I researched a lot about the best budget way to get from Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania and our entry point, to the northern cities of Moshi or Arusha, where our safari was starting. Tanzanian buses are notoriously dangerous and have a reputation for being overcrowded, dilapidated, and unreliable. It’s nearly 600 kilometers from Dar to Moshi and we were just starting out in Africa, so I wanted to make sure we found the most professional company, even if it cost a few more dollars.
We found three companies that seemed legit: Dar Express, Royal Coach, and Kilimanjaro Express. After searching some forums online we figured out they all leave from Ubungo bus terminal early in the morning, with multiple departures per day. We needed to buy our ticket a day ahead of time to make sure we got a seat. This was not ideal for us since our hotel was far away from the station and we wanted to avoid an expensive cab ride or long daladala haul just to purchase the ticket. We decided to ask the staff at Econo Lodge, our Dar hotel, their thoughts on our best option.
Well, it turns our you CAN’T find all they information online and as we’ve said before, asking a local is always the best option. After talking to Econo Lodge we found out there was a ticket office for both Dar Express and Kilimanjaro Express just down the street from the hotel. We took a walk to both offices to get pricing and purchase our tickets. Dar Express still left from Ubungo which would have meant a 5 AM cab ride to the insane bus station, but Kilimangaro Express offered the option of leaving from their downtown office. This saved us cab fare, avoided having to fight through the crowds at Ubungo, and gave us 30 minutes extra shut eye. Win, win, win.
Our experience on Kilimanjaro Express was better than expected. The bus left on time (we’ve sat on buses in Africa for four hours after their scheduled departure so this is priceless), the staff was friendly, and the bus was in good condition. It was similar to any coach you’d find in the USA or Europe, which is not usually the case in Africa. Just beware, the ticket office will tell you the ride is seven or eight hours. It took us twelve. I guess Tanzania is cracking down on bus safety and the buses are subject to more weight ins, check points, and speed limits. All a good thing, considering the drivers are a little terrifying, just get ready for a long ride.
To wrap up, here are a few pointers for those looking to do Dar to Moshi/Arusha or Moshi/Arusha to Dar by bus.
You CAN buy your ticket on both Dar Express and Kilimanjaro Express at their downtown Dar es Salaam offices. Their offices are both next to the posta (post office) on Libya and Morogoro streets. Kilimanjaro even leaves from that downtown location making it much easier if you’re staying close by. We booked the day before and paid 33,000 TZS per person. The ticket agent tried to charge us another 10,000 for our luggage but we pushed back. There is a posted sign saying you’re allowed 20 kilos before you’re charged a baggage fee, so don’t fall for it! Even if you’re bag is over 20 kilos wait until they are putting it on the bus to pay the extra fee. No one once bothered us about our backpacks and I’m pretty sure the ticket agent would have just pocketed the extra cash.
Both the Moshi and Arusha offices for Kilimanjaro Express are close, but not in, the main bus station. Just ask any local and they’ll point you in the right direction. We booked from Arusha and were able to buy our ticket six days in advance. Again, it was 33,000 shillings back to Dar. On the way back to Dar they do NOT drop off downtown, but from their location close to Ubungo. Again, not in the station, but a little down the road, closer to the city. We were able to negotiate a cab back downtown for 17,000 shillings, or about $8 USD. Just beware of the taxi touts greeting you as you get off the bus. Go straight to an actual driver and negotiate with him and only pay once you get to your destination. The touts will take a commission, charging you more money or potentially charging you twice.
Kilimanjaro Express left on time so make sure you report 15 minutes prior from departure to get your bag under the bus and find your seat.
Seats are assigned and you can pick when you book. The earlier you book, the more options you have. We sat in the very last row on the way to Moshi and the very front row on the way to Dar. Both were totally fine. Depending on the craziness level of your driver, the front can be terrifying. Sometimes it’s just better not to know how close to dying you are.
They provided a cupcake snack, a soda, and a bottle of water throughout the journey.
There are one or two bathrooms stops on the 12 hour journey so drink accordingly. One stop was insanely clean and well supplied. The other was the exact opposite.