We are going to try to write the article we wish we had been able to read before attempting to bus our way across Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda (December 2009). Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.
First things first: this will be one of the most worthwhile experiences of your life. Start by flying into Nairobi, Kenya (huge and somewhat affordable airport hub for international flights). More than 30 airlines service flights into Nairobi Embakasi Airport including British Airways, EgyptAir, Emirates, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, and tons of others.
Take your time to enjoy Kenya. People will put the fear of god into you that you are unsafe in Nairobi (they call it “Nairobbery”)-but just ignore the hype and check out this amazing city full of incredible food, nightlife, and energy. We traveled all over the country but an especially worthy stop is El Doret (it is on route to Kampala, Uganda) where tea is produced in fields that stretch as far as they eye can see.
We took Kampala Coaches from Nairobi to Arusha, Tanzania. We hated the bus company so much that we wrote a blog about them. Not much competition, even Scandinavia Express discontinued this international route. A spin-off from Kamapala Coaches was in the works and might be a good option, but if Kampala Coaches is your only choice, don’t take it all the way to Dar es Salaam. We suggest you go halfway to Arusha and switch companies.
Arusha is a tourist trap. You will be harassed from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave. With that said it is a great place to launch a 4-day trek at Mt. Kilimanjaro with loads of Safari providers. Make sure you stop by The Patisserie (near the clock tower) for the best chocolate croissants on the continent and hi-speed wi-fi. For budget hotel options we recommend “the Tourist Hotel” (pretty central, $30 USD/night for a double with TV, and a affordable restaurant and bar in the lobby-especially good for vegetarians). Skip the Arusha Naaz hotel, despite what Lonely Planet says.
To get from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam use the bus company “Dar Express” which provides a safe, reliable, air-conditioned bus service. Just a warning: on the buses we took they played Christian videos the entire way, but feeling confident your bags are traveling with you makes up for the attempted “conversion”
When you are in Dar es Salaam, stay at the Jambo Inn Hotel (about 30USD a night for a double with air-con, hot water, and cable TV). The hotel is in a safe, functional area with lots of restaurants, internet cafes, and local shopping.
From Dar Es Salaam you can head to Zanzibar. It is a truly magical place . Stay in Stone Town and pay 12pp for the terrific value “spice tour”. Just ask a taxi to take you to the public beaches, no need to shell out for a tour. We spent 20USD night and stayed at the Jambo Guest House, a very basic but clean hotel in walking distances to everything. Tip on the ferry to Zanzibar- it is worth it to pay a little extra for the VIP tickets-especially for those who might get sea-sick. The ride is only ninety minutes, but felt like a lot more. Don’t let this deter you, the ocean and sunsets are well-worth the bumpy boat ride
Best way to travel by bus (and the only way) to Kampala, Uganda is via Nairobi. You can take the Dar Express to Arusha and find a bus company that heads to Kampala via Nairobi. Try to arrive in Nairobi during daylight hours. Alternatively, Precision Air flies cheap from Kilamanjaro (an hour bus from Arusha) to Kampala and might be worth the splurge. Precision Air has an office by the clock tower in Arusha.
Kampala is a terrific place. We recommend staying at the Aponye Hotel at approx 30 USD per night with great showers, air-conditioning, and a great central location (you can walk to restaurants, markets, etc). Ironically some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had was at a restaurant in the Kampala mall. If you go white-water rafting at the source of the Nile, Adrift is a reliable, safe company. While expensive (we had to give it a pass), everyone we met that went Gorilla trekking and said that it was worth every penny.
In terms of busing from Kampala to Kigali, Rwanda, it is extremely safe. The best company we found was Starways and the service is reliable, reasonably clean, safe, and air-conditioned. Many other companies use this route, again, try to avoid Kampala Coaches.
When you get to Kigali, spend a day at the Genocide Museum. It will be an unforgettable experience. You can sometimes catch an affordable flight from there to Nairobi. Keep in mind that Rwanda and Kenya are more expensive than Tanzania and Uganda. Kigali has few solid budget hotel accommodations (and none that we can personally recommend). If using Lonely Planet’s Africa book, add approx 50 percent to all listed prices for Kigali.
So, are you ready to rock Eastern Africa by land, air, and sea?! People will think you are crazy but the experience is fun, rugged, and totally unforgettable!
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