This is one of the most important parts of your roadtrip preparation. A good start is half the battle! Roadtripping in East Africa is a different ball game to road-tripping in most countries in the world. It’s also a completely different environment than Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, so don’t think you can compare southern Africa with the East. Most tourists opt for an organized tour in East Africa and the self-drive industry is far less developed. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it does mean you need to plan well in advance. The information on our website is there to help as much as possible with your travel preparations.
Being prepared and knowing what to expect is essential for a successful and satisfying trip. Here we share our most important itinerary planning tips with you:
Important information for self-drive roadtrippers. Covered in this section:
How are the road conditions in East Africa?
All the primary roads radiating out of Nairobi are tarmac roads, and will bring you comfortably to your safari destination. Road conditions are good by African standards, and ever improving, so expect to encounter some roadworks along the way. There are also unsurfaced roads. The so-called ‘C’ and ‘D’ roads are usually unsurfaced. Some unsurfaced roads are still in good condition, but most roads are notorious for their large potholes, rocky surfaces and river overflows. The roads listed below are in poor state or in particularly dangerous and will greatly reduce your travel pace:
What precautions can I take when driving in Kenya?
We have been exploring Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda by road for many years. The experience is rewarding and safe, as long as you follow these precautions:
In case of a mechanical breakdown, please contact Kip’s 4×4 Hire immediately.
We have a network of mechanics all over the country to assist you if needed. Our phone number is available 24 hours a day and we will try to solve the problem to the best of our ability. In case a problem with your car can’t be solved by our local mechanics within 24 hours, a spare car will be made available. Kindly note the spare car has to come from Nairobi. Depending on your location, it might take a while to receive the car.
In the instance of a flat tire, this is something you can change and get repaired yourself. The information booklet in the car provides more information on how to deal with a flat tire.
In case of an accident, please contact us immediately. We will probably advise you to contact the police. For insurance reasons, it’s important that you receive a police report. You will need to take pictures of the damage/situation. Kindly do not leave the vehicle unattended without our consent.
What happens if a traffic police officer stops me?
There are a lot of traffic police in Kenya, Uganda & Rwanda. You can spot them from afar and they are usually set up close to major junctions. Traffic police will frequently pull you over to check if your car is insured, if the tires look okay, and to check if you’re carrying the required fire extinguisher, triangles and a first aid kit. Of course, that will have been taken care of if you rent a car from Kip’s 4×4 Hire. Remain patient and friendly, greet them and be very polite. They will want to see your driving license. A valid driving license from your country of residence is accepted in East Africa. If you didn’t break the law (speeding, dangerous overtaking, etc.), there is nothing they can accuse you of. In our experience, traffic police are friendly and often just want to make chit chat. If you committed an offense, you have to pay the fine, which is usually around Ksh 5000 ($50) depending on the Country.
How do I navigate my way?
We suggest to use your smartphone with the app Maps.ME. You can download the Kenya map (15Mb) in the app for offline use. These maps systems are much more detailed and have all major roads, most locations and places of interest plotted. There’s also something to be said for going offline with a good old fashioned map on your lap. The roadmaps that come with your rental car are not very detailed, but all main roads are well highlighted.
How much distance can I cover in one day?
Although asphalt roads are in good condition, you generally don’t reach more than 60 km/hour, due to the many speed bumps, as you have to reduce speed when you’re passing through villages. On gravel roads, you reach an average of 25 km/hour. If you are trying to estimate your travel itinerary with Google Maps, we advise you to increase the suggested travel time by a third.
Can I cross the border?
Yes, it is possible to cross the border to Uganda and Rwanda with our rental car. You are NOT allowed to cross to South Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania or Somalia. If you want to do a multiple country roadtrip, you will need to let us know in advance as we have to arrange a COMESA card, an extension of the car insurance for your vehicle. The insurance costs $ 100 and is valid for three weeks. Without our consent, you are not allowed to cross the border and you are not insured for any damage. Please contact us for more information.
There are a few areas in East Africa which are restricted for our rental vehicles (self-drive and/or driver operated) because the road conditions are poor and require technical driving skills, or the area is too remote for us to provide adequate back up support.
Northern Kenya is off limit and you are not allowed to travel there with our rental cars. This is roughly everything north of the line Mount Elgon – Marsabit – Lake Turkana and the Chalbi Desert. This restriction is for both self drivers and vehicles with hired drivers. For Uganda and Rwanda, We will always advise according to the booking
Kindly note that these restricted areas are listed in our rental terms & conditions. Our vehicles have car trackers installed to monitor if a hirer breaches the contract, and you would be fully liable for any costs and loss of security bond.
In this section, you find all the information to organize your own self drive safari in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda including:
Park Entrance Fees
Kenya has over 23 national parks, 15 national reserves, and more than 140 private conservancies that all have their own pricing system.The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) manages a large number of the National Parks, marine parks and reserves. The KWS used to have a Safaricard system, but this was abandoned in April 2017. These days it’s possible to pay with either credit card (MasterCard and Visa) or Mobile Money (MPESA, by Safaricom). It’s a smart idea to buy a SIM card and register this for MPESA at the start of your trip in Nairobi, as most places in Kenya prefer MPESA payment to cash. It is not possible to pay with cash at the entrance of KWS parks!
The best national parks in Kenya
There are a lot of wildlife safari destinations, national parks, national reserves and private conservancies that are well worth a visit in Kenya. We keep our blog updated about the most beautiful destinations in Kenya that you can visit with your rental car. You can find tips about campsites, routes and suggestions from us and fellow road-trippers in these posts:
Organise your game drive
Most Roadtrippers do the game drives by themselves. If you are a bit unlucky with viewing game and you have the feeling you’re missing out, you can always arrange for a ranger at the park entrance gate. The cost for a ranger differs per park, but is usually between 1500 and 3500 Ksh. Sometimes, lodges also provide ranger-guides to take you through the park. A tip of around $15 is highly appreciated by most rangers. Our drivers are also experienced safari guides that can take you around any national park in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
Elephants and buffaloes are beautiful, giant creatures who will certainly leave a firm impression on your safari trip. As elephants love bushy areas (bush = food), they can sometimes appear from behind a bush very suddenly in close proximity to your car. When you are that close, the car suddenly feels slightly fragile compared to these huge animals.
So, safety tips are key here: always be alert and drive as if you would expect animals lurking around the corner. Keep an eye on moving bushes and trees. Keeping your distance is key. Never try to drive towards elephants intentionally. Heavy ear flapping, trumping their trunk and bluff charging are signs that he or she is a bit pissed off by your company.
When you encounter an elephant or lonely buffalo on the road, do the following: make sure you have a clear route to drive away if necessary, always leave your engine running, stay calm, keep your voices down and most of all, enjoy the experience!
When is the best time to visit East Africa? We would dare to say that East Africa is nice to visit year round. It never gets cold, and even during the rainy season your travel will not be hindered, as the rains can be heavy but are typically short.
Most of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda has one long, hot dry season from December until April, when temperatures rise to an average of 30°C, and even warmer. The rainy season generally lasts from April through to May, with some short rains from September to November.
When is high season in East Africa?
Tourists come to visit Kenya,Uganda and Rwanda all year round, but peak season is from December to January, and from June to October during the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara. Reserve your rental car well in advance, as we are fully booked months ahead during peak season.
Many lodges use a low season (April, May), high season (rest of the year) and peak season (June-October) rate. Traveling in the low season considerably cuts your budget, and is worth considering if you don’t mind a rain shower here and there.
Do I need to get a visa to enter Kenya?
Yes, you need a tourist visa to enter Kenya. You can easily arrange this online here. Apply at least 3 days in advance of arrival. A tourist visa for East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda) costs USD $100 and allows you to freely move between these countries. If you are working in East Africa, and you have a valid work permit, special pass or the like, you can freely cross the border.
Can I cross the border with my rental car?
Yes, it is possible to cross the border to Uganda and Rwanda in a Kip’s 4×4 rental car . You do need to let us know in advance as we have to arrange a COMESA card, an extension of the car insurance for your vehicle. Without our consent you are not allowed to cross the border and you are not insured for any damage. You are not allowed to cross to Ethiopia, South Sudan or DRC. Please contact us for more information.
Do I need an international drivers license?
A (valid) driver’s license from your own country is sufficient. It’s not necessary to buy an international license.
How about insurance?
Our cars are comprehensively insured against damage as a result of accident or fire, and third party liability to property and bodily injury due to a car accident. Personal injury/death and possessions are not covered and fall under your medical and travel insurance.
There’s a maximum own risk of USD 250, not covered by the insurance. Tires, underbody coverage and windows are not covered by the insurance. The hirer is fully liable for any damage to the Kip’s 4×4 rental car and / or third party property, if:
Is Kenya a safe travel destination?
Is Kenya a safe country for a self drive safari? Safety aspects we consider are: road conditions, conflicts and crime.
Road safety in Kenya
Most roads are well maintained and most traffic users know and obey to the driving rules quite well. However, always drive defensively and at limited speed, lock your doors and avoid driving after dark due to badly lit roads and livestock that can cross the road unexpectedly. Do not leave valuables in your car when it’s unattended and always carry cash, water and a charged mobile phone with you. Check our on the road tips.
How about crime in Kenya?
People in Kenya are generally friendly and willing to assist you. It is not uncommon for people to ask for a small incentive to help you, however. Negotiation on price is always done upfront. Along the main tourist attractions, you will be surrounded by street vendors. A firm “no thank you” will mostly do the trick. Although sometimes slightly annoying, it’s harmless.
With regards to crimes such as theft, be street smart, as you are traveling in a country where the population is considerably less wealthy than you are. Don’t leave valuables in the car, always try to park the car at a secure spot, leave your diamond rings at home and try not to leave your valuables up for grabs in your hotel room. However, hotel theft is not a big problem.
Inter-tribal conflicts in Kenya have diminished in recent years. Unfortunately, Kenya has, like many countries in the recent past, faced terrorism attacks. These attacks were never specifically aimed at tourists. Although it is a very sad thing, and one can take precautions in mind such as avoiding crowded places, we can only hope that it never holds people back from doing what they really love: travelling. Tourism is usually one of the first economic sectors hit hardest as tourists shy away, whilst so many people depend on it for their livelihoods.
Some safety tips for tourists in Nairobi
If you are driving around in Nairobi, lock your doors, avoid driving after dark, and don’t leave your car unattended with all your luggage in it. If you’re heading out to explore Nairobi town, it’s better to take a taxi instead of your rental car. It’s also more convenient for parking, etc. Some additional tips:
Choose a (private) taxi or Uber over public transport, especially when coming from the airport.
Do not walk on the streets after dark. Use taxi drivers to drop you inside a secure compound.
Beware of people hanging around when you are going to the bank or the ATM, and preferably use ATMs inside shopping malls.
Some advice to consider
Do not hand out money, clothes, pens or sweets at random to local children. However touching it might be, it encourages begging and creates a distorted view of tourism. Instead, show genuine interest, play and talk with the kids the way you would with children in your own country.
If you really want to bring goods, a lodge owner or connection to a local organization is a good source of advice. You can also check Pack for a Purpose. It would be good to find out which goods can be bought locally. Basic school supplies and basic (first aid) medical supplies are easily found in the shopping malls in Nairobi – in this way you stimulate the local economy.
We discourage leaving stuff behind in your hotel room – it’s better to give it to the lodge owner than leaving it for the maid to find, which might cause friction among the staff.
Most lodges have a tipping box and distribute the tips equally among all the staff. If you enjoyed the service, just be generous and contribute to the tipping box. As for your driver or guide, tipping is highly appreciated.