The Tanzania and Zambia Railway Authority runs trains from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya in Tanzania's Southern Highlands and on to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. This line was built by the Chinese while Tanzania was more or less communist and some of the poorly maintained rolling stock is still Chinese. This is a notoriously unreliable train service, particularly west to east, and catering can cease completely, though the food is good when the restaurant car is open and food sellers throng the platforms at every stop. Without the railway, however, much of the Southern Highlands is hard to reach and the journey is enjoyable - staff and passengers are friendly and the line runs through some marvellous countryside.
Two fast trains a week leave Dar in late afternoon, and one slow train in the TIlorning. If time is of no concern and landscape is, take the slow train and break the journey at Ifakara, a leafy old trading station town eight hours southwest of Dar. This means a daylight journey through the lovely, verdant countryside west of Dar and the huge expanse of the Selous Game Reserve where the train crosses woodlands, grasslands and waterways teeming with wildlife.
'The fast train reaches Ifakara after midnight and, after some hours of darkness, offers views of the Highlands - the lushly forested slopes of the Udzungu Mountains towering to the north, the ranges, one after another, southwards towards Lake Nyasa. This train arrives in Mbeya at lunchtime. Mbeya, a major trade and transit centre, is set in low hills clothed in tea plantations, coffee, bananas and cocoa. I t is surrounded by mountains and the climate is pleasantly cool.
WHEN TO GO
June to February
TIME IT TAKES
About 24 hours on the slow train, 19 on the fast (straight through).
The Pugu Hills begin just outside Dar; the traveller is plunged straight into green, rural Tanzania.
Selous Game Reserve - in the daylight, elephants, zebras, giraffes, monkeys and birds of all sorts are easily spotted from the train.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Tickets must be booked in advance; sleeping cars are single sex.