Everything you need to know about the TAZARA Train

The TAZARA train runs from Kapiri, Central Province, Zambia, to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have taken it three times, twice from Kasama, Northern Province, Zambia to Dar, and once the opposite way. It’s about a three day train ride, and not terribly comfortable, but I 100% recommend it if you have the chance. The bathrooms get more gross as the train goes on, but the food is good and views, incredible. If you’re going with friends its like one long sleepover, but even if you’re traveling alone it is safe, and you have the opportunity to meet some really cool people. You’ll become very familiar with the people you’re traveling with. There is an express train and a regular train. Each run twice a week.

The Express train leaves Kapiri on Tuesdays, gets to Kasama at around 1am on Wednesday, and we arrived in Dar es Salaam Thursday evening. There are timetables online at tazarasite.com but honestly, both trains will be late, the regular train will be more late, you just have to figure that into your plans. Like if you’re leaving from Kasama, get to the station at 12:45am, but be prepared to sit there until possibly 3am or 4am. The Express train is newer so its also more likely that the fans and outlets will work on the train, but with all land travel, don’t expect anything. Bring batter chargers for your phone, and tank tops to stay cool. When I took the express in October first class was 236 Zambian Kwacha and second class was 188 Zambian Kwacha. SUPER cheap for a few days on a train. Highly recommend first class. I’ve ridden second class too, and while you get a bed, there are six in the cabin and it is like laying in a coffin. First class is 4 beds per room, with more storage space, and less smelly.

The Ordinary train leaves Kapiri on Fridays, reaches Kasama at around 4-7am on Saturday, and gets to Dar es Salaam on Monday. This train is usually more late than the Express as regards to the online time table. I suggest booking a hotel room for Monday in Dar just in case, but there’s a chance you won’t get into the city until early Tuesday morning. First class is 197 Zambian Kwacha.

Along the way you’ll get beautiful views of the Zambian and Tanzanian countryside. Truly breathtaking. I was sad when it was dark because I couldn’t see the views. In Tanzania toward the end of the ride you go through a National Park, and if you’re lucky enough to go through during the day time you might see some animals.

As far as food, I suggest bringing a bag of snacks and water on the train with you, but you can always buy meals on the train. The food is actually pretty decent. But you need cash. On the Zambian side you need Kwacha and on the Tanzanian side you need shillings. No exception. At the border, the staff, currency, and food, all change and if you don’t have shillings after crossing the border, you’re not getting any food. Luckily there will be money exchange people at the border, but I can assure you they won’t give you a fair exchange rate. But get enough for food on the train, and a taxi ride in Dar to an ATM.

So VISAAt the border the train will stop at a border patrol place on each side. So if you’re going from Zambia to Tanzania, the train will stop in Zambia, and officers will get on and go cabin to cabin and check passports and visas and stamp that you are leaving the country. Then the train will go another hundred feet and stop again. TZ officers will get on and check passports, ask you to fill out visa paperwork, ask for the visa fee, which for TZ is $100 USD that you have to have exact on, and some officers even made a fuss about the bills being newer than 2011, so make sure that is all prepared BEFORE you get on the train. They threatened to throw my friend off the train because she had an $100 bill from 2009. If everything is in order they will stamp your passport and you’ll be good to go. There will also be people going around on the train for people to exchange money, and to buy SIM cards (for you phone) and talk time (minutes). I would buy a SIM card and a talk time just for emergencies for the remainder of your ride, but I wouldn’t put a lot of money on the card, and buy a new one when you get to Dar from an authorized dealer. The card I bought, as well as the Tanzanian lady in the car with me bought, both started stealing our talk time as soon as we entered it. Obviously the card was being double sold so someone could take our money. Before buying a SIM card make sure it doesn’t look like its been used before, i.e. the card is punched out of the holder, or theres strange writing all over it.

Feel free to message me, or check out their website here if you still have questions. Like I said, I absolutely recommend taking the train if you have time. The adventure of it was just as exciting as most of my trip.

Crossroads Lodge – Solwezi

So this is one of those lodges I haven’t stayed at myself, but I have been there a few times to book rooms for my friends. It’s one of the more “upscale” lodges in Solwezi. It was wifi and a beautiful pool area. The hotel overlooks a colorful valley. The customer service is great, the only downside I’d say is that it is quite a ways outside of town, so if you’re planning on going back and forth a lot the taxi bills are going to add up. The cheapest room is 550kwa, then 750, and 800. I think there is some deluxe premium suite (or something equally as fancy) for more too.

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Kwahuwahi Lodge

Kwakuwahi Lodge is a beautiful higher end lodge in Mwinilunga located right on the river. It is a little bit of a walk from town, I would only walk it if you don’t have anything to carry and it is a nice day. The rooms are a bit pricy for the area, starting at 600kwa, but they have AC, comfortable beds, a view of the river, and televisions. The lodge is also a great place to go for a nice meal although their food options change daily depending on what is available, but I had the fish and chips and it was one of the best fish meals I had in Zambia. This could be a great romantic, get-away, lodge.

 

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Chobu Lodge

Chobu is another lodge in Solwezi that I haven’t stayed at myself but have had many friends stay there when coming to visit where I worked. It is a little off the main road and not as nice as Solwezi Lodge, but it is a good, cheap, safe, backpackers place. It is walking distance to town center. Rooms start at 150kwa and go up from there depending on whether you want AC, television, or different types of bed. The basic room has a shared bathroom but the 200kwa room is self-contained.

 

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Solwezi Lodge

So I personally have not stayed at Solwezi Lodge, but I have been there to book it a few times for friends. There is a free breakfast which I hear is really good, and the rooms are pretty decent. The front desk has very great, helpful, customer service. It is walking distance to Shoprite, and pretty easy to catch a cab on the walk towards Shoprite to go anywhere else. The room prices (as of August 2017) are below:

Double room – 350kwa

Twin room – 500kwa

Executive room – 600kwa

Executive Deluxe room – 1520kwa

 

Coming from the Copperbelt (the right of the map) into Solwezi, Solwezi Lodge will be on the left after you get up the hill after the bridge.

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Georgies Lodge

Georgies is an awesome lodge/restaurant for a getaway. It’s quiet, and along a different part of Mutanda Falls than what is normally seen. It has beautiful views, especially the sunsets. The restaurant/bar and deck area overlooks the falls. It had a nice variety of food that tasted great, and service was fast and friendly.  The whole grounds are filled with different colored roses so it smells heavenly. I didn’t use the pool but it looked clean, and the kids that were in it looked like they were having a blast. There was also a giant building in the back that looked like it could be used for weddings, or a big conference. They have kayaks that you could rent out, although if you’re staying the night it’s free, and we were told you could swim but it’s at your own risk. The water was pretty cold that day so we opted out. The rooms/chalets ranged from 500-750kwa. I stayed in a 550kwa chalet overlooking the falls with a porch, grill, hot shower, tea kettle and air conditioning. Georgie herself runs the place. She is an amazingly sweet, and dedicated woman. She even offered to pick us up and drop us off at the roadside before and after our stay which helped so much. We just needed to work around her schedule a bit which was no problem for us otherwise she offered to book us a taxi from town for 150kwa. We opted just to hitch hike to and from Georgies turnoff, which was pretty easy as it is a main road. It should not be that expensive. I stayed there one of my last weeks in Zambia and really wish I found out about Georgies sooner.

Georgies Bar and Grill Facebook Page

Georgies is the pink pin on the map. If you are coming from Solwezi you will go over the bridge, and straight at Mutanda. If you’re hitching you can either get dropped at Mutanda, or shortly past it is the turnoff to Georgies, I believe there is a sign.

Georgies

Elido Lodge

Elido Lodge is located at the top of the hill right before you enter Mwinilunga (The yellow pin on the map below). All the rooms have a beautiful view of the countryside. I particularly like the triangular shaped chalets, but the apartment style ones are a bit bigger. The rooms go from 120-160kwa. The rooms are clean. I don’t recall there being mosquito nets in either room so bring bug spray. The showers worked both times I stayed there, but the hot water was hit or miss. I stayed there in July and August 2017 so things may have changed since then. I really liked how it was in walking distance to town, seemed pretty safe, and the staff was very helpful, although they did not speak much English.

 

Elido

Featured

Where to donate this holiday season

It’s holiday time! Around this time of year I see a lot of people wanting to give back, or donate which is beautiful. There are countless organizations out there where you can donate to build a library, or adopt a child. Unfortunately with some, not all the money goes to good use, some is pocketed, or sometimes things are built without proper research being done. I’ve compiled a list of a few organizations, or places to donate that I have personally seen in action. People want to know that where they’re sending money to is actually receiving it and being put to good use. So here’s my own two cents. Happy donating!

 

Bakashana

www.bakashana.org

This organization is run by former Peace Corps Volunteers and my friends that lived in the village next to where I was staying. They help girls from rural villages with funds and a home so that they can attend secondary school in town. I have met some of these girls personally and seen how excited they are about learning and how motivated they are to finish school. The girls that are chosen for this program have shown commitment to learning, and would not have been able to afford schooling without the program. At Bakashana they also help with tutoring, computer lessons, and health education. Visit the website to sponsor a girl, make a general donation, or learn more. I’d also be happy to answer any questions.

 

Restless Development

www.restlessdevelopment.org/Zambia

Restless development is a worldwide organization. What I saw of it in Zambia is that they have local youth teaching youth which I think is awesome. They came to the school I was working at and ran a fantastic program. They taught my students about everything from malaria and HIV prevention to goal planning using music, comedy, and dance. The students were engaged and excited about the topics. I’d love to see more programs like this. Visit the website to learn more, see what other countries they work in, volunteer, or donate.

 

PC Grants

www.peacecorps.gov/donate/projects

Some Peace Corps Volunteers write grants for a wide range of things. Some have building projects for boreholes, or health clinics, while some have program projects like girls or boys camp. I participated in a girls camp, or GLOW camp, run by one of these grants and it was one of the best experiences I had in my service. The girls were in a safe environment learning about confidence, goal-setting, HIV, malaria, and sexual assault. It was amazing to see them open up about some of these serious topics. You can search through the website, there’s hundreds of places to donate to. I highly suggest donating to a GLOW or girls camp if you see one, or I have a few links below for volunteers I know personally working on a few different projects.

Allison – Northwest Province – Library

Jordan – Northwest Province – Library

Ireri – Northwest Province – Maternity Ward

Colin – Northern Province – School Block

 

Insaka

www.insaka.org

Insaka was recently started by a Peace Corps Volunteer that I served with in Zambia. He has continuously worked hard, and shown passion about girls empowerment and education. Similar to Bakashana, Insaka helps connect donors to girls, so that they can access schooling and higher education. Check out the website for more information, and to help a girl out!

 

Cheetah Experience

www.cheetahexperience.com

AMAZING place! This is a big cat sanctuary/cheetah breeding and research facility. There are only about 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild and this place is working to fix that. It’s run by a few extremely dedicated, big cat loving people from all over the world. They take care of these animals so well, and put their heart into everything they do. I saw them pull 5 all nighters to take care of a sick cat. As you can imagine, vet bills are very expensive for big cats, so a lot of donations go towards helping out with them, as well as food, medications, and enrichment activities for the animals. You can also volunteer! I paid to volunteer here for three weeks in October. To volunteer is not as expensive as some other pay-to-volunteer programs. As a volunteer you get to feed, clean up after, and interact with the cats. Some of them like the caracals, servals, and a select few leopards and cheetahs you can play, or even have a sleepover with. If you donate to this place I can assure you it will be put to good use. This place is filled with so much love. Check out the website for more information!

 

Toms

www.Toms.com

We’ve all heard that Toms does the ‘one for one’ program, where for every pair of shoes you buy they donate shoes to some child in need. I haven’t seen it personally, but I’ve had a few friends working in other rural villages tell me that Toms has come to their schools to distribute shoes. So that’s comforting to see that they’re doing what they said they were! If you have any shoes to buy this holiday season I’d consider getting them from Toms!

 

World Vision

www.worldvision.org

I’m conflicted with World Vision. They certainly do a lot of work. They are all over Zambia and always moving around. I’m conflicted because what they do isn’t always the most helpful, and I feel their donations could be used in a little better ways. I’ve seen them deliver 100 Lego sets to a school, which is awesome, but the school really needs books and chalk. I’ve seen them build a toilet at the school I worked at which was great, but we already had 5 toilets, and no one uses the new one because it was close to the teachers offices. They also came in once a month to play a Jeopardy-like game with a few schools in the district which was fun but it always interrupted all day of teaching, and was always right before exams when the kids should have been studying. What my school really needed was electricity, or another classroom, which we even asked World Vision for. So I can definitely say that World Vision is very active in developing countries, and trying to help out, but I don’t think what they give is dispersed in the right way, and there is hardly any research done ahead of time.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is the number one must see if you come to Zambia. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Entering the park on the Zambian side is about 7 kwacha for locals and about $10-20 for foreigners. There are curio shops, and little cafés right inside the entrance. As you’re walking through the park there are three trails… well four really. One goes up by the river before the falls, depending on the time of year is how far this trail goes. The main trail goes right in front of the falls, during high season you get SOAKED. Do not bring phones or electronics on this path, my friend lost his new iphone this way. They also sell rain coats and other bags to wear to stay dry but I think its such an amazing experience to just get soaked by the falls and to feel the mist hitting you. But I realize that experience is not for everyone. This path also leads to a bridge right in front of the falls, walk slowly as it is slippery when wet. It leads to an island/mountain/hill where you can get views of the Zimbabwe side of the falls, and the walkways on the Zimbabwe side. The second trail is more of a hike. It goes straight down into the first gorge to what is called the boiling point. From the bottom you can see where all the water from the falls comes together to push through a small opening. Seeing the strength of the water is truly incredible. Hiking this trail takes about 40 minutes each way. Bring water, and take breaks if needed. The third trail goes along the back of the gorge for more of a distance view of the falls. You also get a nice view of the bridge here, the one the first trail goes over, as well as the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Beware, we got to the end of the trail and there were men reaching through the fence trying to sell us bracelets, and to get us to come on a tour, it was a little creepy, so we just walked away. Another warning, on the boiling pot trail, and the last trail I discussed there are a lot of monkeys (baboons? Some sort of primate). They are known for steaking things from tourists, they’re definitely not afraid of people. DO NOT bring shop rite bags on the trail! The monkeys know that they contain food and they will be stolen from you. Hold on to your passport and wallet well when on this trail. The trails here are also not like those in America where there is a guard rail to keep you from falling off the edge of a cliff. You will fall off if you get to close to the edge and slip. I was trying to get a picture near the edge and slipped on the loose gravel and realized how easily I could have slid farther. Be careful and use common sense. The falls are highest in March-June, and lowest in October-January. High or low it is still incredible to see, it’s one of the 7 natural wonders of the earth and the pride of Zambia.