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Mini Travel Guide: Belize

Belize is between Guatemala and Mexico perfect for a tropical vacation. Enjoy this mini travel guide to Belize! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which expats, locals, and avid travelers share their favorite things with us. And then we all rush out to find the cheapest plane tickets we can!travel tips belize

There are many tropical vacation destinations in the world to choose from, but a rare gem that few tourists stumble upon is the country of Belize. Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize provides unique experiences for leisurely and adventurous travelers. As the locals say, “you better Belize it!”

My name is Suzi and Belize has been my vacation destination for the past couple of years. While I call Seattle, Washington my year-round home, Belize has become another home base since I work virtually with Hanna Stables. Owned and run by a local Belizean family, this tourist establishment has been welcoming visitors for horseback rides and organic farm stays for several destinations. I’m lucky to work with them to help plan vacations for guests and coordinate online bookings.

Must go in Belize

Must Go in Belize

Belize’s best sites are spread all over the country so the best way to see them is to hire a taxi or rent a car. Alternatively, you can take public buses or local flights.

Caye Caulker

Off the coast of Belize City, there are cayes or islands that are popular tourist destinations. While the most popular is the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, there is another smaller, cozier caye right next to it: Caye Caulker. Both are accessible via water taxi from Belize City. Five miles long, Caye Caulker is a small limestone island with just over 30 tiny hotels and a cluster of restaurants, shops, and snorkeling and diving businesses.

San Ignacio

Located on mainland Belize in the Cayo district, San Ignacio is 90 minutes from Belize City. Close to the Guatemala border, it’s usually a stopover for travelers heading to Tikal. However, there are many Mayan ruins and jungle adventures in San Ignacio and it is worth exploring for a few days. Accommodations vary from cheap hostels to treehouse cabanas to high-end resorts. Activity-wise, the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, Caracol and Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave are popular.

Placencia

Even further away from Belize City (3.5 hours) is the former fishing village of Placencia. It is home to a number of beachfront hotels, cabanas, and restaurants as well as the narrowest street in the world. It is a great base for travelers wishing to do snorkeling or scuba diving day trips or head into the mountainous jungles close to San Ignacio while spending the night closer to the beach.

Must Do in Belize

Mayan Ruins

There is no shortage of Mayan archeological sites; most are located inland in the Cayo District. The most historically significant is Caracol, a site that was once the center of one of the largest Maya kingdoms. The most popular site is Xunantunich, meaning “Stone Woman” – a reference to a ghost believed to inhabit the site. In Belize, it’s legal for visitors to climb all over the ruins, something you can’t do in the surrounding countries.

Caving

Caving is another reason why many adventure travelers flock to Belize. Whether you’re an experienced caver or beginner, there’s a tour for you! One of the most popular caving tours is Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. This intense adventure involves swimming, crawling, scampering, and climbing for nearly four hours in an underground cave. At the end of the cave, you can see where Mayan shamans allegedly conducted rituals. Believe it or not, this tour is perfectly fine for inexperienced cavers, as long as they are in good physical condition.

Water Activities

You might already know about the Great Blue Hole, a widely photographed large submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize. There are many tours that allow you to dive or fly over the hole.

But did you know that Belize boasts the world’s second-largest great barrier reef?!From any of the Cayes or Placencia, you can take a trip out to snorkel or scuba dive, and there is also a special tour to Shark Ray Alley that lets you swim with rays and sharks!

Must eat in Belize

Must Eat in Belize

The culture in Belize is very diverse and so is the food! Coastal towns have more Kriol influence in their foods  and serve lots of fresh seafood. Try the lobster and if you’re adventurous, the conch and barracuda as well.

Inland, Belizean food is more Hispanic, serving staples like rice and beans with cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork) and empanadas. If you’d like to try something new, try the gibnut (a large rodent), cow foot soup, or bamboo chicken (which is actually iguana!)

Cultural tips for Traveling in Belize

Cultural Tips for Traveling in Belize

Belize is one of the only countries in Central America where English is widely spoken and U.S. dollars are openly accepted, making it an ideal destination for American tourists. That being said, there is also quite a bit of Spanish spoken throughout the country, especially as you head further inland. Most Belizeans are very friendly and will greet you with a smile. The country is also fairly safe, but I’d avoid Belize City.

Cheap Travel in Belize

Travel on the Cheap in Belize

Belize can be a relatively expensive country to visit, especially when compared to nearby Guatemala. You can save money by staying in budget hostels and buying your food at the farmers’ markets. Taxis can get expensive.  It’s much cheaper to take the public bus, but it will take you longer to reach your destination.  One the best ways to save money is to visit during Summer – the slow season.

Thanks so much for sharing, Suzi! I’m sure lots of you have been to Belize – what would you add to this list?

Photos: wikipedia  // Glen Murphy // Eric Pheterson // Larnie Fox // Drriss and Marrionn // Ian Morton

 

Mini Travel Guide: Bavaria + Northern Austria

Bavaria and Northern Austria is more than castles and beer! Enjoy this mini travel guide to Bavaria and Northern Austria to learn why this should be on your travel must-see list! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which expats and locals share their favorite things with us. And then we all rush out and buy plane tickets. 

Bavaria travel tips and mini travel guide to Bavaria

Hi! I’m Margo, a Virginian currently calling Germany home. Since moving here in 2013, my husband, schnoodle (that’d be a schnauzer + poodle) and I have been traveling around Europe nearly nonstop. There’s so much to see! One of our favorite destinations to explore is not far from our front door: Bavaria! Home of BMW (Bavarian Motor Works), Oktoberfest, and Bayern Munchen (the Yankees of European soccer clubs), the German state of Bavaria attracts visitors worldwide who come to enjoy it’s culture, food and stunning scenery.

Must do in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Must Go in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Munich

The vibrant capital of Bavaria, Munich (or Munchen) is considered to be one of Europe’s most livable cities. In the city center, visitors find countless pedestrian zones engulfed in cross-timbered architecture, and littered with historic watering holes, like the Hofbrauhaus. Apart from touring the famous Residenz Palace, be sure to check out the surfers in the English Gardens and grab a beer from one of its many beer gardens.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Perched in the Alps in southern Bavaria, mad King Ludwig’s dramatic royal residence was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle. During the summer, around 6,000 visitors stop by daily, so be sure to make reservations to tour the castle in advance. Less stressful and just as enjoyable, skip the tour inside and stroll to Mary’s Bridge for stunning Instagram-worthy views.

Salzburg (Austria)

Minutes from the border, Mozart’s city of Salzburg has the entire package – with the beautiful pastels of the old town and rich musical history, the city makes an ideal basecamp for Alpine hiking, and, of course, walking in the steps of the Van Trapps in the Sound of Music. Just a speedy two hour train from Munich, Salzburg is a delightful destination for getting an authentic and scenic flavor of Europe.

Garmisch

One of Germany’s most popular outdoor-oriented destinations, a storybook old town sits at the base of the mighty Alps. Winter is a hit for skiiers and summer brings endless hiking trails through to nearby lakes and rivers or up the mighty Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest peak. Host to the 1936 Olympic Games, the town of Garmisch maintains a tangible feeling of nostalgia and charm.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Germany’s best-preserved medieval walled town, Rothenburg is the closest thing to the North Pole during the wintertime, with its endless cross-timbers and dazzling light displays. During the summer the blooming flowers make for an idyllic reprieve from busy itineraries. Be sure to book an overnight stay to see and enjoy the village to it’s full potential without the mega tour groups!
Must do  in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Must Do in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Party at Oktoberfest

Bar none the most famous festival in all of Europe, Oktoberfest, in Munich, is worthy of every bucket list. Tourists and locals crowd into giant beer tents on fairgrounds in the city center. While the oompah bands wail, 1 liter steins (called ‘Mass’) filled to the brim with the golden good stuff are served. Be careful, beer here is usually well above 6% ABV compared to Bud Light at 4% ABV.
Our favorite spot is the Hacker-Pschorr tent for it’s fun, youthful vibe, and especially tasty brew.

Hike in the Alps

With Bavaria pressing up against the Tyrolean Alps of Austria you can count on spectacular trails meandering all along Germany’s southern border. A favorite destination for outdoor lovers, Berchtesgaden National Park is a spectacular sight as the snowcapped Alps meet bright reflective lakes. No wonder it was named as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Tour the Christmas Markets

For a quintessential European Christmas market experience, Bavaria is the place to be. While the endless pedestrian squares in Munich fill to the brim with vendors selling gluwein (hot mulled wine), crafts, and sausages, villages across Bavaria celebrate the season with weekend markets in cozy town squares. The markets in Rothenberg (mentioned above) are hugely popular, however, Bamberg and Regensburg are also well worth seeing.
Must eat in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Must Eat in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Weisswurst

This white sausage is eaten without it’s skin (ask a local for instructions on the skinning process!) and served with a generous heap of mustard and a classic German pretzel. You’ll find lots of wursts for sale, but in my opinion this one takes the cake!

Kase Spatzle

The German equivalent to American mac and cheese, kase spatzle is a standard menu item throughout Bavaria and especially popular at festivals, like Oktoberfest. Hand-cut noodles (spatzel) are tossed with fresh cheese and sautéed onions for a quick savory meal.

Beer

The rumors are true, beer in Bavaria (and all over Germany for that matter) is truly cheaper than water. Dunkelweisen is dark and chocolaty while Hefeweizen is white and wheaty, much like Blue Moon. Pils is your classic choice and a Radler is a surprisingly delightful mix of pils and lemon soda (a great choice for Oktoberfest attendees looking for a less blurry experience).
Cultural tips for travel in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Cultural Tips for travel in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Bavarian Attire

Bavarians pride themselves on their traditional dress; for many, dirndls (for ladies) and lederhosen (for men) are indeed everyday apparel. If you’re joining in the fun of Oktoberfest, dress accordingly or you’ll stick out like a sore thumb! (Not to mention, it’s more fun that way!) If you’re touring the countryside don’t be surprised by the leather suspenders and checkered fabrics.

Glass Pfand

Disposable containers are not commonplace in Germany. With that, expect to pay a nominal pfand (1-2 euro) for glasses at festivals and outdoor venues. Don’t worry, when you’re ready to leave just return your glass for a full refund.

Prost!

When cheers-ing your new German friends say “Prost” and be sure to make eye contact! Not making eye contact is considered rude.

cheap travel in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Travel on the Cheap in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Lodging

Hotel rooms in Europe are not typically large enough to accommodate four adults, quickly ramping up lodging costs for travelers. Opt for low cost choices like Airbnb or FlipKey for short term apartment rentals, many require just a 2-night stay.

Rail Travel

For the lowest rail rates, book rail tickets directly on the Deutsch Bahn website. Tickets go on sale 92 days in advance and are the cheapest at that point.Thanks so much for sharing, Margo! I’m sure there are a few German or Austrian readers – what are your can’t-misses or Bavaria travel tips?

photos by Moyan Brenn // Keith // Joshuawoodhead // Dan Zelazo // Avarty Photos // Simon Pillow

Mini Travel Guide: Australia’s Northern Territory

Australia’s Northern Territory is the home of red rocks and crocs! Enjoy this mini travel guide to Australia’s Northern Territory and dream of an Australian travel. This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which expats and locals share their favorite things with us. And then we all rush out and buy plane tickets.

travel tips uluru in Australia's Northern Territory
G’day. I’m Anne, an Australian veterinarian and blogger. I grew up on the East Coast of Australia (think pristine beaches and blue skies) but have always had an affinity with the Northern Territory. The red dirt in the centre, the tropical weather in the North, and the wildlife all over make this a very special destination. Plus it just feels like this is a relatively untamed expanse where one can have a genuine adventure.
Must go in Australia's Northern Territory

Must go in Australia’s Northern Territory

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

This park contains Uluru (sometimes referred to as Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas). You can’t stay within the park, so will need to just outside at the Ayer’s Rock Resort (about ten minutes’ drive away). The Resort is also ten minutes from Yulara Airport. Buses operate between the airport and resort. From the Resort it’s easy to join a tour to Uluru or Kata Tjuta. If you have to pick one, I recommend Uluru.
No photo can do it justice. This monolith is over 9km (5.8 miles) in diameter and 348 metres high. I’ve seen it rain on one side and be sunny on the other. It changes colour constantly through the day. Sunrise and sunset are the best times for viewing. Depending on the season, coach tours will leave between 4 and 5 am so you won’t miss anything. Bring a jumper (sweater) as it can be unexpectedly cool in the morning (the temperature can drop to near freezing in winter).

Kakadu National Park

The World Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park is massive – covering 20,000 square kilometres. And it’s a wildlife haven. Take a wetland cruise to get up close to the wildlife, including crocodiles.
must eat in Australia's Northern Territory

Must eat in Australia’s Northern Territory

Crocodile and kangaroo meat is promoted heavily to the tourist market, but often sold in a fast-food format (crocodile burgers, for example). At the end of the day it looks and tastes similar to other types of meat, and won’t appeal to vegetarians. A more interesting oral adventure can be had sampling bush tucker – traditional foods gathered by indigenous Australians, using knowledge passed down from the elders. Many resorts and parks offer guided bush tucker tours, like this one in Katherine.
Locally grown tropical fruit is abundant at all of the weekend markets in the Top End, such as the Parap Market in Darwin, relatively cheaply. If you’ve never tried rambutans or dragon fruit, don’t miss the opportunity.
Must do in Australia's Northern Territory

Must do in Australia’s Northern Territory

The cage of death

Despite its intimidating name and the irony that you will need to sign a waiver stating you are “of sound mind” as you enter a contraption called “the Cage of Death”, this experience at Crocosaurus Cove in Mitchell Street Darwin is life-affirming. Essentially you are lowered into a crocodile pen inside a croc-proof viewing cage. For fifteen minutes you can observe the underwater action of these magnificent creatures – or even watch them being fed. I’ve worked with crocodiles during my training, but this encounter allowed me to see aspects of them I’d never see otherwise – like the fact that they can be so active underwater without making a ripple on the surface. You can do it alone, but I recommend going in with a friend. All you need are swimmers and potentially a waterproof camera – or for a bit extra you can get the staff photographer to take photos so you can just focus on the experience.
In peak periods, you might need to book a few weeks in advance. Exhilarating.

Ride a bike around Uluru

Uluru (sometimes referred to as Ayer’s Rock) is usually photographed from one side, giving the impression that it is a large but essentially flat rock. In fact, it is vast, irregular in shape and over 9km around. The base walk is fantastic, but the heat can be grueling. A more comfortable option is to hire a bike and ride around the base – you can still stop to check out waterholes, and the bikes won’t put off the local wildlife – but you can chase the shade.
cultural tips for traveling in Australia's Northern Territory

Cultural Tips for Traveling in Australia’s Northern Territory

Respect indigenous culture

Ask permission before taking photos of indigenous people, activities or artwork (including rock carvings). There are cultural reasons why photography may be unacceptable in these circumstances. Some areas are signposted as sacred and should not be photographed. If in doubt, ask a local.

Avoid climbing Uluru 

Many overseas visitors want to climb the rock because they can, but this is insensitive to the local Indigenous people who request that visitors do not climb (not least because people die from heat stroke in the process). You’ll learn more about the rock and the local Anangu people from guided tours around the base.

Watch the wildlife

The Territory is home to hundreds of wildlife species. Unfortunately, thousands of reptiles, mammals and birds are killed by cars and trucks. It’s not uncommon for kangaroo and wallaby joeys to be orphaned when their mothers are hit by cars. They tend to be “dazzled” and disoriented in the headlights. Care should be taken especially when driving at night. If you do hit a mammal and it is safe to do so, check the pouch for young and transport the animal to the closest veterinarian. Do not handle bats as these can carry Lyssavirus (this causes a rabies-like virus).

Travel on the cheap in Australia’s Northern Territory

The Territory is vast. The distance between Darwin (at the Top End) and Alice Springs (the Red Centre) is around 1500km – that’s a solid two-day drive.
Jetstar is a budget airline that offers cheap flights within the Territory as well as to other parts of Australia. The benefit of flying is that it leaves more time.
If you must drive, sharing a hire-car and fuel costs is very economical. You will need a vehicle with air-conditioning – even in the winter months. Take plenty of water with you and let someone know your travel plans.
Public transport in many of the towns is non-existent so can’t be relied on, and hitchhiking is not recommended.I know there are heaps of Aussie readers – what are the other can’t-misses of the Northern Territory or other Australian travel tips?

P.S. If this gave you wanderlust, this might help.

photos by Freddy Rhoads // Benjamin Jekabek // Terrazzo // elrina753 // eGuide Travel

Mini Travel Guide: Western India

Western India on your travel bucket list? Enjoy this mini travel guide to Western India and dip your toes in Indian travel! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides, in which expats and locals are kind enough to tell us about all their favorite stuff. And then we go there immediately.

mini travel guide Western India
Hello, this is Sheena, and that’s also the name of my blog about design in India, travel and food. I was born in Western India, and though I lived in New Zealand while I was growing up, I’ve lived here for the last five years too (it’s the fresh coconuts that keep me here) – in Mumbai where in first met Sarah in real life, in Goa and in my hometown Pune.
Must go in Western India

Must Go in Western India

Mumbai

Still called Bombay by locals and used interchangeably, this bustling metropolis is the country’s financial center and the home of Bollywood, India’s film industry. It’s a fast-paced and densely populated dichotomy, housing some of the world’s most expensive real estate and it’s second largest slum.
Mumbai isn’t really for sightseeing. If you’ve been to Chor Bazaar, the iconic thieves market or the Gateway of India, you’ve seen enough so reserve your time for exploring and eating well.

Goa

Goa is the antithesis to Mumbai and my favourite place in the world. It’s India’s sunshine state and boasts lush paddy fields, endless palms, and a gorgeous, dramatic coastline. The former Portuguese colony is where the hippies came in droves and later the psychedelic trance movement began and Goa has mostly retained its bohemian charm.
I love the beautiful sun soaked beaches of Morjim, Ashwem and Mandrem in the north, and the quiet and solitude of South Goa but know that all over Goa, the drinks are cheap, the food is incredible and the locals are hospitable.

Matheran 

A hill station and strict no-car zone, Matheran is perfect for a short weekend trip. Ascend via foot, on horseback or via the slow chugging toy train and stroll past beautiful crumbling British and Parsi bungalows, shop for chikki and handmade leather shoes (it’s likely needed as you’ll definitely see a few broken sandals on your walks) and make your way to one of several scenic viewpoints for the sunset. It’s quiet and green and the perfect place to unwind.

Kutch

Kutch is off the tourist trail which is odd because the region has quite a lot to offer. From Dholavira, a recently excavated ancient Indus Valley civilisation and one of the country’s most prominent archaeological sites to the Rann of Kutch, a salt desert known for its wild ass and flamingo sightings to villages around Bhuj dedicated to making textiles and handicrafts.
Must do in Western India

 

Must do in Western India

South Bombay for architecture

Design and architecture lovers will love South Bombay. It has the highest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world, second only to Miami. To check them out, walk down seafacing Marine Drive, or watch a film in one of Mumbai’s art deco cinemas such as Liberty or Eros.
There are also many examples of gorgeous colonial architecture in a variety of styles such as Gothic Revival, Victorian and Indo Saracenic. Starting at the sprawling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, walk the length of DN Road in Fort from the iconic CST station until Flora Fountain and turn left and follow the road to Horniman circle.
If you’re short on time, stroll around Oval Maidan where there are some fine examples of architecture on either side – include the Bombay High Court and Rajabai Clock Tower.

Kala Ghoda 

Kala Ghoda is Mumbai’s art and design district and houses museums and galleries – check out NGMA and Jehangir art gallery, design shops such as Obataimu and Filter and ultra cute cafes such as Kala Ghoda Cafe and The Nutcracker. Nearby Colaba is also host to many contemporary galleries – pick up a Mumbai Art Map for free and check them out!

Sanjay Gandhi National Park 

A massive national park in Borivali that’s actually within Mumbai city limits and is one of the its best kept secrets. It’s lush and green and offers a real respite from the city. It also houses Kanheri Caves, a Buddhist site of rock cut monuments which is especially lovely to visit during the monsoons when it’s dotted with tiny waterfalls that you can splash in .

Take a vacay in Goa 

Goa is made for tourism. The Saturday night flea market has independent artists and travelling hippies hawking their ultra-cool wares and it’s my favourite shopping destination in the country. The sunshine state also has some of the finest restaurants in the country offering many international cuisines. Eat at La Plage and Sublime in Morjim, Bomras in Candolim and Thalassa in Vagator.
Must eat in Western India

 

Must eat in Western India

Street food in Mumbai

The city’s favourite is the ubiquitous vada pav or the great Indian burger consisting of a fried potato patty in a soft bun but there’s also chaat – an array of dishes with a mixture of textures and flavours – sweet, savoury, spicy and sour. You have to try pani puri, sev puri and dahi papdi chaat. If you’re worried about Delhi Belly (Relax, you’re in Bombay!), try it at Swati Snacks in Tardeo or Elco in Bandra.

Parsi and Irani cafes

Mumbai has many Parsi and Irani cafes owned and run by communities of settlers originally from Iran and followers of the prophet Zoroaster with bentwood chairs, marble tabletops and unique, delicious grub.
Try patrani macchi or steamed fish in banana leaves, jardaloo sali boti or lamb curry with apricots topped with potato sticks, and berry pulao, the latter available at Britannia, a veritable Mumbai institution run by the cutest 94 year old Anglophile and his family.

Local Goan cuisine

Goa is for meat and seafood lovers. You’ll find the best fare in small shacks on the beach, where you can often see the day’s haul come in. Ask for rava-fried prawns, recheado squid and tangy fish curries. It’s also home to the vindaloo (but better than you know it) and many lesser known but equally delicious dishes such as sorpotel, Goa sausages, xacuti and cafreal.
Cultural tips for traveling in Western India

 

Cultural tips for traveling in Western India

Mumbai is cosmopolitan and safe, especially for solo women travellers though as with anywhere, it pays to be cautious.
Like many tourist oriented destinations, Goa runs in season, typically beginning after the monsoon in October and running until before the peak of summer in April and this is the best time to come! Goa is mostly liberal (no topless sunbathing though) and you may mostly dress as you wish except when visiting the churches, where arms and legs need to be covered.
Dress modestly in Kutch.
Learn to bargain. Haggling is a big part of the culture although more and more street vendors now work with fixed price for which there are usually signs.
We generally tip around 10% in restaurants.
cheap travel in Western India

 

Travel on the cheap in Western India

The Indian rail system is very well connected and although it fills up well in advance and can be quite confusing, there are quotas allocated for tourists which can be obtained from tourist offices.
Government buses are another good bet for getting around, they’re affordable and timely, and easier to snag a seat on.
Try to couch surf or stay with friends in Mumbai, as Mumbai offers very little value for money when it comes to accommodation. If your budget can be stretched a wee bit, Abode boutique hotel offers great options with a heady dose of cool design.
In Goa, cheap accommodation is plentiful. Stay in simple huts on just off the beach for under $15 and rent a scooter or motorbike to get around as taxis are expensive.
Thanks so much for sharing, Sheena! Indian readers, I’d love to hear from you – what are your must-gos and must-dos for in Western Indian travels?

Mini Travel Guide: Tanzania

Tanzania is a paradise of snorkeling, mountains, the big game “5, “and beaches—It’s got pretty much everything a traveler could want! Enjoy this mini travel guide to Tanzania! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which expats and locals share their favorite things with us. And then we all rush out and buy plane tickets.
mini travel guide to Tanzania
Hey, my name is Abigail and I currently live in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where I teach English Literature at Haven of Peace Academy, a Christian international school. Choosing to move here two years ago was one of the best decision I have ever made, and I won’t ever regret the time I’ve spent in this incredibly gorgeous country.
Must go in Tanzania

Must Go in Tanzania

Tanzania is a beautiful country and is well known for the vast plains of the Serengeti, the teeming wildlife of the Ngorongoro Crater, and the towering Kilimanjaro. These are just the tip of the iceberg of Tanzania’s natural treasures. About 14% of the entire land area of Tanzania is protected land, a larger percentage than any other country (TANAPA). What you choose to see is largely dependent on your budget and timetable, but there are a few special treats that every traveler should see.

Mafia Island

Mafia Island is a part of the Zanzibar archipelago of islands and is a half hour flight southeast of Dar es Salaam. There are only a handful of resorts on the island, and a large part of the surrounding ocean is protected by the Mafia Island Marine Park, meaning that the breathtaking coral reefs beneath the surface are undamaged from the pervasive dynamite fishing, offering spectacular snorkeling and diving. Mafia Island is also the home for a large aggregation of whale sharks, some of which are believed to spend the entire year in the Mafia channel. Whale shark sightings are almost guaranteed from September through March and is a must-do while you are on the island. There are also a number of other cultural and historical tours on the island, which played a prominent part in the history of Africa’s east coast.

Ruaha National Park

While the Northern Safari Circuit including Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are world-famous and certainly worth visiting, Ruaha National Park is Tanzania’s largest national park and offers a glimpse of an untouched sliver of Africa in all its glory. Most visitors to Ruaha are able to spend entire days viewing elephants, antelopes, buffalos, lions, leopards, and even the rare and endangered wild dogs without ever running into another safari group. The Great Rift Valley intersects the park and the landscape is varied and beautiful with natural springs, wetlands, rolling hills, mountains, and the Great Ruaha River.

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Zanzibar is Mafia Island’s larger, more popular cousin, easily accessible via international flights, domestic flights from Dar es Salaam or Arusha, and ferries from Dar es Salaam or Bagamoyo. Like Mafia, there are opportunities for incredible diving and snorkeling, as well as hundreds of pristine beaches. If you ever wanted to visit a tropical paradise, Zanzibar is it, but don’t forget to explore Stonetown.
The capital of Zanzibar, Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the only functioning historical town in East Africa. The magical narrow streets and classic Arab architecture are enchanting. Spend some time wandering through the city and admiring the coral stone buildings and intricately carved wooden doors, and be sure to check out the Old Fort, which is home to many cultural events throughout the year, including Sauti za Busara, a music festival of artists from all over Africa that takes place every February.
Zanzibar’s history is fascinating, with a number of museums and tours exploring its romantic affair as the home and capital of the Sultanate of Oman, Said bin Sultan, a once prosperous slave trade, the spice markets, and its eventual joining with Tanganyika and Pemba to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

Sadaani & Pangani

Sadaani National Park is one of the easiest parks to access from Dar es Salaam, as it is only a three hour drive along the newly paved Tanga Road. Yet, it is in many ways a hidden treasure, undervalued by many. Sadaani is where the safari meets the beach, and is one of the few coastal rainforests in Tanzania, and the only national park bordering the Indian Ocean. It is home to four of the “Big Five,” and due to the park’s 1989 ban on walking safaris, features animals that are largely unpoached and unafraid of tourist vehicles.
You can take a boat safari on the Wami River, or venture into the largely untouched wilderness by 4×4. However, due to Sadaani’s location as a natural wetland, the roads can often become extremely muddy, even impassable. An experienced guide with a 4×4 is recommended, and the park is best visited during the dry season (June-December). There are a number of lodges in and around the park, include a campsite on the beach inside the park itself, however I would recommend the eco-lodge where I stayed in October.
Located just a half hour from the northern gate of Sadaani National Park, Tembo Kijani is situated on a breathtaking strip of beach. Large salt plains are within walking distance, and the lodge offers a walking safari where you can see age-old process of refining salt from the plains in action, visit a local village, and see a number of birds and the occasional larger wildlife.
Pangani is just a short drive from Sadaani (and on the way, depending on how you go), and is still an unspoiled paradise. It was once a main center of commerce along the Swahili coast, as evidenced by the remaining Arab and colonial-influenced buildings along the river and coastline. Several resorts dot the coast and offer windsurfing, snorkeling, diving, sea turtle viewing, kayaking, and dhow rides. Beautiful coral reefs sit just offshore along with Maziwe Island and Marine Reserve, where Kasa Divers operates a sea turtle conservation/relocation program called Friends of Maziwe on this small unvegetated island, home to three species of marine turtles.
Must do in Tanzania

Must Do in Tanzania

Go on safari

This is fairly self-explanatory. You are in Tanzania, the home of the Serengeti and “Big Five.” Go on safari. See unspoiled Africa in all its glory. Stare in breathless awe at lions, cheetahs, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, zebra, and antelopes in their natural habitats.

Road trip (or train, if you’re patient)

Tanzania is beautiful, but most visitors see very little of its diversity when they fly from city to city. Not only is road travel often cheaper, it also allows you to see what life in Tanzania looks like outside of Dar es Salaam and the tourist hot spots. The TAZARA train between Dar es Salaam and Mbeya or Mwanza is also a fantastic way to see the country, but be prepared for the train to run late—by a day or more.

Climb a mountain

If you have time and money, climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Summiting the “roof of Africa,” at over 18,000 feet is an incredible experience, but it is quite expensive. Though not known for its mountains, Tanzania boasts a number of other mountain ranges, including the Usambara Mountains, Uluguru Mountains, and Udzungwa Mountains, all offering diverse rainforests, beautiful forests, and gorgeous waterfalls. More serious trekkers may also enjoy Mount Meru, the active volcano Ol Donyo Lengai, and Mount Hanang. Hire a local guide and go exploring off of the beaten path—you will be amazed at the beauty that awaits!

Scuba dive

Getting my Open Water and Advanced diving certifications was my birthday gift to myself my first year here in Tanzania, and again, it was a decision I will never regret. There are coral reefs along the entire Tanzanian coast, the more popular diving destinations being off of Pemba, Zanzibar, and Mafia islands. Pangani and Kilwa also have several dive companies offering access to lesser known reefs. Even if you never leave Dar es Salaam, the warm waters of the Indian Ocean are welcoming and a ten minute dhow ride to either Bongoyo or Mbudya Island makes the closest reefs accessible to snorkelers. Finally, Lake Tanganyika’s crystal blue waters allow for freshwater diving and the chance to see a number of endemic cichlid species.
Must eat in Tanzania

Must Eat in Tanzania

Pilau

This is essentially rice and meat (usually goat) cooked with ginger and other spices. It is not like any other rice you’ve ever tasted—and so much better!

Tea Masala (chai)

Tanzanians love their ginger. Traditional Tanzanian tea, usually known as “chai,” but also occasionally listed as Tea Masala in restaurant menus, is a black tea with ginger, cinnamon, and liberal doses of sugar and milk. It is often served for breakfast with chipati, which is a bit like a thick flour tortilla.

Mishkaki

Mishkaki are essentially kebabs, but somehow better. You can get them as chicken, fish, beef, or goat. The beef or goat mishkaki are my favorites, and typically come deliciously marinated. They are available everywhere—restaurants, bars, and along the side of the road.

Chips Mayai

Another traditional meal, chips mayai, literally translated is french fries and eggs, and that’s exactly what this is. Several eggs are cooked over a pile of french fries, then served with kachumbari, chopped tomatoes and onions with vinegar.

Fresh fruit

It would be ridiculous to visit a tropical country like Tanzania and not enjoy the fresh fruit. Mangoes, pineapples, passion fruit, avocadoes, and bananas are sold beside the road and oh, so delicious!
Cultural tips for traveling in Tanzania

Cultural Tips

Dress Modestly

Especially in rural areas and the islands in the Zanzibar archipelego. Women, keep your shorts or skirts at knee length, as the thigh is traditionally considered a very sexual part of the body for many Tanzanians, and there is a significant Muslim influence throughout the country.

Greet People & Be Friendly

Tanzanians are generally extremely friendly and willing to help. It is, however, considered rude to jump directly into a request for help or topic of conversation. Greetings are very important culturally, so most conversations begin with a friendly “Mambo” (What’s up?) to be followed by “poa” (Cool) or “Habari?” (How’s life?) with the reply “nzuri” (Good).

Don’t Make Eye Contact With Beggars / Sellers

This is mostly applicable to Dar es Salaam and reveals the darker side of the city, but you will often see people selling a variety of goods along the streets (anything from flowers and fishtanks to dishrags and live rabbits), or beggars asking for money. Though it might at first seem rude, it is best to not make eye contact. Many of the beggars (especially children), are not there of their own volition and are only pawns for others using the “income” for drugs or alcohol.
Cheap travel in Tanzania

Travel on the Cheap in Tanzania

Though there are plenty of luxury resorts, private safari tours, and chartered flights to be had in Tanzania, it is easy to travel inexpensively, so long as you travel like a Tanzanian. In the city, take public transportation (the dala-dala / bus system) instead of taxis, and for cross-country travel, take the larger buses. The driving is often sketchy, but it is by far the cheapest way to travel if you don’t mind sitting for ten or more hours at a time.
Eat local foods, such as rice and beans, pilau, mishkaki, samosas, etc. available along the streets and in small restaurants (often called “mamalishas,” literally meaning “mama feeds”), and stay in the number of backpacking hostels and local bed and breakfasts scattered across the country.

When doing so, do be aware that food poisoning can be a risk (only eat food that you have seen being cooked thoroughly), and you should carry mosquito repellent (in case mosquito nets are not provided) and toilet paper (not all of the bus stops are well-equipped). But be prepared to see and experience Tanzanian culture and hospitality at its best!

Are any of you guys from Tanzania? Have you spent time there? I’d love to hear your  Tanzania travel tips!

photos by Abigail // Andiwa Dixon

Mini Travel Guide: Namibia

Namibia means sand dune surfing, great wildlife watching, and exotic dishes featured in this mini travel guide to Namibia. This is one of many Mini Travel Guides, brought to us by ex-pats and locals who are kind enough to to take us under their proverbial wings and tell us about alllll the best stuff.

Mini travel guide to Namibia


Hi! I’m Ellie. My dad is an anthropologist whose life work has been studying and living among the Himba in Namibia. My family has lived in Namibia on and off since I was a young child and I recently returned from a two month trip there this summer.
Namibia is a former German colony that only gained its independence from South Africa during apartheid in 1990. My sister was actually the first American born in Namibia after it became its own country! Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world after Mongolia and offers a really varied landscape with everything from grassy savannahs to desert mountain ranges to gorgeous beaches. Although urban life has expanded a lot in Namibia during the past twenty years, a small part of the population is still indigenously living.
Must do in Namibia

Must Go in Namibia

Etosha National Park

This national park is a game reserve for Namibian wildlife and houses a wide variety of African of animals that roam freely within the almost 2,000 square miles of the park. Visitors are allowed to drive wherever they wish and take pictures but are not allowed to get out of their cars except at designated settlements. Giraffes, zebra, elephants, springbok, and kudu are among the commonly spotted wildlife. If you have luck on your side during your visit, you might see lions and rhinos, or even an extremely rare leopard or cheetah.

Swakopmund

The third largest city in Namibia, and the most charming in my opinion, is the beachside town of Swakopmund. It is filled with gorgeous old buildings and houses and has some of the most beautifully curated curio shops Namibia has to offer. Nearby is a camel riding farm owned by a lovely German lady and in the next town over (Walvis Bay) you can book a kayaking trip in a secluded lagoon that is home to thousands of seals and flamingos. An antique shop owner in South Africa told me she had visited Swakopmund in the 1950s and the streets of the town used to be lined with rose quartz.

Epupa Falls

This stunning waterfall is located on the northern border between Namibia and Angola. There is a resort hotel here, but anyone who wants to is welcome to go swimming in the pools at the top of the falls. Swim with caution because even if you survive a trip down the waterfalls, there are plenty of crocodiles lying in wait at the bottom. The drive up to Epupa Falls is through Kaokoland where the Himba, Hawkavona, and some Herero live so you’ll get a chance to see a few of their villages and homesteads.

Duwisib Castle

It’s been in various states of disrepair in the times I’ve visited, but this is a giant, castle-like house that is literally in the middle of nowhere but definitely worth a visit. It was originally built by a German soldier for the wealthy American heiress he married, but he was tragically killed during WWI and his wife never had the desire to return to Namibia without him. The castle was abandoned for many years and the horses from their stable were set free and now make up the wild horse population of Namibia.

Must see in Namibia

Must Do in Namibia

Climb the sand dunes at Sossusvlei

These are some of the tallest sand dunes in the world and definitely worth the exhausting climb to the top. You can see for miles in every direction and even do some sand boarding if you’re feeling adventurous.

Visit the mining ghost town of Kolmanskop

There was a huge diamond mining boom in Namibia during the early 20th century and the remaining buildings in this ghost town are partially filled with sand that makes them both haunting and fascinating.

Wood carvers market in Okahandja

This is a huge open air market filled with African/Namibian curios of every kind. The wood carvers there are famous for their beautiful work and it’s definitely a fun experience to barter with the vendors as they hawk their wares.

Peter’s Antiques

This shop is located in Swakopmund and is as good as any natural history museum in Namibia. It is filled with fascinating treasures that include voodoo dolls (they have a witch doctor come in regularly to perform a protection spell for the shop against any bad voodoo in their collection), a wide variety of masks, ancient weapons and tools, and hundreds of other items of interest.
Must eat in Namibia

Must Eat in Namibia

Namibians love meat so their cuisine includes a lot of the animals that are native to the country. If you are a fellow meat lover, you can have the opportunity to try ostrich, kudu, springbok, gemsbok, zebra, and maybe crocodile tail (if you’re really brave!). If you are a vegetarian (like me) there are plenty of options at almost every restaurant.
Cultural tips for travel in Namibia

Cultural Tips for travel in Namibia

Most Namibians speak English and are very friendly and helpful, but learning a few greetings in Afrikaans and/or some of the native dialects will endear you to locals.
Many of the vendors at street markets will charge a lot more for goods than they would cost at a curio shop, so be careful when bartering and keep your options open. Namibia is a safe country on the whole, but do take extra care with your personal belongings and don’t leave luggage in a car unattended.
cheap travel in Namibia

Travel on the Cheap in Namibia

Renting a vehicle is a necessity for travel in Namibia because distances between cities and settlements is great. You can rent a bakkie (small truck with a covered truck bed) or a kombi (small van) and take advantage of the camping that is available at many Namibian accommodations. There are places to purchase inexpensive blankets and pillows and most of the street vendors are happy to trade their goods for bedding, so it’s easy to get rid of at the end of your trip. If you don’t mind sleeping in your car, this can be an easy and less expensive way to see Namibia.
Thanks so much for sharing, Ellie! Are there any Namibian readers out there? Any Namibian travel tips to share?

P.S. 9 free (or cheap) ways to have more fun while you travel + 18 super helpful travel tips

photos by: j27 // Christiaan Triebert // David Siu // DIVA007 // Damien du Toit // cc