Travelling independently around Tanzania doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, it’s relatively straightforward with plenty of easy and affordable options.
Local transport in Tanzania can, however, be much much slower and less comfortable than similar options in other parts of the world. It is Africa, after all. This requires a little bit of patience, a sense of adventure and good planning to mitigate some of the frustrations you might encounter when travelling around Tanzania.
This post is designed for those looking for detailed insights on how to get around Tanzania. When we were doing our own research around this topic we found that there was a lack of good, accurate and detailed information available for those wanting to travel Tanzania independently. Most of the information we relied on were from forums, Facebook groups and a few blog posts from other independent travelers who didn’t join overland tours and the like. We hope to provide a more detailed account of the options available for those hoping to travel Tanzania independently by writing this.
In this post we will outline details about how to get around Tanzania. We will also outline some of the precautions to keep in mind and some annoyances you may encounter and should prepare for.
We will be focusing on transport options between the northern circuit around Arusha and Moshi and the coast around Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar as these were the places we personally traveled to.
How to get around Tanzania by plane
There are several budget airlines that operate in Tanzania. This makes flying an attractive option for those on a budget and on a tight time schedule.
For those traveling to Tanzania primarily to visit Zanzibar, it’s possible to fly direct to Zanzibar on several international routes, most of which targeting the European market.
Those wanting to fly via Arusha (JRO)-Zanzibar (ZNZ) and vice versa will find that several airlines operate this route. It’s generally more expensive to fly this leg than travelling over land or flying from Dar es Salaam but for those on a tight time schedule this may be a good option.
Flying Dar es Salaam (DAR)-Arusha (JRO) is also a good option for those who prefer to avoid the long overland bus transfer. Several low cost carriers fly this route, making it an excellent option.
Dar es Salaam to Arusha by bus
Taking the bus in Tanzania is likely your most affordable option for long distance travel.
If travelling between Dar es Salaam to Moshi and Arusha; taking the bus is straightforward although it can be very time consuming. Expect the journey from start to finish to take at least 12 hrs. If it’s advertised for less than this or the bus company says otherwise, mentally add an extra 2-3 hours for delays. With recent safety speed limits in place, buses rarely reach speeds greater than 50 km/hr. This makes for a painfully slow trip but allays fears of dangerous driving habits – which in the past have given the route a reputation as being unsafe.
There are several reputable companies that ply this route. Recommended operators include: DAR Express, Kilimanjaro Express, and Scandinavia. Other bus companies we have heard about include Royal Coach (tends to stop a lot) and Machame.
The buses are comfortable, similar to those found in most countries.
From Dar es Salaam all bus companies depart from Ubungo Station, located northwest of the city.
Most departures are early morning at 6 a.m. If you are travelling from Dar es Salaam it’s a good idea to stay the night close to the station. A good option is the Silver Paradise Hotel. They are located about 2 km towards the city from Ubungo station and offer a free bus station transfer at 5 a.m. They can also arrange pickup from the airport or ferry terminal for $USD 15. The rooms are very clean and the staff are attentive.
For Arusha buses also leave early at 6 a.m. Each company’s terminal is located in and around Arusha town centre.
All buses go via Moshi for pickup and drop off.
We traveled with Kilimanjaro Express. The cost per person was 36,000 TZS ($USD 16) for the luxury coach. The fare included refreshments of soft drinks, small baked goods, water and candy. There was a single lunch and toilet stop six hours into the journey. The restrooms at the stop were clean but the food looked very average. There is also a toilet on board. Try to book seats on the bus towards the front to be away from the toilet.
Bring something to keep you warm in case the bus has the air conditioning on max. Bring ear plugs or your own entertainment/music as the on board entertainment may start to grate on your nerves after several hours.
Tickets can’t be purchased online. We purchased tickets the morning of departure but it is generally recommended to purchase tickets the day or night before by visiting the terminal. The staff at your accommodation may be more than happy to help arrange tickets for you the night before your bus trip.
Personally speaking, our total travel time from Dar es Salaam to Arusha on the bus took more than 12 hours. We were unlucky enough to have multiple delays caused by a sick passenger who had to be taken to hospital and a bus breakdown when we arrived in Arusha. We left Dar es Salaam early morning before the sun came up and arrived in Arusha after nightfall. Do keep these possibilities in mind when you travel.
How to get around Tanzania by dalla dalla
Travelling by dalla dalla is one of the more adventurous travel options in Tanzania. The dalla dalla is a minibus that regularly plies set routes and picks up and drops off passengers along the way. They originally started as a cheap, illegal taxi share service but became legalized in the 70’s-80’s in recognition of the need for more public transport options in Tanzania. Apparently, the word “dalla dalla” comes from the English word “dollar”. Travelling by dalla dalla can have its challenges. In return however you will be rewarded with an authentic local experience of everyday Tanzanians going about their daily lives and business.
If you do choose to travel by dalla dalla here are a few tips and things to be aware of:
- Personal space – Dalla dallas can be cramped. No seat is left spare. In fact, multiple locals often share a handful of seats and others hang from ladders on the back. Be prepared for some level of discomfort. Having said that drivers and conductors are generally very hospitable and will often offer foreigners the front seats.
- Know your fare – Before you even get on board your dalla dalla, find out how much the fare should be. We don’t mean asking the people in and around the dalla dalla! If you are a Westerner or a foreigner, you will surely stick out like a sore thumb and can be quoted with “tourist prices”. Do a bit of research beforehand. The best method is to ask at your accommodation. This will give you a ballpark amount. As a guide for Zanzibar, no full leg fare should be much more than 2000 TZS ($USD 0.86) per person. If you have luggage they may ask for a luggage fee of about 500 TZS ($AUD 0.21).
Street smart tip: Don’t ask the price! Know the fare before getting on board and just give that amount at the end
- Navigation – Street smart tip: get an offline map or GPS app for your phone. These apps don’t require internet connection and are a great way to know when to get off. This will make you look like you have been there before. Using this technique, you might even get change back at the end. Ben’s favourite GPS app is maps.me. Google Maps also has similar features.
- Pay at your destination – if approached by someone asking for your payment whilst in the vehicle waiting to depart, refuse to pay and say you’ll pay at the end. These guys are often scammers pretending to be the conductor or driver. You might find yourself paying twice. This happened to us in Zanzibar but thankfully Ben is incredibly street smart and didn’t fall for it.
How to get between Dar es Salaam and Zanibar by ferry
If you are travelling to Zanzibar, one of the most convenient and affordable options from Dar es Salaam and return is by ferry.
Azam Marine operate several fast ferries per day. The trip takes 2 hours.
The ferry terminal and ticket office in Dar es Salaam is located close to the city center and is in easy reach of downtown hotels. In Zanzibar the ferry terminal is towards the north west of Stone Town, also easy walking distance from hotels and accommodation. The ticket office in Stone Town is located 200 meters north of the ferry terminal on the northeast corner of the first roundabout.
Non-residents pay a premium on fares. An economy fare costs $USD 35 and business $USD 40. We recommend booking in advance especially if wanting to take the first and last ferries of the day. Many locals are transiting for work and these times fill fast. Tickets can either be purchased at the terminal or online at the Azam Marine website.
The ferry terminals are busy places. Porters and touts haggle for business so be prepared. When arriving and departing Zanzibar you will be required to present your yellow fever certificate and passport to be stamped. Zanzibar is considered semi-autonomous from Tanzania.
The ferries are very comfortable and relatively new. Economy seats are a little tight but fine for the 2 hour journey Business class offers much more leg room and the space is fitted with wall-mounted TV screens. The 4 bathrooms at the back of the ferry are relatively clean and look well-maintained.
How to get around Tanzania by taxi
Taxis in Tanzania provide a relatively cheap method of getting around quickly with some level of comfort.
There are however several precautions to be aware of when taking taking taxis.
Taxis in Tanzania don’t use meters. Make sure to clearly agree and understand the price before your ride.
If possible we would always book taxis through our hotels. This eliminates the need for tiresome negotiations and generally a fair price. It is also far safer than hailing a random taxi from the street.
Taxi fares to and from the airport range from 20000-30000 TZS or $USD 10-15. There is an official taxi stand outside the airport arrivals area. This is very expensive with fares to the city starting at $USD 35. It’s easy to negotiate with other drivers around the pedestrian crossing behind this stand. Better still, though, we recommend pre-arranging pickup with your accommodation. See below.
Fares within the city centre are around 5000 TZS or $USD 2-3.
From the city centre to the intercity bus station at the Ubungo terminal: 20000-30000 TZS or USD$10-15.
Tanzania Travel Tip: We recommend pre-arranging taxi pickup and drop off with your hotels.
Having someone waiting for you outside the airport or ferry terminal is welcome relief from the frenzy of taxi drivers, porters, touts and other salesman. Especially when coming off a long international flight or late ferry arrival
How to get between Arusha and Nairobi by shuttle bus
One of the most convenient ways to travel between Arusha, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya is by shuttle bus. There are several shuttle company’s travelling this route, one of the most affordable and better options is Riverside Shuttle bus. They also offer pickup and drop off at centrally located hotels.
Fares are $USD 25 per person one way from Arusha to Nairobi; to and from Moshi is a little more. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Riverside Shuttle Offices in Moshi, Arusha or Nairobi. We would recommend purchasing from the offices. It’s a little cheaper. There are two booking offices in Arusha, on Sokoine Rd and at the Riverside Shuttle Bus Station at the Bella Luna Hotel. In Nairobi, the booking office and Bus Stop is on Monrovia St, in the city centre.
There are two departures per day in either direction. Departures from Moshi are at 6:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., and Arusha and Nairobi at 8:00 am and 14:00 pm. The journey takes 5 hours, add an extra 1.5 hrs if travelling to and from Moshi. There are two stops on the way. One at the border and another at a small souvenir shop with a not so great-looking cafe and snack shop. The border crossing is straightforward and quick. If you have any local currencies left over, there is also a small currency exchange office.
The shuttle also picks up and drops off at the Jomo Kenyatta (Nairobi) International Airport.
For those that have travelled independently in developing countries, getting around Tanzania isn’t anymore daunting than taking public transport in South America or South East Asia. Below is a brief summary of the main points discussed in this post:
- Flying is a great way to avoid time-consuming long-haul bus journeys. Flights are cheap when booked in advance with several low cost carriers now operating.
- If travelling by bus, be aware that departure and arrival times are more of a rough guide so plan accordingly. Buses between Dar es Salaam are also much safer now with new speed restrictions.
- Dalla Dallas are a great cheap way to get around Zanzibar. But be prepared for cramped conditions and be wary of scammers.
- If wanting to catch the first early ferry between Dar es Salaam and Stone Town, try to book in advance to be guaranteed a seat.
- Taxis are a cheap and convenient way to get around cities. If planning to use taxis, know what the fair price is and try to arrange through your accommodation.
- Shuttle buses between Arusha and Nairobi are a convenient way to cross into Kenya from Tanzania and vice versa.