Top Tips for Staying Safe in Tanzania

Maasai warriors, Tanzania

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Full of treasures from the white sand shores of Pemba to iconic game reserves like the Serengeti, Tanzania is an exceptional destination for adventurous travelers. Like most countries, however, it has its fair share of problems. Poverty has led to a relatively high rate of violent crime including robberies, carjackings and muggings. Solo female and LGBTI travelers are particularly at risk of attracting unwanted attention. Outside Tanzania's cities, threats to traveler safety include tropical diseases and poorly maintained roads. In this article, we look at a few ways to mitigate the risks and ensure that your Tanzanian experience is a positive one.

U.S. Travel Advisory

The travel advisory from the U.S. Department of State ranks Tanzania as a Level 2 destination, which means that visitors should exercise increased caution. Threats highlighted by the advisory include crime, terrorism and the targeting of LGBTI persons (more on that below). Although several small-scale terrorist attacks have occurred in recent years, the last major incident took place in 1998 when the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam resulted in the death of 11 people. Somali-based group Al-Shabaab is the main terror threat in East Africa.

Safety in the Cities

Crime-wise, Tanzania's big cities are by far the most dangerous places to be. General safety rules include booking accommodation in affluent areas, avoiding townships or informal settlements unless you visit on part of an organized tour and making sure not to walk alone at night. If you plan on renting a car, keep the doors and windows locked when driving in the city and especially at traffic lights. Never leave valuables visible inside the car when you park.

Many of the people living in cities like Dar es Salaam and Dodoma are surviving well below the poverty line and as such it's never advisable to advertise your wealth. Leave your flashy jewelry at home, carry cash in a concealed money belt and be discreet with expensive camera equipment. It's a good idea to keep spare cash or cards and a copy of your passport in the safe at your hotel so that you have a backup in case of emergencies.

Organized Crime

In several cities (but especially Dar es Salaam), organized crime groups use tried and tested tactics to target tourists. Bag-snatching is common, whereby a thief on a motorbike or in a car drives close to the sidewalk and seizes bags from unsuspecting tourists as they pass. To prevent this, keep your distance from the road, always walk towards oncoming traffic and if you must carry a bag, keep it loosely over the shoulder furthest from the road.

Many tourists have also reported being kidnapped and forced to withdraw money from ATMs at gunpoint after accepting help from a stranger or getting into an unlicensed taxi. Never accept lifts from strangers and be wary of anyone trying to help you hail a taxi on the street. The safest bet is to arrange official taxis through a reputable source such as your hotel or tour operator.

Safety in Rural Areas

Generally, crime is not an issue in Tanzania's game parks and reserves. Although the bush is home to plenty of dangerous animals, it's easy to stay safe by simply following park rules and regulations and always listening to your guide. Basic tips include staying in the safari vehicle at all times (unless you're told that it's safe to get out) and checking shoes for venomous spiders and scorpions before putting them on. Don't feed wild animals if they approach you at campsites – you're only encouraging aggressive behavior.

If you're planning a Kilimanjaro or Mount Meru hike, make sure to research your chosen operator carefully to make sure that they use reliable equipment and knowledgeable guides. Altitude sickness is a real risk, but one that can be alleviated by allowing time to acclimatize. If you're headed to the coast, avoid walking on secluded beaches alone, especially in Pemba and Zanzibar. Even if you walk in a group, consider leaving your valuables at home.

Safety for Women

If you are a solo female traveler, you may want to take extra precautions when traveling in Tanzania – although unwanted sexual attention is more common than actual assault. To avoid being made to feel uncomfortable, consider dressing conservatively. This is especially true in the Islamic areas of Tanzania, which include Zanzibar and much of the Swahili Coast. Make sure to research hotels carefully and always stay in a safe area. If you're backpacking, book a private room or a bed in a girls-only dorm rather than a unisex one.

If traveling alone seems intimidating, an organized tour can be a great way to stay safe and meet new people.

Persecution of LGBTI Persons

Homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania and LGBTI persons are openly persecuted by the government. In November 2018, Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Paul Makonda encouraged members of the public to report gays to the authorities for round-ups. Gay male sex carries a jail sentence of up to 30 years. LGBTI persons are advised not to be affectionate with members of the opposite sex in public and the U.S. Department of State even recommends that travelers remove evidence of same-sex relationships from their social media pages.

Health Precautions

The CDC strongly recommends typhoid and hepatitis A vaccinations for all visitors to Tanzania. Your doctor may recommend a number of other vaccinations as well depending on which area of the country you're traveling to and what you plan on doing while you're there. These include cholera, hepatitis B, rabies and yellow fever. If you plan on traveling to Tanzania from a country where yellow fever is endemic, you will need to prove that you have been inoculated against the disease by presenting a vaccination certificate at immigration.

It is also recommended that you are up-to-date with routine immunizations including your polio and tetanus vaccinations. Some vaccines may not be readily available at your nearest clinic. Make sure to contact them several months in advance so they can order them for you if necessary.

Malaria is a risk in all areas of Tanzania with an altitude of less than 5,906 feet/1,800 meters. Anti-malaria pills are recommended and there are a number of different types to choose from, each with its own side effects and schedule. Discuss your options carefully with your doctor, making sure that they are aware that Tanzania is a chloroquine-resistant area.

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