Nov 26 2013

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Lilongwe to Zanzibar

Took the TaZara train going to Dar es Salaam from Malawi. It took 30 hours, a little bumpy but still quite enjoyable. It went through a game park and saw herds of giraffes, zebras, etc.

You must do the things today that others will not do so that you can have the things tomorrow that others will not have.

What Happened to Me?

I am really bad at keeping this blog up to date. My debit card expired and my replacement card got lost in the mail so my website was down for a couple of months. But to keep you all posted, I am still having a great time in Malawi and am still very positive. I really feel lucky to be in this country. So much to see, and so much to do.. But it is also a small country so when you want to go somewhere around Christmas or New Years, most places will be fully booked. It doesn’t help that it’s also the season for “overlanders” to cross Malawi and stay for a few days. So this country becomes really busy. So last year, I decided to accompany my friend Gabi to Tanzania. She was moving from Malawi to volunteer in Tanzania for 6 months and work with kids. Since she had a couple weeks free before she started her service, we decided to take advantage of that time and explored Zanzibar. But getting there was a bit tricky since planes coming out of Lilongwe tend to be very expensive. We decided to take the train since I’ve had several people tell me that is a great experience and it passes through a game park.

How to Get to Dar es Salaam

There are several ways to get to Dar es Salaam but it depends on how much time you have. We took the long and more adventurous route. We took public transportation from Lilongwe to Mbeya (a little over an hour away from the Malawi border on the Tanzania side) and rode the train to Dar es Salaam.

You can also take a bus straight from Lilongwe to Dar es Salaam but most people don’t recommend it since it’s really a scary ride.

Gabi and I decided to break our travels from Lilongwe by spending a day at the lake. We went from Lilongwe to Mzuzu, then Mzuzu to Nkhata bay. Spent a day at Nkhata bay and headed to Mzuzu early morning to get to Karonga by noon.  We ended up getting to Karonga past 1pm and took a cab ride to the Songwe border. Then from Songwe, we took another cab ride to the bus depot. Then from the bus depot we took a small bus to Mbeya. The cost of the bus ride was around 4,000TSH (exchange rate at that time was $1 to 1,600TSH).

By Bus

Taqwa Bus (Photo Credit: Herman Fung

These buses leave Lilongwe at 7PM and it will get to the border at around 3AM and you will have to wait until the border opens at 6AM.

Last time I check the cost was 19,000mwk from Lilongwe

Taqwa Bus
Easy Bus
I think these buses are operated by the same bus operator

I heard there’s a nice bus that goes to Dar es Salaam from Lilongwe. It’s called Phundi Coach but I’ve never seen it. Just like unicorns, you know they exist but you’ve never seen one…

By Train

I recommend you take the first class but it tends to get full if you’re coming from Malawi since most people from Zambia are taking 1st class to go to Dar. So I suggest you call ahead and book. Call the Station master in Dar to reserve your seat. I don’t remember the actual schedule but I think the train travels to Dar twice a week. They also have regular trains and express trains. I suggest you take the express train as it has less stops but doesn’t guarantee it will get you there on time. You just gotta learn that you are in Africa and things take time here. As some of my Tanzanian friends would say “pole pole.. Pole sana”. I forget exactly what it means but I think it’s take it easy..

For more info, go to their site: http://www.tazarasite.com


First Class ~ $21

Sleeps 4 people with blankets and pillows

2nd Class ~ $12

Sleeps 6, a little uncomfortable since it can get a bit crowded. Blankets are provided but not pillow

Superseater ~ $8

Equivalent to airplane’s economy seatng

Contact Numbers

From Malawi:

Tazara Train (Mbeya Office)


From Dar es Salaam

Tazara Train Station Master (Dar es Salaam) – Call this number to make reservations coming from either Zambia or Tanzania. The operator will call the booking office

From Zambia

Tazara Train (Zambia)

By Air

You can find cheap flights from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam for as low as $20 (one way) depending on how far ahead you book.  To get to the airport, you have to cross to Mbeya first. This is a little over an hour by taxi from the border.




You can get the visa at the border. Please remember that the border is open from 6am to 6pm so plan your travel accordingly. The border patrol will not let you cross if you’re late even if they are still inside.

The cost for US Citizens is $100 (Multiple entry) valid for 1 year.

Exchanging Money

Be careful when exchanging money at the border! There will be plenty of people that will approach you and ask you to exchange money. Some of these guys are good but some will take your money and run away. Some will also try to rip you off and give you a bad rate. There is an exchange bureau across from the border patrol office. just go in there and change your money. There is also an ATM next to it where you can withdraw money using your Visa or Mastercard.

I bank with Wellsfargo and they only charge me $5 per transaction which isn’t really bad.

Mbeya Town

We didn’t stay long in Mbeya so we didn’t get to do anything except sleep and traveled to the train station the next day. We stayed at a place called “Holiday Inn” but it’s not the same Holiday Inn that we know.. haha. Far from it!

I recommend you get a guidebook for Tanzania as it helped us a lot in trying to figure out where to go and what to dot. I couldn’t help in that department as our guide book was in German.

Tazara Train

Mbeya Train Station

Our train was 4 hours late!

The sleeper cabins does not allow males and females to share the same cabin unless the whole cabin is rented. So if you’re a couple, you cannot stay in the same cabin, you will have to sleep in a separate cabins. If you want to stay together, you have to pay for the entire cabin or you can find fellow couple travelers and see if they’d be willing to share a cabin.

Anyway, the train ride wasn’t too uncomfortable. I was able to get some sleep and was able to walk around the train. There is a bar and a restaurant that serves traditional food and beers from Tanzania. There is also a shower in the first class car but anyone can use it.

CAUTION: When you leave your cabin, make sure to lock your windows as people tend to climb up and steal items that are left unattended when the train stops.

The train passes through a game park so on our way we saw herds of giraffes, elephants and I saw a hyena. If you’re not in a hurry, I definitely recommend taking the train. The train stops in certain areas that sells roasted cashews at a really cheap price.

Taxis in Dar es Salaam

Your train will most likely arrive at night so it’s good to have your ride pre-arranged. If not, there are plenty of taxi’s outside of the train station. You have to be very careful when jumping into a taxi. Make sure it’s a licensed taxi which usually are white cars with a stripe on the sides. The train station will have posters that shows you what a licensed taxi looks like. Both sides of the door will have numbers on them inside a circle. See picture below:

Photo Credit: Google images

Lucky for us, we didn’t have to worry about this as the organization that Gabi was volunteering for arranged everything for us. We were advised to lock our doors and never open the windows. Dar is a it sketchy at night so be careful.

Getting to Zanzibar

You can either take a plane or a fast ferry to the island. We took the ferry and the cost at that time was $35. I recommend taking the Azam ferry as they are newer and more reliable. It takes 90 minutes to get to Stone Town.

Azam Ferry (Photo Credit: Azam Marine)

Azam Marine Ferry

If you need to get in contact with the terminal:
Dar Es Salaam – P.o.Box 2517 – Tel: +255 22 2123324
Zanzibar – P.o.Box 744 – +255 24 2231655


Zanzibar Island

View from the Azam Ferry approaching Stone Town

Taken at Kendwa Rocks

We stayed at Les Toits de Palme in Kendwa Rock

We really enjoyed our stay here and I have not met anyone who did not enjoy Zanzibar. This place is a place to get away from everything.. Mostly the internet. I recommend going to the night market in Stone Town and try the famous Zanzibar pizza and the grilled seafood. Don’t bother going to restaurants at night. If you want to experience the town, don’t skip out on the night market. I also recommend jumping off the pier! It was really fun! I have so much pictures to upload but my internet is really slow. I only have 6 more months left before going back home so I’ll do it then 🙂

Anyway, I will write about my experience in Zanzibar when i go back to Zanzibar.. Soon soon! I’ll try to upload my photos soon.

Until then… Tiwonana!


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  1. Herman

    Good info John!
    Luxury coach to Dar… Definitely a #unicorn…

    1. jesplana

      Haha.. I will find it! Found a unicorn once, but I wasn’t sure it was a unicorn so it doesn’t really count…

  2. Tayani

    Great read JME! i was in Dar last week and I plan for a trip to Zanzibar sometimes soon…hopefully.

    1. jesplana

      Oh man, you gotta go to Zanzibar! Too bad your travels are usually not planned.

  3. Rylene

    Very helpful info John Mark. I’ve been seating here all day in Area 6,LLW contacting numbers that I got online for TAZARA and none worked until I got the right info from your blog. I have almost given up and was already planning to go get Taqwa tickets tomorrow. Salamat.

    1. jesplana

      Hi Rylene! Glad it helped! haha.. Sorry for the late reply. I haven’t checked my blogged in a while. haha

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