Brief trip report: Tanzania (Dar and Zanzibar)

May 27th, 2007, 06:48 PM
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Brief trip report: Tanzania (Dar and Zanzibar)

I had always hesitated going to Africa, but this trip was a pleasant surprise. After getting past the multitude of shots and drugs, etc., the trip went relatively smoothly.

I flew from LHR-DAR direct on British Air. The plane has only two classes (Business and Coach), and while the business class seats oddly faced each other--they did lie flat which was much needed. I watched "Blood Diamond" upon departure and then slept the rest of the way into Dar. Little did I know that two comments made in the movie would come home during my visit: 1) American women can't come to Africa without hand sanitizer and malaria medicine (Malarone), and 2) TIA--This is Africa! About an hour from Dar, we got to see the sun starting to come up over the Indian Ocean. What a great sight!

I was surprised upon descent of the number of unfinished concrete structures around--I guess I didn't anticipate the large number of structures. Dar is a huge city--pop is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million+.

Clearing customs in Dar is very easy and somewhat comical. You surrender your passport and your money and then standaround until they either call your name or waive your passport. My colleagues who flew in the night before paid a business visa fee of US$50, I had to pay US$150 for a "visitor's pass". Payable in US dollars only. Go figure.

My driver picked me up and took me to the Kempinski Kilimanjaro. This is a fantastic hotel with great air conditioning, spa, restaurants, shopping, etc. I had a huge Executive Suite with a balcony overlooking the Dar harbor. Just a great view. The breakfast buffet was included in the rate, as was access to the Executive Lounge. The breakfast buffet was impressive--a combination of British, European, Western, and other breakfast options--large variety, great selection, and no issues with eating any of the fruits, veggies, etc. We did, however, stick to the bottled water.

The only thing I couldn't get used to was the inefficiency of just about everything. You have to get used to it and our colleagues took the line from Blood Diamond and modified it slightly so our motto became, "That's Africa, Baby!"

We had business in Dar, so our visit was limited mostly to the Kempinski and our office there. On Friday, we took the ferry from Dar to Zanzibar for the weekend. I would highly recommend getting a first class ticket (about US$40 one-way including the departure tax) if you are taking the ferry. The economy class is packed and appeared unpleasant for a number of reasons. 1st class was upstairs, they provided water and cookies, and they showed some Chuck Norris movies and African cartoons. The 2 hour trip was extended when we got stuck on a sandbar--but we finally made it to Zanzibar.
LoriS is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 07:00 PM
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On the ferry to Zanzibar, we met up with a local guide who helped us in negotiating through customs, porters, and drivers once we arrived in Zanzibar. You need to fill out an arrival card and get your passport stamped at the Zanzibar seaport. We then made our way through the streets to the Serena Zanzibar.

The Serena is a great little hotel located directly on the ocean. There is a small public beach and a private beach further away. The hotel is open air and classicly decorated. Very charming, but we were disappointed by the difficulties with the air conditioning. Although we all had great rooms with large balconies with ocean views, the air conditioners are limited to a low of 16 degrees Celsius and that's when they were actually working. It was very hot and humid and the lack of air conditioning made for some miserable times. Luckily, there was a very strong breeze off the ocean, so we could mitigate this.

The food here was also excellent--large breakfast buffets, etc. We hooked onto a local drink--a dawa (Swahili for medicine)--which was honey, loads of fresh limes, crushed ice, and the local gin. Very refreshing!

The first night, we headed down to the night market where the locals spread out tons of food on tables in the park in front of the Palace of Wonders. The sights and smells were amazing--grilled meats, seafood, fresh sugar cane drinks, etc.--but we were warned to avoid the foods for fear of getting ill. Instead, we retired to Monsoon restaurant for some local food and drink. We took off our shoes and sat on the floor while we dined family style. Our favorite discovery was a Coca Cola product called Tangawizi which is a ginger soda. Quite the bunch!

The next day after sunning at the pool, we braved the local shopping. For me, this was somewhat uncomfortable as the locals followed us from store to store trying to getting us to buy their wares. Stick to the stores and you'll find some interesting things, but after a few stores, much starts looking the same.

We learned that Freddy Mercury (of Queen fame) was born on Zanzibar and there's a restaurant and bar called "Mercury's" in his honor. We also dined at an Italian restaurant near our hotel called "La Fenice" which had some interesting combinations--octopus with coconut milk and pasta with coconut milk, etc.

We decided to fly back to the mainland, so we booked seats on Coastal airline for about US$61/person one-way. It's interesting to board a 12-15 seat airplane and be able to sit in the seat next to the pilot. Be forewarned that you're allowed only 15kg of baggage per person or you'll be subject to an excess baggage fee. Flying is the way to go and I'd highly recommend the short 20 minute flight over the ferry trip unless you have a lot of time to waste. The views over the islands and the Indian Ocean are amazing and you're free to take pictures/videos as there's no limitation on the use of cell phones or electronic items.

If you haven't already noted from these posts, most items must be paid in cash (US dollars or Tanzanian shillings are usually accepted). Credit cards are very difficult to use and even if you can, an additional 5% is typically added to the bill. Only the large hotels will readily accept credit cards.
LoriS is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 07:15 PM
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On return to Dar, no need to clear customs--just walk on through.

We actually were delighted to be back in Dar (to civilization and air conditioning!). We headed to the Spa at the Kempinski for their oriental foot massages. One of the best reflexology massages I've ever had--and they give you those great Thai-like pajamas to wear. The foot massage is supplemented by a brief head, neck, and back massage. The herb and spice baths are also very nice--but be sure to drink loads of water sinc they are very dehydrating. Also, I can highly recommend the Oriental restaurant at the Kempinski--the sushi and the Pad Thai are both great, although if you sit at the sushi bar instead of a table, be prepared for a long wait (TIA!!).

Back in Dar, we also visited the Sea Cliff Hotel and Slipway. The shopping at Slipway is highly recommended and we were able to purchase great books and local arts which we didn't see in Zanizbar or at the stores at Dar airport.

While in Tanzania, we had to buy some Tanzanite and we had a great experience at LITHOS at the Kempinski. While prices are cheaper in Arusha, we didn't have time for an extra trip, so we bought at LITHOS. The folks there gave us a great lesson in Tanzania and pulled out boxes of loose stones for us to look at. If you buy a loose stone, they will also design for you--but since we were departing, we just bought the stones. We spent several hours trying on necklaces, rings, earrings, etc. What fun! But beware that Tanzanite is quite soft compared to diamonds and sapphires, so necklaces and earrings are better buys than rings ue to stratching, etc. If you buy, be sure to buy from a reputable dealer (as loads of fakes abound in Tanzania) and that you look at the stone (rated A, AA, AAA) next to your skin as opposed to only in the individual boxes).

We also made it to the Casino at the Kempinski where two of the bouncers posed for a "Texas Hold'Em" tournament poster and signed posters for us. We even had some luck almost doubling our money at the blackjack tables--much better than Las Vegas since the casino wasn't smoky!

All in all, it was a very good trip and we met fantastic people. Everyone we met were very kind and some of the gentlest people I've ever met. Our drivers and the hotel staff gave us some brief Swahili lessons and we came back with a short vocabulary.

The flight back was less pleasant--Swiss from Dar to Nairobi and onto Zurich. Swiss is probably the worst business class I've ever flown (well, maybe except for China Eastern Airways) and if I return I'll stick to British Air or KLM. But, the saving grace was the Swiss arrivals lounge at Zurich airport (after customs and baggage claim) where the showers, amenities, and free breakfast were much welcomed before boarding another long flight back to the States!

LoriS is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 08:53 PM
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nice report! thanks!
matnikstym is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 08:20 AM
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Interesting report--a business trip, I gather. Glad you were able to see some of this incredibly beautiful country. Next time stay longer.
Leely is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 09:20 AM
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$150 for a "visitor's pass"? Wow! A single stay or business visa is $50 (for Americans, anyway.) I think it's GBP 38 for UK citizens. $150 sounds like a rip-off...TIA?!?
ShayTay is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 09:31 AM
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ShayTay, I hadn't seen that! I've only arrived in-country at JRO and on the Namanga border, both times paying tghe (standard?) $50 visa fee.

Remind me not to fly into Dar next time.
Leely is offline  
May 29th, 2007, 10:58 AM
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Visitor's Pass

Applicants who intend to travel to Tanzania for the purpose of carrying on temporary assignments with organizations or companies will be issued a "Visitor's Pass" on arrival at the entry point. However, before traveling they are requested to obtain an "Entry Visa" from the Tanzania Missions abroad. The fee for obtaining a visitor's pass at the entry point is 100 US$.

Sounds like something that's issued for a longer(?) stay that the regular business visa.
Patty is online now  
May 29th, 2007, 11:05 AM
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Or maybe it's issued for those working under a local organization. The OP did mention that they have an office Dar. It could be up to the interpretation of the immigration officer or a misunderstanding of the purpose of the OP's visit. I wouldn't automatically assume that it's a rip off.
Patty is online now  
May 29th, 2007, 11:11 AM
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BTW, Leely, I got a standard $50 tourist visa at DAR, no problem
Patty is online now  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 11:46 AM
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From discussions with my colleagues in Tanzania, the $150 fee is expected for business visits ($100 visitors pass and $50 Visa fee). Looks like my colleagues were given a break.
LoriS is offline  
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