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Safari vehicle driving through water.
  Travelling by road
Tips for travelling
· Bring a bottle of water onboard. If you're prone to travel sickness, bring anti-sickness medicine.
· Dress according to the weather. Avoid getting too hot.
· Place the least fit in the frontmost seats. The rear seats are generally bumpier than the front seats.
· Keep your eyes open for animals and birds along the road. Birds of prey, such as eagles and buzzards, can often be seen.
· Ask the diver guide or tour leader to tell you about the places you pass and the park where you are heading.
Safari glossary
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On safari:
Safaris by road
The safari by road is the most common type of safari in Kenya and Tanzania. The vehicle is usually a 4WD safari jeep or a minibus, which is driven by a Kenyan or Tanzanian driver guide. You travel to the parks in this vehicle, and do game drives, i.e. watch the wildlife, in it.

These safaris are often circular tours, visiting a couple of different parks, and returning to the starting point on the last day. The same driver-guide drives the vehicle during the whole safari.

Travelling to the parks
To see animals, you need to go where they are, which is mainly in parks, such as national parks, game reserves etc. Starting from for example Nairobi or Arusha, the closest parks (Nairobi National Park and Arusha National Park) are about half an hour's drive away. To reach the most remote parks, you may need to drive a couple of days. Such remote parks are rarely or never included in the itineraries of normal packaged tours, though.

Safari-goers and driver guide on the lookout from the roof hatch.

Distance in hours, not kilometres or miles
Safari travel 'distances' are best given in hours, as road conditions may vary much. Figures in km or mi say little about an itinerary.

Quality descriptions such as 'dirt road', 'tarmac road', 'poor road' etc may indicate how much the vehicle will shake when driving there, but doesn't necessarily say how fast you can drive.

80 km/h or 50 mph is a good cruising speed for a 'good tarmac road'. But we regularly travel at such speeds on very corrugated 'poor' dirt roads, too, while 8 km/h or 5 mph on a certain 'very poor' mountain road means making really good progress.

Six hours on the road
We recommend that you look for an itinerary that has a maximum of six hours on the road, travelling to or between parks, in a day. And think twice before booking an itinerary that has many such long laps. Six hours on poor roads is quite enough for most of us. And spending much of your tour travelling to the animals means less time for actually seeing them.

Longer laps than six hours are seen in some tour itineraries, and may for example take you from Amboseli to Masai Mara in Kenya, or from the city of Arusha straight to Serengeti in Tanzania, but we suggest you avoid them.

Before booking a safari, take a good look at the itinerary offered to you. If the travel distances seem long to you, then you may consider choosing another itinerary. You may need to speak to another travel company, but it's worth the trouble if it means you get a better safari.

Travel time between parks
You may visit fewer parks to reduce the time spent travelling between them. That leaves more time for watching the animals in those parks that you visit.

If seeing the country is as important to you as seeing the animals, you may choose to visit more parks. You get to see more places that way, and you will spend more time travelling the country.

In Kenya, most travelling between parks is done in the countryside or rural areas, where you don't see much wildlife. In Tanzania, you travel inside parks to a higher extent, and may see wildlife when travelling.

The table below shows travel distances in hours between the most frequently visited parks in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The numbers of hours given are rough figures, which may vary depending on where in the parks or cities you go, on road conditions at that time and on the weather etc.

Parks in Kenya
6 1                
6 9 10 11            
7 4 3 8 10          
4 2 3 5 7 3        
9 6 5 11 12 2 6      
2 5 7 8 4 7 4 9    
Parks in Tanzania
2 4          
4 6 2        
9 5 3
2 4 2 4 7    

Safari vehicle driving through forest.

Safaris to both Kenya and Tanzania
Some safaris by road visit both Kenya and Tanzania. It's a way of seeing a lot in one tour, and even if we think that most such itineraries are too short (in days) to allow you to get the best out of the parks that you visit, they may be reasonable to some safari-goers.

Stops en route
When travelling the roads, you stop every hour or so, for a chance to stretch your legs and to visit the bathroom (the quality and cleanliness varies from good to poor). Typical places for such stops are sights, such as Thomson's Falls between Samburu/Aberdare National Park and Lake Naivasha/Lake Nakuru in Kenya, and the Olduvai Gorge between the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti in Tanzania. You may also stop at roadside souvenir shops.

Animals en route
How much animals you may see when travelling depends on which area you're in. Travelling through rural areas usually means little or no wildlife, while you may see stray animals in sparsely populated countryside. Don't lose heart if travelling towards a major park, such as Masai Mara, without seeing much. Once you get close to the park, or inside it, there will be animals.

When travelling within parks, there may be a lot to see.

Birds, not least birds of prey, may be seen along most routes. It takes some training to spot and identify birds when driving at 80 km/50 mi per hour, but if you're a keen birder, that probably won't stop you.

Road conditions
You will travel on both tarmac and bush roads. A few tarmac roads are good, while most are fair; they allow for good speed, but there may be potholes etc.

Bush roads may be dirt, gravel, sand etc, and you should expect slower and less comfortable progress than on tarmac. Some roads may be fair, but most are not very good, being bumpy, corrugated and dusty. Some roads are really bad, often due to erosion and poor maintenance. Bush roads in remote areas may be just passable. River crossings may not be possible at all during rainy seasons.

Good road parks
Some parks can be accessed without travelling on the really bad roads. The roads to Lake Manyara, Tarangire and Mikumi in Tanzania, and to Lake Nakuru, Aberdare and Nairobi National Park in Kenya, are all or mainly tarmac. Much of the road to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is a new tarmac road (but the descent and ascent roads into and out of the crater are very poor).

The roads inside the parks are all bush roads. Conditions vary. Lake Manyara, Mikumi, Lake Nakuru and Nairobi National Park have quite good roads.

Poor road parks
The road from the Ngorongoro Crater to Serengeti in Tanzania is a 3–4 hour bush road (this travel time is to central Serengeti; add 2 hours for northern Serengeti or the Western corridor). Its condition varies between fair and poor, much depending on recent maintenance. The first part (through Ngorongoro Conservation Area, under local administration) is usually in worse condition than the last (through Serengeti, under national administration).

The bush road connecting Arusha National Park in Tanzania with the tarmac main road isn't long (approximately half an hour), but very poor.

Much of the six-hour drive from Nairobi (or Lake Nakuru) to Masai Mara in Kenya is on poor road (this travel time is to Sekenani gate on the eastern park border; if going to western Masai Mara, add 1 hour, and add more if conditions are wet). Some stretches are fairly good, while others are very poor. Road construction work is going on, but the progress is very slow.

The last 50 km/30 mi of the 6 hour drive to Samburu/Shaba/Buffalo Springs is on poor bush road. Construction work is going on (November 2008) to build a tarmac road.

Avoiding poor roads by flying
Virtually all major parks may be accessed by air, which is faster and much more comfortable than travelling the roads. There are daily scheduled flights to most major parks, apart from Mikumi in Tanzania. By chartering a plane, you may visit any park, as long as there is an airstrip.

The flights to the parks are operated by smaller planes, such as Cessnas and Beechcrafts. Most airstrips are grass or dirt/gravel.

Some travel companies and local tour operators have ready-made itineraries for safaris by air, and any company specialized in East African safaris can tailor such an itinerary for you.

More about safaris by air

Lion close to a safari vehicle.

Game drives in parks
Game viewing in the parks is done by game drives, i.e. a slow drive through the bush in your safari vehicle, stopping to watch animals you spot or other things you find interesting.

Virtually all safari vehicles in Kenya and Tanzania have some sort of roof hatch, which is openened for game drives, allowing you to stand up for a better view. Most vehicles have a roof hatch that pops up into a sunroof, but there are also other types.

More about game viewing

Safari vehicles
The most common safari vehicles in Kenya are 2WD minibuses and 4WD Landcruisers or Land Rovers. In Tanzania, some 4WD minibuses are used, but Landcruisers and Land Rovers are most common. 4WD is required to enter the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, due to the steep and poor descent and ascent roads.

Minibuses have less space for legs and hand luggage than Landcruisers and Land Rovers, but the suspension is more comfortable.

More about safari vehicles

Road safety
The traffic takes many lives in Kenya and Tanzania, proportionally much more than in for example Europe and America. A number of severe accidents involving busses have been reported during the last years. Road safety is impaired by poor driving skills, poor vehicles, poor roads, drunk driving etc.

Most driver guides working for the major local tour operators are responsible drivers, but not all. As a client, you may very well ask your driver to drive slower or more carefully. He is hoping for a good tip at the end of the safari, and will try to please you.

Pole pole policy
The most professional safari companies in Kenya and Tanzania have speed limits for their vehicles, set lower than the legal speed limits. They don't do itineraries where hurrying is or may be required (such as long days on the road ending just in time for airport check-ins).

This pole pole policy (pole pole meas taking it slow in Swahili) allows for unexpected events, such as flat tyres and roadside toilet breaks. The drivers don't have to hurry to catch up time. Should something more serious happen, for example a major vehicle breakdown, there is time enough to arrange a replacement vehicle or to take other actions.

Coaches and shuttles
Bus drivers on local coaches and shuttle busses often have to stick to schedules, and may drive fast. They do usually not respond much if passengers ask them to slow down.

Safety while on foot
Be careful when walking or crossing roads on foot. Most East African drivers seem to expect pedestrians to get out of their way.

Land Rover and buffalos in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Driving yourself
Roads in Kenya and Tanzania may be poor, and you should set aside much more time for driving a certain distance than you would at home. Don't expect faster progress than 50 km/30 mi per hour on major roads. Otherwise, driving yourself is not very difficult. Just be aware that Kenya and Tanzania have traffic on the left side of the road.

Driving in cities
The traffic in cities may be intense, but just drive slowly and keep cool. For safety reasons, you should stick to main roads and keep doors and windows locked.

Driving in the countryside
There isn't much traffic once you get outside of the cities. Travelling to major destinations, such as cities and parks, doesn't take much navigation skills, as there are few roads to choose from. There are reliable fuel stations in the tourist areas, and places to stay. Just be aware of speed bumps, especially when passing through villages.

Should you venture off the beaten track, you can't be sure that fuel stations shown on the map really have fuel to sell. Roads may not be passable because of recent rain, and progress may be very slow due to poor road conditions.

Driving at night
Avoid all driving at night. There is an increased risk of road crime, of meeting cars lacking headlights, of not seeing people walking the roads and of drunk driving.

Police presence
Police checkpoints or roadblocks are not uncommon, and are usually seen in populated areas. The police is rarely very interested in tourists. If they do stop you, and won't let you continue after checking you, call your car rental company and ask for advice. Bribing police officers is illegal.

Respect the speed limits (usually 50 km/h or 30 mph in towns and villages, 100 km/h or 60 mph elsewhere). Some police units have speed guns, even though these are not very common.

Renting a safari vehicle
Unless you want to stick to the best tarmac roads only, which are not that many, you should rent a 4WD. In general, renting a safari vehicle for a self-drive doesn't cost very much less than renting it including a driver.

A Landcruiser or Land Rover isn't hard to drive, as long as you stay away from the worst roads until you have had some experience of the vehicle.

Make sure the vehicle you rent has good tyres, and at least one good spare tyre. Check the size of the fuel tanks, and ask for information about where there are reliable fuel stations along your route. Make sure you know how the onboard radio works, if there is one.

If you get a flat tyre while on the road, make sure to have it fixed as soon as possible. You may have another flat any time. A road sign saying pancha or similar, for 'puncture', means it's a place where you can have flat tyres fixed.

Reasons not to drive yourself
Driving yourself on a safari is fun, but you may want to consider not to. We don't recommend you to drive yourself if it's your first safari. The animals in the parks are wild, and unless you have some previous experience from facing them, and from seeing how professional safari drivers face them, you won't know what to do if you for example meet an elephant on the road, or if a tyre goes flat in prime lion country.

It's also possible that the rangers at the park gates won't allow you into the park unless they consider you capable of handling situations you may have to face in there. It may be hard, for example, being allowed to descend into the Ngorongoro Crater unless you hire an official guide from the park headquarter to come along.

Finally, you'll probably see more animals if you don't drive yourself, but go with an experienced safari driver. The drivers know their parks well, and they receive a lot of information on the whereabouts of animals from their colleagues. For finding rare animals such as rhinos, leopards and cheetahs, such information may be crucial.

If the vehicle breaks down
Don't leave your vehicle if it should break down in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of a park. Stay with your vehicle.

Use your mobile phone or the radio. Wait for other vehicles to pass. Wait for someone (the lodge where you're heading, the tour operator, the driver guide's colleagues etc) to start missing you. If you're driving yourself, make sure that the car rental company has your itinerary, and contact them daily to tell them you're OK; then they'll notice when you're not OK.

You may improvise signs or signals to show where you are (primarily expect search parties in vehicles, not in aircrafts). Safari vehicles have a lot of combustible fuel, and at least five tyres that make good smoke.

Don't travel alone when heading into remote areas where you can't expect to see other vehicles.

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Page updated 27 April 2013