The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of many popular travel destinations: Kenya, Bali, Thailand and other popular places which are usually packed with tourists are now nearly empty. But, one East African сountry, Tanzania, decided not to close its borders. It is one of the few places currently accepting international travelers. Most of the major international airlines operate flights to the land of the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro, just as they previously offered. And while international flights may request COVID-19 certificates for travel, the Tanzanian officials do not require such documents for arrival.
Hence, many people are wondering if Tanzania is safe to visit – especially in the light of the fact that many European countries and the United States recently added Tanzania to their ‘red lists’, warning against international travel. This article answers the question – is Tanzania a safe country to visit?
Tanzania hasn’t published COVID-19 figures since April, 2020
Officially, there are only 509 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country. However, these figures have not been updated in April 2020, when Tanzania stopped reporting official figures. Despite numerous alerts from the WHO and the global community, the nation did not publish data about confirmed infections in the country. The now-late president John Magufuli announced the country to be “Covid-free” and said that Tanzania would not be vaccinating its population, relying on the traditional herbal medicines and steaming instead.
Unsurprisingly, many countries responded with fierce criticism. The United States Department of State categorized Tanzania as’ ‘Level 4 Travel Alert” (Avoid travel”), and the UK added it to it’s Red List. Russia, however, showed a very different stance – Tanzania was one of the five countries (along with the UK and Turkey), where the Russian citizens could travel.Russian tour operators immediately organized a sizable number of charter flights between the Russian cities and the resort island of Zanzibar.
Not only have Russians decided to travel, but between November 2020 and March, 2021 over 30,000 tourists from the European Union countries landed in Zanzibar. This puts future travellers in a bit of a quandary – while the healthcare offices and travel advisories are boiling with criticism, travellers are taking safari and posting remarkably bright photos from the sunny beaches of Zanzibar, the beautiful Serengeti plains or the peak of Kilimanjaro. You can visit this site for more information about safari adventures.
So, is Tanzania safe for travel?
Tanzania tour operators response to COVID-19
The tour operators of Tanzania understood the seriousness of the ongoing situation and took responsible action. As travel decisions were greatly affected by the pandemic, many operators worked hard to instill confidence in visitors. Therefore, the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources published the Standard Operating Protocol for COVID-19 in the tourism industry.
This protocol outlined the safety rules and precautionary measures that all tour operators are bound to follow to ensure that visitors are protected from the COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, including health protocols and cleaning measures. Some companies took further steps, putting in place the best practices recommended by WHO and the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Among other measures, these practices include:
- Regular COVID-19 testing of guiding staff and other personnel who are in frequent contact with visitors;
- Hand sanitizing stations and regular cleaning of premises and facilities;
- Reducing the number of people in travel groups;
- Ensuring physical distancing between members of a guiding crew and visitors.
Between December 2020 and March 2021 Tanzania became an especially popular place for international visitors. Because many other famous climbing destinations remain closed, Mount Kilimanjaro attracted a much higher number of visitors than tour operators expected. Those planning to climb Aconcagua, Mount Kostyushko or Denali (Mount McKinley) had their plans aborted, and the fact that Kilimanjaro was open happened to be too strong an urge to resist.
Many others decided to seize an opportunity and visit Serengeti, Ngorongoro and other iconic national parks in Tanzania. These UNESCO heritage sites are normally packed with travellers, but due to the ongoing pandemic, we are experiencing one of these few opportunities to visit these parks with the lowest numbers of visitors seen in decades. It was possible to be nearly alone amidst the picturesque places of Serengeti with your safari group.
All in all, thousands of visitors have come to Tanzania in 2020 and early 2021, and, to the best of our knowledge, only a few isolated cases of COVID-19 contraction were reported when these people returned home. And it is not entirely clear whether the infection took place in Tanzania or while en route to the home country, such as while traveling on an international flight.
Why is the risk of getting infected in Tanzania low?
Popular travel attractions in Tanzania have never been crowded. Thus, on a safari journey in the national parks, most of the time is spent in a private safari vehicle, with no other people except your safari group. On a Mount Kilimanjaro expedition everyone has his or her own tent, and it is quite easy to keep physical distancing.
Hotels in Tanzania are half-empty these days, and, therefore, physical contacts between visitors are easily reduced to a minimum. Property managers understand the pandemic risks, and for this reason the hotels are regularly sanitized and ventilated.
Is it possible to get a valid PCR test in Tanzania?
Most international airlines require a PCR test for onboarding upon return from Tanzania. It is easy to do one in Tanzania – there are many approved clinics both on the mainland and in Zanzibar. Whether you plan to stay in Moshi, Arusha on Stonetown, taking a swab and getting results is not more complicated than in your home country.
It is even possible to get tested at a special healthcare point in the Serengeti. The tour operators have done everything they could to make sure that your trip to Tanzania is not interrupted in any way.
So, is it safe to visit Tanzania?
We cannot say that any nation is 100% safe to visit, but we are confident that visiting Tanzania is less dangerous than many of the European countries or the United States with crowded cities and difficulties to practice social distancing. A visit to Tanzania means time in fresh air and nature, secluded with your private travel group, with social distancing being an easy adaptation to a traditional Tanzanian safari or mountain trek. If you are dreaming of traveling, consider this small East African nation as your next destination.