Dala-Dala: Zanzibar’s iconic Public Transport

Public Transport in Zanzibar

The most common variety is the Toyota Dyna – a converted truck with 2 benches installed along the sides, along with a roof, luggage rack, and roll-down “heavy weather” blinds to offer up some protection against the elements. For those familiar with Thailand, this may sound like the converted pickup truck or Songthaew that can be taken well that’s a good comparison, except bigger! This type of Dala-Dala continues to make up a large proportion of those on the road, but the number of minivans and minibusses seems to be increasing.

Who are those guys?

If you find yourself at one of the larger stops – for example, in Stone Town – it can be very daunting to know amongst the noise and chaos what exactly is going on. 

There are two people operating the Dala-Dala: the driver, and the conductor. The driver wears a blue shirt, while the conductor wears a black one (although I have seen occasions where the driver seems to be letting the conductor “have a go” at driving when not around busy areas or where police are known to be waiting). Usually, the conductor will spend the journey standing on the back step and holding onto the roof or sides of the Dala-Dala, his eyes scouring the roadside for potential new customers. This is also the guy to alert if you see that you’re where you want to be and would like to get off.

Although there are obvious and accepted stops at the main destinations, a Dala-Dala can be hailed anywhere along the route that it is taking. Don’t take offense if you wave at one and it flies by without stopping – although the mantra typically seems to be “always room for one more”, from time to time even by Zanzibar standards the conductor and driver have to say enough is enough! If you are getting on the Dala-Dala at the start point of the route, the journey will begin when the conductor and driver think that enough passengers have joined you, or rather, when the bus is full. There is no set schedule for departures!

How much is this going to cost me?

Compared to taxis, Dala-Dalas are of great value. Generally speaking, there are two fares – short and long – with a shorter journey (e.g., from the airport to Stone Town) costing 400tsh, and a longer journey (e.g., from Stone Town to Nungwi) costing 2500tsh. If you have luggage, you will have an additional charge. It’s important to note that the conductor will take your money during the journey, and not before the journey begins. It will be obvious when to pay during this adventure because the money will start being passed along from passenger to passenger until the conductor is in reach. If this hasn’t happened before it’s time for you to exit the Dala-Dala, then you simply pay the conductor as you leave.

 

Our top tip is to try and have smaller denomination notes or coins, and to not try paying a 400tsh fare with a 10,000tsh note – and I’m sure conductors all over the island agree! 

Early to bed, early to rise…

Dala-Dalas generally begin operating at 6:00 am, although there are a couple of exceptions such as the route from Fumba that begins a little earlier at 5:45 am in order to reach the port for the first ferry of the day to the mainland. And for the main Nungwi route, I have been assured by Zanzibaris that this may as well be considered to be a 24-hour service – although obviously not as regular as the many vehicles running on this route during daylight hours.

Nungwi aside (as described above), Dala-Dalas finish their service at 7:30-8:00 pm, although again there is an exception, with the Kiembe Samaki (just before the airport) to Stone Town route running later into the evening until approximately 10:00 pm.

If you are in Zanzibar during the month of Ramadhan, it is very important to keep your eyes on the time. With Zanzibari Muslims breaking their fast just after sunset, you will struggle to find any Dala-Dala after 6:00 pm. Traveling by Dala-Dala around this time is also not for the faint-hearted – the driver will be driving somewhat faster than normal because he wants to get his last journey completed as quickly as possible so that he can go home and eat!

All roads lead to Stone Town?

On the front of every Dala-Dala, there is a place name or two, and a number. This number is also displayed on the rear of the vehicle. The smallest writing is usually the part that says, “via M/M”, “D/J”, or more helpfully, “M/Mmoja” (Mnazi Mmoja, the main hospital) or “D/Jani” (Darajani, the main market). This indicates the main stops in Stone Town that they are headed towards or away from. If there is no mention of these stops, abbreviated or otherwise, there is a good chance that the bus will not visit Stone Town and will instead pass by or stop at Mwanakwerekwe.

There is also another stop in Stone Town that is a very short distance away from both Mnazi Mmoja and Darajani that deserves a mention due to many Dala-Dalas passing by it and it is called “Tobo la pili”. This literally translates as “second entrance”, and was given its name because it is found next to the second entrance of some large residential blocks. This isn’t tremendously obvious or helpful as names go, but is just one of a few quirks on the island! This stop can be found on Karume Road heading towards the Michenzani roundabout.

Whilst we’re on the subject of things that are neither obvious nor helpful, it would only be fair to warn would-be Dala-Dala adventurers that portions of the route are somewhat at the whim of the driver and conductor. You may very well find yourself thinking you have this whole traveling-like-a-local activity licked, only to be taken by surprise the next day by the driver not turning where you were expecting! 

One of the best examples of this would be the routes coming from the south of Stone Town down the main airport road, where the “usual” route is to turn right at the bottom of Kilimani hill (it’s the only truly steep hill around Stone Town, you can’t miss it!) and head through the 1960s era Soviet-style residential apartments before turning left at the roundabout and then left at the traffic lights to reach the Mnazi Mmoja hospital terminus. Don’t be surprised if the driver chooses to not turn, and instead continues straight on! This saves valuable time off of his journey (especially considering the busy Tobo la pili area that he would otherwise have to pass through before the traffic lights) and if the majority of his passengers are heading there anyway, why not?! Those who wanted to get off before the hospital can remain on board and reach their desired destination when he sets off on the return leg, this time using the “correct route”.

Leaving the city and heading to the beaches?

The general rule of thumb is that if you are going to the North or North-East, you will be looking for the Darajani terminus which is next to the GapCo petrol station. For those looking to head South or to the South-East, you will need to first find your way to the Mwanakwerekwe bus station which is approximately 5km outside of Old Stone Town, and which takes around 15-20 minutes by Dala-Dala. Of course, there is an exception, which is the thin sliver of land south of Stone Town between the coast and the airport – this is served by various routes from both Mwanakwerekwe and Darajani.

On our map, there are three routes indicated with thick grey lines – the sole reason for this is that there are so many vehicles and slight route variations that it is currently impossible in the current format to indicate each and every Dala-Dala journey between the Stone Town area, the Magogoni area (Amaan Stadium) and Mwanakwerekwe. 

The place names displayed on the Dala-Dalas are useful if you are planning on traveling to one of those final stops, but not so much if your destination is somewhere in between the places displayed!

We’ve been pulling together a ton of information recently to clear up some of the mystery of how to get to some of the more popular destinations such as Kendwa or Paje when there never seems to be any Dala-Dalas with those places listed! (Spoiler: for Kendwa, use a Nungwi Dala-Dala, for Paje look for Michamvi or Jambiani). To our knowledge there has never previously been any kind of route map for Dala-Dalas, so after a few days of going cross-eyed staring at numbers and place names, and the frenzied yelling of those same place names still ringing in our ears, we are happy to present to you what we hope is a useful transport map to find your way around Zanzibar.

It is likely that one or two Dala-Dala routes may have not been recorded, but we will continue to update this map as new information is uncovered. If you notice any details that need correcting or see some details that do not seem to be covered then please get in touch with us and let us know!

Dala-Dala Map

We’ve been pulling together a ton of information recently to clear up some of the mystery of how to get to some of the more popular destinations such as Kendwa or Paje when there never seems to be any Dala-Dalas with those places listed! (Spoiler: for Kendwa, use a Nungwi Dala-Dala, for Paje look for Michamvi or Jambiani). To our knowledge there has never previously been any kind of route map for Dala-Dalas, so after a few days of going cross-eyed staring at numbers and place names, and the frenzied yelling of those same place names still ringing in our ears, we are happy to present to you what we hope is a useful transport map to find your way around Zanzibar.

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  1. Hello, nice daladala map you got there. Can I ask how did you make it. Currently I’m trying to see how we can improve the zanzibar public transport. I’m a native here. And those cc means I can use it right?

    1. Hello Ahmad, thank you! It took a lot of effort and time from Richard, who checked basically every dala-dala and their stop. We thought it would make public transport on the island much more accessible. You can use it non-commercially (!), as long as you credit us. Feel free to send me an email to discuss further caroline@wearezanzibar.com.

      Here are the official words: This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.