When We Were There: May 25 – June 3, 2009
Places We Visited: Mbeya, Train from Mbeya to Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar
View all of our posts about Tanzania here.
Exchange Rate: $1 = 1340 Tanzania Shilling
See a breakdown of our Tanzania budget here.
WHAT WE DID
We didn’t have plans to stay in this border town but the train schedule meant that we stayed a few days. There’s not much to do per say and on first sight doesn’t look like much but we found it friendly. We hear there’s good hiking in the hills around Mbeya but we didn’t get to check it out.
Train from Mbeya to Dar Es Salaam
Though we arrived in Dar about 8 hours later than we were supposed to, the train was a highlight for us. The train passes through spectacular scenery, and at one point it’s like you are on safari as you can see elephants, giraffes, zebras, and more out your window. The stops are interesting as locals gather trackside to hawk goods. When we broke down, we passed our time practicing Swahili phrases with the local kids. It didn’t hurt that our cabin was quite comfortable.
We spent most of our time on Zanzibar just wandering among the beautiful old buildings and down the winding narrow alleys. The sounds of the prayers coming from the mosques, the kids all saying hello, the impromptu soccer matches, and other scenes of local life made it veryÂ pleasant. We spent one day on a Spice Tour that included a trip to the beach. Nearly every night we enjoyed the Night Market. We also did a fair bit of shopping.
WHERE WE STAYED
Mbeya Peak Hotel (Mbeya): Your basic standard hotel the rooms were clean and quiet, and the bathrooms had hot water. Nothing special but fine for a border town. 25,000 Shillings for a double with private bathroom, TV, and breakfast.
Kibodya Hotel (Dar Es Salaam): Close enough to walk to the ferry terminal to Zanzibar, this hotel offered hot water, AC, and clean rooms. Bonus was a pretty comfortable mattress. After over 24 hours on the train, it was a fine place to crash. 24,000 for a double with private bathroom and TV.
Zenji Hotel (Zanzibar): This hotel was a real find. Our room was large, clean, and very tastefully decorated with locally-made furnishings. It also had a balcony. The bathroom was big and clean with hot water, though the water pressure could have been a bit stronger. Breakfast was very good and filling. And the wi-fi was a good connection and dind’t cost anything. $48 per night for a double with private bathroom, wi-fi, and breakfast. (Note that all hotels on Zanzibar are pretty pricey, and we heard of many people staying in much lesser hotels for much more. Some dorm beds were going for $20-$25. Being the low season we got a discount; the normal high season rate for our room was $60.)
PLACES WE ATE
Sombrero (Mbeya): They don’t serve Mexican food so I’m not sure where the name comes from, but they do serve up big, hearty meals. Unfortunately, they often don’t have everything on the menu. The mashed potatoes were really good but only available one time we visited. The curries were nice too. 11,000 Shillings for dinner for two.
Market at Mbeya: The ladies in the market at Mbeya serve up a wide variety of tasty treats none of which gave us any stomach troubles. We particularly like the omelets with fries cooked into them and the chipati bread.
Passing Show (Zanzibar): This local eatery serves up quick and tasty biryani and other regional foods. Come at lunchtime when they have a full menu; later in the day it’s just snack foods. 9,000 Shillings for lunch for two.
Archipelago (Zanzibar): The grilled seafood options at this restaurant with a view out over the water were quite nice as were the fruit shakes. 24,000 for lunch for two.
Night Market (Zanzibar): This is the place to eat dinner on Zanzibar. Vendors set up and sell all kinds of good stuff: grilled seafood of every type, samosas, meat kebabs, Zanzibar pizza, chai, and more. We went for a sampling every night. Approximately 9,000 Shillings for dinner for two.
*The train in Tanzania is a much slower option than the bus, but if you have the time, I’d recommend taking it. Be warned however that cabins are single sex. If you are a couple and want to be in the same cabin, you must be a group of 4 for first class or 6 for second class or you must buy out the entire cabin. Not wanting to pay for two beds we wouldn’t use and not wanting to be separated into different cabins, we talked another couple we’d met on Likoma Island into sharing a cabin with us.
*There’s a lot of great stuff to buy on Zanzibar so come with extra space in your bag. Also bring your best bargaining skills, as everything can be bargained down, often quite significantly. They always start at at least double what they will take.
*Don’t bother buying first class tickets for the ferry. The difference is extremely minimal and not worth the difference in price. Second class is air-conditioned and has comfortable seats.