How To Road Trip East Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda)

Sunday, August 04, 2019


This blog post will be a guide to road trip East Africa from Kenya to Rwanda including a full day-to-day itineary with places to visit throughout East Africa. 3 countries, 18 days, 1 visa. BEGIN!

Preparation

East Africa Visa

East Africa is a wide term. Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan are all members of the East African Community (EAC). But only Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda has a common visa called East Africa Visa, which allows any holder to travel those three countries on a single visa. To apply for such a visa you'll need to go through an embassy as the East Africa Visa on arrival can be quite tricky to get your hands on and sometimes it won't even be granted. I went through the Kenya Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden to acquire my East Africa Visa - but any Kenya embassy should be able to handle the request for an East Africa Visa.

Medication

Besides the required and recommended vaccines (yellow fever, hepatitis A+B, meningitis etc. etc.) Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda has a malaria risk. Taking malaria medication isn't 100% bulletproof, but it's one of those "better safe than sorry"-things, which would be plain stupidity to gamble with.
Ebola has been an issue in Uganda as well, but it seems like they handled the few cases of infection with the necessary precaution as the bordering neighbors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have far more severe outbreaks of ebola in comparison.

Rental Car from Kenya to Rwanda

Obviously, you're gonna need a car for your road trip. And not just any car. No, that car MUST be a 4x4!
We contacted several companies offering rental carss across all three countries and ended up choosing https://www.4x4uganda.com/. Their main contact, James, was very helpful and honest all the way through and I'd highly recommend using them if you're considering to cross from Kenya to Uganda by car and from Uganda to Rwanda by car. James has experience with border crossings in East Africa and he will help you get all the paperwork done correctly. You can also contact James directly via WhatsApp: +250783979895.


Day 1 - Arrive in Mombasa

I chose to arrive from Zanzibar, Tanzania and had pre-arranged my Tanzania-visa along side my East Africa visa, but you're probably not gonna do much on the first day anyhow. I'd recommend staying at CDH Backpackers a budget place for backpackers with a very helpful staff.

Day 2 - Mombasa

Me in front of Mombasa Tusks (locally named Pembe Za Ndovu) in Mombasa, Kenya
Mombasa was incomparably the most interesting city we visited during this East Africa Road Trip. There we're several interesting places to stop by throughout Mombasa. If you want to know more about Mombasa you can read my blog on this special port city right here.

Day 3 - Drive from Mombasa to Amboseli

Elephants in Tsavo West National Park, Kenya
Day 3 is dedicated as a day of travelling from one point to another. The drive from Mombasa to Amboseli is an exhausting ride. Make sure you leave early, so you won't have to drive in the dark. Have a lookout for wildlife as you'll be passing through Tsavo West National Park on the way. Check yourself in at Amboseli Eco Camp. Booking in advance is adviced as they only have a few huts at the camp.

Day 4 - Self-drive Amboseli National Park

African Elephant in Amboseli National Park, Kenya
They day for your first self-drive safari in Amboseli National Park has come! I promise you it's the absolute best way to enjoy wildlife spotting. Drive from Amboseli Eco Camp to Kimana Gate early morning just after breakfast. The drive shouldn't take more than 30 minutes, but the road conditions out here is pretty rough - you can thank me later for recommending a 4x4 rental car. At the gate of Amboseli National Park you'll pay the entrance fee of $90 per person + $3 fee for the car. The park is open from sunrise to sundown and your pass is available for 24 hours. The park rangers at the gate with hand you a map and a folder with park rules. Make sure to ask where in the park the rare animals like lions, rhinos and cheetahs has been spotted recently. Now enjoy a 5-6 hours safari hunt for spotting wildlife - and make sure to have patience. Pray for clear weather, which will give a an astonishing view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Then head back to Amboseli Eco Camp before dark.

Day 5 - Drive from Amboseli to Nairobi

Mount Kilimanjaro, Kenya
Wake up for sunrise at Amboseli Eco Camp to see the sun set upon Africa's tallest mountain Mt. Kilimanjaro. From there on it's a solid 3-4 hour drive to Nairobi. We stayed at Karen Little Paradise, which was probably the absolute highlight of the guesthouses we stayed at throughout the entire trip.

City Market in Nairobi, Kenya
As the Nairobi traffic is unbearable, we left the car there and ordered an Uber (yes Uber works in Nairobi) to take us to the city centre. Take a stroll past the Kenyatta International Convention Centre and make sure you stop by The Maasai Market and City Market to grab a few souvenirs.

Day 6 - Drive from Nairobi to Masai Mara

Karen Blixen Museum in Nairobi, Kenya
After a lovely breakfast at Karen Little Paradise head to the Karen Blixen Museum. A reowned Danish author who lived most of her life in Kenya and is most famous for her book "Out of Africa". She did a lot of good work for the country and visiting her old farm comes with quite an interesting tale about her life and her works. The fee for entering the Karen Blixen Museum is a mere 1200 ksh per person and comes with a private guide for the entire tour.

Jambo Scenic View near Nairobi, Kenya
After your tour at Karen Blixen Museum it's time to head for Masai Mara. Along the way you'll pass by Jambo Scenic View which is definitely worth a stop. Also you should allow extra time for transport, as somethings is always slowing down traffic in Kenya.

Sunset at Oseki Maasai Mara Camp near Masai Mara National Park, Kenya
Arrive at the lovely Oseki Maasai Mara Camp for an afternoon check-in. Make sure to book in advance at Oseki Maasai Mara Camp. Relax in your private hut, but remember to go on the hill just outside your door to watch the astonishing sunset over the African savanna - then enjoy a well-cooked late night dinner before hitting the hay.

Day 7 - Self-drive Masai Mara National Park

Great Migration in Masai Mara Triangle National Park, Kenya
Wake up early! And be at the Sekenani Main Gate to Masai Mara National Park at sunrise! Self-driving Masai Mara will without a doubt be the most iconic safari trip you'll ever take. And arriving in July is an absolute must! This is the time where the Great Migration is happening and if you're lucky you'll catch an unbelievable sight of the wildebeest migration from Serengeti to Masai Mara.

Cheetah in Masai Mara National Park, Kenya
From all the safaris we did on this trip, Masai Mara was the absolute top experience. And also the most expensive as the entrance fee for Masai Mara National Park is $80 per person. The park offers a never-ending experience of wildlife and is incomparably the number one thing to do in Kenya. Everybody doing any kind of safari in Africa is always looking to check off "The Big Five" (being lions, elephants, rhinos, cape buffalos and leopards). We spotted 4 of those 5 (missing out on leopards, but spotting plenty of cheetahs) in just the 7 hours we spend in the park.
We had planned to enter the park at the Sekenani Main Gate and exit at the Olloololo Gate, saving some miles and ending up in Kisii to make the most of our time in East Africa. In Kisii we stayed at the very lovely Ufanisi Resort which provided a very nice service and great food considering the general standard in Kenya.

Day 8 - Drive from Kisii to Busia

Woman selling bananas in Kisii, Kenya
Day 8 is yet again dedicated to moving yourself further inland towards Central Africa and as close to the Kenya/Uganda border as possible. We drove all the way to Busia literally on the border between Kenya and Uganda. Driving around East Africa is not the most exciting thing to do to be honest. Most of the time it's just dirt, dust, thrash and more dirt. But the cultural differences makes it worth the ride anyway. We saw a naked lady selling tomatoes to clothed herself - something you'll definitely never come across where I'm from. In Busia we checked in to The Breeze Hotel, which was quite difficult to find once we reached Busia, but some locals helped us out and guided us in the right direction.

Day 9 - Crossing Kenya to Uganda border by car

Crossing the border from Kenya to Uganda in a rental car, can sometimes be problematic, but if you rented the car from https://www.4x4uganda.com/, James will have sorted all the paperwork out for you in advance. And the rental car you'll be driving will be with Ugandan licence plates, which will also speed up the process. Expect to pay a little service fee here and there to somewhat helpful locals. Nothing much, just a few dollars and a little gradutide.

After crossing the border, we headed straight for capital city of Kampala, where we checked in at Mamba Hotel, which seems to have somewhat closed down since our stay. There are plenty of hotel in Kampala however.

Day 10 - Kampala and Equator Line

City view from Kampala Central Mosque, Uganda
Mamba Hotel is not located in the center of Kampala, but we decided to leave the car at the hotel anyway, since traffic in Kampala is absolutely awful. We did have time to visit a few sights like the Kampala Central Mosque, the Owino Market and the Independence Monument before we headed on further west.

Equator Line in Kayabwe, Uganda
Next stop on our road trip through East Africa was the Equator Line in Kayabwe. A pretty cool place with a restaurant, which is split down the middle by the equator line. There are plenty of souvenir shops to spend some dollars in and the Equator Line Restaurant actually makes a pretty mean pizza.

Local fishermen preparing their fishing nets in Bukakata, Uganda
Early on we had decided we wanted a better look at the impressive Lake Victoria. So we made a sudden detour to the small fishermen's town Bukakata. A detour surely not taken by many tourists as the local town folk seemed pretty confused as to what we where doing in their town. Nonetheless it's one of those impulsive things a road trip should always include.

Café Frikadella in Masaka, Uganda
Lastly arrive in Masaka for a late night dinner at Café Frikadelle, a Danish owned charity restaurant served "Frikadeller with potato salad" a traditional Danish dish. Stay overnight at the lovely Nandy's Guest House, where they served ice-cold local beer in the outdoor bar.

Day 11 - Drive from Masaka to Kabale

African Kids near Lake Bungyonyi, Kabale, Uganda
The next morning we got up and drove to the town of Kabale in the very southern part of Uganda close to the Rwanda border. We checked into Kwanzi Café and Guest House and then drove to Lake Bungyonyi to make something of Day 11. A lot of local kids were coming home from school and most of them came running to us yelling "mzungu" meaning "foreigner/white person" a word you're bound to hear during a visit in these parts of Africa. Especially if you're in a very local area.

Lasse, Allan and me in front of Lake Bungyonyi, Uganda
More specifically we drove to Bungyonyi Safari Resorts, where we tip off a security guard to let us park the car. Then tipped off another local guy (Allan) to hike us to the Kibuye Lake View Point at the Arcadia Lodges Lake Bungyonyi. We had to pass by a military check-point which Allan handlede extremely well for us. He told us a great deal of stories about the area and the many tiny islands in the lake. Sometimes the best tour guides are just random locals, looking to earn a few dollars and gain a few "mzungu" friends.

Day 12 - Echuya Forest Reserve

Batwa Tribe in Etchuya National Forest Reserve, Uganda
To be honest, the most obvious thing to do on this day is head to Bwindi National Park to do a Gorilla Trek. If you want to go on a Gorilla Trek, you'll need to book in advance as a there are only a certain amount of permits handed out each day. The price for a permit is $600 and roughly another $200 for a guide (which is required) depending on which company you go with.
We payed around $25 each for a trip to visit a local Batwa Tribe living in Echuya Forest Reserve and it was probably the most authentic thing we did on the entire trip. We had the trip arranged through our guesthouse Kwanzi Café and Guest House.
We were only the second and third visitors there and it had been seven months since the first visitor stopped by. We got a guided tour by the tribe leader (with our local guide translating), the very short Batwa people welcomed us with dance and when we handed them water, juice, bread and biscuits I realized just how little they had. The experience was completely unique and tourist-free. $25 well-spent and $800 well-saved.

Day 13 - Crossing Uganda to Rwanda border by car

Garage Street in Kabale, Uganda
Wake up in Kabale at Kwanzi Café and Guest House, have breakfast and head for the border early to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately we had to have our car battery changed and got to the border quite late. We went to Garage Street in Kabale, a street were all mechanics and spare parts for cars can be acquired. A local experience I would've have missed - so even if your car isn't in need of a repair, I urge you to visit Garage Street anyway.

Crossing the border between Uganda and Rwanda in a rental car is not problematic, but it is a slow process. At times we weren't even sure if the local authorities knew what was going on, but luckily there's always a few locals around looking to earn a few dollars be helping and speeding up the process. The police officers at the border will check your car, but they didn't seem to be too concerned about the bow and arrow I was carrying in the back. However, very shortly after the border we were pulled over by traffic police for "speeding". The officer said he wouldn't charge us, but then asked if we could pay for his lunch - so we handed him $20 which seemed to be more than enough for him and his co-workers. Oh, and Rwanda drive in the right side of the road, unlike Uganda, where traffic runs in the left-side lane of the road. This can be quite confusing being in a Uganda-plated car driving in Rwanda, but you'll get the hang of it quite quickly.

Tent camping at Macheo Ecolodge Camping in Kibuye, Rwanda
After crossing the border drive all the way to Kibuye and check into the perfectly located Macheo Ecolodge Camping, where you can rent a tent with a view you won't believe.

Day 14 - Lake Kivu Boat Tour

Boat Tour on Lake Kivu, Rwanda
Not far from Macheo Ecolodge Camping we found our way to the shore of Lake Kivu. Here a local guy offered us a half day tour on the lake with his boat. Lake Kivu is situated right on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Blue Ball Monkey on Monkey Island in Lake Kivu, Rwanda
The first stop he took us was on Monkey Island. Here we spotted the Blue Balls Monkey, hence the name Monkey Island. Even Google Maps doesn't know the name of these small islands scattered in Lake Kivu, so it's one of those places where a local guide come in quite handy.

Me and Lasse near the summit on Napoleon Island in Lake Kivu, Rwanda
Next stop was Napoleon Island. Named so because of the shape of the island resembles a Napoleon's hat. The relatively small island has an impressive peak, which we of course had to climb. The view towards the Congo was absolutely magical!

Fruit bats on Napoleon Island in Lake Kivu, Rwanda
Napoleon Island is home to a large family of fruit bats. As you hike around the island, you'll see thousands upon thousands of the odd creatures.

Ankole Cow on Napoleon Island in Lake Kivu, Rwanda
Lake Kivu is also home to many Ankole Cows. You'll find them feeding on the shores of the islands and they often swim from island to island looking for fresh grass to feast upon. Yes, swimming cows! Ain't that something unique?

Day 15 - Nyungwe Forest National Park Day Tour

Canopy Walk in Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda
Staying at Macheo Ecolodge Camping we decided to spend our Day 15 by driving south to the Nyungwe Forest National Park. We were actually looking to join a Chimpanse Tour, but even though we arrived very early in the morning, the tour had left and were fully booked anyway. Instead we decided to join a walking tour called the Canopy Walk.

Suspension Bridge in Nyungwe Forest National Park
The Canopy Walk took us through the forest and across a suspension bridge hanging high above a large valley. Moving around in Nyungwe Forest National Park is only allowed on a guided tour with a Park Ranger. The forest stretches into Burundi and even on the way to the Uwinka Visitor Centre (where you book the tours) you'll see plenty of military personel patrolling the area.

Day 16 - Drive from Kibuye to Kigali

Bicycle transport near Kibuye, Rwanda
Driving in Rwanda is quite different from driving in Uganda or Kenya. Besides being on the other side of the road, the country is a lot more lush and hilly. And you'll see people bicycling EVERYWHERE. Bicycles are a common means of transportation, whether you're transporting banans or people, the Rwandans will do it by bike. There have even been pro-cycling events in the hilly areas of Rwanda.

Farmer's fields in a hilly area near Kibuye, Rwanda
The drive from Kibuye to Kigali is an exhausting 4 hour ride. And I can only recommend staying at Mijo Hostel which seems to be a magnet for backpackers visiting Kigali. We spent the day simply driving from Kibuye to Kigali and nothing else besides dinner and relaxation. Since we had planned another long drive the day after.

Day 17 - Akagera National Park Day Tour from Kigali

African Buffalo in Akagera National Park, Rwanda
Ever since we began doing self-driving safaris in Kenya we had set our eye on Akagera National Park in the most Eastern part of Rwanda. We knew it was gonna be a full day activity driving to Akagera from Kigali, self-driving the park and then drive back.

Water Buck in Akagera National Park, Rwanda
We also knew, that Akagera National Park wasn't gonna be as huge as Masai Mara or Amboseli in Kenya. Nevertheless we simply wanted to have one last safari before we headed home. And Akagera provided us with just that opportunity. We saw everything from African buffalos to Water Bucks, hippos and hordes of monkeys. We were hoping for a rhino, but lady luck didn't smile at us on this day. Still, I'd say it was worth the effort and the money to spend a full day visiting Akagera National Park in Rwanda.

Day 18 - Kigali

Kigali Convention Centre, Rwanda
Kigali Convention Centre is one of the most prominent buildings in Kigali and Rwanda. The building is inspired by ancient Rwandan culture, but made to be one of the most modernized buildings in the country. The Kigali Convention Centre lights up at night in several different colors.

Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum, Rwanda
Probably the most important place throughout the capital city. The Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum tells the horrific story of the 100 days of genocide slaughter which happened in 1994. The nation is still heavily marked by the recent history and if you look around you'll notice that the young generation of Rwanda is the majority of the people here. The young generation is trying to rebuild Rwanda into something better, but the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum is here to not let history be forgotten, neither repeated.

Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda
The Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial in Kigali is the camp where 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers were murdered by Hutu extremist to provoke a retreat of the UN forces during the genocide. This act cleared the way for a full scale genocide throughout the country.

Hotel des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda) in Kigali, Rwanda
During the genocide a man named Paul Rusesabagina was working as house manager at the Hotel des Mille Collines. He helped hide and protect 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees. None of the refugees were killed or captured. In 2004 the movie Hotel Rwanda was based on Paul's actions during the genocide. Today the hotel is still in business and even if you're not staying at the hotel you can go have a drink is the poolbar.

Congratulations! You've reached the end. I hope this blog post has inspired you to road trip East Africa - it is truly an amazing experience to put in your backpack. Happy travels!

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