When you think of Africa, it’s probably Kenya and Tanzania that are the Africa of your dreams and they are the perfect introduction to the African continent. But where should you go?
You could start your East African odyssey in either Nairobi or Mombasa. For the purposes of this itinerary, I’ll start in Nairobi, but you can easily reverse this trip. Or if you want to start in Tanzania, head straight to Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam, and work your way up. Although I like to leave Zanzibar for last!
Trying to do a continuous itinerary in Kenya is a little difficult, as everything is spread out so to hit the main highlights you may need to double back on yourself a little bit and travel through the main cities, especially if you are using public transport. But don’t let that put you off, Africa is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
Nairobi may seem a bit intimidating for a first timer to Africa, but it’s actually a great city. To be honest, the first time I visited I wasn’t that impressed. I was passing through on an overland tour and it just seemed crowded, hectic and congested. It’s still all of those things, but it is also vibrant, exciting and full of adventure. Nairobi is probably the most hectic of all the African cities I’ve been to (Kampala is a close second), so if you can handle this, the rest of the continent will be a breeze! Just be patient and try and relax into it.
You can either head straight out of Nairobi and come back later or spend a few days there first before you go on safari. For the record, my favourites include; trips to the Nairobi Giraffe Centre, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, visiting the markets (there are plenty) and doing a walking tour of the city.
Nairobi also has some amazing restaurants and is known for having excellent Ethiopian food and nyama choma (grilled meat – usually goat) – try Habesha and Carnivore. It you go to Carnivore try the signature Kenyan ‘Dawa’ cocktail (pictured above).
Where to Stay
- Anga Afrika: This is a gorgeous camp in Karen on the outskirts of Nairobi.
- Wildebeest Eco Camp: A great camp that is perfect for groups, families and couples.
Nairobi is a great place to start your African adventure as it’s easy to get to with plenty of airlines like Emirates, Turkish Airlines and Kenya Airways travelling there daily and it’s also the main starting off point for most of the safari tours in Kenya.
READ MORE: My 5 Week Kenya and Tanzania Budget
Masai Mara, Kenya
Only a 6 hour of so drive from Nairobi you’ll find land safari dreams are made of, the Masai Mara! With pretty much every animal you could wish to see on an African safari, including the Big 5. You can even take a balloon ride and see it all from above, especially cool if you time it when the Great Migration is passing through – this varies slightly from year to year.
But it’s not all about safari. Just outside the Masai Mara is the town of Sekenani, where you can find some cool places for dinner. I would also recommend spending some time with the Maasai tribe.
Where to Stay
- Mara Explorers Camp: They offer a whole host of activities and also do some joining safaris, some of which are multi-stop, so you could visit places like Lake Nakuru and/or Amboseli. They can arrange your pick up from Nairobi, either in their safari van or by taxi, which for a 6 hour ride is very, very reasonable.
You can either take a tour there or you can make your own way via taxi or public bus, but if you go independently I would recommend having somewhere to stay once you get there. On the way from Nairobi you’ll be rewarded with the most incredible views of the Great Rift Valley and be sure to take a lunch break in the town of Narok for lunch. You’ll need it before you head onto the bumpy road into the Masai Mara.
By name, Amboseli is probably lesser known than the Masai Mara, however with it’s position at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, it’s probably the most iconic and visually stunning safari in the world – definitely the most beautiful I have seen. Less safaris seem to go there so finding one you can join if you are a solo traveller can take a bit of emailing back and forth, but it’s not impossible. If you have the money, arranging a private safari is pretty easy, but going completely solo could be a little miserable, as there is a lot of downtime in between game drives, but it depends where you stay and how busy it is – the camp I stayed at was very quiet.
Where to Stay
- Kibo Safari Camp: A good mid-range option with fabulous views of Kilimanjaro and they also have a pool, great for cooling off after safari.
- Kilima Safari Camp: This is a good mid to high-end option also with a lovely pool.
It’s best to take a tour to Amboseli, so you’ll usually be picked up from your hotel in Nairobi (or elsewhere) and drop you back again. If you are heading on to Mombasa, I would perhaps look at safaris that start in Nairobi and end in Mombasa (these usually also go Tsavo National Park too). If they don’t go to Mombasa, you can always ask if they can drop you at a good place to catch the bus. There’s always a way!
Spend a couple of days exploring the city of Mombasa on the Swahili coast. Mombasa, and indeed all of the Swahili coastal areas (Dar es Salaam, Bagamoyo, Mozambique, Zanzibar etc) have a distinctively different feel than the inland towns and cities, with strong Arabic, Indian and European influences, due to their position on the trade routes. These influences can be found in everything from the architecture to the food and even the religion.
Where to Stay
- Tulia Backpackers: Fun hostel with a nice pool. Cheap and cheerful.
- Voyager Beach Resort: Great resort with a lovely pool and close to the beach.
If you are heading to Mombasa from Nairobi, I’d definitely recommend getting the overnight train so you can experience one of Africa’s most iconic train journeys. Just remember the train only runs a few times a week, so you might do well to plan your trip to coincide with this. Alternatively, you can get busses from Nairobi and other towns, or as above, take a safari that gets you there, or near enough and catch a bus. If travelling from further afield, Mombasa has an international airport and many of the big airlines (like Emirates) fly there, so you could easily start your trip there.
I absolutely love Kilifi. It’s got a laid back vibe and the creek is just so pretty. There are loads of cool things to do and it’s one of those places that travellers go and just never leave. I wold definitely add it to your Kenya itinerary. If you come on one of my Kenya tours, you’ll get to come here too!
Where to Stay
- Distant Relatives Eco Lodge: An awesome, backpacker place right be the beach in Kilifi. One of my favourite hotels in Africa.
You can easily get a matatu mini bus from Mombasa, or a taxi if you don’t fancy that!
Diani Beach, Kenya
Last but not least is what is known as Kenya’s most beautiful beach, Diani.
This is a great place for water sport enthusiasts where you can try your hand at kite boarding or wind surfing. Nearby is Wasini Island and Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, ideal for a day trip. If you aren’t looking to do too much, you can lie in the sun, take a camel ride down the beach or shop for souvenirs in the local market.
If you like your nightlife, there are plenty of bars (Forty Thieves is probably the most well known one) where you can dance the night away under the stars to reggae or the latest Swahili tunes.
Where to Stay
- Stilts Backpackers: A good budget backpacker place, right across the road from Forty Thieves, the main bar in town.
- The Sands at Nomad: A great mid-range option, right on the beach.
- Waterlovers Beach Resort: This is a gorgeous resort, also near to Forty Thieves and the beautiful Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant.
- AfroChic: A super high-end and stunning hotel, known to be one of the best in Kenya.
Head towards Ukunda via the Likoni Ferry and then you can hop off the bus and go by either public transport or taxi to Diani Beach.
Other Destinations in Kenya
You could spend a month (or six) in Kenya alone. If you have more time, you also might want to consider Malindi, Samburu National Park, Lake Nakuru, Hell’s Gate National Park, Mount Kenya, Tsavo East/Tsavo West National Park (you pass through Tsavo on the Nairobi to Mombasa train), Lake Victoria, the Aberdares, Mount Suswa Conservancy and Lamu.
Travelling from Kenya to Tanzania
From Mombasa: If going overland, you could either get a bus direct from Mombasa to Arusha, or you could go via Nairobi. You can get to Nairobi by plane, bus or train. If you want to fly from Mombasa to Arusha or Kilimanjaro airports (usually via Nairobi or other big city in the surrounding countries) but it can be expensive. You can of course fly to other destinations like Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar, but Arusha is near the border with Kenya so it makes sense to start there and make your way south.
From Nairobi: The easiest and cheapest way to cross from Kenya into Tanzania overland is to get a bus to go from Nairobi to Arusha. However if you want comfort, I suggest getting a shuttle bus. These cost around $20 and they can be organised by most hotels, tour companies or travel agents. Flights from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro airport are relatively frequent, but again, expensive compared to buses.
Arusha is the gateway for the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, but it’s also a great place in itself to regroup before carrying on with your adventures. It’s pretty easy to get around and about as laid back as an African city can get, plus there’s lots of nice cafes where you can get a good piece of cake and a decent cup of tea or coffee. It’s pretty too, with purple jacaranda trees lining many of the roads.
If you are climbing Kilimanjaro, this is one of the start points, along with Moshi which is around an hour away.
Where to Stay
- Arusha Backpackers: Great location in town, but noisy due to the dala dala mini busses which congregate outside at around 5am every morning.
- Masai Camp: Popular with overlanders, so it’s always fun in the bar. There are also a number of other, guest houses and hotels in town and the surrounding areas.
You can either get here by bus from Nairobi (as above) or fly, as Kilimanjaro International Airport is nearby. Arusha has it’s own airport, but it’s only for domestic flights.
The Serengeti, Tanzania
Serengeti National Park is one of the best safaris you will ever go on and has been my luckiest place for lion spotting, and it’s the only place I’ve seen a leopard, on 2 separate occasions (2009 and 2014).
Where you stay will depend on your safari operator. Some will use the basic camping within the park and others will be super luxurious tented camps or lodges. The prices can vary wildly from a few hundred to a few thousand for a 2 – 3 day safari.
Where to Stay
- Seronera Campsite: Very basic campsite, right in the park. The beer truck sometimes pays a visit.
- Serengeti Simba Lodge: Beautiful mid-range lodge with great views and a pool.
Annoyingly, you can’t get from the Masai Mara direct to the Serengeti, even though they are technically the same place – only the animals can move about freely – which is fair enough. Most safaris leave from Arusha, so all of your transport will be included, although some can also go from Nairobi via Arusha. You can also fly if coming from within Tanzania.
READ MORE: Finding the Lion King in the Serengeti
The Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
You can combine your trip to the Serengeti with a Ngorongoro Crater safari. It’s on the way, so it would be a massive shame not to see it and it is stunning, so the views alone make it worth it. This is the one place where I’ve seen an endangered black rhino.
Where to Stay
- Ngorongoro Simba Campsite: A very basic campsite, popular with overlanders.
- Serena Safari Lodge: A beautiful lodge with great views over the crater.
The Ngorongoro Crater is in between Arusha and the Serengeti, so it makes sense to do both parks together.
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Dar es Salaam is one of those places that people often just pass through. It’s not the prettiest city or the easiest to get around, but it has a real character. Visit the markets (Kariakoo or the fish market), sample the delicious foods or head out of the city to the pretty beaches of Coco Beach, Jangwani, Mbuja Island, Bongoyo Island or Kigamboni.
Where to Stay
- Tanzanite Executive Suites: A clean and pretty smart hotel, near to the Zanzibar ferry terminal.
- The Slow Leopard: A popular hostel, slightly out of town.
I’ve done the bus journey between Arusha and Dar es Salaam 4 times. It takes around 12 hours, it’s usually bumpy and pretty uncomfortable, but it is an experience. Although my advice – unless you really love overlanding or you have your own private transport, I would fly.
If you’re looking to see a bit of the less touristy, off the beaten track Africa, then I definitely recommend heading to Bagamoyo. I stayed there for a while in 2009 when I was volunteering with the Baobab Home. When I returned in 2014, the town had changed a bit, with more hotels springing up, taking advantage of the fastastic position on the Indian Ocean, however tourists were still few, with most of the visitors being conference attendees, expats or NGO workers.
Bagamoyo is full of history, as it was once the major port of Tanzania and played an important role in the slave trade. Bagamoyo also has a specialist arts college, so it’s a really cool place with a lot going on. There’s a chilled out hippy vibe and lots of Rastafarians, however most people still live very traditionally and it is, above all else a fishing town.
Be sure to take a trip to the beach in the morning to watch the sunrise and see the fishermen bring in their catch, walk around the town admiring the (crumbling) architecture and shopping at the Bagamoyo Art Market. I recommend the food at Corner Bar or Poa Poa.
Where to Stay
- Firefly: This is a cute guest house, perfectly situated in the main part of town, near the beach and close to Poa Poa restaurant.
It’s an hour and a half north of Dar, and very easy to get to via dala dala or taxi from the city.
READ MORE: Tanzania & Zanzibar Adventure Tour 2017
Stone Town, Zanzibar
Finish your trip on the magical island of Zanzibar. Actually, ‘Zanzibar’ is made up of lots and lots of islands, but the most famous one, which people usually mean when they refer to Zanzibar is Unguja. The capital of Unguja is Zanzibar City, and the most famous section of Zanzibar City is called Stone Town.
Stone Town is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating places in the world, a true melting pot of cultures. With winding alleyways, unusual buildings and a tons of things to do. Spend time getting lost, taking a tour with my pal Farid, watching the local boys doing acrobatics on the beach and eating delicious foods (like a Zanzibar Pizza above) at Forodhani Gardens, or take a day trip to Prison Island or on the famous, Safari Blue boat.
Where to Stay
- Emerson Spice: This is an absolutely gorgeous high-end hotel in the centre of Stone Town. I stayed here for 2 nights and absolutely loved it.
- Dhow Palace: A great mid-range option in a good location.
You can fly which takes around 15 minutes, or you can get the ferry which takes around 2.5 hours. I always get the ferry as it’s fun!
On Zanzibar’s east coast you’ll find Paje, famous for windsurfing and white sandy beaches. There’s plenty of good nightlife to be had too. From here, you’re in a good place to get to The Rock, a restaurant on a rock in the Indian Ocean.
Where to Stay
- New Teddy’s: I stayed at New Teddy’s Place but Paje by Night also looks like a fun place to stay.
You can either get a dala dala, shared mini bus or private taxi to Paje.
READ MORE: Dinner at The Rock Zanzibar
Nungwi & Kendwa, Zanzibar
Finish off your trip at either Nungwi or Kendwa, two of Zanzibar’s loveliest beaches, up in the far north of Zanzibar. Whichever you go to, you will have a great time and the party tends to move around, with various bars holding the main party on different nights of the week. Saturdays at Kendwa Rocks are legendary.
Whilst you’re there, try the delicious fresh seafood and if you like being on the water, you can go snorkelling or diving around the Mnemba Atoll or take a sunset cruise on a traditional dhow.
Getting there: You can either get a dala dala, shared mini bus or private taxi to Kendwa or Nungwi.
Where to stay: I like Kendwa Rocks. I had a private room last time, but they also have a dorm, although it’s not really advertised anywhere. Next door is Sunset Bungalows, which tends to cater for a lot of the overlanders 9I’ve stayed there too). In Nungwi, the Ras Nungwi Beach Hotel looks pretty nice and romantic.
READ MORE: 40 Amazing Things To Do in Zanzibar
Other Destinations in Tanzania
If you have more time, you also might want to consider climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Meru, taking the Tazara train, Lake Manyara, Selous Game Reserve (you go through here on the Tazara train), Tarangire National Park and Ruaha National Park. Or perhaps think about visiting some of the other islands that make up the Zanzibar archipelago like Pemba and Mafia.
So there you have it! This list isn’t exhaustive, but it should be relatively do-able in a month – if you don’t mind moving every few days!
Have an amazing trip to Kenya & Tanzania!
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