Cruising East Africa, Tanzania: A great place to sit out the cyclone season
SV Barbara Ann cruised East Africa for a year – from Tanga (just under the Kenyan border) down to Mafia Island. Jack and Jackie Hunt highly recommend the area as a great place to sit out the cyclone season, exploring inland as well as coastal areas.
Published 5 years ago, updated 4 years ago
We chose to come to Tanzania after talking to cruisers in Thailand who have spent years here. They told us that it’s a little-visited, underrated place to sit out the cyclone season in Madagascar. After a year in East Africa, mainly based in Dar Es Salaam, with multiple cruises up to Tanga (just under the Kenyan border) and down to Mafia Island, we agree: East Africa is a great place to sit out the cyclone season, or even spend a year while exploring inland.
Clearing into Tanzania
There are no fees for clearing into or out of Tanzania, other than the same visa fees that you would pay if you flew in. The visa requirements, periods of stay and costs vary, depending on your nationality. As Americans, we received a one-year multi-entry visa for $100 US per person. But, you are not allowed to remain in the country for more than 90 days in one stretch, so you must leave Tanzania (by any means you like) before the 90 days is up and then re-enter Tanzania, using your multi-entry visa. Recently, a yacht with an Australian couple cleared into Dar and was only able to obtain a 90-day visa. We’re not sure why that limit was placed on them, but the truth is that the immigration and customs people in the port are just not used to handling foreign yachts and could have just made a mistake. Because of recent problems related to yacht crews being intimidated by a rogue Immigration officer, the commissioner of Immigration has ruled that all yachts must now clear into the main Port of Dar Es Salaam. This is a small, but busy commercial port, with virtually nowhere to anchor a yacht. We cleared into the port in this manner in 2017 and it’s no fun, at all. It is to be avoided at all costs. We recommend either clearing into Mafia Island in the south, or Tanga in the north, before coming to Dar. Of the two, Tanga is preferred.
Wherever you choose to enter Tanzania, don’t miss Dar Es Salaam. There’s no need to clear into Dar locally after you have cleared in somewhere else. Dar has a lot to offer cruisers and is only a 25-minute drive from an international airport. Dar has been our favourite town to anchor off of, and our favourite place to leave the boat. Don’t miss it.
Length of Stay
From what we know, all yachts are allowed to stay in Tanzanian waters for a year, without issues of importation, additional fees, etc. But, it’s hard to find someone at the port that knows the law on this matter. Also, according to the letter of the law, when a yacht leaves Dar, for other ports in Tanzania (Zanzibar, Tanga, etc.) they are supposed to obtain a transfer (permission to proceed to another port) before departing. When they arrive at the next port, they are supposed to then let the authorities know they are there and clear into that port. In practice, this isn’t done. We did ask for a transfer when we first arrived, but no one in the port knew what we were talking about. Finally, one person knew what we wanted, but said they “ran out” of the forms. So, we gave up. In one year of travelling up and down the coast, with many stops into Tanga, Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia island no one has ever asked us for any type of form.
Docking in Dar Es Salaam
Regardless of where you clear in, when you come to Dar, you will want to anchor in Msasani Bay, just north of the port. There are two choices available – the Dar Yacht Club and Slipway. Of the two, Slipway is the recommended stop.
The Slipway complex (pictured right) is comprised of a hotel, shops, restaurants, cafes, a haulout facility (max LOA for a monohull is something like 42′), a ramp for beaching catamarans and a pier that provides dinghy service to visiting yachts. The monthly fee charged to visiting yachts for free use of their dinghy service, water, etc., is only 90,000 TSH, which is just a bit over $40 USD. It’s a bargain. Slipway’s anchorage is located at approximately 06.45 S, 039.16 E.
The tender service (pictured below) runs from 0730 to 2200 hrs. After paying your monthly fee, the free tender service is just a VHF call away, on CH 73. Jason Banks (mobile# +255 752 657 327) is in charge of everything related to the anchorage, dinghy service, haulout, dry-out, and getting any sort of work done on your yacht. There aren’t a lot of qualified marine systems workers in East Africa, but Jason can help you find the best available. He also handles a lot of work in-house, under his direct supervision. He can help sort out canvas work, engine repairs, etc. Security and safety in the Slipway anchorage are excellent. We have left our yacht unattended for weeks at a time while we flew out of the country, with no issues. Having said that, I wouldn’t tempt fate by leaving a dinghy in the water at night with a highly sought outboard engine on its transom.
There is also a yacht club (of sorts) next to Slipway. The Dar Yacht Club is not a yacht club in the way cruisers and yachties view a yacht club. It’s very expensive to join in the short term and not welcoming at all to cruising yachties. You actually cannot enter the club from the road or from the water without a membership or a sponsor to meet you at the gate. We tried to break through the barrier and had a meeting with the club’s management after we arrived in 2017, with no luck. They wanted a small fortune to join on a temporary basis and just weren’t interested in cruising yachts.
The peninsula that forms the southern Msasani Bay is (wait for it) the Msasani peninsula. This is the area of Dar that has all the consulates, embassies, NGO headquarters, etc. It also has all the housing for the ex-pat’s that live in Dar. So, it’s no surprise that all the western style supermarkets are here, as well as the best restaurants in Dar. Provisioning is pretty easy in Dar, with the understanding that western goods are more expensive than back home. Many of the restaurants and at least one supermarket are within walking distance from the Slipway complex. Also, the bajajis (think tuk-tuks) are plentiful and cheap. Most places on the peninsula can be gotten to with a 3,000 TSH (less than $1.50 US) bajaji ride. Uber is also popular here and is very inexpensive. We use Uber to go to the airport or to go out to dinner with friends, and it is often the same price as a bajaji. In general, the cost of living is low here. Away from the peninsula, prices drop, as there are less “muzungus” (foreigners) inland.
A note on security, once you’re away from Msasani Bay: we have cruised this area extensively, and have gone into some pretty remote anchorages. We’ve only had one instance of thievery, and that was while anchored off an island that had a large concentration of itinerant fishermen living in tents on the island. We were “cased” before dark by one of the boats, but didn’t realize their intent till later. This happened on North Fanjove Island, just a bit south of Dar (not to be confused with the beautiful Fanjove Island, south of Mafia Island).
The only other two instances of robbery, burglary, assault both occurred on Sinda Island, which is also just south of Dar. Both islands have a large population of local fishermen camping ashore. Avoid any islands where more than a few fishermen are living in tents and shacks. It’s outboard engines that they are looking for, as in many places around the world. Wherever you anchor, hoist your dinghy at night. Keep all engines padlocked to their transoms or deck mounts.
The weather patterns are stable and predictable in Tanzania. From June through August, moderate to strong southerlies sweep the area, and the temperature is very comfortable. In the summer months, the northern winds blow fairly intensely until February or so. Summer is not a good time to be outside, as it is hot and muggy. We chose that time to leave the boat and fly home for the holidays. The rainy season starts after the northerly winds abate and lasts until April – May.
Malaria and Dengue Fever
Malaria and Dengue Fever are present all along the coast. We haven’t had either, but know people who have had one or the other. For long term visiting yachts, prophylactic meds for malaria are impractical. Dengue cannot be immunized against, nor can it be treated by any specific medications. We do carry test kits for malaria on board and have Coartem tablets on hand for treating malaria. Falciparum is the strain of malaria that most people contract here and responds well to a three-day administration of Coartem. Zanzibar is apparently in a “pre-clear” status as far as malaria is concerned, with virtually no instances of new cases. Screening the boat at night (starting at around 17:30) goes a long way toward preventing mosquito bites. Ashore at night, we use mild DEET-containing products.
A note on the 1998 East Africa Pilot, by Delwyn McPhun. While it is full of great information and describes some excellent anchorages, much of the information is outdated. Many of the areas that were once excellent diving and snorkelling spots are now only mediocre at best. Also, many of the locations are now inside park boundaries and are no longer free anchorages. Some of these areas, especially on the south side of Mafia Island, are now quite expensive places to visit with the yacht.
In general, the entire area is much more developed than it was 20 years ago, which has had a negative impact on the environment and the freedom to anchor wherever you want. Dynamite fishing has had a drastic impact on the local reefs and ecology. Fortunately, it has been all but eliminated in the last year or so. It will take time to recover, but we’re already hearing encouraging reports from divers that know the area well. Please don’t construe this as a recommendation to avoid the area; on the contrary, there are still quite a few great places to visit that aren’t inside park boundaries and are very worthwhile stops. Karibu Sana!
Jack and Jackie Hunt
SV Barbara Ann
Related to following destinations: Dar es Salaam, Kilindoni (Mafia Island), Madagascar, Tanga, Tanzania, Zanzibar
Further update re. Clearance here from Jack Hunt (author of this report):
Back to the way it was……
So, Jason Banks, at Slipway, emailed us a week ago to confirm that it is indeed possible to drop anchor off the Slipway and taxi into the main port for clearance. It seems that the commissioner of Immigration (who stated that all yachts are henceforth to clear into the main port in Dar – with their yacht in the port anchorage) got it wrong, as in practice the old way is still possible.
A yacht just came into the main port and was told to go to the Slipway anchorage and take a taxi to the port to clear in – which is the way it has always been! Once again, the left-hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Most likely, the “ruling” by the commissioner never filtered down to the officials at the port or was simply ignored.
Hi Lesley, the Dar es Salaam port page explains it a little better. Basically, this is a small, but busy commercial port, with virtually nowhere to anchor a yacht. In the past, cruisers have anchored elsewhere and travelled by taxi to the main port for clearance, however as ruled by the commissioner, this is no longer possible and all yachts must be present in the main port. Not ideal. That’s why Mafia Island or Mtwara in the south, Tanga in the north, or Zanzibar in the east may be preferred ports of entry for yachts.
Thanks so much for this timely report. I am hoping that someone can clarify one point made: the report says that the commissioner has ruled that all yachts must clear in at Dar, but then goes on to recommend clearing in at either Mafia or Tanga?