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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!


Motorcycle – why didn’t I think of that before the 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.


Gorgeous scenery along the way.

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.

Giraffes graze

Giraffes graze in nearby fields.

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.

The scenery along the way.

The beautiful scenery along the way.

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!

About Meg Jerrard

Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging around the world for the last 7 years to inspire others to embark on their own worldwide adventure!  Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Follow their journey on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.


  1. That sounds so un-fun, but spectacular —in retrospect. The good thing about having a travel blog is that while you’re sitting there wondering if you’ll survive, eating dust and fumes, another part of your brain is thinking “but it will make a good blog post”. (BTW, some flights can also be “What was I thinking?” experiences.)

    • It’s definitely always a lot funner when you’re re-telling the story after the experience lol!

      It’s so true though – you really are always switched on thinking about what would make a good blog post!!

      And agree – our flights throughout Bolivia were “what were we thinking” experiences – but we came out alive and that’s the main thing :D!!!

      Thanks Suzanne!

    • As a Kenyan I do take offense when you don’t get your facts right. I have been to Tanzania several times from Kenya from 2004 and we had tarmacked roads back then.kindly stop misleading folks by portraying East African countries as some backward dirty, underdeveloped places

  2. That kind of sounds like fun, even though it would be really hard as well. I’ve only done Luxor to Dahab – they said it was 12 hours,the internet said it was 18 and in reality it was 19 and a 1/2. :) I don’t think it was nearly as stressful though.

    • Ouch that’s a long journey though!! I don’t know what I would rather – a stressful journey half the time, or double the time but eliminate the stress! I guess at least with the latter you could try to sleep through some of it :D!

  3. I’ve not experienced a hellish overland trip during my travels. I did sit on 3 coconuts on the floor of a bus during a 4-hour trip on the island of Flores in Indonesia. It was surprising comfortable! I’m like you though, I pay the extra to fly whenever possible now.

    • Sounds like an interesting ride! And hey, if you got hungry or thirsty, you could have just reached for some coconut! Very cool story!!

  4. Did you try the Giraffe hamburgers? I heard they’re pretty awesome, Meg! :D

    • Lol I can’t say I did :D Next time perhaps ;)

  5. Oh I have a van ride story that was so nightmarish I haven’t been able to even write about it yet! I am thinking another few months. Think vomit, multiple children, overnight, and Laos and let your imagination run wild…and it still won’t come close…Shudder..

    • Ouch! That sounds horrific!! Let me know when you eventually find the stomach to write it into a blog post! Would love to read!!

  6. What a trip! We were on an overland safari truck and it to was one he’ll of a bumpy ride…crazy you met your husband there :-)

    • Definitely bumpy out there! Though I guess it wouldn’t be Africa if there were paved highways everywhere!!

      It is a little crazy! Definitely a very small world!

  7. Horrible! I experienced the same when I opted for the bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap back in 2006 – most of the endlessly long trip was on an unpaved road with broken seats and dust everywhere! There are times where saving a few bucks is the best option, but sometimes – and those times often have to do with transport – it’s better to just pay extra! I guess some of us just have to find out the hard way.

    • Definitely have to figure out the hard way! Sounds like your trip throughout Asia was just as fun as mine throughout Africa!!

      Well at least we’ve got the stories to tell and we’ll never again wonder “what if”!! Money on a flight is money well spent :D

  8. Great post. I get very car sick and am glad I read this to do my research before any transportation. I took a penguin tour once and the zodiac boat was bumpy and I thought I was going to loose it!

    • Definitely don’t take this trip then lol! Or the flight to the Nazca lines either – I’m generally pretty good on planes, but in a tiny little prop plane that tossed from side to side, that was the worst flight of my life; I genuinely nearly lost it!

  9. That really sounds like a crazy bus ride Megan! I have been on a few of those myself, but either in Asia and South America. In the end you never know what those experiences were good for, in your case you met your future husband who you might have missed otherwise if you had taken the flight. And at the end of the day, you also had an amazing story to tell of a certainly unforgettable travel experience… :)

    • Very good point! Everything tends to happen on the path to a greater good! As you said, who knows, I may have had to take that hellish bus trip in order to meet Mike! Thanks for the perspective!!

  10. Sounds pretty bad, at least as bad as our taxi-brousse trips around Madagascar! Imagine 12+ hours with people sitting all over you… still an awesome experience, though!

    • Ouch! I can’t imagine that would be an experience I would have loved lol!! I’m glad you made it through with a story to tell at the end though!!

  11. I traveled from Zimbabwe to Tanzania all on overland public buses. It was an adventure I’m glad I had but not one I’m wishing to do again.

    • I bet it was! It’s definitely one of those things which is always fun looking back after the fact. I wasn’t thinking it was an adventure at the time, but it was definitely an adventure after adding some perspective!

  12. Yikes but.. at least you got to see Kenya!

    • Very true! Wouldn’t change that much!

  13. I could definitely see myself forking over the extra money to not deal with that kind of thing! Sounds like quite the experience though! Hard to enjoy the views when you’re suffering that much!

  14. That really does sound like a nightmare. I hate flying, but sometimes it’s just the most sensible option!

    • Often is! We chose that route through bolivia after reading multiple “bus trip from hell: articles across the web! Flights didn’t work out much better lol but I’ll take what I can get!

  15. Oooh this looks amazing, I’ve always wanted to go to Africa, especially Kenya. And totally agree with you about paying a bit extra to be more comfortable – never again will I have to get out and push my own bus in the middle of a cliff, stuck knee high in dirt and mud haha. Or having to get in the middle of the freeway because our bus caught fire. Sooo not worth saving that little bit of money!

    • Your bus caught fire??!! Lol damn!! Glad to assume from your humorous tone that it all worked out ok in the end lol thats a crazy story to tell though! You’ve got me beat!

  16. As you said, Megan, at least we’ve got the stories to tell. And these stories, these memories, will be with you for the rest of your lives!

    • Very true – thanks Allan! I do enjoy looking back over the stories even if they were hellish at the time!

  17. Oh wow, what an adventure! It definitely gives a good story to tell, but I think I might have to take the flight :)

    • Good option lol :D

  18. It is good to know the pros and cons traveling on land! Dust and fumes, maybe not my kind of diet :)

    • It’s usually all worth it afterwards for the stories to tell lol. Not my diet either though :S!!

  19. well that certainly sounds like an adventure- I think I’ll leave this one to live vicariously through you and, when I get that way, take your advice and hop on a plane ;)

    • Lol good plan. Happy to let you live vicariously through this one :D

  20. Holding your throat to stop the bumpiness! Wow. But you know . . . your reward was meeting the man of your dreams! Love this story :) It all worked out and everything always does!

    • It was pretty bad! Lol but very true. Who knows what my life would be like now without that one trip. Crazy to think how different moments lead up to life changing events!!

  21. Uggg, I’ll never forget Medan to Lake Toba on the shittiest highway ever with crazy suicidal drivers. Would love to one day go back to lake Toba but that drive alone makes me wonder if its worth it…
    Tough being a traveler sometimes!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Lol I feel you! Have experience my fair share of suicidal drivers while on the roads around the world! I’ll have to check into the Medan to Lake Toba drive now – you have me intrigued!!

  22. Oh, I’m sorry riding the bus wasn’t that great! At least the views were amazing, and you even met your husband at the end!

    • Every situation has a silver lining!!

  23. Well that was a pretty average bus ride… until you try accessing Northern Kenya by road – or try air (there are no commercial flights), The Towns of Moyale, or Wajir or better still Mandera. and you will realise the Nairobi – Arusha bus ride was pure serenity. Enjoy your trip though Kenya is quiet a land of contrasts..

    • Well I definitely can’t say I’ve traveled by bus through Northern Kenya yet, it’s definitely on the list though for the moment I’ll take your word for the buses being worse!

      I had a phenomenal time in Kenya it was a truly fascinating country – agree with you 100% – truly a land of contrasts!

      Thanks for stopping by Collo!

  24. So glad I came across this article! Flying to Kenya in 2 weeks and will do this same route. Might consider flying cause we’re traveling with a 4 year old. I’m pretty sure that’ll more horrific. LOL.

    • Hmmm with a 4 year old I would definitely recommend the flight – it’s the best money you’ll ever spend trust me! Admittedly, this journey was in 2010 so they could have improved the roads since then though I really wouldn’t count on it, especially if you’re traveling with a young child :)

      You’ll love Kenya and Tanzania though, such spectacular countries! happy travels!

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