One of the main things I’m asked about, is how to get around Tanzania. Is there local transport? Is it easy to get around? Do I need to book in advance? How can I avoid long bus journeys? How can I travel around Tanzania on a budget?
I know it seems pretty confusing at first, but don’t worry, I’ve literally taken every form of transport you can imagine in Tanzania from buses to boats to planes, trains and automobiles and I’m going to tell you everything I know!
How to Get Around Tanzania (by plane, train, car, boat, bus, tuk tuk & bike)
There are a number of major airlines that fly into Tanzania from abroad and three main airports you may want to look at when arranging your flights:
- Kilimanjaro International Airport between Arusha & Moshi
- Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam
- Abeid Amani Karume International Airport in Zanzibar
Air travel within Tanzania is pretty easy and frequent and both local and international airlines fly between the major cities and towns. There are also a number of smaller airports and airstrips throughout the country for domestic flights.
That includes a few airstrips within the national parks (and some private ones owned by the more high-end lodges) so you can easily get to your chosen safari destination. Airlines such a Coastal Aviation, Auric Air, Flight Link and Air Excel fly from Arusha Airport to the Seronera Airstrip (within the Serengeti) frequently. They are generally not cheap though.
If you want to avoid the long drives between destinations (Tanzania is huge), then flying is the best option. You can find a list of Tanzanian airports here and I search for all of my flights to Tanzania on Skyscanner.
A lot of people ask me about fly-in safaris, so here’s a quick overview…
If you don’t fancy the long drive to the national parks you can either book your accommodation and safari package directly with a lodge (or maybe group of lodges if you want to move around ie. spend 1 night in the Serengeti, 1 night on the Ngorongoro crater etc) and then book your flights separately, getting the lodge to pick you up when you get there.
Or you can book an all-inclusive fly-in safari with a safari company who will arrange everything for you, flights and all. There are tons to choose from and I’ll go into more detail in a separate post (coming soon).
Train travel isn’t the easiest or most reliable form of travel in Tanzania, but it is a fun adventure and there are two major train lines you can take.
There’s the Tazara train line that connects Dar es Salaam and Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. The trip usually takes around two days, although delays are common (my train was delayed 24 hours). People often ask whether it’s worth the trip and all I can say, is that it’s an ‘experience’… and isn’t that what travel is all about?
There’s also the Central line which links Dar es Salaam with Kigoma on Lake Tanganika and Mwanza on Lake Victoria. However, currently the track is out of action near to Dar, so if you want to take the train, you’ll need to head to Dodoma or Tabora (via other means) and take the train from there.
If you have your own transport or feel confident enough to hire a car, then driving in Tanzania is also an option.
You can hire cars from a number of different rental companies, as long as you are over 23 and have an international or English language driver’s licence.
But before you do decide to go it alone, you’ll need to ensure that your car is in good working order, you have all the required paperwork, follow the regulations and stick to the speed limit. The Tanzanian police just love to hand out fines.
The main roads between Moshi, Arusha and Dar es Salaam are greatly improved these days and mostly tarmacked but there are still lots of roads that are not and pot holes are common. If you are planning on driving off the main roads, in rural areas or in the national parks I would advise on getting a 4×4.
To be honest, even if you have your own transport, I think it’s better to take a guided safari into the national parks as you’ll have a better experience with a good guide or at least, go on game drives with a guide, even if you drive to the lodge yourself.
Driving in the cities can be a little chaotic and there are some crazy drivers out there, so keep your wits about you and use your horn to alert other drivers of your presence (be assured they will alert you of theirs – in the UK we only really use our horns to show our anger at people for bad driving, in Tanzania it’s more like ‘I’m here and I’m just letting you know I’m cutting in – whether you like it or not’).
I’d also try to avoid driving at night if you can, especially outside of the cities as there are often people and/or animals (both domestic and wild) on the road and very little street lighting, so collisions are common.
There are lots of taxis in Tanzania, but they can be expensive, so you’ll need to try and negotiate a good price. Maybe try and ask an independent local for an idea of the fare before you start bartering.
Just be aware that there are lots of touts in the ferry port/train station/border etc who will be wanting their cut so try to find someone else to ask, like an official or a random passer by.
If there’s a group of you, you could hire a taxi/mini bus taxi for a long distance. They’re more expensive than coaches or buses but almost always quicker and more direct. Plus you can help control the speed limit as I do on my Rock My Adventure tours.
Every hostel or hotel will have one or more trusted taxi drivers, so they can arrange your airport pick up for you or help you get from place to place. Take the taxi drivers number so you can call them as and when you need.
Tanzania has a few different ferry services of varying standards.
The AZAM Marine ferry is probably the best and most reliable service and the best option for getting to Zanzibar (other than flying). The ferry is quick (usually around 1.5 hours) and is $35 for an economy seat. Personally I love getting the ferry to Zanzibar.
You can book online, however they have no online payment facilities at the moment so you need to collect and pay for your tickets at least 3 hours before departure or they may release them.
There are also ferries that run between Zanzibar and Pemba a couple of times a week.
Other ferries include the MV Liemba on Lake Tanganika, MV Iringa and MV Songea on Lake Nyasa (aka Lake Malawi) and MV Victoria on Lake Victoria. Check recent reports to check if they are running.
A dhow is the traditional name for the Arabian style boats, that are common along the East African coast.
There are are a number of dhows that sail over to Zanzibar (and along the coast) if you want to avoid the ferry, however, they are a lot more risky and should only be attempted in very calm weather and with a reputable company.
Zanzibar Watersports can arrange a private dhow from the mainland to Zanzibar for about $300 and I believe some hotels also have their own dhows. Another cheaper option is to head to the harbour and try and catch a lift with one of the dhows leaving from there.
The ‘rules’ for tourists seem to be a bit of a grey area, but I believe that it is illegal to accept rides on non-motorised dhows for long trips.
If you want to travel around Tanzania on a budget, then bus is probably your best option.
There are a few types of bus:
Mini Bus: Local mini buses, called dala-dalas go pretty much everywhere in Tanzania. They aren’t the safest (some drivers go very fast) or most comfortable (often packed like sardines) form of transportation, but they are super cheap and often.
The best info I can give you on these is to ask a local when you get there – your hostel owners/workers are usually a great source of info. Every town has a main bus stand and you can catch dala dalas on the road too. The bus stands can be confusing and hectic, so when I’m trying to find the right bus, I always ask a local woman – sorry to be sexist but I find that the women give more honest and reliable answers.
I usually try and find out the price before I get on too so that I don’t get overcharged.
Coach: To travel long distances, I would suggest using coaches, of which there are many (of varying standards) to choose from. Again, this is usually a case of asking around for recommendations or heading down to the bus station and having a look at the options. For travel between Moshi/Arusha and Dar es Salaam/Bagamoyo I always use the Kilimanjaro Express bus. They have a luxury coach which is around 36,000 TSH ($16), takes around 12 – 13 hours is air-conditioned and has charging points. I’d advise to book this in advance.
Shuttle Bus: The Impala Shuttle and Riverside Shuttle are good choices for travelling between Arusha/Moshi and Nairobi. Again, book this in advance to ensure your seat. Most hotels can book these buses for you.
Hakuna Matatu: A new concept in backpacking travel in Zanzibar is the Hakuna Matatu (loving the name) mini bus service, created especially for backpackers taking them between hostels. I’ve not tried it myself, but it looks like a great and convenient initiative.
By Tuk Tuk
There are plenty of tuk tuks (known locally as Bajaj – which is the make) in Tanzania, especially in the coastal regions. They fit 2 – 3 people and can be a cheap alternative to a taxi over short distances.
You can pick them up off the street or ask someone to call one for you.
By Motorbike Taxi
There are lots of motorbike taxis known as piki-pikis (sometimes called boda-bodas depending on which region you are in) which are a quick and cheap way to get around.
Whilst they are efficient and fun, they aren’t very safe and rarely will the driver have a spare helmet. Just be aware that if you have an accident whilst riding one, your travel insurance may not be valid.
If you have your own bike (take your own or buy one when you get there), decent cycling ability (lots of rough roads and hilly in places) and an adventurous spirit, you can cycle your way around Tanzania.
My friend Tracy road across Africa on a bike and her rule was to start early, keep distances short and and always finish her cycle by midday. Good advice.
I’d also recommend treating yourself to a rearview mirror to keep an eye on the traffic coming up behind you – the main roads can be pretty dangerous with fast drivers.
You can’t cycle through some of the national parks, but you can get to most of the main destinations and pick up safari tours as and when you need to.
Take your own helmet as getting a good one in country can be very difficult.
I would not advise hitchhiking from the side of the road in Tanzania if you can avoid it. I know plenty of people who have, but as you know, it is always a risk, especially if you are a woman on her own.
Most Tanzanians are super nice, but some men can be pretty full-on/flirty and opportunistic. Most of it is harmless, but you never know…
Rather, ask around at your hotel, hostel or camp and see if someone knows someone who is going where you need to go – they usually always do.
Just be aware that you will usually be required to offer some compensation which you will need to negotiate. Tanzania is full of ‘fixers’ and everyone is willing to help, especially if they can make a little cash.
It is illegal to hitchhike within the national parks.
Read More About Tanzania:
- The Ultimate Tanzania Itinerary (Plus Things to See & Do)
- Backpacking Zanzibar: Everything You Need To Know
- 40 Amazing Things to See and Do in Zanzibar
See all Tanzania posts here.
Want to make life easy for yourself and travel through Tanzania with an awesome group of like-minded travellers? Then come with us on the Rock My Kilimanjaro & Serengeti Adventure or the Rock My Tanzania & Zanzibar Adventure!
Hope you find this guide to getting around Tanzania super helpful and I wish you a great trip! If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!
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