I know many of you are well-seasoned, independent, intrepid travelers who have plenty of experience traveling in developing countries. BUT, we thought we would give you a list of things to remember and expect while on safari and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
1. Tanzania is a developing country — plain and simple. You will be traveling in Sub Saharan Africa out in the middle of the bush. Things can easily go wrong – vehicles might break down, the electricity in your hotel could go out for one week, you might have to camp in a different spot because of a washed out road or a group of lions sitting in your camp. Roads are pretty bad and traveling long distances takes a lot of time. Expect the unexpected!
2. Like many other cultures, time has a different way of working and moving. People are much more relaxed at getting things done. The food your ordered might take 1 hour because they had to run to the market to buy a live chicken to cook. Serious! If you had planned on being on safari for the whole day, sometimes your driver must take a detour to look for fuel. When climbing Kilimanjaro, you might have to spend a few hours preparing at the base and might not arrive at camp until late at night. Your vehicle might get stuck trying to get up to the starting point for the climb. Things don’t work as expected on or on your time frame in Tanzania — EVER. Repeat this: “Nothing will ever happen on time ever, and I am happy.” If you accept this, you will have a great time.
3. You will be dealing with extreme weather conditions – expect extremely hot dry weather and very cold weather. You will encounter both on your Kilimanjaro climb and safari (yes, there are cold places on safari too). On Mt. Kilimanjaro, you might walk for three days, six to eight hours per day, in pouring rain and mud – and there is nothing you can do. Or, you might have the best weather ever, wake up every morning and watch the sunrise over Africa. You never know. Weather in the mountains is very unpredictable and it’s best to be prepared mentally for this.
4. You will NOT eat fillet minion with a side salad and a nice cold beverage. Unless you are going to a fancy $300 per night lodge, the food that you are eating is pretty basic. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great cooks on many tours, but in general, it’s pretty basic protein and starch food. Most of the meals on Mt. Kilimanjaro will consist of rice, beans with cooked vegetables, some meat, juice, soup and tea. If you are eating with a group, see RULE number 2. Generally since there is little to no refrigeration and ice is pretty much non-existent, you will eat the meat on the first few days of the trip. The food will be good and hearty food for climbing Kilimanjaro. Bring a few power bars, candy bars and jerky if you get hungry a lot.
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5. Odds are not everyone will summit Mt. Kilimanjaro regardless of how fit you are. You will be walking close to 50 miles at high altitudes. Altitude effects people in different ways. It’s not based on fitness, it’s about how your body adjusts to all the altitude. It’s okay, expect some people to go down early. Generally there are back up plans should anyone give up or have to go down early.
6. On safari, you could be sitting in a vehicle for eight hours or more – down extremely dusty and hot roads. Since there are many wild animals around, there are few places, besides the camp and the lunch spots, where you will be able to get out, stretch, and venture around on your own. Go to the bathroom before you go on safari.
7. In groups, you will be sharing rooms, tents, and other facilities with people you don’t’ know. On the Marangu route, you will be sharing huts with people you don’t know. You might not like them, you might love them, you might listen to them snore all night.
8. Searching for animals on safari can be extremely rewarding and extremely difficult. Quite often, you will have thousands of animals around you in every direction. You will see the “BIG FIVE” and be happy. Sometimes, however, you can spend hours and hours searching, just to see a boring little Impala. Patience is a virtue on safari.
9. You are a wealthy tourist in a poor country. The money you paid for your trip is more money than the average Tanzanian makes in over five years. When you stop in villages and cities on the tourist route, people will hound you to buy things. Don’t let it bug you. They are just trying to make a living too — and sometimes there might be 20 people surrounding you trying to sell you the same thing. Just enjoy the process, be polite, and accept the people even if they are hounding you to buy a carving.
Overall, to achieve something wonderful, or see something beautiful, you have to go through something that isn’t always easy and comfortable. Traveling in East Africa is no different. Many aspects of travel in Tanzania can be very tiresome and slow. But, Tanzania is gem in East Africa and is a great country with warm people and spectacular landscapes and animals.