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How to take the TAZARA train across Tanzania

In this blog post, we will go over everything you need to know to take the TAZARA train across Tanzania (and Zambia), including how to buy a ticket, and what you can expect on this adventure on one of Africa's great railway journeys.



CONTENTS




 


About the TAZARA


The TAZARA is a railway that links Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, to Kapiri Moshi in Zambia. It was built in the early 1970s by the Chinese to aid the export of Copper out of Zambia to the nearest coast, which is the city of Dar es Salaam, the former capital of Tanzania located in the far east, by the Indian Ocean.

Two trains operate on this line twice per week, and the total journey time from end to end is about 48 hours. Zambia looks after one train and Tanzania looks after the other, so with this article, I am specifically talking about buying a ticket and boarding from Tanzania, although I imagine the procedure coming from the Zambian side would be quite similar.



 


Not sure what to pack for your African adventure? check out my article:



 


Buying a ticket for the TAZARA train

The trains leave Dar es Salaam either on a Tuesday (the older train) or on a Friday (the newer model). Tickets cannot be purchased online, they must be done in person or over the phone.

With very little information about how to buy tickets for the TAZARA train, we were unsure how far in advance we would need to secure our seats. We had also heard that the cabins don't allow gender mixing, and we were advised to buy a whole cabin (4 beds in First Class or 6 beds in Second Class) – if we wanted to stay together and have some personal space too.



the TAZARA train in rural Tanzania
the TAZARA train in rural Tanzania

 


How we Purchased our TAZARA Train Ticket


There seem to be a zillion phone numbers for the TAZARA booking office, and the one that worked for us was (+255) 222 861 163.

We called from Kenya, by loading airtime onto our Kenyan SIM and paying 40KES (20p) per minute to call Tanzania. The line was engaged the first few tries, but after 10 minutes someone answered.


First class was sold out (this was 5 days before we were hoping to catch the train) – so we opted for Second Class, and purchased all 6 beds in the cabin for £86 (260,000Tsh).

Please bear in mind we only booked until Mbeya, in southwest Tanzania, as we wanted to move south into Malawi from there. Dar es Salaam to Mbeya accounts for 22 hours of the 48-hour journey, so if you're going all the way to Zambia your tickets will cost more.

By the way, when I say 48 hours, please note that I have heard reports of delays for up to 8 hours, 24 hours, and even 5 days. The delays do not normally occur at the start, but rather mid-way through the journey due to the train breaking down, so be sure to plan your onward journey VERY LOOSELY.

The booking officer on the line took Joe's name, told us the price, and advised us to collect our tickets from the Tazara Railway Station in Dar es Salaam. This could be done at any point, but if you choose to collect your tickets on the day of travel, make sure to arrive at least 2 hours before your departure time. The train on Fridays is at 15:50.

We were given no reference number or text confirmation, just the guy telling us on the phone we were booked in, so we just had to hope everything was taken care of.

We decided to go to the station the day before our departure, without our luggage, just in case something had gone awry. The station is about a half-hour drive from central Dar es Salaam, and an Uber in a TukTuk costs around 10,000Tsh (£3).

Lo and behold we were booked in, and we paid our 260,000Tsh for 6 little ticket stubs after submitting our passport details. We were told to arrive 90 minutes before the train's departure time the following day.



a backpacker boarding the TAZARA train from Dar es Salaam
Boarding the TAZARA train from Dar es Salaam

 


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What to Expect From the Train Journey


The station was a very different sight the next day, with hundreds of families taking up every square inch of floor space. We were the only Mzungus that I could see.


We pitched up, and after some time a random guy came around to check our tickets. I was sceptical to hand them over and explained to him it was because he wasn't wearing uniform I didn't know him from Adam. He laughed in my face and told me to 'Relax', he was late for work this morning and forgot his uniform. This all turned out to be true.


At 3 pm-ish we all bundled together and started boarding, Joe and I quickly found our Second Class Cabin. Blankets are provided, but no other bedding, pillows and linen is reserved for people in First Class only. Our cabin had a charging point, a window that kind of opened, and a fan that sometimes worked.

The train also has a restaurant car and a bar car. The restaurant food is pretty decent and very cheap. Dinner was 6000Tsh (£2), coffee was 3000Tsh(£1) and breakfast was 5000Tsh(£1.50). Breakfast starts at 7:30 am, but T.I.A. - we sat down at 7:30 am and service didn't actually start until 8:30 am. The bar car did not tickle our fancy, so I can't speak to what that is like.

The journey is very beautiful, with lots of amazing scenery. The train is clean enough and the latrine toilets are fine. There is a shower but I really wouldn't bother, the train is so wobbly it wouldn't be an enjoyable experience. You do get thrown about quite a lot, so sleep is broken, but it's not too bad.



Boy in red t-shirt on a sleeper train with girl wearing Hokas
Chilling on the train

 

Extra things to bring when taking the TAZARA train across Tanzania


  • Baby Wipes – for a make-do shower!

  • Drinking Water

  • Snacks

  • Reading Material – there is no signal for almost the entire journey.

  • Toilet Paper

  • Battery Pack - there are charging points in the cabins but they didn't reliably work.



Our train arrived in Mbeya one hour late, at around 3 pm the following day. Mbeya is where we had planned to crash for 2 nights, and where we were due to hike to Ngozi Crater Lake before making our way into Malawi.


Overall taking the train trumps riding a bus any day, there's no traffic, and you can walk around, and lie down. We loved our journey on the TAZARA train, it's a great way to see a huge swathe of rural Tanzania, and all the cute kids in the small villages along the railway line love to run and chase the train too!



kids chasing the tazara train tanzania
Kids chasing the train as we passed through the smaller villages


 


Please let me know if you have any questions about taking the TAZARA train across Tanzania. If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post travel information and updates from my current trip around the world.

For more Africa travel inspiration, check out my post: My 3-week itinerary around Kenya.

Happy Travels

xx



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Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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