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DalaDalas on the road

Everything you need to know about DalaDalas in Dar es Salaam – the ultimate public transport guide

The DalaDalas shape the picture of Dar es Salaam. The colourfully painted buses catch the eye. Each bus is a work of art. This adds to the special flair of Dar es Salaam.

UnboxingTanzania tested DalaDalas as public transport for you. We’ll tell you all about our experiences and share our knowledge so that you have fun on your first ride in the DalaDala. We also tell you how safe we felt.

We fondly remember our first DalaDala going from M/Moja to Buza. The M/Moja stop is in the middle of the city and there’s always a lot going on. When our bus stopped, the crowd got even bigger. It was more relaxed on the bus. The fight for the seats takes place in front of the bus and not in it. Whether seated or standing, there isn’t much space and it’s rather “cozy” on the bus – packed to the brim.


If you are really good at climbing a bus through one of the windows, you’ll have a seat guaranteed. That’s how they do it here. You’ll see.

First of all, it was a stop-and-go through the city centre during the rush hour. Then stop-and-go through streets bordered by lively markets. It continued with stop-and-go because passengers either got out or were picked up on the side of the road.

After 1 ½ hours we reached our final stop in Buza. During this ride, we saw more of Dar es Salaam than in the 2 weeks prior. We were amazed by the energy, the passion, and the dynamic that we could see in the life happening around the DalaDala.

On our first ride in a DalaDala, we were not alone. Local friends wanted to introduce us to the world of the DalaDala. Don’t worry, UnboxingTanzania gives you all the information you need for your DadaDala trips.

A bit of history

Until the early 1980s, DalaDalas were illegal in Dar es Salaam and all public transport was managed by the state. However, over time, there were fewer and fewer safe vehicles but still steadily increasing demand. Since 1983 it has been possible for private DalaDala operators to obtain a license. For a few years now, Tanzania has been investing more in the public transport network. For example, new roads for express buses are being built. On all other roads, the DalaDalas rule.

By the way, whoever acquires a DalaDala license is bound to the bus route. This is painted on the bus. There is a colour code and the respective terminal stops are on the front of the bonnet.

Why is the bus called DalaDala? There are various stories about the naming. The three we hear most often are:

  1. It is said that the buses were named after the proverbial “just a dollar”. DalaDala sounds something like dollars.
  2. In Swahili five is called tano. There used to be a 5-shilling coin called Dala in slang. And that was initially exactly the price for a bus ride. Today the journeys cost more, starting at 200 shillings – you’ll also have a coin for that.
  3. The conductor taps the driver to signal him to stop or start driving. Initially, the 5-shilling coin was used for knocking. Due to inflation, the 5-shilling coin has long disappeared. The DalaDalas still drive through Dar es Salaam. And the driver and conductor still communicate very well via knocks. Watch it.

What kind of buses are DalaDalas?

In Dar es Salaam there are DalaDalas of different sizes. Most of these mini-buses have a capacity of 25-40 seats. The door is on the left behind the cab and is always operated by the conductor. On the main roads, there are also bus lines with larger buses.

The condition of the buses differs. Many vehicles are lovingly cared for, but some are also neglected. The interior is always self-made. The rows of seats are installed to optimize space and also the driver’s cab is converted for passengers. There are no limits to creativity in the design of the interior, but also the pasting of the window panes. We show you particularly creative designs on Instagram.

Every single DalaDala is unique
Every single DalaDala is unique


On most routes, the buses run at short intervals. Sometimes it’s better to wait for the next DalaDala than to board a bus you are not comfortable with.

Smaller people can comfortably stand in the bus. But if you are over 1.80m (6 feet), you have to duck. A railing is attached to the headlining for the standing room. If you have to stand and your bag is heavy, you can also put it on the lap of a seated passenger – everyone here does it this way.

Where do I board?

The official bus stops are bays that are marked with a sign and are easily recognizable. These stops are even marked on Google Maps. If you have arrived at the bus stop, we still recommend that you wave to the passing bus with a hand signal.

As soon as you have your first experience with DalaDalas, you will realize that the bus does not only stop at bus stops. All people waving at the side of the road are picked up also.

The big bus stations are mostly the start and end stops, that are written on the buses. These stops are public hubs. Small or even large markets are often connected to the bus stations. Otherwise, you can also buy refreshments from one of the many street vendors.

Which bus do I take?

In a city as big as Dar es Salaam, there are of course countless bus routes. You know already that the start and end stop is written on each DalaDala. With a little practice, you can already tell from the colours of the buses which districts they go to.

There are no official maps of the routes. The best and easiest thing is just to ask. Ask your hosts at the B&B or ask the nice lady at the market stall from whom you have already bought three mangoes. In the beginning, we wrote it down directly because the names of the end stations were a bit foreign to us & sometimes sounded a bit similar.

When you get to the bus stop, just to be on the safe side, ask the conductor before you get on.


The fares are also painted on the bus. Pay attention to this before boarding. You pay in between or when you get off, depending on what the conductor says. When you get on the bus, you leave your wallet in your pocket – deep in your bag.

Prices for students and adults are written next to the door
Prices for students and adults are written next to the door

What does the conductor do?

He and the driver are a perfect team. The driver, of course, pays attention to the traffic, as befits a driver. The conductor gets off at stops and tries to recruit the waiting passers-by as passengers.

A bus conductor at work
A bus conductor at work

If a passer-by wants to be taken along, the driver is informed by the conductor by knocking. The driver reacts quickly to the sign and stops as quickly as. Another knock from the conductor means that the people have boarded. That is, the driver continues driving. The conductor also collects the fares from the passengers and ensures that older people get a seat.

At peak times, the conductor asks the passengers to move closer together. He meticulously tries to close every gap and get the maximum capacity of people into the bus.


Stops are usually not mentioned during the journey. But let the conductor know where you want to get off and that you need his help. He will make an exception for you Mzungu and let you know as soon as the station is approached.

How about security?

Of the modes of transportation to choose from, the DalaDala is one of the safer versions. Because of the size alone, you’ll feel safer in a DalaDala than in a Bajaji or on a motorcycle. In addition, the buses mostly run on busy main roads and not in small alleys. This also increases your security.

The biggest problem in DalaDalas is the danger of pickpockets. Not only on the bus but especially when getting on and off the bus. As described at the beginning of the article, it is often crowded when boarding the bus. Because there is only one door for getting in and out, the crowd when getting out is often just as big.


It is safer to carry your backpack to the front at bus stops, when getting on and off the bus, and also on the bus. You should also carry handbags in front of your chest, always having an eye on it.


We recommend that you do not carry your cell phone and wallet in your trouser pockets. Pickpockets often take advantage of the tumult when getting on and off the bus. Don’t hold your phone out the window for a good picture – chances are it will be gone.

Bottom line

We love the DalaDalas. A ride in a DalaDala is an absolute must for your trip to Dar es Salaam. We also love the opportunity to meet new people and start conversations on the buses. We learn something new about Tanzania with every trip.

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