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Located in East Africa, Tanzania boasts some of the world’s most untouched natural landscapes and wildlife. However, getting around within Tanzania can be a little daunting, particularly if you are traveling independent of a tour agency or do not speak Swahili, the national language.
If it’s not the urban traffic jams in Dar es Salaam delaying your travels, the nation’s poor road conditions and limited infrastructure can make overland travel extremely slow. If you are planning a trip to Tanzania, it's important to have a realistic expectation of local transit times and consider how you will safely get from place to place.
If you are arriving by air, you will likely land in Dar es Salaam. Be mindful that local airlines offering connections to other domestic destinations, such as Arusha or Kilimanjaro are notorious for their delays and cancellations, while flights to smaller towns such as Kigoma may be advertised but actually unavailable.
As a rule of thumb, plan for flight delays and give yourself a day before catching your international flight back home. Private flights are available to connect to the National Parks, but their price tag is significantly higher.
Tanzania‘s largest city is Dar es Salaam, an urban centre spread out along the Eastern coastline. Dar Es Salaam is notorious for its chaotic traffic, which can be a nightmare during weekday business hours. There are limited traffic lights, which rotate on an infrequent basis, meaning when you catch a red light you will be waiting for a while.
Registered taxis are generally safe and easily accessible from the Dar airport for 50,000 Tsh (or 20,000 Tsh in smaller towns). In Dar Es Salaam, the white cars will be identifiable with a yellow stripe and a three-digit number along the side. It's always best to determine the cost of your fare with the driver based on a flat-rate before departing. If your taxi passes through a toll stop, the toll is typically paid by the taxi driver, not you.
Tuk-tuk’s and boda bodas (motor bike taxis) are cheaper options available throughout Tanzania, but are more dangerous than taxi cars in urban traffic. Many tuk-tuk and bike taxi’s are not registered, so be aware of the risk for theft and ATM extortion, particularly at night. Uber is relatively new to Dar es Salaam, providing a taxi alternative in the capital.
Local buses (dala dalas) are a cheap way to get around Tanzania’s cities, at only 500 Tsh per ride, but will require some Swahili language skills. If you take a dala dala, expect to get ‘up close and personal’ with your neighbors as it will be a tight and bumpy ride. Be mindful of your wallet and cell phone on these buses.
Overland buses are an economical option to travel from city to city across Tanzania, but they can be extremely long and uncomfortable journeys due to the poorly maintained roads. Don’t expect any A/C or a toilet on board - many overland buses are quite basic and have been known to break down on the side of the road.
You will have several opportunities to use a toilet or get food at various stops along the way and it's a good idea to take your bag or backpack if you exit the bus.
Trains are a safe transit option to connect from Dar es Salaam to both Mwanza and Kigoma via Tabora. There is also a second railway service which runs all the way Southwest to Zambia.
Though the railway system is a more comfortable transit option than buses, they do require the luxury of time and have been known for their significant delays, which could leave you stranded at the connecting train station at night.
To plan ahead for this situation, it's suggested to carry a cell phone with a local SIM to make emergency calls. It's also recommended to safely stow luggage if you are traveling on a sleeper carriage and intend to get some shut eye. Never accept food or drink from a stranger, as there have been reports of drug-related thefts.
If you decide to self-drive within urban areas, you should know the rules of the road (or lack-there-of), parking regulations and potential risks. Car jacking is uncommon, but thieves have stolen valuables from unlocked vehicles and opened windows at traffic stops, so keep your windows closed and doors locked while driving.
For cross-country driving, it's highly recommended to get a 4x4 vehicle with rental insurance and a local SIM card for outgoing calls in case your vehicle breaks down. Stretches of road between towns can be extremely isolated, so try to stay off the roads at night and plan accordingly with food, water and petrol.
Be aware that buses may attempt to pass you, and oncoming vehicles will come into your lane to pass other cars. In the event of an accident, drive to the nearest police station to report the incident.
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Like many other countries, touting and bartering are a way of life in Tanzania. Find out how to hold your ground and barter with the locals with these tips.