Getting around Tanzania
Precision Air (www.precisionairtz.com) runs regular services, mostly via Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar, to main towns and other destinations in the region. Air Tanzania (www.airtanzania.co.tz) also has a limited network of domestic routes.
All national parks and some of the top-end luxury lodges have airstrips and Coastal Air (www.coastal.cc) operates between these and the main airports on the mainland and the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. ZanAir (www.zanair.com) has frequent connections between Zanzibar, Pemba and the mainland.
Flying between destinations saves a lot of time, particularly on a short holiday, and flights are affordable and run reasonably efficiently. The most popular route by air in Tanzania is between the northern circuit parks (the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater etc.) and Zanzibar. For some destinations, Gombe Stream or Mahale on Lake Tanganyika for example, flying is the preferable option and saves days by road or rail journey.
Many of the smaller airlines run services in circuits and flights may involve several stops as the plane drops passengers at different airstrips on each circuit. For example, a flight to the Serengeti may pick up and drop off passengers at several safari lodges on the same circuit. They generally use small six- or 12-seater planes, and while they have frequent scheduled flights, will only fly with the required minimum of passengers, though sometimes this is only two people. Note that on the smaller aircraft, the baggage allowance is 15kg, so you may have to leave luggage at hotels in Dar es Salaam or Arusha (or other major departure points).
Tanzania has a decent network of tarmac and all-weather roads connecting the major towns. Away from the main highways, however, the majority of roads are bad and hazardous. Most of the minor roads are unmade gravel with potholes: there are many rough stretches and they deteriorate further in the rainy season. While there is a tarred road from Arusha to the Ngorongoro Crater, beyond there (and in other parts of the country) road conditions in the parks and reserves of Tanzania are extremely rough, and during the rainy season, many are passable only with high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Fuel is available along the main highways and in towns, but if you’re going way off the beaten track, consider taking a couple of jerry cans of extra fuel. Also ensure the vehicle has a jack and possibly take a shovel to dig it out of mud or sand.
It is not advisable to drive at night because of wild animals, cattle and goats on the road. Also be wary of driving behind public transport vehicles (buses and mini-buses), which can break sharply to pick up passengers.
There are 86,472km (53,731 miles) of roads in Tanzania, of which about 15% are tarred. The rest vary from gravel to dirt rural tracks. The main ‘trunk’ roads are numbered ‘A’ or ‘B’ and link the major centres. However their classification does not necessarily mean that they are either tarred and/or in good condition. The best roads are from Arusha across the border to Nairobi, Arusha to Dar es Salaam, and Dar es Salaam to Zambia and Malawi. On Zanzibar, the major road that loops around the island is tarred and in good condition.
Car hire can be expensive, and rates (particularly the mileage charges) can vary a good deal. Most companies insist that only 4-wheel-drive vehicles should be hired if going into the parks and reserves or off the beaten track. Vehicles with drivers are also available.
International car hire companies are represented in Dar es Salaam, but elsewhere the only option is to go through a tour operator. Hiring a jeep for a day or two on Zanzibar is a popular way to explore the island and this can be arranged through any tour operator or large hotel. To hire a car you generally need to be over 23.
You can't hail taxis in the street, but you can find them parked up at transport hubs like airports, rail and bus stations, and at major intersections in the cities and towns. Most hotels and restaurants can find one for you. They are not metered and you have to negotiate the fare before you get in. This can be tricky as it’s not uncommon for taxi drivers to charge tourists overinflated prices – but conversely a taxi driver simply will not take you if you bargain a fare that’s too low.
At the airports in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar there are well-organised taxi associations who have desks outside the arrivals terminals with a list of fares to various destinations. You should organise a taxi at these.
The most popular place to hire a bike is on Zanzibar, and any hotel can organise this. Note though that bicycles are the old-fashioned and heavy type and cycling during the day can be hot. Additionally, watch out for motorists, as they generally have little respect for cyclists and expect them to get out of the way or leave the road when they pass.
There are numerous private bus companies operating in Tanzania. However, most vehicles are old and basic and depart when full, which means there are no set timetables and they can be uncomfortable. Petty theft on the vehicles and at bus stations can also be a problem. Nevertheless, fares are cheap and they link all long-distance destinations.
As for the cross-border routes, Scandinavia Express (www.scandinaviagroup.com) is the best bet for city-to-city long-distance routes as its coaches are modern, have air-conditioning and onboard toilets and run to fixed schedules. Smaller vehicles known as dala-dalas (minibuses) link the smaller towns over short distances and can be flagged down from the side of the road, but they are crowded and can be driven erratically.
In non-residential areas, speed limits are 120kph (75mph) and 60kph (35mph) in built-up areas. It is compulsory to wear a seat belt and obligatory that all vehicles carry two red triangles to be placed 20m (66ft) in front and behind the vehicle in the event of a breakdown.
There is no formal breakdown service, so ensure whoever you hire a car from can provide sufficient back-up service in the event of an emergency.
You either need an International Driving Permit, or can pay a small fee to have your own country licence endorsed in Tanzania by the police (the car hire company organises this). Third-party insurance is mandatory and it’s recommended to take out the additional collision damage waiver. A credit card is also needed.
Dala-dalas are local passenger vehicles using minibuses (on Zanzibar they are also small trucks with open backs and bench-like seating). They are by the far largest method of urban and rural transport and are cheap, but services are often crowded and pickpockets are common. They depart and arrive from various terminals around urban centres and can also be flagged down in the street. As well as regular taxis, the three-wheel tuk-tuks of South-East Asia are also popular in town centres and take three passengers behind the driver.
Tanzania's railways are in feeble condition, with breakdowns and cancellations of already infrequent services all too common. Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) (www.trctz.com) operates the Central Line, which runs between Dar es Salaam and western Tanzania. The line splits at Tabora in the middle of the country and one branch continues to Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, while the second branch goes north to Mwanza on Lake Victoria.
The route between Dar es Salaam and Mbeya in the southwest and on to Kapiri Moshi in Zambia is run by the Tanzania and Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) (www.tazarasite.com).
Trains get very crowded and theft can be a problem - keep compartment doors locked. There are three classes: first class is reasonably comfortable, with two- or four-berth compartments, washbasin, etc; second class in six-berth compartments is more basic; third is simple wooden seating. The dining-car service is adequate, but it’s always a good idea to take snacks and drinks as there are frequent delays and journeys may take a lot longer than scheduled.
Azam Marine (www.azammarine.com), among other companies, runs comfortable, air-conditioned ferry services several times a day between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar by hydrofoil (journey time - 90 minutes). Some of the services also continue on from Zanzibar to Pemba Island. You can obtain timetables and tickets at the booking offices at the main passenger port on Sokoine Drive adjacent to the jetty. Payment for ferry tickets is in US Dollars (cash) only.
There is a basic overnight steamer service on Lake Victoria that runs between the ports of Bukoba and Mwanza.