Riding the Tazara Train through Africa from Tanzania to Zambia

The start of our “year” of travel was a ride on the Tazara train from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia. Below is our journey, in photos.

The train is run by the Tanzania Zambian Railway Authority (hence TaZaRa). In the lead up to our ride we relied on seat61.com (a comprehensive resource for training anywhere in the world) and a variety of personal blogs. Notably there are a lack of pictures so I hope this photo blog will not only be enjoyable but also helpful.

Booking

We lived in Dar es Salaam for the year leading up to our trip and so we were able to book our tickets in person (the other option is through a travel agent with a hefty commission) one week prior to our trip.

On the good advice of many we booked a full first class cabin (4 beds for the two of us) at a cost of 104,000 Tanzanian Shillings ($50 USD) per seat. Total: about $200 USD

The process was simple and we were issued four small tickets for the Friday departure on the “express” train (the train only leaves twice per week and only the Friday train is express). The tickets are printed on small pieces of bolsa wood. Nice touch.

Departure

We arrived about 2 hours early and snapped this photo from outside.

As is often the case, our train was delayed for about 7 hours. Our train was supposed to leave at 3:50pm but we didn’t leave the station until the 10pm hour. A problem with the luggage car, they said.

No problem. It gave us time to check out the first class lounge (and I’m a sucker for lounges).

And you can tell we were eager to get started on our journey, cause we were early and the lounge was empty.

And we got to see the golden hour set into the station, which was beautiful.

We started in on the “heavy snacks” we brought along, which are a must, advice we continued to be appreciative of as the trip went on. And did some writing.

We also met some other travelers who we ended up hanging with throughout the ride and onto Livingstone as well. The station was active as afternoon turned to evening, with local trains coming and going.

And plenty of cargo spread across the loading docks.

Departure (for reals)

We boarded the train, quite excitedly, and found a cute, clean, and comfortable cabin #2 in car 1201, which would be our home for the next nearly 60 hours (you read that right).

After sharing much of a bottle of wine, we headed to bed for a fitful, sometimes loud, first night’s sleep. It wasn’t until the 3rd night that we realized the bottom bunks are most definitely more comfortable (and wider).

Day 1

We woke to the sunrise, about 6:30am, and fell in love with idea of training through Africa all over again.

And got our first peek of the cabin in the daylight.

There is power! 2 outlets (bring a converter) functioned throughout our journey.

There are reading lights with a dimmer at the “head” of each bed.

There’s a fan that swivels circularly and really does help some, although July is one of the most temperate months in East Africa (our friends who took the train in February had a decidedly hotter journey).

We brought a French press and hand grinder so I set out in search of hot water and snapped some photos of the rest of the train. To start, the hallway in first class with nice sliding doors to each cabin.

Squatty potty (each car has a Western style toilet as well).

Sinks for teeth brushing, face washing, etc.

Bar car (yep, he’s drinking a beer at 8am). Photo taken with permission.

Dining car.

Lounge car.

3rd class car.

And a panoramic of our first class cabin (second class tickets are about 70% the cost of first class and second class cabins have three beds per side–6 total per cabin–and the middle beds fold up during the day).

There is a nice small table under the lone window to eat, write, play cards on, etc. where we kept our coffee fixings and Bluetooth speaker. And where I finally got to making that French press.

The doors do lock as you leave (be sure to flip the inside lock and close the door on your way out) and you can ask the staff to unlock it when you return. We discovered that our lock was broken so we took our valuables with us whenever we left together. A word of caution: a fellow traveler had her bag stolen out of her unlocked cabin, so lock up or don’t leave anything you can’t bear to lose.

Mid-morning we decided to head to the dining car for a cup of tea. I wouldn’t describe the train as smooth but our tea didn’t spill.

As the day wore on we read, napped, and watched the country pass.

Midday we got a visit from our new friend Alex, from Germany, shared some yogurt, and told train stories. He bought one ticket and was sharing a first class cabin with 3 Tanzanian men and had a great time.

Day 2

The train was originally planned to arrive at about noon this day, but when we awoke we were still in Tanzania, about halfway there. It isn’t clear why we were losing time along the way, but it seems a variety of longer-than-expected stops and at least two periods of actually traveling backwards on the tracks likely had something to do with it. Sunrises each morning were among our favorite parts of the trip.

We reached the border at about 8am and purchased our Zambian visas for $50 USD each from the comfort of our cabin (they come to you!) and exchanged some money at a not-so-good ratio of 3.5 Tanzanian Shillings to 1 Zambian Kwacha.

Our food stores were dwindling by this time so we ate lunch in the dining car. Rice and cabbage, nothing special, for 15 Kwacha (you begin using Zambian currency after crossing the border).

The ice cold Coke was incredible.

Here’s the menu with both currencies listed.

And the rest of the day continued much as the previous. Some writing, reading, and chatting. Alongside some beautiful views.

Occasionally we’d get a nice view of our own train as it made wide turns in the countryside.

And over bridges.

And out of tunnels.

And alongside futbol games.

As evening rolled around we spent it in the lounge car with new friends, and moved to the dining car for some grub. It was nice to think that this time connecting would not have happened had the train arrived on time.

And we went to bed (on the bottom bunk this time) for our final night.

Arrival

The train rolled into Kapiri Mposhi at about 6am, over 24 hours after the original scheduled arrival. And the original departure delay aside, the trip was 56 hours instead of the stated 42.


We were greeted by the sunrise, our third since we departed.

Down the stairs outside the station we found a minivan direct to Lusaka for 70 Kwacha each (~6.5 USD) and arrived in Lusaka about 3 hours later. We had originally booked a hotel in Lusaka for the night before but cancelled it when we realized we’d instead be sleeping on the train (again).

After a very short taxi to the InterCity bus terminal and a wild process of choosing a bus (we ended up taking the first bus leaving for Livingstone), we were off. They told us the bus trip would take 7 hours but it was more like 9, with plenty of water and food breaks along the way. We paid 120 Kwacha each.

By nightfall we arrived in Livingstone, having traversed the widths of both Tanzania and Zambia by train and then bus over the past 72 hours.

Given the delays, would we do it again? Absolutely! It was a blast, we found the cabin (and train in general) in far better shape than we expected. The staff was polite, the toilets flushed throughout the journey, and there is just no better way to see the world than through the window of a train. Not to mention we made a host of new friends.

Enjoy the journey, post questions below, and comment with your own experiences and advice if you’ve been (or end up going)!

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