaris are the best option.

If you’re lucky you may have some animals like zebra wander through your camp at night and just feet away from your tent listening to them munching away on the grass.

Camping above the Ngorongoro Crater.

camping in Tanzania Ngorongoro crater

The weather in Ngorongoro crater can go from a cloudy overcast morning to a bright sunny afternoon easily.

Either way, it’s an unmissable place to go.

A view into Ngorongoro crater on a clearer day.

view into Ngorongoro crater

With any Serengeti safari, a Ngorongoro Crater safari for one day and night should be done on the way back to Arusha.

Another option when in the Arusha area is to do a safari in Tarangire National Park. This is where you will see a lot of elephants!

Mount Kilimanjaro 

Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa reaching 5895m above sea level at its summit.

It’s one of the ‘must-climb’ mountains in Africa if you love trekking and climbing up high.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t manage to climb Kilimanjaro simply due to time and budget constraints on the activities to choose, plus the fact that I was addicted to seeing the wildlife on safaris.

Having said that a return visit to Tanzania someday will definitely include a Kilimanjaro trek and it comes highly recommended by other travellers and is a ‘must do’ for adventure in Tanzania (if you can afford it).

That’s why I have included it.

If on shorter backpacking in Tanzania trip, for example on a 2 week in Tanzania itinerary then you can get it done.

But be aware it takes 6-8 days to climb Kilimanjaro, so only plan this if it’s something you really want to do.

As I didn’t do the Kilimanjaro trek I have linked to a travel blogging friend who did do it and wrote an in-depth guide for trekking Mount Kilimanjaro.

As mentioned before Arusha is a great place to organise the trek or you can also book a trek in advance.

You will pass through the town of Moshi on the way to Arusha or base yourself in Moshi instead of Arusha.

Photos here are stock pics just to show you the mountain as I don’t have any.

Kilimanjaro tanzania
kiliminjaro summit

Gombe National Park On Lake Tanganyika

Getting off the beaten path in Tanzania can be done in a bunch of places that most backpackers won’t head to.

My favourite place of all is at Gombe National Park in the far west of the country set alongside Lake Tanganyika.

Taking the boat from Kigoma to Gombe National Park.

gombe national park

Gombe Stream National park became known due to Dr Jane Goodall the well-respected primatologist and anthropologist who studied the chimpanzees at Gombe and helped protect them and the environment.

Dr Jane Goodall quote:

Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.

From Kigoma (the main town on the lake closest to Gombe National Park) you will take a small local boat run by the park along the lake for an hour or so to get to the entrance to the park.

Upon arriving you will be given some information about the chimpanzees before being taken with a guide into the forest to go looking for the chimpanzees.

The rangers are experts at finding them.

The ranger takes us looking for chimpanzees.

gombe national park

It really is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ adventures seeing the chimpanzees in the wild.

A Gombe chimpanzee in the tree.

gombe national park

Seeing a group of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park wandering through the forest.

gombe national park

Even after seeing the chimpanzees, the national park itself is beautiful for hiking in and you will come across remote waterfalls and beautiful untouched forest.

Waterfall while hiking in Gombe National Park.

gombe national park hiking

You have the option to camp on the beach near the park, but a day trip along Lake Tanganyika to Gombe National Park and hiking there for the day to see the chimpanzees is the perfect way to do it.

Getting to Kigoma in the first place is a mission!

You can fly and save a lot of time and hassle, but if you’re on a budget then you will need to take a very uncomfortable bus ride for over 18 hours from Arusha via Dodoma, or a bus from Arusha to Dodoma and change to a train there.

If coming from Dar es Salaam you can take a train all the way. More on train travel in Tanzania.

Find places to stay in Kagoma here.

One other lake option of course is to go to Lake Victoria. I didn’t go to Lake Victoria in Tanzania as I explored Victoria Lake on the Kenyan side before coming to Tanzania.

If you decide to head to Lake Victoria then Mwanza is the main town there and where you should head to first.

backpacking Tanzania gombe chimpanzee


Zanzibar is where you can just simply relax. 

Those white sand beaches and the warm Indian Ocean breezes mixed with excellent Swahili food is the perfect way to unwind at the end of your trip to Tanzania.

Or, if at the beginning of your trip, a great way to unwind and ease your way into the backpacking adventure to come.

When looking for things to do in Zanzibar lying around on the beach is certainly the most relaxing but there are of course more options.

That being said you really should plan just a few days of lazy beach time!

A Woman carries a sack of food on her head along the pristine white beach of Eastern Zanzibar.

zanzibar beach

Zanzibar white sand beach.

Zanzibar beaches

Man climbing a palm tree to get coconuts.

Zanzibar food

On the East Coast is where you will find a lot of accommodation options and although not a very cheap destination it is still easily affordable for the budget traveller.

Budget bungalow accommodation can be found on Zanzibar’s coast.

Zanzibar beach bungalow

Just stroll along those beaches, but make sure you have a good sun hat and lots of high factor sunscreen and cover up a bit.

The sun in Zanzibar can be brutal and you can burn very easily.

Waiting for the tide to come up: a small local canoe used for fishing. 

zanzibar fishing

Zanzibar isn’t just about the famous white sand beaches.

Head into Stone Town, also known in the local language of Swahili as Mji Mkongwe (old town) to find stone alleys to explore with the myriad of cafes, restaurants, and small shops.

Discover the old mix of cultures in Zanzibar, Arab, European, Indian, and Persian, that have influenced life in Stone Town and Zanzibar.

I love coffee, and if you do as well you can find some really great little cafes around there.

At night time head to the night food market in Stone Town and feast on fresh seafood and regional delicacies.

Relaxing in a coffeehouse in Stone Town.

Zanzibar old town backpacking Tanzania

Prison Island is a fun getaway from the main island.

A 3-hour Prison Island tour is plenty to get the best out of the place.

Traditional dhow boat at sunset.

zanzibar dhow boat

If you plan to start your journey in Zanzibar you can continue afterwards to Dar es Salaam and then to Arusha by bus to organise your adventures around there. 

If you’re looking for any safaris in Zanzibar specifically then you will be a bit disappointed as the island isn’t for that.

Your best bet is to head to Arusha and go to the Serengeti National Park area.

If you are short on time you can fly from Dar es Salaam to Arusha instead of taking the bus.

However, if this is the case I recommend organising any activities in the Arusha area before going to save time.

Find places to stay in Zanzibar here.

backpacking Tanzania travel Zanzibar

Practicalities For Backpacking In Tanzania

Most countries can get a Tanzania visa  (check that link for your country’s requirements ) on arrival. Otherwise, you can apply online or at an embassy.

You will need to show proof of a yellow fever vaccination if you have been to certain countries, most notably African, South American, and Central American countries.

Check the Tanzania visa link shown earlier to see what countries are required for yellow fever proof.

Wondering what to pack for Tanzania travel? Take a look at my guide for what to pack for backpacking light which is what I recommend to bring with you.

Also in my guide to safaris in East Africa, I have a specific safari packing list.

For transport in Tanzania, the budget option is to use the buses, especially for getting to Arusha.

If going through the centre of the country you can use the train which crosses all the way. 

There are internal flights but they won’t be budget-friendly. But hey if you’re short on time you gotta do what you gotta do.

Adventure travel tip:

Take travel insurance!

Seriously if you plan to do any kind of adventure like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, getting off the beaten path to more remote places like Gombe etc, then make sure you take insurance.

If something serious medically were to go wrong in places like these it would cost you to get out of there to good medical treatment.

Personally, I had a serious medical incident happen to me while backpacking in India and travel insurance saved me thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Also when I was mugged in Columbia insurance covered all costs for what was taken.

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

Get a quote here for your trip:

Go Backpacking in Tanzania

Backpacking in Tanzania is a very rewarding experience and is also one of the easier countries in Africa to travel to as it gets its fair share of tourists so the infrastructure is not so bad for that.

However, getting off the beaten path and travelling can get tougher but as far as backpacking goes that’s part of the adventure.

There are so many more places you can go to in Tanzania but these ones listed here are the best for an overall feel for the country. 

Going from Kenya through Tanzania and onwards to Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, makes for an awesome African backpacking route and is the one I have done twice now.

For more information on the region take a look at my backpacking in Kenya guide with a 2 weeks itinerary.

And also my guide to backpacking in Malawi.

It’s perfect if you plan to do Kenya and Tanzania on the same backpacking trip (highly recommended if you have the time).

Further reading for East Africa:

There are 2 guidebooks to Tanzania I recommend for an overall view of the country.

They are Lonely Planet Tanzania and Bradt Travel Guides for Safaris in Northern Tanzania (+ Kilimanjaro).

Happy backpacking in Tanzania!

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backpacking Tanzania travel guide

6 thoughts on “Backpacking In Tanzania Travel Guide”

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