Friday 8 November 2013

Viven : How we crossed from Tanzania to Zambia

Dear Viven,

Here we go again! After arriving in Tanzania in mid-August it was time to either get a one-month renewal, or leave. We’ll be back, as there are still quite a few things on the to-do list – Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, Zanzibar, Ngorogoro, to name a few – but this won’t be a there-and-back excursion. Our plans took some shape on the long train journey (the 41-hour ‘express’ train from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi turned out to take 69 hours), and our current plan is to visit Victoria Falls on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides before heading into Zimbabwe, and then to the Mozambican coast. We’ll return to Tanzania direct, perhaps through Malawi, or if time is tight, by plane.

This was our first illegal crossing, though that wasn’t our intention. The immigration official skipped the whole front of the train, assuming there wouldn’t be any foreigners not in sleeper cars, and so we spent a good 36 hours without the consent or knowledge of our hosts. It turned out fine, and we got to our destination intact, though a little tired; after the three-day train journey, we got immediately onto two buses: one for three hours to Lusaka, and the other for eight hours to Livingstone. Gate to gate, that’s 80 hours on the go, mostly sitting down. For this trip at least, that’s got to be a record.

We are one British and one Canadian. This letter is accurate as of the day we arrived in Livingstone, Zambia, in the early hours of Saturday 9 November 2013.

Visas are required to enter Zambia, but were available for purchase on arrival. An immigration officer issued visas onboard the train at the Tunduma border crossing, but for some reason skipped our carriage (perhaps because foreigners were not expected to ride for so long in the seats-only carriages). As a result we had to wait until arriving at Kapiri Mposhi, the train’s destination, to acquire the visas and properly enter the country. There was no hassle, request for bribes or anything but smiles in the Immigration Office, and after 15 minutes we walked out with fresh US$50 single-entry, 14-day visa stickers in our passports. The process is just as fast, simple and costly onboard the train, according to others we later met.

Swahili is Tanzania’s lingua franca with English relegated to upper government, higher education and tourism. It is rarely spoken outside of the major centres. In Zambia, English is the principal national tongue. Though the everyday tribal languages, such as Bemba, Nyanja and Lozi, are more often heard among the locals, English is the linguistic glue which transcends old tribal boundaries and operates business. Thus, all signs and government information are in English, and most people speak at least some.

Tanzania uses the shilling (TSH) and Zambia uses its own kwacha (ZMK). On 1 January 2013 the new kwacha was issued by Zambia’s central bank, and by the time of our travel in the country it had completely replaced the old currency. One new kwacha is worth one thousand old kwachas, which effectively lops off three zeroes from all transactions and makes the currency much more manageable. The new kwacha is valued at ZMK 1 = US$0.18, or ZMK 1 = TSH 289.74. Because neither shillings nor kwachas are allowed outside their countries of origin we were unable to exchange any currency prior to arrival. It was necessary for us to make a deal with a money changer who came onboard at the border, because we needed money to buy food and transport at least as far as Lusaka, where there is an ATM at the InterCity bus station. We gave TSH 100,000 in return for ZMK 300 – or, a rate of ZMK 1 = TSH 333.33.

There are numerous Visa- and Mastercard-enabled ATMs in Lusaka and Livingstone, and given Zambia’s relatively advanced state of development, probably elesewhere as well.

The Route
We traveled by train overland through Tanzania, going southwest of Dar es Salaam via Makambako and Mbeya and crossing into Zambia at Tunduma. In Zambia we continued southwest to the centre of that country’s figure-eight shape, via Serenje and Mpaki, to Kapiri Mposhi. From there we continued south and west via the capital, Lusaka, until arriving at Livingstone on the Zambezi River.

Our Means of Travel
We traversed the 1850km distance between Dar es Salaam and Kapiri Mposhi by the TAZARA Railway, a shared project between Tanzania and Zambia dating from Chinese partnership in the 1970s. The train departed the TAZARA station in Dar es Salaam (located between the airport and the city centre) at 3:45pm on Tuesday 5 November and arrived 28 hours late to Kapiri Mposhi, at 11:45am on Friday 8 November. We paid TSH 78,700 (about US$49) each for a second-class seat. We then took a minibus from Kapiri Mposhi to Lusaka, and it took us straight to the InterCity coach station (3 hours, ZMK 35, fares negotiable). From there we travelled by coach to Livingstone (8 hours, ZMK 112 each, fares set).

We booked the TAZARA journey in person one day in advance, after failing to arrange anything over the phone (it was the weekend) or online. By the way, The Man in Seat 61 provides excellent details including telephone numbers for the train journey here. We visited the TAZARA station on the afternoon of Monday 4 November. The only tickets left for the next day’s departure were 2nd-class seating, while there were sleepers available for the Friday departure. Neither of the buses in Zambia were arranged in advance.

At the moment, TAZARA trains depart Dar es Salaam every Tuesday and Friday. The Tuesday departure is an express service, and should take 41 hours. The ordinary Friday service has more frequent stops is supposed to take 48 hours.

Here is a list of fares as given by the ticket agent at the TAZARA station in Dar es Salaam:

1st class (sleeper) – TSH 104,000
2nd class (sleeper) – TSH 84,600
2nd class (seating) – TSH 78,700
3rd class (seating) – TSH 72,600

1st class (sleeper) – TSH 86,500
2nd class (sleeper) – TSH 70,600
2nd class (seating) – TSH 65,600
3rd class (seating) – TSH 60,500

Apparently, 1st class passengers had dinner served to them in their cabins, which could be reserved for a couple. 2nd class sleeper passengers shared six-bunk cabins with others, while 2nd class seats were wider and more comfortable than those in 3rd class. Most passengers took the train for shorter distances (say, Dar es Salaam to Mbeya, or Tunduma to Mpaki), and I did not see anyone complete the full journey in 3rd class. We were the only westerners who went all the way to Kapiri Mposhi in seats.

There are minibuses and cars waiting outside Kapiri Mposhi station waiting to take passengers on, usually to Lusaka. Fares are totally negotiable. The buses will go on to the Kapiri Mposhi bus station afterwards to pick up more passengers until absolutely full, so be prepared for a crowd. It is possible to hire a car as a taxi all the way to Lusaka, and we met four travelers who paid ZMK 70 each (280 total) for the privilege.

Lusaka InterCity bus station, where the minibuses from Kapiri Mposhi will terminate, is a very large and busy terminal with services throughout Zambia, and to Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa (there is a dedicated bus to Johannesburg). There is plenty of food and shops as well as toilets. All tickets are booked at one of the counters for set rates, and the coaches are comfortable and air-conditioned (sometimes too much so). Several companies operate a service to Livingstone. Because we arrived at 3:30pm, we missed all the coaches except for those run by the Mazhandu Family Bus Service. Their daily services to Livingstone depart at 6am, 7am, 9am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 2pm, 4:30pm, and 7pm. No other provider runs coaches to Livingstone past 2:30pm.

The Border
We arrived at the Tanzania-Zambia border at 3:50am. At 4am a Tanzanian official came by to give us exit stamps. He was quick and didn’t say a word. A money changer came by about the same time. At 5am the train moved a few minutes across the border, and at 5:45am we departed. No official came through our carriage, despite being assured by TAZARA staff that we did not have to move or get off the train. We assumed the officials didn’t want to get up so early, and that they’d be waiting for us at the station. We spoke with others in the sleeping compartments, however, who said they were able to purchase visas and get stamps, painlessly, once the train had arrived on the Zambian side.

As a result, we spent 36 hours illegally in Zambia. At Kapiri Mposhi station we went around the main building to the immigration office (a two-room suite) and received our visas and entry stamps without issue, and within 15 minutes. We were asked how long we wanted to say and said two weeks, but we could have asked for more (perhaps up to 90 days). Had we arrived in the middle of the night, we likely would have had to wait until morning.

What We Needed

In Dar es Salaam
  • TSH 157,400 for two 2nd class seating tickets
  • Half an hour waiting in the lobby queues, 45 minutes waiting on the train prior to departure
On the train
  • 69 hours worth of time-killing: books, music, playing cards, chit-chat, etc.
At the border
  • Passports
  • US$50 each for single-entry visas

So, long but straightforward.  It’s good to be back on the road.

Happy trails,


This train derailment was one of the causes of our delay 
Lusaka InterCity bus station 
The bus preacher, Lusaka-Livingstone