Traveling overland is by far the cheapest way to reach Tanzania from Kenya, however as with many budget transportation options, it comes with a much higher cost. So often in the past I have been blinded by incredibly attractive costs, that I have completely overlooked the potential strings attached.
If I’ve learned anything about booking budget overland travel in my extensive time abroad, it’s that travelers must be willing to sacrifice comfort and sanity (and sometimes safety) for the sake of their wallet.
And while I have incredible stories to tell, I’m now at the point in my life where I would rather fork over the extra change and upgrade to a more comfortable method of transportation! Never again will I find myself in a situation where I’m eating mud, smoke and dirt from an unstable chair at the back of a half broken down bus!
It was hot, incredibly humid, and there were no paved roads. We were in for an 8 hour bus journey overland from Kenya to Tanzania, with the full knowledge that bus riding through Africa is always an event.
It was 2010, and I have been told that the roads from Nairobi to Arusha have since been paved, though I would still pay the extra for flights. Granted, the scenery we took in on our 8 hour bus ride from hell was spectacular, and we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience these views from the comfort of a plane.
As far as first impressions, the bus trip through the Kenyan mountainside is stunning, and there is always a scene to take in once you have wiped the dust and dirt from the windows.
If you’re not looking at green scenery, you’re looking at village scenery. Baboons frolic on the side of the roads, giraffes graze in nearby fields, and the route passes by primitive villages and Maasai herdsmen with their flocks. Maasai children no older than 10 sling machetes, and people in the streets peddle their wares as the bus passes.
We piled into the bus around 9am; it was an old shuttle; rickety with more seats than space for people. Our backpacks were tied to the roof, and our hand luggage rode with us on our lap.
Having arrived last, I was assigned an unstable make-shift seat which popped up in-between the back row and swayed back and forth with the erratic movement of the bus. Though I wasn’t the only one suffering.
It was a catch 22. We were dying from the sweltering heat of the African sun, however those who opened the windows for breeze were soon choking from the dust and sand of the African plains. The roads were so uneven, rough and rutted that in my unstable seat I felt like I had been thrown inside a washing machine.
At certain points in the journey I was literally holding my throat to stop my neck from being violently tossed back and forth. At one point I attempted to lie down on the dirty bus floor, though not even pills would induce a sleep which would last through that!
I desperately grabbed for my computer, thinking I would distract myself with Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”, however the laptop shook so aggressively on my lap with every pothole, bump and tree stump that I’m surprised it didn’t break.
To this day I don’t know how I survived. Though somehow, miraculously, I made it from Kenya to Tanzania (where I met a handsome American who is now my husband), having only spent $35. I should have paid the extra for flights!
Should I find myself in the position where I’m forced (and I would have to be forced) to take a second journey, I would make sure to limit my fluids. It was incredibly tempting to drink as much as possible throughout the bus trip, mainly to wash the taste of dust out of my mouth, however pit stops are far and few between, and if the bus does stop, the standards of the bathrooms may make you choose to hold.
Take cash with you if you don’t already have a visa for Tanzania (they accept American dollars), and keep an eye on your bags at all times.
There are quite a few shuttle bus companies which run between Nairobi and Arusha/Moshi; Impala and Riverside are some of the most common. There are small shops in the lobby of the Nairobi airport where you can buy a ticket for the shuttle. Though I strongly encourage you to skip the fun and just fly!
Though if this sounds like the adventure for you, by all means, book the bus!