Best road trips routes in Kenya: 5 options for thrilling African vacations

By Tetiana PavlichenkoFeb 19, 2024 20:02 PMKenya
Best road trips routes in Kenya: 5 options for thrilling African vacations
These journeys will be filled with beautiful landscapes and vivid impressions. Source: Image Julian Hacker/Pixabay

Kenya's vast national parks and quaint, colorful towns offer an excellent option for a road trip, allowing travelers to delve deep into local life and culture, reshaping their understanding of the country.

Private self-drive tours in Kenya provide travelers with the freedom to visit desired attractions in their preferred order, at their convenience, and make stops at viewpoints and restaurants whenever desired. This allows travelers to explore lesser-known sights off the typical road trips, creating a unique and exclusive experience of Kenya.

With this guide to the 5 best driving routes in Kenya, you can plan your perfect African road trip.

1. Nairobi - Lake Naivasha and back

Best road trips routes in Kenya: 5 options for thrilling African vacations
Most of the routes start from Kenya's capital city of Nairobi. Source: Image Nina Stock/Pixabay

Distance - 60 miles (95 km); Duration - 1 day.

One of the most convenient and fascinating destinations for a short drive from Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is the unique volcanic Lake Naivasha. Here, you can enjoy stunning views of the Great Rift Valley from excellent viewpoints like Mathora, where you'll witness the valley floor dotted with lakes and active and dormant volcanoes, surrounded by ridges and escarpments.

As you leave Nairobi, approximately 30 miles (50 km) into your journey, stop at the Traveler's Chapel, also known as Mai Mahiu Church. This church, one of the smallest in the world, was built in 1942 by Italian prisoners of war. Along the way, you'll also encounter a "Welcome to Nakuru District" sign featuring a map of Africa, a popular spot for tourist photo shoots.

If you choose to stay overnight near Naivasha instead of driving back the same day, make a stop at Longonot National Park within the crater. Here, you can admire the view of the Great Rift Valley from the crater's edge and continue to the lake to observe various bird species and wildlife at the watering hole. If time permits, explore Longonot Volcano, Crater Lake, and Crescent Island. You can also visit Hell's Gate, one of Africa's most beautiful national parks, featuring dramatic landscapes of high cliffs, stone towers, and bush-covered volcanoes emitting geothermal steam. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, baboons, Thomson's gazelles, antelopes, cheetahs, and hyenas, although spotting them may be challenging.

2. Kisumu in the Western Highlands

Distance - 225 miles (360 km); Duration - 7-10 days.

Embark on one of Kenya's best drives overlooking the Great Rift Valley, starting from Nairobi and ending in the lakeside town of Kisumu.

From Nairobi, head northwest to Lake Nakuru, surrounded by a small protected reserve. Continue to Kisumu, following one of Western Kenya's best driving routes, which offers breathtaking views of the northern parts of the Rift Valley. This route also takes you through the Nairobi-Naiwasha highway and includes a visit to Kericho town, providing an opportunity to experience daily life in Kenya outside the capital. Stock up on food here, and if desired, stay in safari lodges or rooms and relax on the beach.

Near Kericho, visit several tea farms and the Mau Forest, which offers intriguing winding routes for road trips around Kenya.

Upon reaching Kisumu, situated on the northeastern shore of Lake Victoria, take your time to soak up the atmosphere of this harbor town. Explore its vibrant markets, impala shrines, and admire magnificent sunsets before heading back.

3. Nairobi - Lake Magadi

Best road trips routes in Kenya: 5 options for thrilling African vacations
Each Kenya itinerary will expose travelers to fantastically beautiful scenery. Source: Image Antony Trivet/Pixabay

Distance - 70 miles (112 km); Duration - 2 days

One of the best routes for a weekend road trip in Kenya will take you to the stunning "pink" Lake Magadi. This option is ideal for travelers who want to stay close to the capital city but still wish to enjoy the breathtaking wildlife scenery.

Heading south from Nairobi, in about an hour, you'll arrive at Olepolos Country Club. Besides offering excellent hiking trails with magnificent views, the local Nyama Choma restaurant serves delicious lunches. Its name translates from Swahili as "barbecue meat." Along the way, you'll also find numerous roadside stalls selling grilled chicken, roasted goat meat, and crispy corn snacks, providing an opportunity to explore the local fast food scene.

Continuing your journey, you'll pass through traditional villages and acacia thickets until you reach Magadi Soda Lake. It's the most remote of all the lakes in the Rift Valley, hence fewer tourists. "Magadi" means "salty" in the Maasai language, which accurately describes the lake. The dried-up parts of the reservoir and the surrounding area are covered with a thick layer of salt, giving the landscape a fantastic appearance. The lake attracts many bird species, including pink flamingos. You can picnic on the shore or visit the Lake Magadi Sports Club and Tented Camp. Here, you can enjoy a nice lunch or opt to stay overnight in comfortable accommodations or safari-style tents. Marvel at the surrounding nature, especially the lakeside sunsets. Spending another night around the Ngong Hills after exploring the cliffs and valley floor is also worthwhile.

4. Mount Kenya

Distance - 133 miles (213 km) long; Duration - 3 days.

A fantastic option for combining an exhilarating road trip and hiking in Kenya is to head to Nairobi-Mount Kenya Park. Urban areas give way to rural areas with lush greenery as you drive north from Nairobi towards Mount Kenya National Park. These areas are popular for hiking, wild camping, and rock climbing. On your way past the town of Thika, make sure to stop at roadside stalls to taste the local pineapples. Your next stop will be Sagana Camp, located approximately 60 miles (95 kilometers) from Nairobi, where you can enjoy rafting and ziplining activities.

Before reaching the bustling town of Nanyuki, the gateway to Mount Kenya, make a stop at the equator sign - taking selfies here is a must for memorable Kenya road trips. Explore the town's handicraft market to pick up some souvenirs. In Nanyuki, you can also indulge in grilled goat and maize, find a great coffee stand, and discover a store offering ice cream, snacks, and drinks.

If you're up for extending this trip, head west of Mount Kenya to Meru National Park. Less touristy and with an adventurous atmosphere, it's teeming with lush wetland wildlife and offers stunning views of Mount Kenya.

5. Nairobi-Mombasa highway

Best road trips routes in Kenya: 5 options for thrilling African vacations
Traveling in Kenya will allow you to observe animals in their natural environment. Source: Image Herbert Aust/Pixabay

Distance - 305 miles (490 km); Duration - 10 days.

Mombasa can also be reached by plane or train, but a much more exciting experience is to drive one of the best scenic routes, offering diverse landscapes in Kenya, from the bush to the beach, traversing the wilderness of national parks.

The Nairobi-Mombasa highway is well-maintained, mostly a two-lane road, ensuring an enjoyable drive. Start by heading to Amboseli, a national park renowned for its stunning scenery with the towering Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop. Spend a few nights here observing herds of elephants.

From Amboseli, return to the main highway and proceed to another national park, Tsavo. As one of the largest parks in the country, Tsavo is divided into eastern and western parts, known for its diverse wildlife and picturesque landscapes with craters, hills, and bush-covered cliffs. A direct route west leads to Tsavo West Park, one of Kenya's oldest. However, it's advisable to drive here in good weather conditions, and it's best to check with park rangers or Amboseli staff for the latest information on road conditions and park access. Approximately 62 miles (about 100 km) of highway stretch between Tsavo East and Tsavo West parks. Along this route, you'll have the opportunity to encounter zebras, elephants, giraffes, and monkeys. Part of the way, you'll drive alongside the railroad line, offering the chance for great photos and a unique experience passing next to trains.

As you continue, the terrain becomes more hilly and lush passing through the town of Mtito Andei and the Shimba Hills before reaching Mombasa. Kenya offers many interesting places to visit by car. You can choose to drive south of the city to the stunning white-sand beaches of Galu and Diani on the Indian Ocean coast or head north. Heading north allows you to visit the beautiful town of Kilifi with its ancient ruins and secluded beaches, snorkel in Watamu with its superb beach and marine national park, or explore bustling Malindi with its old-town atmosphere, Italian restaurants, and crystal-clear waters of the marine national park.

Driving tips

Kenya's main roads are generally in good condition, but there are also many dirt roads and potholes. When renting a car, ensure it's equipped with the appropriate wheels for the terrain. It's advisable to seek assistance from a reputable car rental company to match the car to the roads on your chosen route. Getting stuck on a remote road is not an ideal situation while traveling by car in Kenya. Therefore, knowing the basics of car maintenance is recommended in case of breakdowns.

Driving in Kenya requires confidence and experience as traffic rules can be erratic, and some drivers, particularly public transportation drivers, may not adhere to disciplined driving practices. Overtaking is often necessary, even on single-lane mountain roads.

Traveling during daylight hours is preferable due to issues with road lighting, the possibility of encountering wildlife on the road, or becoming a victim of crime, such as car theft. Before embarking on a road trip in Kenya, check your government's travel advisories for specific regions and consult your car rental company for the latest information upon arrival.

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