In many ways East Africa is ‘the’ real Africa.  No matter how many wildlife documentaries you’ve watched or glossy images you’ve seen, nothing prepares you for the real thing.

There is so much on offer to absorb and experience, iconic landscapes, bewitching beasts and birds… thoughts drift to boundless savannahs dotted with hordes of grazing plains game, majestic lion lazing under cover of golden grasses, languorous leopards lounging in vast thorn trees, distant glimpses from Arusha of soaring Kili(manjaro) as the cloud cover fleetingly lifts, the Masaai Mara, the Serengeti, the immense bowl of the Ngorongoro Crater, mesmeric Gorillas in the forest mists of Bwindi, and enchantingly poignant Chimpanzees in Kibale, the beautiful brilliant beaches of the Tropical islands and coastline.

The Ngorongoro Crater

And all this before even mentioning the wonderfully warm and welcoming locals and the diverse cultures. East Africa ticks so many quixotic boxes that, for an unparalleled experience, it’s no surprise that it’s at the top of most people’s Bucket List. But whilst it is a relatively easy choice deciding to travel to East Africa, there may be some indecision on exactly how to travel East Africa.

The countries making up East Africa are vast, the iconic national parks within them large, and the distances between them can be far. With much to see and do, ordinarily within a specific timeframe, and depending on what you want to get out of your holiday, the options are to either fly or drive, or possibly to elect a combination of both … which brings us to the pros and the cons of each mode.

“Going my way?”

The Pros and Cons of Self Driving East Africa

Cost: If cost is your primary concern, a driving safari is almost always the cheaper of the two options. For example a road transfer from Nairobi to the Masai Mara in Kenya takes 5 hours and can cost up to $200 per person (based on 2 guests).

Time: Driving is definitely the best way to see the countries and to explore, and is a good way of seeing more of Africa. But if time is limited, driving between reserves, areas or countries is not going to be the quicker of the alternative. If you want the driving experience, then it’s recommended that you select a single country or region. Choosing between a Kenya or Tanzania self drive may be tricky, but remember it’s also about the quality and not the quantity of your experiences.

Comfort & Convenience: When travelling between parks by road, journeys are on average around five hours.

Travelers should be aware that some of the roads can be bumpy, and if premier comfort is preferred, this may not be your best choice.

On the other hand, if a bit of dust doesn’t bother you, these drives may be considered part of the game-viewing experience where a variety of landscapes and wildlife can be observed and appreciated in a different way.

An assortment of vehicles may be utilized, but often the mode of transport is the ubiquitous eight-seater VW Kombi minivan with raised pop-up roof. While these do allow for great game-viewing when standing, if additional luxury is desired, a particular vehicle should be specifically requested. Generally when travelling by road, luggage restrictions are not as severe as when flying by light aircraft.

Experience: Driving allows the opportunity to meet the locals and to catch a glimpse of village life. If you want to immerse yourself in the culture and the country, driving allows you to do this.

Driver-guides are usually carefully selected and English speaking, thus facilitating communication and allowing for an interesting insight into local and authentic African life.

Not your usual ‘traffic jam’…

The Pros and Cons of Flying around East Africa

Cost: Flying between the different parks and reserves can be costly.  For example a flight from Nairobi to the Masai Mara takes 45 minutes and costs around $300 (depending on the season).

Time: While driving allows for more game-viewing opportunities, flying may be the preferred option if short on time and if long distances need to be covered efficiently.

Comfort & Convenience: Air travel is very convenient and rather effortless, and most would agree far more comfortable than a long dusty drive.

One observation, whilst evidently more comfortable than driving, flying between reserves and lodges is usually in light aircraft, some travelers do not very much like the idea of a small plane.

An additional small downside of flying is that air travel more often than not has restrictive luggage allowances on smaller aircraft.

Experience: Travelers have sweeping views as they fly over the lakes, moving wildlife, mountains, and savannas below. This often provides a sense of place.

One disadvantage of flying however is that you miss the opportunity of seeing village-life and meeting locals, especially children, along the way.

A nice thing to do is to combine flying with some driving so as to experience both. In which case the the best would be to do the shorter routes by road and the longer distances by plane. Like this you’ll get the absolute best of both worlds … and you save time and and money.

The Masai Mara from above
The Masai Mara from the air

Whatever your decision, be assured, East Africa is unequivocally enchanting and will provide you with memories to last a lifetime. And depending on what exactly you want out of your African safari, our expert travel advisers will advise you and connect the dots.

One Response to “East Africa Travel – Do We Fly or Self Drive?”

  1. Martin Wackenhut

    Hi Vanessa,

    great comparison, thanks.
    Could you nevertheless please elaborate a bit more about the costs for road transfer?
    200$ per person for a self drive sounds quite expensive when comparing this to our 1600$ to rent a Toyota Hilux for two weeks in Namibia.

    Cheers,

    Martin

    Reply

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