Getting Around Africa on Public Transport is Fun!

Most of travellers who have ever been to Africa would agree that if you want to have an authentic experience there, you should use public transport. It is the cheapest way of getting around and it is one of the simplest way to get in contact with local people.


public transport africa guide (Gambia)

Bus with tonnes of luggage on top, minibus with 25 instead of 14 people plus some chickens squeezed in a pail, shared car with bent roof and without windscreen or moto-taxi with radio … Which one sounds the worst and the funniest at the same time? Welcome to Africa!

Bus Travel in Africa

Even if you have already had a closer look to buses in Africa, you should know that not all buses are usually in bad condition. More expensive buses can be somehow comparable to standard buses found e.g. in Europe.

So, obviously, prices vary proportionally to their quality. Also, once you decide to take better bus, there will be less chances to wait for actual bus’ departure. Transport in Africa doesn’t run on schedule, but it leaves when it is full (full in the real sense of the word!).

Buses are the best option for long distance travel, as you do not need to change  buses and perhaps lose another few hours on waiting.


bus travel africaAccident in Kenya

Minibus or Bush Taxi

(Matatu/Dala Dala/Gele Gele etc.)

Is more or less meant for shorter distances (4 hours would be short). Usually is cheaper than bus, but ride is longer as minibus can stop to drop off and pick up people anywhere. If you want to get off, you can freely hit side of a car – this is actually a “stop-sign” in West Africa.

getting around africa senegal gele

You do not need to buy a ticket in advance – usually you give money to driver’s assistant. As you are a foreigner, they will try their best to give you the best seat. Hopefully also the safest (good to memorize: in front is the less safe).

Minibus station is usually divided from bus station, but in close proximity. It also leaves when it is full so it might happen you will have to wait for the whole day. Of course it depends on destination you want to go, time of the day and your luck.

DOs and DONTs in East Africa

Shared Car

Again you can find it somewhere around bus station. Especially in East Africa you can also join the ride almost anywhere along the road, especially far away from towns. But do not count on it too much, particularly if you are in the middle of nowhere, as you may not get a ride for many hours.


getting around africa guide


And again, do not expect too much, namely those cars are usually not in good condition, notably in West Africa. Open back or side window, broken windscreen, clutch, handbrake or speedometer are something usual. In the extreme case you can also experience a ride in a poor old car with few men sitting on the top of bent roof.

Boda Boda

Or simply boda is typical for East Africa, in Tanzania is called piki piki.  Motorcycle taxi for short distances, especially in cities and towns. You always have to negotiate for a lower price as you are the only passenger so they feel no pressure to lie you about the price. Anyways, this drivers are amazing!


getting around africa uganda


They can load hundreds of kilograms of luggage, so no worries if you are carrying huge backpack. Forget about helmets, so boda ride is not advisable for people who are afraid of motorbike rides.

Rwanda, where helmets for both driver and passenger are obligatory, is probably an exception. In smaller towns in Uganda, for instance, you can also find bike-taxis. Those are, obviously, cheaper, slower and less comfortable than original bodas.

About Boda Boda Name

Usage of boda boda started in 1980’s when Kenya-Uganda border was not open 24/7 so young boys started to use motorbikes for transporting goods across the border and back. That is why they named bikes “border-border” or with East-African accent simply “boda boda.”

Horse With Chariot

Mostly found in very small towns, e.g. in Senegal. Has same role as boda in East Africa, ie. short rides around the city. Price is so cheap that it is not even worth to mention!

More Facts and Useful Information About Public Transport in Africa

local transport africa guide

  • While sharing ride you have a chance to get in contact with local people and also get some useful information.
  • Number of passengers will always exceed the number of actual maximum “allowed” number. Squeezing, heat, uncomfortableness are indispensable part of almost every ride.
  • Usually you do not need to pay extra for (even big) luggage. It may happen that your baggage will get tied up on vehicle’s roof. Do not worry about it as local people know how to tie it properly. Also, there is no need to worry that someone will grab your luggage and leave with it. Anyways: always keep valuable things with you.
  • Forget about travel by train. Most of railway connections are not there or in bad condition. Except: Tazara Train that connects Tanzania and Zambia is in good condition,  then there is  a train  between Nairobi and Mombasa, infamous route between Cuamba to Nampula in Mozambique, both  recommended only to hard core travellers.
  • Especially in East Africa in most cases you can be served with food without moving out of your bus seat. From time to time vehicle stops and suddenly becomes harassed by many vendors with different types of food (chapati, meat skewers, snacks, fruits, grilled maize etc.) and cold drinks. Have your change ready and do not spend too much time on  decision what to buy as vehicle will not wait too long.
  • Burst tyre during ride is something normal. It may take long to get back to drivable condition. Also, during rainy season is more difficult to move around as some roads can be muddy and consequently hardly accessible. Vehicle can also get stuck in mud.
  • Driving during the night can be dangerous, literally. It is advisable to avoid evening or night rides. Some drivers simply fall asleep while driving and I think there is no need to explain what happens next …