Touring Tanzania on a budget

Touring Tanzania on a budget is a mission possible. At the moment, international tourism in Tanzania, Africa (not only in Zanzibar) is booming. The hotels, hostels, lodges, camps, and guesthouses are full of tourists, the vast majority from Europe and Russia. Most of the guests are coming for a week or two, trying to escape the harsh European winter or the tough COVID 19 situation. There are enthusiasts like me who are in the country for months and prefer to tour and get to know Tanzania in detail instead of being stuck at a resort only.

Moving from a place to a place on Zanzibar island and on the mainland could be challenging because public transport, as we know it, doesn’t exist and if you want to save money but at the same time to get adventurous and to travel around could be quite tricky, expensive and even confusing.

I’ll try to summarize below my experience after touring the entire island of Zanzibar and most of the mainland. Upon my arrival, all that information was unavailable, so hopefully, my trial and error will be useful if you plan a trip to Zanzibar or to the mainland of Tanzania. Here we go with the most important feature. As a former member of the British Commonwealth Tanzania supports the 

Driving on the Left Side 

This means the steering wheel of the vehicle is on the right side, pretty confusing for a European driver. In addition, no much from the traffic rules left to follow in the shape we know it. The main tool to use on the road is the klaxon. I was observing the driving in the entire country and my conclusion is that the traffic lights are only recommended, the pedestrian crossings (zebra) are unnoticeable, the advantage inside the roundabout is optional. I had this conversation with several local drivers, trying to clarify the logic of Tanzanian driving. They just shrugged shoulders and said it’s the only way they know and are used to. 

Most of the streets in Zanzibar look this way
Rubble and soil regular village road

Bear in mind also the quality of the roads, especially in Zanzibar (on the mainland they are much better). Narrow, missing asphalt, big gaps, in the villages often no asphalt at all, mostly breakstone and rubble mixed with soil ground. So, long story short, I won’t recommend driving in Tanzania. If you want to rent a car anyway, please be advised that without an International driving license the car hire is not permitted in the country, even for a short period of time. What are the other options? If you are not on a budget and can afford to pay a fortune, then you can take a 

Taxi

And here comes the drama. There are no fixed rates for taxi rides between the villages, especially in Zanzibar. So, the taxi company or the driver will offer you the ride as per your looks. As pale your skin is, blonder your hair is and bluer your eyes are as higher the rate will be. In other words, if you cover the local’s impression of Europeans you will be unfortunate to pay more, of course, if you are not capable of negotiating. 

The taxi vehicles are white coloured

I already mentioned in my previous article “Zanzibar pre-travel hacks to know” the taxi ride from Zanzibar Airport to Stone Town offered for 15 USD dropped to 7 USD. Informatively, I asked about other possible taxi rides. For example, from Stone Town to Nungwi (50km distance to the North) the first offer was for 50 USD but dropped to 30. Absolutely the same from Stone Town, which is in the middle of Zanzibar to Kizimkazi (50km distance to the South).

To Kiwengwa and Matemwe (about 20 to 25 km from Stone Town) the taxi ride could be negotiated for 15 /20 USD. A taxi driver offered me Matemwe – Nungwi for 30 USD which is a non-sense because the distance is only 20 km.  Each ride could be negotiated! Never accept the first offer! Try to drop it by a minimum of 10 USD!

Well… let’s move to the funny part. Obviously, I was unable to afford to pay a fortune so was forced to look for alternatives. If you are not over picky, surprisingly there are three much cheaper alternatives that are not only a money saver but bring you closer to the locals, make you feel the Tanzanian spirit, and understand the reasons for the resident’s attitude. The first and my top favorite one that I already mentioned briefly in the article “Two days tour in Stone Town is 

Dala Dala

A few weeks later, becoming already a Dala Dala expert, I have some useful tips to add. I would recommend being at the Dala Dala stop wherever you are at about 9:45 am. There is a vehicle in each direction that leaves at about 10 am so you won’t miss it. As I mentioned already, most of the hotel check-outs are between 10 am and 11 am, so about 10 am leaving Dala Dala is perfect for you. 

Be prepared to have a ride with alive hens, dead fish, baskets of bananas, mango, and whatever fruits could be carried especially going to the South. In my opinion, the Southern part of Zanzibar is the poorer one, not much developed yet where the locals live in a very humble way.

I jumped on Dala Dala pretty often 

  • Stone Town to Kiwengwa 
  • Matemwe to Nungwi (there is no direct line, you should change the Dala in Kinyasini)
  • Nungwi back to Stone Town 
  • Stone Town to Kizimkazi 
  • Kizimkazi back to Stone Town 

I need to clarify a bit my previous price-related statement. It’s actually not true that each Dala Dala ride costs 1 USD = 2000 TZS. It depends on the distance. In some of the Dalas there is a glued to the driver’s cabin list with all stops along the way related to each ticket price. It’s unlikely to find such a list in the Dalas leaving from Stone Town where is the start point for the foreign tourists. If they have the chance to trick you, they will, and no one is going to miss that opportunity. 

Leaving Nungwi on a minibus

On my first ride to Kiwengwa, I gave the conductor 2000 TZS but surprisingly he returned to me 500 TZS. Of course, I pretended I knew it in advance. Then from Matemwe to Kinyasini I was already prepared to pay 400 TZS only and then to Nungwi another 1000. The last three cost me 2000 TZS each but it’s about 50 km distance each.

From Stone Town to Kizimkazi I gave the conductor 5000 TZS because I didn’t have a smaller banknote but kept staying in a begging pose with my palm open clearly showing him, I am expecting the change. In the beginning, he returned only 2000 TZS but I kept my hand high and told him I need 1000 more. He pretended to not understand but finally, I got my 1000 TZS back. 1000 TZS is only 0,50 USD and I was able to just forget about it. But the tricky mind of the locals always pokes me to be the winner in this cheating game and to leave nothing that is not well deserved. 

In the Dala Dala to Kinyasini

There are two types of Dala Dala. I already told you about the small truck with the benches but there are minibusses as well, especially for the long distances to the southernmost and the northernmost stops. 90% of them are in terrible condition, covered by rust, torn seats, making a grinding noise, windows and door not properly working …that made me hesitant if we are going to reach the final spot. Such quality of busses in Europe will be long ago stopped and rejected by the traffic police but here they are able to survive. I saw a few new ones, but I never had the chance to be on them. 

Lots of imported from China trucks and busses

The priceless matter of Dala Dala, regardless of their type, is the interaction with the other passengers. I loved it. You will find at least one English speaker that usually turns to a translator for the rest who becomes super curious about the solo traveling white lady in the cabin. They were just witnessing while a random person (who was not the driver) on my first Dala ride tried to trick me and make me pay the ticket in advance. The passengers were quiet, never take sides, and just observe the situation. If someone cheats on Mzungu (“white person” in Swahili) that’s none of their business. But if you are not easy to be tricked, then you may gain their respect, and they get curious about you. Especially if you are a white woman. 

In the Nungwi Dala minibus

This way I got plenty of information where what I have to pay, where not to go, what’s worth seeing, how far are the objects I want to reach, and why it’s better to keep quiet while someone is shouting or arguing in the Dala. Also, the men in Tanzania are not very helpful. If you carry a heavy bag and you are a woman that’s not their problem and they will usually ignore it. But once you catch their curiosity, they could help you get up or down your suitcase/backpack, hop-off or on the Dala, sit tighter to making another space for you, or treating you with fruits they carry in the bucket. All is about being confident and behaving like a PRO, pretending you are aware of all the little details of the Dala ride 🙂

I was horrified on my first Dala Dala trip to Kiwengwa but behaved like I am the star of the Dala Dala rides, the most regular Dala traveler, elegantly wrapping my head with an anti-wind scarf, solidly keeping the bag in my lap, and confidently explaining to the driver at which road sigh is my stop. Now I am laughing while I am remembering. 🙂 Dala Dala was worth it because instead of paying for a taxi about 130 USD (after the possible discount) for all my rides, I paid in total 4 USD for the five directions mentioned above. 

Boda Boda

I have no idea why it’s again repeated but as the locals explained to me that’s the Swahili habit to duplicate the same word. So simply said, Boda Boda is another alternative transportation but it works only if you do not carry heavy baggage or your bag could be fixed to your backside. It’s a motorcycle ride 🙂 I tried it first being in Kigali, Rwanda some years ago. In Tanzania, it’s the cheapest and quickest way to move from point A to point B. I had a Boda Boda ride in Kizimkazi, Zanzibar, and in Dar es Salaam. 

In Zanzibar, it’s easy to negotiate it, depending on the distance and your trading skills. I got it twice for 1000 TZS. In Dar es Salaam it’s even easier because it’s part of UBER’s offer (I’ll explain separately about UBER). Bearing in mind the traffic, Boda Boda is the quickest way to move as no traffic jams, no closed streets, no damaged roads can stop it. It takes always the shortcut and being a bit turbulent and shaky, I would highly recommend it as the cheapest, fastest, and reliable transportation alternative. 

Poa

I am sure you know what Poa is. It’s actually called this way only in Dar es Salaam but is most popular like tuk-tuk. This three-wheeled no window vehicle is perfect in case you are carrying up to 20 kg baggage and want to escape the hustle and the bustle of the city. Similar to Boda Boda, Poa is able to maneuver between the cars and the busses, to take the shortcuts, the pavements, and the sidewalks, to start first at the traffic light, and to safely drop you off at the desired destination. I like very much the natural air-conditioning provided through the missing windows. It’s super refreshing on the hot days and the view you have through the side gaps is one of a kind 🙂

Poa is kind of a motorized version of the rickshaw. There are different types, colors, and quality. Some of the tuk-tuks are upgraded and tuned. Some are at the end of their lifecycle and look like falling apart. But it’s my preferable transportation for moving around Dar es Salaam. Much cheaper than a car, you can drop the offered price half and most of its drivers speak some English. Of course, you should be prepared for cute tricky attempts but usually, they are made in such a sweet way that you cannot get angry at all. For instance, I asked my Poa driver to stop on the way to a supermarket because I needed to buy bottles of water. He said: “Sure, what about my water”. So, I bought him a bottle too 🙂

UBER

It’s available only in Dar es Salaam and no doubt, the application is the best way to move through the capital of Tanzania. Unfortunately, your attached credit or debit card is useless as all the payments here are in cash only. 

When you open the UBER application there are three options to choose in between: 

Car 

Poa 

Boda Boda 

This is how the UBER offer looks like

I ordered them by their cost (Boda Boda is the cheapest one). When you choose your final destination, the application automatically provides you with the route, vehicle choice, and the expected final price. You tick the choice, and the application connects you with the driver. It’s visible how many minutes it takes your transport to arrive and approximately how long it takes to reach your spot.

Upon arrival at the final point, on the driver’s mobile screen and on yours appears the price you should pay. After you pay cash and leave the vehicle on your mobile screen will pop up an invitation to evaluate the ride from 1 to 5 stars (5 is the max). The driver cannot trick you because you both see and follow the same route on your mobile screens, you both see the automatically generated price at the end, and the driver is eager to get your star appraisal for collecting max points with UBER. All you need to have is 3G internet to use UBER apps.

Boda Boda in Dar es Salaam

UBER lifts are most cases three to four times cheaper than the random rides and on my occasion as a solo female traveler much safer. Just download the application. Highly recommended for Dar es Salaam!

Honorable mentions

From Zanzibar to the mainland, you can move two ways. If you go to Kilimanjaro or Arusha, heading for your Safari adventure, there are daily regular flights from Zanzibar Airport, several times a day to both mentioned above airports. The price varies so I can’t be very helpful, but it’s in the frame of 100 USD round trip per person. Two local airlines fly it – Precision Air and Tanzania Air. I flew it with Precision Air, no complaints, quite comfortable. Less than an hour flight. 

Taking off from Dar es Salaam

From Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam are available flights and a ferry. If you are based in Stone Town more comfortable and adventurous is the ferry. The Ferry terminal is within walking distance. 35 USD for an economy class ticket, foreigner rate, one way. Fixed price, no discounts. There are several ferries a day (at least five if I am not mistaken). The first one leaves Stone Town at 7:30 am. I jumped on the next one at 9:30 am. I was advised to take the morning ferry because in the afternoon the sea is stormier and wavier.

The ferry ride is one and a half hours and drops you in the downtown of Dar es Salaam. All Kilimanjaro-named ferries are new, modern, and super comfortable with snacks provided onboard (at an additional cost). The view from the ferry while approaching Dar es Salaam is stunning and I enjoyed the smooth and refreshing ride very much. 

The second option from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam is a flight from Zanzibar Airport to the capital Domestic Airport (all Dar airports are at the same place). The flight takes 20 minutes only and is quite picturesque, operated by small 40 seat propellers. Here the discomfort comes from the need to pay for a taxi going to Zanzibar Airport and then again paying for a taxi from Dar es Salaam Airport to your hotel. 

I and the flight attendants were the only ones wearing a mask on this domestic flight 🙂

Please be advised that UBER’s Poa and Boda Boda are not allowed at Terminal 2 (Domestic Airport). But as we say, if there is a desire, there is a way. I learned this trick from a Poa driver. There is a Petrol Station called Puma in front of the exit of Terminal 2, not more than 300 to 400 m walking. Once you reach Puma Petrol Station, you can order your Poa or Boda Boda from UBER and get a cheap ride again within the city. 

I hope all the above helps, you enjoyed it and are already well informed about the possible transportation while touring Tanzania on a budget. See you soon:)

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