Purpose Palliative care remains an urgent, neglected need in the developing world. Global disparities in end-of-life care for children, such as those with advanced cancers, result from barriers that are complex and largely unstudied. This study describes these barriers at Bugando Medical Center, one of three consultant hospitals in Tanzania, to identify areas for palliative care development suitable to this context. Methods In-depth interviews were conducted with 20 caregivers of pediatric patients with cancer and 14 hospital staff involved in pediatric end-of-life care. This was combined with 1 month of participant observation through direct clinical care of terminally ill pediatric patients. Results Data from interviews as well as participant observation revealed several barriers to palliative care: financial, infrastructure, knowledge and cultural (including perceptions of pediatric pain), and communication challenges. Although this study focused on barriers, what also emerged were the unique advantages of end-of-life care in this setting, including community cohesiveness and strong faith background. Conclusion This study provides a unique but focused description of barriers to palliative care common in a low-resource setting, extending beyond resource needs. This multidisciplinary qualitative approach combined interviews with participant observation, providing a deeper understanding of the logistical and cultural challenges in this setting. This new understanding will inform the design of more effective-and more appropriate-palliative care policies for young patients with cancer in the developing world.