Bukoba Western Tanzania
Bukoba and the surrounding region is undoubtedly one of the loveliest parts of Tanzania boasting staggering beauty, the friendliest of inhabitants and a fascinating cultural history. Bukoba is located in the remote west of Tanzania – in the very heart of Africa – and on the western shore of the massive Lake Victoria; its vast waters and miles of white sand shores are awe-inspiring. It has a number of islands, each with its own beauty and enchantment.
Lake Victoria was named after Queen Victoria it is the world's largest tropical lake and the second largest freshwater lake. The lake covers a total of 69,000 square kilometers, and is the same size as Ireland. Despite the huge size Lake Victoria is not that deep only 100 meters at its deepest - unlike its close neighbor Lake Tanganyika which is one of the deepest lakes in the world. The lake is part of the Rift Valley a 3,500- mile system of deep cracks in the earth's crust running from Turkey to Mozambique.
Tanzania is known for the huge migrations and prolific lion populations across the endless plains of the Serengeti, however, its most diverse and endangered ecosystems are to be found under water. One way to preserve the lake for future generations is to promote responsible tourism to the area – then the local population and the politicians have a good reason to look after the lake.
Unfortunately the lake is riddled with bilharzias in some areas, so the swimming is only recommended far from any reeds. Avoid walking barefoot through the grass along its shores, as this is where the nasty parasite lurks.
Tanzania has many unusual National Parks and Bukoba and Lake Victoria are no exception; Rubondo Island and a wildlife sanctuary based on Saa Nane Island [Eight O’clock Island] is a fascinating and very special National Park.
The best way to get to this island is by charter plane and is a thirty minute flight from Mwanza. This island is a real paradise with the African adventure starting as the light aircraft lands on the grass airstrip, sometimes animals will have to be cleared off the runway. The island is striking in its greenness and the whistles of the African Grey parrot echoing in the forest, truly you have landed in an African paradise. Visitors to this island have the freedom to explore the forest and lake shores by foot or boat allowing each person to create his or her own magic of Rubondo and to leave with a uniquely personal experience of the island.
Dotted along the shores of Lake Victoria are many fishing villages. Most of the fishermen are local and apply traditional methods to their trade. The most famous villages near Bukoba Town are Igabiro fishing village and Musila Island.
Only five kilometers from the centre of Bukoba town is a project named Lavibogam. It is well known nationally for its skilled herbalists and traditional medicine. The Region has large variety of plants used for the healing of humans, livestock and treating crops. The famous Muarobaini Tree is claimed to cure over forty diseases. When visiting the area this project is well worth a visit.
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Fishing in Tanzania
The deep waters of Lake Tanganyika are rich in big-game fish. The waters of this deep lake are only just beginning to gain the world-wide fame which means these waters are less populated with boats and fishing conditions are absolutely perfect. Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world, and at 1,433 meters is the second deepest in the world. Amazingly the lakes lowest point is 642m below sea level; and it holds a volume of water seven times that of Lake Victoria. For divers as well as anglers, this is paradise, with over 350 species of fish, offers some of the finest lake game fishing in Africa. Some of the game fish to be found here include the goliath, tigerfish and Nile Perch.
After a big storm I have seen people body surfing with waves sometimes reaching up to six meters. This is for the enthusiast only.
Many fishermen come to African lakes looking to land a tigerfish; many claims are made by operators in Southern Africa that this fish is found only in Southern Africa countries – this is untrue as these game fish are also found here in Tanzania. The tigerfish is well-known for its powerful tail and savage teeth; and is claimed by some to be the world's most exciting freshwater sport-fish. I think this is mainly because of the drama of the whole experience the jarring strikes, lightning runs and spectacular leaps; a typical tigerfish weighs 3-8 pounds, with 10-20 pounds being landed from time to time.
In contrast the shallow waters of Lake Victoria are home to legendary Nile Perch growing up to 300lbs, and even the novice fisherman can be encouraged by casting off a jetty to catch abundant tilapia. Nile Perch of over 80 kg have been caught; the main method of fishing in the lake is trolling with lures. Apart from the Nile perch, local tilapia of up to 5kg have been caught on bait. I have seen catfish of over 50kg caught often.
The Guinness Book of World Records lists an incredible 232kg Nile perch caught by local fishermen on Lake Victoria. Another way to fish is from the shore – there are few un-spoilt places, I am sure, in the world where in fresh or salt water it is possible to land fish in the 20 - 100lb plus category.
Sea fishing in one of the most exciting areas of Tanzania is in an area called Kilwa in southern Tanzania – close to the Mozambique border - this is a blue water fishing paradise. For those who wish to experience the unbelievable thrill of saltwater fly fishing this is the place to head. Many different species can be teased up to a fly and the rush of playing a big fish on light gear is an unforgettable experience.
Fishing is best in the months of August, September and October. Silver service fly-camps are set up on an evening along the coastline and trips include all fishing, full-board accommodation, beer, table wine, soft drinks, and transfers to and from Dar-es-Salaam to Kilwa.
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Travel from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam
To travel from Arusha to Dar es Salaam is easiest by air, however, this will cost about US$200 per person. The cheapest alternative is to travel by bus, which is never advised by tour operators. However, it need not be a nightmare as there are some good companies operating in Tanzania.
The most well known bus company must be the Scandinavia Express. They operate probably the best, safest and most comfortable transport between the two cities; it is, of course, the most expensive private bus option - at US$25 per person - and to book in advance is essential. In Arusha the offices for Scandinavia have moved to Kilembero Market – which is close to the Shoprite supermarket. Scandinavia have recently been in huge debt and have had some of their buses seized by the police; this has made the headlines in the East African news papers. It has also made booking in Advance more essential as the fleet is depleted.
The ‘Dar Express’ bus service comes a close second to Scandinavia or maybe an equal first place. They have different classes of busses and when at the booking Office – which is situated close to the Kimahama Bookshop [about 500m up hill from the Arusha Stadium] – it is essential to say you want the first class bus which should cost about US$18 per person. Dar Express are, without doubt, my favourite company and I would recommend this company above all others. However, some of the coaches do not have a toilet - although this may in fact be a blessing – as you travel in the African heat [and especially if you are sat toward the rear of the bus] a toilet may not seem such a luxury after most of the passengers have taken advantage of the service. The smell can become quite overpowering and the journey is a long one – about ten hours.
If you opt for the cheaper end of the market, most busses leave from the Bus Station close to the ‘Stadium’. Buffalo seem to be a favourite but they travel too fast. Speed is not a good thing as in places the road is single carriageway, it winds and there are hills; slowly slowly is the best way to ensure you get from Arusha to Dar es Salaam alive.
I would recommend either Fresh Coach or Amazon Coach – the ticket price must be negotiated and do not pay more than US$10 per person. The last of each of these coaches leaves Arusha Bus Station at 8 am sharp. Tickets are usually sold by freelance workers and as the commission is good – the more they charge the more pay they take home – competition is fierce. If you are a westerner then you will be targeted and you will be surrounded by enthusiastic ticker touts. This experience is not for the faint hearted. Hang onto your luggage and watch out [as you would as a tourist anywhere in the world] for pickpockets.
Fresh coach and Amazon travel to Dar es Salaam at a more leisurely pace and they are safer than the full steam ahead express buses.
If you want to leave Arusha and travel by bus to make the ferry crossing to Zanzibar in a single day - I would suggest leaving Arusha around 6 am to ensure you are in Dar es Salaam by 2pm. That gives you a good couple of hours to get from the Bus Station into town and to the ferry, buy your ticket.
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Volunteering For a Week in Tanzania
Volunteering usually is thought to belong to the missionary worker or the student gap year. These two groups seem to have cornered the market, an exclusive club for the super pious or the young person taking a year off from studies. It is also thought that to volunteer you must also have six months or a year of free time to make the difference in Africa, Asia or South America.
If you do not fall into either of these categories but feel the need to volunteer for a short time then just do it! There is nothing to stop you. More and more people are recognizing the value of a career break from a week to as long as you want to volunteer. These breaks are not only possible but encouraged. You can make a difference and have a life changing experience is only a short time.
There are Volunteering specialists that arrange two week ‘career breaks’ with voluntary positions in the third world. They are in it for the business so be prepared to pay for the privilege. With these companies everything will be arranged for you – all you will need to do is pay and pack.
For a more adventurous alternative try your local church, or a local charity most will be involved with an overseas project or at least know of one. Ask to become involved and that you would like to volunteer for working overseas for a short time. It takes a little time and effort but the rewards from your involvement with a third world community project will be worth every ounce of effort.
Some airlines will give reduced rates to volunteer workers especially if you have organised your trip through a church or charity.
These breaks are an opportunity to take some time away from work, they are a complete change from your normal environment. It is a great way to combine travel with the opportunity to do something worthwhile and challenging in a developing country. When you work and are interacting with another culture where you can use your skills, experience and enthusiasm you will make a real difference. Most agencies either charities or professional volunteer placement agencies are very flexible on the length and timing of a career break and will find a placement that will be beneficial to you and the local population.
This could be two weeks working in an orphanage as part of your travel, or it could be six months teaching English to children in a local school. You will have the opportunity to use existing skills in a very different context, and to develop and learn new skills yourself. It is as much about self discovery as it is about helping those in need. With volunteering you can choose to be in a City, town or rural setting, however you will usually be well and truly off the tourist track. It is possibly the only way to really have a cultural exchange.
No matter where or what you do working in the third world will be a worthwhile and truly unforgettable experience.
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Visas, Money and Travel in Tanzania
The Tanzanian currency is the Shilling it cannot be imported into the country and so it is necessary to bring foreign currency with you on safari. US$ Dollars are the best currency to take to Tanzania with the Euro or GB Pounds coming in second and third. US$ Dollars are bar far the safest option with larger notes US$50 and US$100 offering a better rate of exchange. The lower denominations are not popular with the US$1 being difficult to get rid of except as a tip. If you intend to pay for a safari with cash then pay in large dominations to avoid a possible penalty.
Travellers checks are accepted by banks and bureaus, they attract a lower rate of exchange and can be a bit of a hassle; it is better to keep them to a minimum or to avoid them totally. Credit cards [Master and Visa] are more widely accepted now than they were in five years ago. However, if you wish to draw cash against a credit card then try to do this from the banks as many hotels with change heavy commission for the privilege. More importantly let your bank know where and when you travel otherwise you may hit problems once you start using your card in Tanzania.
Visas are available in advance from Tanzanian Embassies or they can be obtained on arrival at border posts or airports. There is a departure tax for Tanzania if you leave by air but this should be included in the price of your ticket.
It can be expensive to fly into Kilimanjaro airport especially in high season. It is usually a cheaper option to fly into Nairobi airport and transfer countries via the bus-shuttles that travel to Arusha via the Namanga border post. At Nairobi airport purchase a transit visa this costs US$20 and will last between five and seven days. All visas obtained on arrival in Kenya and Tanzania must be paid in US Dollars and in cash. Have the correct amount ready. The Tanzania holiday visa costs vary according to nationality.
The shuttles are 25 seat coaster buses that travel from Central Nairobi to Arusha town and then off to Moshi Town which is nestled against Kilimanjaro.
The shuttle bus companies are Riverside, Davanu, Bobbies and Impala. The price should be about US$ 25 per person and an extra US$10 to Moshi. They will all pick up and drop off passengers at city centre hotels in Nairobi or Arusha – by special arrangement. They all set off from Parkside Hotel in Nairobi and end at Mount Meru Hotel in Arusha.
The shuttle from Nairobi can be taken either from the city centre or from the airport. If you have a late arrival then an overnight in Nairobi will be necessary. It is best to overnight at the Parkside Hotel in Nairobi as it is clean and inexpensive. All the shuttles for Tanzania leave from outside this hotel.
The journey should take about five hours including Immigration and Customs at the border post town of Namanga. The driver will show you where to go to get the necessary stamps for your passport. The shuttle will give out immigration cards for you to fill in whilst you travel. To do this in advance will save time at the border post – remember to travel with a pen to save on unnecessary stress.
If you travel in the midst of high season – mid July to October I would advise you to make all your bookings for accommodation and safaris in advance. All other months and especially low season [March through to the end of June] it is possible to arrive in Tanzania and Zanzibar and shop around for cheap accommodation and bargain safaris.
Arusha Tourist Board Office is on Boma Road and they can advise where to start your search for a safari. The office has a small notice board on the left hand-side wall with special offers displayed by reputable tour operators. The tourist Board offers a safer bet to start a search for a bargain safari. Be warned that as you enter and leave the Tourist Board the Safari Street hawkers will hassle you and try to sell a safari. Remember all that glitters is not gold so beware making deals on the street, however good the sales pitch. Be good natured but firm and do not be tempted by offers that sound to good to be true, because inevitably that what they are…
Travelling from Arusha to Zanzibar the cheap way is by bus to Dar es Salaam and then high speed ferry from Dar to Stone Town. Scandinavia, Royal or Dar Express have luxury coaches [about US$18 to US$25 per person] these three companies offer the best and safest road transport to Dar es Salaam. To travel from Arusha to Stone Town in one day means an early departure 6.30 and getting to Dar by 14h30.
There are many cheaper alternatives to travel to Dar es Salaam - US$6 to US$10. The two best companies being Amazon or Fresh Coaches as they travel at a slower speed and have fewer seats squashed inside. The fast coaches are not safe and should be avoided at all costs.
The last ferry to Zanzibar departs about 16h30. There is an overnight ferry but this is from Zanzibar into Dar only - it is slow but cheap.
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How to Get a Cheap Safari in Tanzania
First of all remember cheap is not always best. Spend as much as you can afford, the trick is to try to get a quality safari at a reasonable price. Don’t believe all you are told. I recently met someone in Arusha who had decided to take a two day safari to Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara. He managed to get a very good deal. The plan was to set off at 8 am sharp and returning the next day at 6 pm; he was also guaranteed window seat.
The following day he arrived at the safari company office in downtown Arusha. The safari set off at 10 am and they broke down on the way to the National Parks – twice. The passengers had to get out and push the rather old safari vehicle to get it going again. The car was full resulting in one person not having a window seat. The following day they returned at 8.30 pm as the car was only able to return at a very slow speed.
If time is not an issue spend a day or two in Arusha looking for the right deal for you. To be rushed for time is not conducive to finding a good deal.
IF you are to spend more than one night in the Serengeti – try to ensure only one night is in the Seronera Valley. This valley is the central Serenegeti and has a high concentration of game year round. Operators get lazy and just send all their clients to this area. To have at least one night in the northern Serenegeti or Southern Serengeti will make the safari more exciting. Which Area of the Serenegeti will depend on what time of year it is and where the migration is heading? If the operator tells you otherwise consider changing operators – there are many in Arusha.
Tarangire is a good park in the dry season – make sure you are camping inside the Tarangire [a little extra cost for a campsite inside the National Parks] and make sure you travel to the wilderness area of this most underrated park. If it is the rainy season then don’t bother with the Tarangire at all.
It is not all location either. If you are staying in lodges then the more expensive the lodge the better the experience. Small lodges in remote parts of the National Parks can be expensive but the quality of safari makes the expense insignificant.
In the centre of Arusha is TTB – the Tanzania Tourist Board. A nice clean air-conditioned office; it has two desks and two very helpful staff. There is a notice board here that heralds recommended safari companies who are looking for extra people to fill a safari vehicle. This is the place to start your hunt for the bargain safari.
Ask at the TTB for recommended safari companies and where to find their offices. Also the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Office is next door – there is a very nice lady here who can also help by pointing you toward the right companies.
Once you start to look for a safari, you will be noticed. Noticed that is by the ‘fly-catchers’. These are pleasant young men who make a living by guiding tourists to safari companies; they then get commission. It is best to avoid any temptation you have to make a deal with these young "fly-catchers". They have eyes set upon the commission only and a quality safari is seldom purchased on the street. You will also be pray to the ‘others’ who sell curios. It can be an overwhelming and panicky situation the first time you are exposed to an onslaught of flycatchers and the 'others'. Remember as westerners we enjoy the luxury of a huge personal space – in Africa this is a luxury for the rich so up close and personal is the way to do business/travel/live etc.
Being nasty does not work. All negotiations and conversations should be carried out with good humour and to enjoy yourself is the order of the day.
Low season is the best way to get a luxury safari at budget prices. Low season is through the long rains. However, it does not rain for the whole of the time and in recent years the rains have been very sparse indeed. The few tourists and low prices make any safari a pleasure at this time of year. Each park has something special to offer in every season.
Another way to make money go further is to travel to some of the amazing places in Tanzania, such as Uru Village on Kilimanjaro, or the Usambara Mountains, Pangani, the Southern Pare Mountains – these areas have no big game and no park fees. They are easily reached on local transport, have reasonable budget lodges or home-stays on offer. For a very little money you can live for a time in Africa proper – where there are very few or no other tourists for miles. What a way to experience Africa and get to know the Tanzania people. Take a rest from lion spotting it can become very tedious for many people after the first few prides… where as exploring the Usambara or Pare Mountains could take you all your life with two days never the same.
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