If there is one thing I get asked the most when I talk to people about my travels, it’s whether Tanzania is considered safe for women travelling solo.
Many people find it surprising that I lived and volunteered in Tanzania for five months. And I get it…before I went, I was also nervous about the unknown and all the potential dangers that the media does a great job of shoving down our throats on almost a daily basis. If you’re a solo female traveller that is contemplating a trip to this captivating country, then read on! I hope I can convince you that Tanzania is a wonderful country for the solo female explorer!
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Africa – a misunderstood continent
In my opinion, Africa is a largely misunderstood place. The news tends to only report on the negatives – poverty, war, famine, violent crimes, disease – and rarely does it show how truly diverse and beautiful this continent really is. Sadly it seems as though this has led to many generalised misconceptions about Africa as a whole.
Unfortunately the entire continent tends to get tarred with the same brush thanks to the volume of bad news that is associated with “Africa” – so it’s not surprising that many women disregard it as a place to visit on their own.
But are all countries in Africa unsafe?
Of course, like anywhere in the world, there are dangerous places that are best to avoid. But Africa is a huge continent – the second largest in the world to be precise! Stretching more than 30m sq km, it is the home to 54 countries. That is bigger than the USA, China, India and most of Europe combined. And I think anyone would agree that these places are very different in themselves!
So why travel to Tanzania?
Tanzania had always fascinated me from afar. I grew up with grandparents that had spent a big part of their life living and working there, and their stories were far from anything I had ever read in the news.
When I told people I was heading to Tanzania on my own, I had very mixed responses. Some seemed supportive of my decision, while others not so much…
“Wow, you’re braver than I am…I would never go there on my own…”
“Why do you want to go there? Isn’t it really dangerous?”
“Tanzania? That’s in Africa right? You’re going to get AIDS!” (and no…I am not making that one up…I wish that I was…)
But my desire to visit just even a tiny segment of this huge continent was far greater than anything anyone could say to convince me otherwise, and as soon as I arrived in Moshi, I knew I had made the right decision.
Tanzania became a home away from home and was one of the most rewarding countries I visited as a solo backpacker. It’s a place full of vibrant landscapes, diverse cultures and welcoming communities. It’s hard to describe in words exactly how this wildly contrasting country gets under your skin, but it does. And if you need more convincing, then read my article outlining five very good reasons to visit!
Is it safe for solo women travellers in Tanzania?
Without going into some overbearing feminist debate telling you that you shouldn’t let your gender determine whether you travel solo or not, I want to give you an honest view of my experience. I want to give you the facts and some advice that will hopefully put any concerns you have about visiting this country to one side.
And what is my opinion? I had absolutely no problems whatsoever. I found Tanzania a fairly unproblematic country to travel as a solo female backpacker and I met many others that would tell you the same.
Of course there are things that you need to be more wary of. But like anywhere in the world, with a little common sense, an open mind and some forward-thinking, your solo trip to Tanzania can be a perfectly enjoyable and safe experience.
So to help you prepare for your upcoming travels, I’ve put together this brief guide for safe travel in Tanzania, and some of these tips can apply not just to solo female travellers, but males, groups and couples too!
Basic safety tips for solo travellers in Tanzania
Respect the culture and dress conservatively
Women travellers should dress modestly, as Tanzania has a wide range of cultural differences. The islands and coast are mostly Muslim, so dressing conservatively will help you blend in. Wearing skirts or trousers that reach below the knee, and tops that cover your shoulders and upper arms, will help avoid any unwanted attention. In touristy beach areas, it’s acceptable to wear swimwear, but going topless is definitely considered taboo. Parts of Zanzibar are particularly conservative, so it’s important to heed this advice to avoid insulting the locals.
Generally, I found the streets of Tanzania very safe to walk around on my own during the day. As you travel around the touristy areas, it’s quite common for street hawkers to approach you, especially during low season when business is quite slow. Remember, that these are poor people trying to make a living. If you aren’t interested, then politely say “hapana asante” (no thank you) and usually they will leave you alone. However most of the time, I found the locals just like to have a friendly chat with you, so learning a few basic lines of Swahili can go a long way.
At night time however it is advisable that you don’t walk the streets or take local transport, and that goes for everyone, even in groups. If you are planning to go to any local bars or restaurants in the evening, always go with others and take a taxi. Your accommodation should be able to put you in touch with a reliable and trustworthy driver. But be wary of flagging down in the street or getting in a taxi on your own.
Don’t be flashy
While walking around in the day, be careful with any valuables you may have on you and try to keep them out of sight in busy areas. I personally never experienced any problems with pick-pocketing, but remember Tanzania is a developing country and getting out your iPhone 6 could bring some unwanted attention. It’s also advisable not to carry too much cash with you, and avoid wearing any expensive jewellery.
Bring an unlocked mobile phone
If you’re planing to be in Tanzania for a while, it is definitely worth taking an unlocked mobile phone and purchasing a local sim and internet package. It’s an affordable way of keeping in touch with family and friends back home and proved really useful for those occasions I needed to get hold of fellow travellers or local friends. Many places also have Wi-Fi, but it’s worth installing apps like WhatsApp and Skype before you go, as sometimes the connection might not be strong enough to download them. Also, those times that you want to use your phone for taking photos of the locals, be respectful and ask them if it is OK.
Listen to the locals
The locals of Tanzania are some of the most hospitable and friendly people I’ve ever met. Generally when they discovered I was a solo female traveller, I would find that complete strangers were much more helpful and wanted to look out for my well-being. Quite often, if I was unsure of whether to visit a place, whether it was just a local bar or nearby town, I always felt as though I could rely on local friends for advice. So don’t be afraid to ask!
Be aware of the attitude towards women travellers
Generally I found the attitudes to women to be mostly forward-thinking in the main towns and cities. However in most East African cultures, local women do not tend to travel alone so seeing a solo female traveller might provoke some curiosity.
More often than not this is quite harmless, but it’s worth being aware that some males may have a very different idea on certain “boundaries” and what Westerners deem as appropriate behaviour. You may have to put up with the occasional marriage proposal from time to time, but just take it in on the chin.
Some men may see their advances as flattering, rather than annoying, but usually just respectfully asking them to leave you alone will work. And if it does get too uncomfortable, an assertive “toka!” (piss off) will do the trick! I have to stress, this very rarely happened to me, and even when it did I never felt threatened. Most of the time, I found them to be incredibly courteous and respectful of women.
Above all else – enjoy yourself!
Tanzania is a truly captivating country and anyone who knows me well or checks into my blog on a regular basis will know that it stole a part of my heart. I have visited twice and I am already planning my third trip back.
So if you’ve been thinking of travelling to Tanzania solo, please don’t write-off this wonderful country because of misconceptions in mainstream media. It was honestly one of the best decisions of my life and could be yours too! Besides, when travelling anywhere in the world on your own, you never really feel like alone, as you get to meet so many other backpackers in a similar position.
And if you’re still worried, you could always join a responsible volunteering programme like I did or arrange to go on organised tour with a local guide.
Would you travel to Tanzania as a solo woman? Or have you already visited and have some extra tips to share? I would love to know below!
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