Are you planning on visiting East Africa? Are you eager to see the Great Rift Valley, and the animals that live here? The best part about a road trip through East Africa is how much you can see in just one week – there are few places on earth as rich in wildlife as this.
Kenya, Tanzania & Burundi are three of the most popular destinations in East Africa. This is a road tour that will give you a taste of each.
Do you need a visa?
For many people, obtaining a visa can be the hardest part of any trip. The good news here is that Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi are members of EAC (East African Community), which means that you don’t necessarily need a visa if you are a citizen of the member countries. You may need proof of yellow fever vaccination, your passport and a negative PCR test – COVID-19 test (at the time of posting this article).
Although it is possible to get a visa on arrival, it is better to check the visa requirements for each destination in advance.
We recommend that you check out the official website of your destination before you book a trip. This will allow you to work out which entry requirements and visa options are most suitable for your situation.
Do you need a guide?
There are many different reasons why people choose to hire a guide, but as long as they have experience and are licensed we highly recommend that you do. They will help you identify the animals and birds around you, and give you a deeper understanding of each destination.
Do you need a car?
If you do not want to rely solely on buses, we recommend that you hire a car for your trip. They are more comfortable and allow you to get off on the side of the road when you want. However, make sure that your vehicle has air conditioning as some drive from one destination to another and the temperature can change quickly in East Africa.
On this trip, we will be using a mid-size SUV with air conditioning (preferably automatic). This will take you through three countries (Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi) on the road from Nairobi to Bujumbura through Mwanza. You should also consider possible driving times between destinations and whether or not you will leave in the early morning or late at night.
We recommend a mid-size SUV, with automatic transmission (for ease of driving), air conditioning and power steering.
Depending on your preferences and budget, there are different options available in terms of car hire.
A small vehicle will allow you to explore the local villages and towns, but you will struggle to fit in more than 4-5 people. On the other hand, a larger vehicle with a bigger engine (recommended) will enable you travel up to speed and make traveling long distances more comfortable.
Why not book a guided tour?
If you are looking for a tour that includes hotels and meals (similar to a package holiday), then this is not the right trip for you. However, if you want to explore wildlife in Africa and learn about the culture of East Africa as you go, it could be the perfect match for you.
Can we start?
Yes, you can start on any day. However, we recommend that you leave on a Monday so that you have more free time during the weekend. This will also help you to avoid busiest periods at some of the parks/ reserves as there are less people in transit when leaving on weekdays.
We have a descriptive video of this 7-day road tour traversing three countries from Kenya to Burundi through Tanzania. Watch the video to enjoy the views and get tips on how to travel on a budget, what you need to carry with you as you traverse different countries and much more. Subscribe to the channel to support the crew in bringing more wonderful content.
The African continent is a different world when it comes to travel. Some of the paths less traveled on this planet. Nature and culture come in vivid, vibrant colors that you aren’t just seeing unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to embark on this spectacular 7-day road trip of adventures from Nairobi, Kenya, down to Bujumbura, Burundi. The good news is that it is also possible to travel to Rwanda using this route.
One of the best ways to get a feel for the African culture is by taking a trip like this. It’s a trip that will leave you inspired and craving for more.
Many individuals make the mistake of thinking that Africa is just another country full of third-world people. It is a romantic view, if you ask me. The truth is that the continent is a mixture of culture, beauty and wild places. The people are friendly and hospitable.
While we were traveling, there were things to see, culture, and scenery unlike anything I had ever seen before.
The Start of our Road Trip
The official recording for this trip starts at Ahero as we head to Migori by road. It’s a smooth but at times bumpy ride but well worth it.
The scenery along the way is breathtaking and you’ll see dams, streams and other amazing sights as you pass through the small towns.
Enjoy the ride with us as we quickly make our way to Sirare. You’ll find out exactly what I mean about the roads as you watch the YouTube video. It’s one of the most amazing parts of our ride, not just because we got to see the famous Serengeti and Mara River, but you will have the urge to travel.
Construction activities are still ongoing at the Ahero Junction. You can use this junction to connect to Kisii, Migori, Homabay, Kericho and Nairobi as you come from Kisumu.
Traversing different parts of Kenya makes you admire the road network or infrastructure. As you drive from Ahero headed to Sondu, the roads are smooth and you are welcomed to spectacular views of hills, buildings, rice plains and more sceneries.
These roads can make you have the urge to check the dictionary for the meaning of automatic drive. Doesn’t automatic drive mean you don’t have to touch the steering wheel (you don’t need to drive)? This is where you feel like adjusting your seat and take a nap. Kindly adhere to all traffic rules, no syllabus will teach you to take a nap as the vehicle is moving unless you are the passenger and not the driver. There are many rules and regulations when driving in East Africa, the most common one being that you should always keep your windows closed. No, there is no such rule. It is one of my formulated rules especially when in an area full of dust in the air.
When you near Sondu, you will note that it is a lively small town along this route.
Welcome to Kisii town – a city where the locals are friendly and inviting. A town known for soapstone carvings and farming of bananas and indigenous vegetables (known as mboga kienyeji in Swahili). The town is full of greenery and surrounded by mountains, which is why it enjoys very comfortable temperature year round.
Being our first time to visit Kisii town and with all the ongoing constructions, we happened to follow a wrong route which was cutting across a market center. Unfortunately, we could not pass through the market. We had reverse back. ‘Turn right, then in 100 meters turn left.’ You know how that Google Map lady talks. We followed Google Maps directions and alas the main road was also closed since it is still under construction for some sections. We had to ask some boda boda guys at the barrier for directions. They explained to us the route to take to enable us reconnect to the main road.
The murram road, as directed, confused us again after some distance. It seemed to be heading nowhere. We inquired for directions 3 more separate times until we found one cool boda boda guy who told us to drive behind him. Surprisingly, this is the same road one of the truck drivers we had asked prior warned us that the road was impassable. We finally recollected our way, thanks to the cool boda guy.
Heading to Isibania Border
Well, it’s starting to get a little bit darker and we are not yet in Sirare. It’s time for a stop so that we can find out what makes a perfect watermelon pudding to pass our evening.
We are greeted with this stunning African sunset as we drive. It’s not every day you get to see something like this and it really takes your breath away. They call it the “Kenyan sunset” which is pretty cool yet true of other African countries as well.
By the end of the day our trip plays out beautifully.
Let me introduce to you the crew members. We are 4 guys on this 7 day road trip. They include Dan, Kim, Kimza and I. Other members of our bigger group did not manage to travel since they were committed on other urgent matters. Our intention is to ensure we visit as many places as possible within the 7 days. The ultimate goal is to swim in the waters of Lake Tanganyika in Bujumbura.
We arrived at Isibania around 8pm. At the Isibania/Sirare border, we had to clear with the immigration department. What are the procedures?
We were conned!!
Before we proceeded, two of us (Kim and I) had to go withdraw money from an MPESA agent. The other two (Dan and Kimza) had their funds in the bank so they had to go to the bank ATM Kenyan side of course. All the fuel expenses had been sent to my phone number from the rest of the members. Did an estimate and decided to withdraw a good amount of money about Ksh. 42,000 inclusive of my expenses.
“Kaka mtabadilisha hela mpate za kitanzania? (Translated as ‘My brothers will exchange your money to get Tanzanian money?’” The MPESA guy asks us.
I decided to exchange Ksh. 22,000 to get Tanzanian shillings. Apparently, we had a clue that the exchange rate was Tsh. 19 for Ksh. 1. We bargained with the MPESA guy and he accepted to exchange at Tsh. 21.7. Tukajua sisi tumepata deal poa sana (We knew we had brokered a wonderful deal). Little did we know this is a trap for us. He counted the money, he gave us to count before taking to recount and gave us the notes. We leave and my friend tells me we must follow the main road where there is light not panya routes especially when you are having such amounts of money.
Just relax style ya Mkurugenzi Abel Mutua. For those who do watch his YouTube stories know how he is a good story teller. Abel is a famous scriptwriter and he knows how to tell a story in a humorous, hilarious and educative way. Watch the whole trip on our YouTube channel and remember to subscribe.
What happened next?
I tucked the notes in my jacket and off we went to join our 2 other friends who were already waiting for us. To cross to Tanzania, you need your passport or apply for the temporary passport through the eCitizen portal. Ensure you have the yellow fever card. And during this period, you will need to undergo a Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Test or proof of negative COVID test (PCR test) not older than 72 hours. You only get a go-ahead once you turn out negative.
We had to undergo through the immigration procedures individually starting with the Kenyan side then headed to the Tanzanian side. We completed the procedures and our passports were stamped with exit from Kenya and entry to Tanzania.
There is a procedure for the car where the owner has to present the proof of ownership and deposit the logbook with the customs department on Kenyan side. I am yet to find out on the requirements especially for a hired vehicle.
Lest I forget, ensure your car has the COMESA insurance. Make arrangements with your insurer prior to traveling.
The whole process was completed at about 10pm and we were ready to continue driving. Yes. You heard it right. For a road trip we always have targets and we normally travel day and night. You are worried about fatigue? Just remember we are 4 occupants of the car not just passengers. Have you heard me mentioning we had a designated driver? Ulitupea? (Literary translated as Did you give us one?)
Did we continue with the journey?
Oooohhh Noo.. Our two friends decided to ‘waste’ some of our golden time. They only had Kenyan money. They needed to change to Tanzanian shillings.
Now, we happened to have talked to one guy at the border who was friendly to us. He had directed us to the place we needed to do the car clearance. We were already on the side of Tanzania and he was there to bid us bye and wish us well. He hears that our friends need to exchange their valuable Kenyan shillings and offers to help. He then asks the two of us if we exchanged our money at the MPESA shop he saw us at. Deep down within us, we knew we had gotten the deal of the year. We gave an affirmative response.
“Woooiii, nyinyi mumeibiwa!!”
We remained like “Whaaaat!!!”
He requests us to recount the money. We were hesitant since we perceived he was the one going to con us. We collected the courage and decided to recount. My friend realized he was missing Tsh. 75,000. On the other side, I was missing Ksh. 8000 and Tsh. 190,000. Sasa kiburi yetu itatukubali tusafiri? (Loosely translated as ‘Will our pride allow us to travel?’)
Through the assistance of this cool guy, Nyangi, we stormed back to the MPESA shop. We had a long exchange of words but they admitted and accepted to refund in the morning since their head had already gone home with all the monies. We now had to spend the night at the border but of course the Tanzanian side. Second day, 8:30am we get back all the monies but they now had to revise their exchange rate to about Tsh. 18.6 for every Ksh. 1.
The Journey to Mwanza
Our journey to Mwanza began at about 10am. We are now driving in a foreign country. The roads are smooth and clear. Less traffic I tell you but in this land, you must observe speed limits to avoid getting into trouble with the authorities.
We were comfortably recording the landscape, terrain and the hills and now we come to this Kirumi Bridge. The bridge is heavily guarded. The bridge crosses River Mara. The source of River Mara is South Western Mau forests (Narok County) in Kenya and drains into Lake Victoria at Musoma in Tanzania. Kirumi Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge in northern Tanzania. Its construction was financed via a loan from the African Development Fund and was inaugurated in October 1985 by Julius Nyerere, the first president of the country (Tanzania).
The route to Mwanza traverses through the famous Serengeti National Park. It largely known for its largest annual animal migration in the world of over 1.5 million blue wildebeests and 250,000 zebras. The migration is between Serengeti and Maasai Mara in Kenya. It also has the largest lion population in Africa of over 3,000 lions. The park has the Big 5.
We made a stop at the Mwabulugu Lakeshore to enjoy some sceneries of Lake Victoria. It is not a busy shore given that there are no food points here.
How About Connectivity?
Through out our journey, we are using Vodacom bundles to get connected since we could not afford to use roaming charges. Fortunately, we were lucky a good Samaritan registered the Vodacom line for us. In Tanzania, you need a NIDA number (National Identification Authority) to register for the Vodacom line. When traveling to another country, be prepared to buy data for the network in that country for easy navigation and connectivity back at home.
Back on the road. Remember our destination is Mwanza.
Now let us rewind back kidogo. Ile story ya being conned. We did some inquiries from some locals. Those guys are very smart. Seems there is something they apply on their hands. The first time they counted the notes accurately and they were exactly what we needed. You are then given to count for yourself and you will surely confirm they are okay maybe one will be missing. But he will offer to recount na hapo ndo shida inakujia.
Here is how it happens: They will fold each note into two. When they count you won’t notice that they are counting each note twice. They are so precise since it is a business they are used to. Ni kama tu mama mboga ama baba mboga, they slice the kale accurately and very fast. I tried the same technique to slice the kale at such speeds, wacha tu that is a story for another day. As a warning, be extra careful when exchanging your currency at the border points. If you must, then just exchange some small amounts to use until you get to the next town where you can get the bureau de change or bank halls which are the safest.
Welcome to Mwanza, famously known as the Rock City. There are many rock formations in this area giving the city a unique topography. It is the capital of Mwanza Region on the southern shore of Lake Victoria in north-western Tanzania. It is located at Lake Victoria where you can see the beautiful Bismarck Rock in the water – Mwanza’s famous landmark.
Look at the amazing building on the rocks. Look at how Mwanza is amazing at the shores of Lake Victoria.
On day 2 of our trip, we arrived in Mwanza at around 3 pm. We had ample time to look for a place to eat then went ahead to secure a guest house. Immediately behind Rock City Mall, we located a nice guest house. We toured the town for a while and retired to bed by 9 pm. We were tired and had to rest since we needed to ensure we get to Burundi on the 3rd day.
Day 3 of Our Trip
On the 3rd day, we decided to take a tour of Rock City Mall. This is the largest mall in Mwanza. There are lots of shops, institutions, a bank, supermarket and much more. You can enjoy the views from the video we captured.
We left Mwanza at about 11:30am. Our destination is Burundi though we do not know if they have strict rules at the border or whether you need a visa to enter the country.
Now, let me show you how easy it is to plan a road trip while on a budget.
- Get into a group of likeminded friends. For us we are about 6 friends who have been doing traveling each year for the last 7 years.
- If one of you has a car, it adds sweetness to the plans.
- Estimate your destination for the trip. For us, we selected Bujumbura as our destination and the distance was about 3,000 km when using the Migori-Mwanza route.
- Our estimated fuel cost was Ksh. 40,000 which was divided amongst us.
- For food and accommodation, you do not need a lot. For 7 days, you can spent about Ksh. 10k.
- We are all holders of a Driving License meaning no exhaustion since we exchange making it possible to travel day and night.
- Remember to carry your clothings enough for the traveling days since it will be hard to get a day for washing. Carry extra shoes, toothbrush, toothpaste, petroleum jelly, earphones if you must, a power bank and download the map of the region in advance.
Heading to Kobero Border
There are two routes to the Kobero border. One uses the Busise ferry while the other is via road but longer. We decided to take the ferry option after we asked if it is in use and already told that one has to pay at the ferry.
We paid Tsh. 400 for each of the 3 passengers and Tsh. 6,000 for the car plus driver to cross over. From afar you can note that there is a bridge under construction along this stretch. The late President John Pombe Magufuli laid the foundation stone along the Kigongo-Busisi Bridge which is a 3.2km bridge. It will enhance the movement of people and goods, curb marine accidents and promote trade in the region and connect Mwanza and Geita. It will be the longest in East Africa.
Ensure you refuel while at Geita as you head to Kobero. The stretch is very long and there are no petrol stations along the way.
At Lusahunga on our way to Kobero, we were flagged down for being at 50km/h instead of 30km/h. The mistake we did is taking a wrong route that was heading to Kigoma. Once we realized so, we made a U-turn and drove back. Unfortunately, we made the turn before the point where the speed limit is erected.
When driving within Tanzania:
- Observe all speed limits especially near towns or cities.
- Make sure you have all papers and safety items – full first aid kit, fire extinguisher, functional reflectors etc.
- When stopped, always begin with a greeting.. If you are the first one to greet a cop and say “Kwema kaka/dada”, your day will be great as they will handle you pleasantly!
Do not take photos and selfies on National monuments, they will arrest you and they are very unforgiving.
Most warnings are in Swahili. Take time, read and understand. Should you miss it, fines for violations are very hefty.
Currency shock is real. Bills at first sight appear very huge and exaggerated. When your mind acclimatizes, they are just ordinary bills.
Always register your full details including where you come from when checking into a hotel.
Immigration and nationality security raid lodges and hotels at night looking for illegal foreigners.
Crossing Kobero Border
We arrived at Kobero at about 10pm. Surprisingly, the border closes at 6pm and opens at 8:30 am. We had to find a guest house to spend the night.
In the morning, we drove up to the border only to realize that one of us had lost his passport. We had to go back to the guest house. A search was made in his room, then we offloaded everything in the car but nowhere to be located. We had to check where we were served meals the previous evening. Fortunately, it had dropped while we were eating. Our morale is back in full swing and we are now ready for Burundi.
We went through the normal checking and we were surprised that there were no stringent measures that we had feared before. We had to undergo a mandatory COVID testing which we paid $15 each. Here you must pay in dollars, no other option.
At the immigration offices before entering Burundi, I was fined Tsh. 20,000 for having a torn yellow fever card. Keep all your legal documents safe and intact. We were done by 3pm. We exchanged our money into Burundian Amafaranga, purchased the Econet network and off we started our journey.
Burundi is a hilly country just like Rwanda when using the Uganda route. From some chats we had with some locals, only Scania and Mercedes transit vehicle types can manage to maneuver the country’s hilly landscape. Remember French is the national language in Burundi. They understand some Swahili and a few can communicate in English. Be ready for the language barrier challenges unless you understand several dialects.
Our road trip was 2,884.5km.
This is a journey of discovery, and one which you will never forget. You will see some of the most incredible wildlife that East Africa has to offer, and on top of that you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for the sake of excitement. Unfortunately, we were on the road most of time given the challenges we faced in crossing the borders.
Remember, your holiday is what you make it! This is your trip and you should be able to enjoy it without any hassle or constraints. If you are worried about anything or have any questions – feel free to get in touch with us at any time.