Update: I did the trip (August 2012) in the opposite direction. See below for details.
It seems it can be done, but it ain't no picknick. I'm yet undecided as to whether I'll do the trip, but the below seem to be the options.
Note that the Scandinavia group (though still running a website) hasn't operated at least since 2009.
Kampala to Lusaka by bus and train
- Kampala to Dar by bus, via Nairobi. 30 - 40 hours.
- Dar to Kapiri Mposhi (ZM) by train. (There don't seem to be scheduled direct busses, but I'm not sure.) 45 - 50 hours.
- Kapiri Mposhi to Lusaka by bus. 3 hours.
That's five travel days, with a night's stopover to recover in Dar. Trains only go once a week (on Friday). And a visa for Kenya is required.
Kampala to Lusaka by bus
Update: the road between Sumbawanga and Mbala is so bad, there is very little traffic and no public transport on this route. I updated the itinerary below.
- Kampala to Bukoba (TZ) by bus. 6 hours. Operator: Friends Safaris.
- Bukoba to Kigoma by bus. 15 - 17 hours.
- Kigoma to Mpanda by bus. 10 hours?
- Mpanda to Sumbawanga by bus. 7 hours.
- Sumbawanga to Mbeya by bus. 7 hours.
- Mbeya to Tunduma (ZM) by bus. 2 hours.
- Tunduma to Lusaka by bus. 18 hours?
Six travel days, but sleeping in actual beds, whatever the state, every night. Annoyingly, not all connections are daily.
Parts by ferry
There's a ferry running between Kigoma (TZ) and Mpulungu (ZM) on Lake Tanganyika. It takes a good two days, but only runs once every two weeks.
It's also theoretically possible to do Kampala to Mwanza (TZ) by boat on Lake Victoria. This takes about a day but isn't really practical for onwards travel.
Update: Lusaka to Kampala (August 2012)
Lusaka to Kapiri Mposhi by bus. Mazhandu is the better bus company, more reliable, cleaner, less crowded, but also less frequent. If you don't want to have to take the 6am bus, but, say, the 8am, you have to go with Euro-Africa. Both charge 60000ZMK. Mazhandu takes reservations, you can pay in advance with Euro-Africa, but I'm not convinced this constitutes a booking. So arrive in time.
Kapiri Mposhi bus station to New Kapiri Mposhi train station by taxi. It's walkable, at only a few kilometers, but the huge hassle at the bus station, mostly an overly busy tract of land, means there is something to say for taking a cab. Watch your stuff. 10000ZMK is reasonable for the trip.
New Kapiri Mposhi to Mbeya by train. You can reserve the ticket at the TAZARA office on Lusaka, but there, they only sell tickets to Dar. The ticket needs to be picked up and paid for in New Kapiri Mposhi. 115000ZMK. Note that directly after crossing into Tanzania, paying in Zambian Kwacha on the train becomes difficult. You arrive on the next day, not unlikely a few hours late.
You could take the train onwards to Dar, from where you can take a bus to Kampala which goes through Kenya (Kampala coach) or one which goes around lake Victoria directly to Uganda (try Friends Safari, they should be able to hook you up, the contact details I had were soaked by... a bucket of fish in one bus' luggage rack).
Or, from Dar, you could find your way to Mwanza, from where it's possible to get on a cargo boat to Kampala or a bus or boat to Bukoba, from where you can connect to Kampala.
If you are traveling through Mpanda (like I did), you could get off the train at the border, in Tunduma. This, because traveling from Mbeya to Mpanda, you'd be retracing your steps, going through Tunduma again. Getting off in Tunduma would save you perhaps a total of six hours, but requires you to stay in the somewhat dodgy border town. And getting on a bus toward Mpanda from Tunduma might be tricky.
The train from Kapiri Mposhi is an overnighter. In Mbeya, it's possible to take a bus to Tabora, which is an awfully long ride, from where you could get to Mwanza, from where you could get to Kampala by cargo ship, or Bukoba by bus, from where you can get to Kampala by bus.
I took a bus to Sumbawanga with Sumry. Up to Tunduma, the road is fine, but after that, it's 225km of dirt road, all the way to Sumbawanga. The ride takes about 9 hours and costs 18000TZS. The bus has rows of 5 seats, is oversold, meaning some people have to stand, and every nook and cranny is stuffed with goods. I get a bottle of soda, a bottle of water and four biscuits from Sumry (the only time this happened on the whole trip). But there are no rest stops, except for a break in the middle of nowhere where everyone went to pee or poo in the bushes.
It's possible to get to Mpanda from Mbeya straight, at 32000TZS, but that's an extra 6-7 hours.
If you break in Sumbawanga, stay at the lovely and affordable Moravian Church Conference Center (no, I'm not religious).
Get your ticket onwards as early as possible. On arrival, I got the last seat on the next day's bus for Mpanda, at 14000TZS, from Sumry, for this 6.5 hour journey. Still, over half a dozen passengers had to stand. We stopped once for peeing in the bushes, once for getting a roadside snack.
The 7am departure does mean you arrive relatively early, but the trip itself was possibly my least pleasant bus ride ever; The road is in horrible state.
It's possible and more common to travel to Tabora from Mpanda. This can be done by bus and train. From Tabora, it's fairly easy to get to Mwanza, Dar or even Kigoma and Bukoba, though for the latter two, it's really the long way around.
There is currently only one bus per day going from Mpanda to Kigoma, on lake Tanganyika. Seats fill up quickly and the booking office was reluctant to sell me what seemed to be one after the last standing tickets. Not very pleasant for this 11.5 hour ride at 20000TZS, with Adventure Connection, departing at 6am. And it's only 300km. I somehow ended on the conductor's seat, with an armed guard next to me. "you know, for robbers". The bus was so full, i fear sardines in a can have more room to spare.
The trip goes through Kasulu, which adds a good two hours to the journey. Buses to Bukoba from Kigoma also go through Kasulu, so you could jump the bus there and wait for onwards travel, but Kasulu really has little to offer.
We got two snack stops and one pee stop, camping style.
There are currently two companies operating buses between Kigoma and Bukoba, Adventure Connection and Visram (which's buses say "yaa'ali"). Bukoba express is currently not running. The cost is 27000TZS and buses don't go every day, so you might have, or want, to take a break in Kigoma. It's the only place that can be called a town between Lusaka and Kampala, though Bukoba seems to have a bit more activity going on.
The ride takes 13 hours and typically leaves pleasantly unfilled, only to get packed in Kasulu and even more so on the way. We had one lunch stop and two quick pee stops, using the bush for ablutions. A good quarter of the road is tarred.
Bukoba is close to the Uganda border, so you can do the last leg to Kampala in spurts, giving you a more relaxed, later, start. But if you want to make the trip in one go, you have a choice of two companies, whose buses leave in the early morning.
Friends Safaris is one, and both charge 15000TZS. They take about 7.5 hours. Their busses leave early in the morning, the later ones (7am) wait for the boat from Mwanza to arrive, which can add an hour to your departure time.