Tanzania Sustainable Travel Guide
At an early age, I had become fascinated with wildlife, especially the big cats. To this day, I still remember having an addiction to doodling pictures of animals like the Lion, Leopard, and my favourite animal of all time, the Cheetah. I also loved documentaries as a kid, especially the ones that had to do with animals. I remember seeing a TV ad for a documentary on the Serengeti that was to be played in IMAX theatres. I was enthralled, and I pleaded with my parents to take me. To much of my dismay, it never happened. However, my fascination with the destination and its incredible wildlife never wavered. I told myself that one day I was going to make it to the Serengeti. And in the winter of 2017, my dream came true.
The Serengeti is located in the African country of Tanzania. The country got its name after Zanzibar, who gained independence in 1963, joined the Republic of Tanganyika. In October of 1964, the country was re-named Tanzania.
The country’s domestic population is approximately 55 million people. Of these, a good percentage still belongs to traditional tribes. The most famous would be the Maasai people, who you will also find in neighbouring Kenya. They are known for their distinctive dresses and colourful wardrobes, and of course, their jumping dance know as the Adamu. In addition to the Maasai, Tanzania is also home to approximately 120 other tribes, all of whom have their own dialects. However, due to the nation’s founder, Julius Nyerere, a united Tanzania took precedent over individual tribes. Thus, all Tanzanians, regardless of tribal affiliations speak Swahili.
If you’re like me, you’re likely traveling to Tanzania to visit one of its numerous national parks to see the wildlife. From my own experience, a visit should be on everyone’s bucket list. Just being in the presence of so many majestic animals was a reward in and of itself. The landscape in the Serengeti is like nothing else on this planet. To the locals, Serengeti means “The Plains That Never End”. And as you enter the Serengeti for the first time, you’ll immediately understand why it gets that name.
When traveling to destinations where wildlife is the focus, it’s imperative that you choose a tour operator with strict environmental and animal welfare policies. The organization that I went with, G Adventures, has had their animal welfare policy endorsed by none other than Jane Goodall herself. By traveling with an organization that has a strict animal welfare policy, you’re ensuring that the activities respect the animals’ spaces and does not harass or follow them too closely. When you’re in the Serengeti or one of the other national parks, such as Ngorogoro Crater or Ruaha national park, the animals are often awake and could be on the hunt for food. Getting too close can stress them out or distract them, causing them to miss out on a much needed meal to feed themselves or their young. Additionally, by traveling with a company with an animal welfare policy, you’re likely helping an organization that helps fund conversation efforts. The guides are also great educators who can teach you all about the animals and how to protect them.
If at all possible, get in touch with the local people. Tanzanians are friendly, outgoing and very welcoming. Through my organized tour with G Adventures, we were lucky to participate in a village walk with locals in Mto wa Mbu. We were also able to visit a traditional Maasai village and meet the Maasai women as well. These village encounters were organized as part of G Adventures’ non-profit foundation, Planeterra. If you have not heard of them, it’s worth checking out. Planeterra funds social programs across the globe to help communities that would not otherwise have access to a dignified income. Other examples of projects supported by Planeterra include helping victims of sex trafficking in Nepal, community homestays and restaurants, and a women’s weaving co-op in Peru. It’s worth noting that G Adventures is not paying me to promote them. But through Planeterra, they do amazing work at elevating the lives of local. They also have great sustainable tourism and animal welfare policies.
Another major tourist attraction for Tanzania is trekking Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Should you decide to trek Mount Kilimanjaro on one of its multiple routes, it’s important to go with a tour operator that hires local guides and pays its porters a fair wage and respects their rights. It’s also important to practice responsible camping as you trek up and down the mountain as well. Pack out what you brought in. Leave nothing but footsteps and take nothing but memories.
Zanzibar is the semi-autonomous island located just off of mainland Tanzania. You can easily fly here from either Arusha or take a ferry from Dar Es Salaam.
Immediately upon landing in Stone Town, the capital, you’ll notice a drastic difference in culture in comparison to mainland Tanzania. For one, the population is overwhelmingly Muslim. That means it’s appropriate to dress accordingly to avoid offending locals, especially in spiritual places.
Stone Town has a fascinating history, albeit, sobering. For over 100 years, it was used as a slavers’ bay, where slaves were bought and sold in what can only be described as “slave markets”. While in Stone Town, it’s worth the visit to the slave museum to gain a proper understanding of what exactly happened. Part of the tour includes a stop at the slaves’ living quarters, basically underground bunkers no taller than about six feet in height. Most of these living quarters were smaller than a bachelor’s apartment, and yet it was expected that dozens or even hundreds of them were to share the same space. Breathing was made difficult, and many slaves died in these underground bunkers. In 1876, under British pressure, slavery was abolished (however, slavery actually remained legal until 1897).
Outside of Stone Town, specifically in northern Zanzibar, you’ll find idyllic white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters, great for snorkelling. However, northern Zanzibar is speckled with foreign-owned all-inclusive resorts, all fraught with the typical drawbacks. Little cultural value, overworked and underpaid staff, and abusive owners. As difficult as it can be, you can avoid these resorts should you wish to visit northern Zanzibar (and you should, it’s beautiful). A quick search for eco-hotels in Zanzibar pulls up a number of highly rated hotels. These eco-hotels are sure to have a smaller environmental footprint than the resorts, and your travel dollars will have a greater impact on the local economy by helping a local business over a foreign-owned company.
Fun fact, if you want to be the champion at your next trivia night, the legendary Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, was born on Zanzibar in Stone Town.