Tanzania and Kenya for 6 weeks in July-August
Going to Kenya on July 9 for one week and then to Tanzania for 5 weeks, returning Aug 21 to Canada. Haven't booked any land tours, safaris, hotels, etc. yet but want a moderate-priced vacation for the first three weeks (one week Kenya - mostly on safari, possibly on the coast, then two weeks Tanzania including Zanzibar and Ngorongoro Crater). The last three weeks will be in Songea (in the south) and possibly Malolo (for community development project with women/children affected by HIV/AIDS). I'm in my mid-30s and I'm not interested in the low-budget backpacking experience; however, I can't afford to splurge on food and hotels at every turn. I will have a travelling companion for the first 3 weeks.
I'd love your opinions on the food and the must-try restaurants, street vendors, and markets in both Kenya and Tanzania. Since I haven't planned the itinerary, the food knowledge could help make some decisions easier! It's getting to the last minute, so any advice would be helpful. I'm an adventurous eater and will try anything once but worry about food safety and illness. Thanks so much!
It's been a few years since visiting Tanzania, but I can offer up a few pointers.
My Italian friend Massimo runs a small yet remarkable bungalow resort just off the Tanzanian coast on an tiny island called Mafia (seriously) - the island sits on a WWF marine sanctuary just a short hop from Dar es Salaam.
A short, beautiful flight (30 minutes in a small plane) north is Zanzibar. We stayed a few nights at Emerson & Green smack in the middle of the main city of Stone Town. E&G is boutique hotel that was painstakingly restored with vibrant Zanzibari antiques.
Dinner at the rooftop restaurant...You sit perched on one of the tallest buildings in Stone Town and I'll never forget watching the sun dip below the horizon line as we reclined on pillows and Persian carpets with gem-colored canopies billowing above us. As the city went darker the call to prayer danced across the rooftops as it was broadcast from nearby mosques. The meal is multi-course and I'd need to go back to my notebooks to remember exactly what we had. One of the most stunning settings for a meal I've ever been fortunate enough to experience.
If you are interested in visiting a local spice farm, which I recommend, you can coordinate through E&G. They painlessly set us up with a fantastic, very knowledgeable guide for the day.
On the east side of Zanzibar we spent a few days living in beach huts in the Paje area. More remote, more beach, less activity than Stone Town. If you head in that direction let me know, and I'll go look at my notes. There was also a memorable night bazaar near the harbor with delicious street food and friendly locals.
Back in Tanzania (we flew direct from Zanziber into Arusha) we stayed in Arusha for a few days as we tried to figure out what we wanted to do on the safari front. Just ask yourself, how many days do you want to spend in a car. No matter how spectacular the scenery, five days is a lot of time in the sun driving around. That being said, the landscape of the Serengeti changed how I've looked at everything since. Camping in the Serengeti is humbling and beautiful. On the way to Ngorongoro crater we spent a few days at Gibb's Farm, an old/ex? coffee plantation (circa 1920's) where the chef cooked straight from the organic garden each day. Farm fresh frittatas, soups, muffins, and vegetables at every meal. The best food we had in Africa. I believe the chef was local , and I've often wondered if he is still there. I would love to return to spend more time, explore, take photographs, and get a stronger sense of the place and the land around the farm.
An overview of our 4-5 week stay broke out something like this: Flew into Dar es Salaam, then flew to Mafia for a week (or two?), back to Dar, then hopped the ferry to Zanzibar for a week (Stone Town and then Paje), flight to Arusha, and then a week checking out the parks on safari (Lake Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater), bus back to Dar from Arusha (ouch), and a few more days in Dar. I'm happy to answer any questions about any of those areas if they end up on your itinerary.
Safe travels, -Heidi
Thank you so much, Heidi! My current plan is: July 9-16 do an organized safari tour including first and last nights in Nairobi (and dinner at Carnivore). Then on to Stone Town (probably at Hotel International) and Paje (maybe staying at the Japanese-run Paradise beach bungalows) and possibly one night on Chumbe island. Then on July 23, fly to Arusha, start safari group tour of Ngorongoro, Serengeti etc. on the 24th-28th, then leave Arusha for Songea on July 29, possibly stopping in Dar for one night.
So, any other specific ideas for Stone Town (I hear the Forodhani Gardens street vendors daily after 6 pm are the best - is this what you are referring to?), Paje, Arusha, and even Dar, would be so helpful!
On Zanzibar I agree about the rooftop restaurant at Emerson & Green, the place is fantastic in all respects. You sit on the floor and the specialties are seafood and Swahili, but more refined Swahili than smaller places. It's campy and flamboyant and a real experience. Make reservations.
There is also a great little Zanzibari / Swahili place in Stone Town called Sambusa Two Tables Restaurant. It's local in the food prep with a nice atmosphere. It's down by the water, I think near a public beach but every hotel can tell you where it is. Low tables with comfy pillows and rugs to lounge on, great for a relaxing meal with a group or just a couple.
Monsoon is located under the Orphanage by the Old Fort. Swahili Cuisine is it's speciality, and a different style than those mentioned above.
Mtomi Marine is 12 minutes by taxi north of Stonetown. Swahili Fusion is the style and some local friends say that this is their favourite.
The street vendors at the main market and the spice market were great.
Have sundowners (sunset cocktails) on the terrace at the Africa House Hotel, it is a must and a rite of passage, overlooking the sea with the huge red sun setting in front of you as fishing dhows go by. Make sure you have a small camera with you at all times in Stone Town to take pics of everything, especially the Doors of Stone Town and the Roofs of Stone Town, there are beatiful photo books on both subjects and you will soon see why.
Some places recommended to me by friends on Zanzibar that I haven't been to are:
The Dhow Restaurant- On a Dhow, Seafood
Bi Kidude- ? I think it is Swahili and Zanzibari but I can't remember.
Spices Rendez-Vous- Indian / French
If you want to know about other places ask the desh at Africa House or Emerson & Green they will know the best places. Stay away from the bigger, fancier tourist places and go to the small local ones.
Also get a driver through your hotel and take a Spice Tour of the plantations. This is a Must.
We went to Tanzania for Kili climb and safari 3 years ago. There is a very wonderful hotel/restaurant outside of Arusha (Coffee Plantation?) with swell rooms and a good restaurant. I'm sorry I can't recall the name, but it's on the road going away from the airport and nearby national park.
Gibbs Farm, near Ngoro' crater, has very wonderful, mostly grown right there food (and fabulous coffee). Have a tremendous trip.
I stayed in the Japanese run beach bungalows in Paje (I can't imagine that there is more than one)...It is no frills and the water at high tide is just steps away. You can literally roll out of bed onto the beach. We would stroll the beach in the area (or borrow bikes) and visit some of the other hotels on the strip as well (some for lunch or a swim in a pool). There is a spectrum of places to stay within walking distance if Paje Guest House (renamed?) is too rustic for your tastes.
There was good Thai at the top of one of the fancy hotels in Dar. We went there a couple times. Recommended, but I'm forgetting the name - ask around, shouldn't be too tough to find.
For my tastes: more time in Stonestown, less in Paje unless you like a lot of isolated beach time (I tend to get antsy). -h
I'm back in Canada! Had a wonderful experience in Tanzania (and Kenya). Definitely use the ROUGH GUIDE to Tanzania (published in 2006) - it was amazing and mostly accurate and very ethical, and a great source of chow tips.
ZANZIBAR REVIEWS (more to come later)
Avoid Emerson and Green Towertop restaurant - for $30 US on a Saturday night(including live music and dancers) plus $5-6 for a cocktail, it was hugely disappointing. Completely attended by (white) foreigners, not locals, and several people smoked during the disappointing meal. I gave it a generous 6.5 out of 10. Even the passionfruit sorbet finale was mostly melted when it arrived.
Definitely try the street food at the Forodhani Gardens after dark - the Zanzibar "pizza" (800 shillings), seafood, fresh sugarcane juice with ginger and lemon (for 200 shillings), etc. was a great experience even though I didn't bargain and probably paid too much (total of $4 for tons of food)! You might want to bring your own cup for the sugarcane juice as the washing techniques for the glasses there didn't look sanitary! I got lost in the labyrinth that is Stone Town on my way back to my hotel, but it felt safe and people helped me out.
Excellent food at Paradise Beach Bungalows just north of Paje town - Japanese-Swahili cuisine for about 7,000-12,000 (sashimi) shillings for a 3 course meal at dinnertime (must order by the early afternoon). They also have delicious fresh juices for 1,000 such as hibiscus, and great masala tea. MOST IMPORTANTLY, Mama Saori, the owner can set up a COOKING CLASS for you for only 5,000 shillings each - we went to a local's hut in the nearby village and watched a 4 hour demonstration and enjoyed a huge lunch at the end. Everything was cooked in fresh coconut milk, and we learned all the techniques, such as using the "mbuzi" folding stool (mbuzi means "goat") to scrape the coconut flesh out of the shell. We enjoyed fresh fish, potatoes, red beans, cooked bananas (tasted like potatoes!), rice, oranges, and masala tea. Absolutely delicious! I took lots of photos (not sure how to upload them to this site). Make sure someone who can speak both english and swahili is at the cooking class, but most of it is pretty simple to watch and understand (she doesn't really let you get hands-on, except for using the mbuzi).
Also, tried the decent seafood pizza for 7,000 shillings at Paje By Night (and a delicious pina colada for 5,000); and the delicious puffy crab pancake ($8) at Sunrise Hotel north of Bwejuu village (this pricy place charges in US $, but food is very good). I also had a good, affordable meal at Kitete hotel (recently changed ownership) with authentic Swahili cuisine (delicious chicken dish) which wasn't in the Rough Guide.
But by far, the best food I had was at Chumbe Island Eco-Resort! You can go for a day trip (departs from Mbweni Ruins Hotel) including snorkelling for about $75 US, which includes the use of an eco-banda hut. The meals there were fantastic - fish cakes, aubergine, octopus salad, lemongrass tea, cardamom coffee, etc. with a gorgeous view over the ocean from the table. I stayed overnight ($230 US for single, or $200 each double) and also added on 8 more hours for an extra $50 because I didn't want to leave! The snorkelling is very good (saw a turtle!) but not as good as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
You have to try Sparletta Stoney Tangawizi (tastes like Jamaican ginger beer) ginger ale soda while in East Africa! They also have great Fanta flavours like passion and pineapple. Konyagi Ice (5.2% alcohol) is a relatively decent hard lemonade worth trying.
East Africans are huge soda-lovers! But most of the drinks are too sweet.
More on the mainland soon...