| The safari by road is the most common type of safari in Kenya
The vehicle is usually a 4WD safari jeep or a minibus, which is driven by a Kenyan or
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 34 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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
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
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