HOW TO GET AROUND TANZANIA
Tanzania is located in East Africa and the country 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 visiting a number of parks and reserves in Tanzania, you can either drive or fly between them. Roads in most of the wilderness areas are in poor condition and unmarked, and self-driving is not recommended. Operators will supply you with a driver who doubles as an informal guide; alternatively, you can arrange to fly to your destination and utilize a car and driver supplied by the lodgings. Elsewhere in Tanzania, towns and cities are linked by a steady stream of buses and dala-dala (minibuses), and in the cities, there is public transport in the way of buses, dala-dala, taxis in some places.
Getting around Tanzania by plane is the quickest and most comfortable option, so get it if you can afford it. There are a few domestic airlines that link the most popular safari destinations and provide services to the coast. Some of the more upmarket safari lodges have their own airstrips and use small planes operated by private air charter companies to ferry their guests in, which is a good alternative to long drives on dusty roads.
The national airline; Air Tanzania, was grounded in 2008 because of issues over maintenance. Since then, they have resumed some domestic flights between Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro, and Mwanza. However, the airline desperately needs new planes, timetables frequently change, and there can be long delays. In most cases, the private airlines offer much more reliable service, with aircrafts in good shape and excellent pilots.
Precision Air links the major cities and towns and flies between Dar es Salaam, Bukoba, Mwanza, Kigoma, Tabora, Lindi, Mtwara, Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, and Seronera and Grumeti in the Serengeti National Park. They also fly to Nairobi.
Coastal Aviation connects the upmarket lodges in the game parks and reserves, as well as the islands, flying between Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Arusha, Selous, Ruaha, Mikumi, Lake Manyara, and to several airstrips in the Serengeti, as well as to Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia islands.
Air Excel links the parks with the coast and flies between Dar es Salaam, Arusha, several airstrips in the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar.
Zan Air connects Arusha and Dar es Salaam with Selous, Zanzibar, Pemba, Mafia, and Mombasa in Kenya.
Regional Air connects eight airstrips in the Northern Circuit with Arusha, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar.
On some flights using small planes, luggage is restricted to 15kg per person, but you can leave excess luggage at hotels in Arusha or Dar es Salaam, for example, for a small fee in case you will be returning to the same place.
As a tourist, driving in Tanzania is much possible but it can be dangerous because most drivers drive as they wish. The roads are not always well maintained (more so out of the city or town centers) and there are frequent potholes which are a problem, so you will need to keep your speed down and avoid driving at night because of the danger of domestic and wild animals on the road. Many of the roads in rural areas and in the parks and reserves are not tarred, so a four-wheel-drive vehicle is essential, most especially in the wet seasons, when these roads often become so slippery and impassable. If you’re confident that you can hold your own on Tanzanian roads, you can either book a car at your country of origin from one of the large agencies or contact them once you arrive. There are various car hire companies in east Africa from which you can hire a good 4×4 vehicle for your safari.
To hire a car, you must be over 20, and you will not necessarily need an international driver’s license, your license must be in English. While on the road, you will have to keep left, though on badly potholed roads and always read the speed limit sign posts because traffic officers are almost everywhere. Parking in the towns usually involves paying a parking attendant on the street a small fee, and they will display a ticket on your windshield (make sure you pay this to avoid any disturbance later on).
Buses are the best and cheapest way to travel if you are choosing to travel budget. Large buses and dala-dala crisscross the country and link the major towns, and longer routes link Dar es Salaam with Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya. Some of the vehicles are quite old, can be driven rather recklessly, and can be overcrowded.
There are also Overland buses that 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.
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. 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 taxis are not registered, so be aware of the risk for theft particularly at night.