ZAMBIA TO TANZANIA: OVERLANDING AFRICA BY BUS
overlanding africa by bus: from southern to east africa
There is little to no information online about how to travel by land in Africa, especially using public transportation. I went on a 3-month adventure spanning 9 countries covering 15,000 kilometers from Namibia to East Africa. I spent a bit over $5000 USD over 3 months. A one-week safari usually costs a few thousand. In this second part of the guide, I’ll break down our itinerary and how to get from one country to the next. Overlanding Africa by bus is not only possible. It’s safe. It keeps you away from tourists. It is one of the best ways to authentically travel through the region.
Here is the list of countries we traveled through:
- South Africa
- eSwatini (Swaziland)
Since this article is long, I’ve divided the itinerary into two different parts. If you’d like to check out the itinerary starting from Namibia, please have a read here. The first part of the itinerary covers Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, eSwatini/Swaziland and Botswana. This second part covers how to do overlanding using local buses from Zambia to Tanzania.
How to cross the Zambia/Zimbabwe border
Have USD with you at the border crossing. We saw some people that didn’t and had to cross back. The taxi from Livingstone to the border crossing was 100 Kwacha for the two of us. Stamp out of Zambia. Walk 1 km to cross the border and get the visa on the Zimbabwe stand with USD. Then take a taxi into town. You shouldn’t pay more than $4 USD for the taxi. Around Victoria Falls, taxis were $5 USD per ride no matter where you went.
How to go from Victoria Falls to Binga
We ended up going to Binga because ChatGPT suggested it! We first took a morning bus to Dete for $8 USD. The bus was already there waiting when we arrived. From Dete there were tons of buses going in different directions. We asked for the one going to Binga. That was $6 USD per person. We left at 7 am and arrived at 4 pm. It was incredibly crowded but interesting, nonetheless.
How to move around Binga
This is one of those places where a car could come in handy. From the bus rank, we paid $6 USD to take us to our lodge by the lake. Make sure to get the taxi’s phone number so you can have a driver on the ground. There are overnight buses to Harare from Binga. Ask locals for more information. Or you can take a bus back to Victoria Falls via Dete.
How to get from Livingstone to Lusaka
The buses leave at 7 am and 10 am from the Livingstone bus rank. The price was 350 Kwacha. Some companies are more expensive than others, and locals will try to haggle with you. We had to wait a few hours for the bus to leave. Personally, I’d just take the bus that’s about to get full. The bus ride was 8 hours long with short toilet breaks included.
How to move around Lusaka
We paid 120 Kwacha to go from the Lusaka bus rank to our hotel. We just hired a driver outside of the bus rank. People inside were charging us 200-300 Kwacha for that same ride. Download Yango, the local ride-sharing app, for the best prices. There is no card needed and you can pay it all in cash.
How to get from Lusaka to Lilongwe
This bus ticket was 670 Kwacha. You have to buy the bus ticket in advance at the bus station. We used the Zambia-Malawi bus company. The bus leaves at 4 am but I’d get there at 3 am to get a proper seat. It was supposed to be 12 hours of travel but it turned out to be 17.
This was by far one of the hardest rides of the trip. There were NO toilet breaks whatsoever. Try sitting at the front of the bus so you can try to pee real quick if the bus stops. This is where a shewee would come in handy. Let the driver know you’ll be back so they can remember you. If I had to do this route again, I would take a bus to a town close to the border and explore that area beforehand. That way I can split the trip into two separate parts.
How is the border crossing from Zambia to Malawi
You’ll switch buses right before you get to the border. The driver will announce it when the time comes. The passport check for Zambia and Malawi are both in the same building. We had to wait 3 hours at the border. Get the Malawi visa beforehand. You can get the invitation letter from Soul Rebel Lodge and I’d highly recommend you stay there too.
How to get from Lilongwe to Nkhata Bay
Do not make the same mistake we did. There are direct buses from Lilongwe to Nkhata Bay. It’s a scenic route but it basically stops at every little village on the road. The stops were so quick that people would just get on and off. We spent another day without toilet breaks. This bus was 16000 Malawian Kwacha. You can buy snacks and drinks from the windows of the bus, but be quick and have small bills ready in hand.
We arrived at the bus rank at 8 am. We left after midday when the bus was full and arrived at our lodge at 10:30 pm. It was absolutely exhausting. Instead, take a bus from Lilongwe to Mzuzu. This route is quick and the roads are in good condition for Malawian standards. From there, you can take a one-hour bus or share a taxi to Nkhata Bay. This whole journey should take 7 hours max if you do it the right way. The buses to Mzuzu also get fuller much more quickly than other routes.
How to get from Nkhata Bay to Mbeya via Kasumulu
From Nkhata Bay, we took a shared taxi to Mzuzu for 4000 Malawian Kwacha per person. The bus from Mzuzu to Kasumulu, the Tanzanian border, was 13000 per person. We had to wait for the bus to fill up. We left our lodge at 7:30 am and the bus was full and ready to leave Mzuzu at 10:30 am. We were crossing the border by 5:30 pm.
How to cross the Kasumulu border
The buildings are all spread out so this border was a bit confusing. You first find the proper Malawian building to stamp out from the country. Then you walk across the bridge, and this should only take 3-5 minutes. You have to fill out the visa form if you didn’t get one online. People say the border closes at 6 pm but it was still open when we crossed. Plan accordingly. This was the only country where our temperatures got checked and we were asked for our COVID vaccinations.
How to get from Kasumulu to Mbeya
The bus rank is a few kilometers away from the border. Take a taxi to it. It was 5000 Tanzanian shillings. We exchanged a bit of money at the border to avoid getting ripped off. You’ll need the local currency for the bus and the taxi. The bus to Mbeya left as soon as we got on it. It was 10000 per person. In Mbeya, you can take boda bodas (tuktuks) or local taxis. These range from 5000-10000.
How to take the train from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam
The TAZARA only runs twice a week. It’s never punctual and the dates in which it can depart varies. Some people call it the cheapest safari in the world. Prices range from 18000 TZN to 53000 TZN per person (late 2023). It takes 22 hours but ours took 28. I personally loved it and I would highly recommend it. The bathroom conditions only have to be endured for a bit more than a day and it’s the experience of a lifetime. You can watch my full vlog here. This train ride deserves a full blog post and I’ll be linking it here in the future once it’s ready.
How to get from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar
The train station is far away from the city center. Expect to pay 15000-2000 TZN for a boda boda ride. Taxis will be more expensive, of course. From Dar, depending on where you’re staying, you can walk to the ferry station. There are two ferry stations in the city. Make sure you’re walking towards the right one. Ask locals or your accommodation for information. They’re in opposite directions.
The ferry is $35 USD per person. There are tons of people selling tickets, and a few of them run scams. Just walk a few minutes to find an official ticket booth. There are several companies and they’re all usually the same prices. The ferries leave 4 times per day from 7 am to 4 pm. There is no need to pay for first class. Regular will do and is very comfortable.
How to get around Zanzibar from Stone Town
The ferry station is right in the city center. You can simply walk from it to your accommodation. If you want to get to other parts of the island, take a boda boda to the bus rank. All prices start from 5000 TZN. It’s very crowded but I enjoyed the experience. If you want to save time, you can pay $30+ USD in total for a private shuttle.
Was this trip worth it?
I seriously hope this information was useful to you. The last 10 days of travel were extremely rough. I would do this same itinerary with more time. Instead of 3 months, I’d say an extra 4-6 weeks would be ideal. We were treated with respect for doing the same things locals do. People were helpful, welcoming and except for Johannesburg, not once did we ever feel unsafe. Only once, in Binga, did someone try to charge us $10 USD instead of $6. He got told off by other locals for trying to “rip foreigners off”.
This was the general sentiment during our trip. This is how amazing people were. If you’re new to traveling in the African continent, I’d highly recommend you check out this region. I’ll be creating more resources as time goes by. If you have any questions, you know where to find me. If you’d like more personalized help on how to navigate all this, you can always book a travel consultation with me here. Overlanding Africa by bus makes this region more affordable than ever before.
Hey there, and welcome to Go Global with Sibu! I’m a global citizen that has been living and traveling around the world since 2005 – all through budget travel, scholarships, study/work and living abroad opportunities. I share everything I’ve learned over the years here – to prove to you that you don’t need money or privilege to enjoy everything that this world has to offer.