Traveling by bus in Tanzania can be quite hectic and an experience full of anxiety for the unexperienced bus traveler. But with some preparation and a deep breath we are confident your bus trip is going to be a fairly enjoyable one.
Dar Lux, a reliable “luxury” bus company
Buy your ticket from a reliable bus company
Going to a local bus stand can be quite scary and confusing because Tanzanian bus stations are usually just big dusty sand fields filled with shops, vendors, noises, smells and hundreds of people hurrying in different directions. And no signs!! The most intimidating part is that there are countless touts trying to sell you snacks, hats, bus tickets and what ever else which can make you disoriented. But don’t let that be a reason to get pressured into buying a seat on a crappy bus. Even though the hectic environment will prompt you to want to buy a ticket quickly and get the hell out of there. If you do buy a ticket in the main bus station of the city you are in, ask the ticket seller if you can see the actual bus before paying anything. Be sure to speak to the driver or conductor to avoid buying fake tickets from scammers. Read “the best bus lines in Tanzania” for a list of reliable bus lines. Some of the listed bus companies in that article actually have their own ticketing offices outside of the busy bus station. Those offices are very calm and quiet which makes the experience of buying a ticket a hundred times more pleasant.
Book you ticket in advance
Always make sure to book your bus ticket in advance as the bus companies can run out of tickets. This is especially true for the nice bus lines during weekends and big holidays when a lot of people travel. Many bus companies allow you to book tickets up to a week in advance and require payment at least one or two days before departure. Payment often takes place via mobile money or in the ticketing office of the bus company. You have to pick up the ticket itself at the office.
Kilimanjaro Express “luxury” bus
Buy tickets from the “luxury” bus companies.
The term luxury is relative here and means that everyone who has purchased a ticket will have a seat and no one will stand in the isle of the bus. No chickens are allowed on the bus, air conditioning will (not always) be available on the bus. There are USB ports for charging phones, seat belts, a complimentary 500 ml bottle of water and soda, sometimes a small muffin will be provided as well. Toilet breaks will be in nice rest stops with decent toilets and restaurants. The bus will most probably not break down, but it’s Tanzania so one can never know. If the bus does break done it should be up and going again after 20-30 min
Be on time
Most of the big buses which make cross country long journeys of up to 15 hours, start early in the morning. Departure time is usually at 6.00 am so reporting time will be at 5.30 am. Make sure you are on time so that you don’t miss your bus. The big “luxury” buses always leave on time.
Keep an eye on your bag
If you have a big bag it will be loaded down in the luggage compartment of the bus. The conductor will do it for you but make sure to stand with him/her when they do it so that they can place your bag in a spot where it will be easy to reach it once you arrive at your destination. Also, it is good to make sure that your bag gets in the luggage compartment just in case. Most probably you will also have a backpack or handbag with you up on the actual bus. Always carry your backpack with you when you get off the bus for toilet breaks or lunch break. Even the conductor will say this (in Kiswahili) in the beginning of the bus trip because they can not one hundred percent insure the safety of unattended luggage. This does not apply to luggage in the luggage compartment.
Toilet breaks and food breaks
Most bus lines have one toilet break every 4-5 hours. For a 12 hour journey this means two 10 min toilet breaks and one 30 min lunch break. If the bus has a toilet inside there will probably just be one 10 min stop and one 30 min lunch break. The nice bus lines usually have toilet breaks at nice rest stops with pretty clean toilets. So there is no need to stop drinking water and getting dehydrated and constipated, just drink accordingly. With some of the nice bus lines like Kilimanjaro Express the restaurant stop serves varied African dishes such as rice with meat stew, fish, banana stew, chips, grilled chicken or skewered meat. Other restaurant stops will offer a more limited range of dishes such as chips mayai, chips with grilled chicken or beef.
At some point of the journey a vendor will get on the bus and sell cold drinks, nuts, biscuits, crisps and other types of snacks. If you don’t want anything, politely decline and the vendor will move on to the next passenger. After a couple of kilometres the vendor will be let off the bus on the side of the road. I have always wondered how the vendors get back to where they where picked up. Do they walk back or get a lift from a bus going the opposite way, or maybe they arrived at their destination when they where riding with us? Anyway, the on board bus vendors are very responsive and do not push you into buying anything unlike the touts waiting at bus stations and rest stops. These touts will knock on the windows to get your attention and try to sell you different items. If you are not interested in buying anything just put your poker face on and ignore them until they move on to the next potential buyer.
Loud Music and Movies on the bus
A lot of Tanzanian buses play really loud music on board… Obnoxiously loud. I’m not sure why anyone thought it was a good idea (especially in the morning) but it is a real thing. Depending on the faith of the owner of the bus company, the music playing will either be christian gospel music or taarab. Sometimes they intersect with some modern bongo flava music accompanied with a raunchy music video of ladies shaking their behinds on the screen. I find the dichotomy of the conservative and sexual aspects of Tanzanian culture confusing but also quite amusing in the context of bus journeys. I always browse around to see if some of the other passengers will make a face of disgust or discomfort at the sight of the modern music videos, but everyone look mostly unbothered. Just my little observations.
Traveling by bus in Tanzania takes a long time, like a loooong time. Traveling from Dar to Arusha which is a distance of 622 km takes around 10-12 hours. That is travelling at speeds of only 50-60 km/hour! The reason why journeys take so long here, is because the Tanzanian government has made a crack down on road security and have imposed a hand full of measures to increase security which is excellent! But the down side is that it has slowed down travel time significantly. First of all, many villages are situated along the roads so there is a speed limit of 50 km/hour for long stretches. Second of all, there are a handful of weigh in stations through which buses have to pass. Thirdly, there are police everywhere on Tanzanian roads, so vehicles have to stop for them a lot. But there is not much you can do about this part, just sit back and sleep, read or listen to a pod cast. Unless they have really loud music playing, then you’re screwed.
Hopefully these tips will help you embark on your first bus journey in Tanzania with a little more ease. Drop any comments below if you have any questions or share your experience traveling by bus in Tanzania or other African countries.