Tazara Train, the Journey
So you're all packed up, you have your tickets, and you are gearing up for your unforgettable journey on the Tazara Train! We wanted you to have one last helpful article to fully prepare you for your next 45-60+ hour journey through the landscapes of Africa. And if you want to know more about our personal experience in August 2016, you can read all about it here!
The Train Station in Dar es Salaam
If you have reserved your tickets over the phone, you should plan on getting to the train station in Dar es Salaam two hours early (we took a cab. The public buses are known to be delayed and we didn't want to risk it). Once you walk through the doors, the ticket counter will be on your left. Make sure you have cash and of course your passport in order to collect your tickets.
Next, you'll make your way upstairs where you will see an open waiting room filled with seats. If you have booked out a first class sleeper cabin, you can also wait in the first class lounge. While it may not be the United Mileage Plus lounge (not that we have ever been), we decided to take the "upgrade."
You'll know when it's time to start boarding as there will be a mad dash for the train. Brian and I were half expecting someone to alert us and let us know we could start the process but that never happened. Just a heads up, it was a bit chaotic. But no worries, just take your time and head out to the platform. There are around 3 first class cars and your cabin number will be written in pen on your tickets (and if it's not just ask the agent when you pick them up). It was much smoother than I expected.
We were on the Mukuba Express train which uses new Chinese built cars, and I can tell you, we were really impressed. I'm not sure how much of a difference there is with the Kilimanjaro Ordinary train, but I know they are said to be a little more rundown. Each first class cabin has 4 sleeping births, a pillow, a flat sheet, and a heavy blanket. There is a table in the middle, electrical outlets, reading lamps, and even a small fan. And the windows open! We decided to put all of our belongings on the top bunks and make the bottom bunks home for the next 45 hours.
A little tip. We slept with the window open the first night because we both enjoy cooler temps and fresh air while we sleep, but when we woke up, we realized we made a big mistake. We were covered in soot and debris that had blown in during the night. It was so bad that I had to ask for a mop and clean the whole cabin (confession: I love cleaning and ended up mopping our entire car throughout our journey which landed me the nickname of Crazy Mop Lady amongst the locals. I didn't mind one bit).
Tazara train is made up of around 3 first class sleeper cabins (4 berths), 3 second class sleeper cabins (6 berths), super seater with 1 person per seat, and finally third class which is shared seating. You also have a dining and bar cart, both a western and non-western style bathroom, and a sink room.
On our first night, the bar car turned into a giant party! A woman even pawned me off to another guy for free beer and kept telling me, "Marriage? No problem!" Free Kilis for everyone!
Each train has a similar corridor with windows so you can look out onto the beautiful landscape as you take rather bumpy single track railway through Africa.
The food on Tazara isn't terrible, but it's also not great. We also highly recommend you bring extra water and snacks as we have heard lots of stories of the train running out of water and food during long delays (sometimes over 60 hours). The only thing Tazara ran out of during our trip were Safari beers (typical) but no worries, there were plenty of Kilis, Castles, and Mosis to quench everyones' thirsts.
We took our trip from Dar es Salaam and ended in New Kapiri-Mposhi. If you are headed in this direction you are most likely going to Lusaka followed by Livingstone (we were staying in Lusaka where we would later head out for our Safari. You can read about our safari here and here!).
We didn't see any sort of transportation outside the train station but I've talked to some folks who have and paid around $8 USD for a 3 hour bus ride to Lusaka. We, on the other hand, walked 30 minutes with our luggage to the Kapiri Mposhi main bus station where we were overwhelmed by people and various modes of transportation. We were told to take the big charter buses to Lusaka and avoid the mini buses...but 5 hours later, we ended up in Lusaka via a minibus!
So Why Take the Tazara Train?
I know what you may be thinking: broken down trains, 60+ hours, the food situation! So why even consider Tazara? Well, the fact that you have landed on this (and many other) websites regarding information on the Tazara train means that you already have the adventurous spirit in you.
Sure, we sound like a broken record, but taking the Tazara train was one of the highlights of our year long trip around the world. The sights, the smells, the people, and the journey were some of our greatest memories. Traveling Africa by train is an experience like no other, and we hope that this guide has helped you prepare both mentally and physically for your upcoming travels. And if you still need more convincing, here are a few more pictures of sunsets, sunrises, landscapes, and the sights of Africa you will experience on your journey with Tazara. Plus we've included a little bonus video for you too! Bon Voyage!