Bush to Beach
The bush-to-beach Kenya safari is the ultimate one-way road trip! Start in Nairobi and return your car to any of the towns or airports along the coast. You'll visit the Masai Mara, Naivasha & Hell's Gate, Amboseli, Tsavo and you end at the coast.
This tour is great for those looking to combine the classic safari experience with a roadtrip along the coast. Note that this route contains a few long driving days.
There are many ways how to compose your beach days and end your trip. We are personally a big fan of doing a roadtrip along the coast - Watamu, Kilifi and Diani are very different beach destinations, each with its own vibe, and all deserve a stay. Alternatively, you can consider choosing one beach town and hand over your car. In case you need to catch a return flight from Nairobi, then it's good to know there are daily comfort express trains between Nairobi and Mombasa and several cheap charter flights from Diani, Watamu and Malindi.
Scroll down below to see the day-to-day route. From January 2024, it shall also be possible to book this tour with pre-booked accommodation and detailed travel notes included.
Check the day to day itinerary
Day 1 of 18
Drive: 25km | 60-90 minutes.
Welcome to Kenya, or in Swahili: Karibu Kenya! Today you will arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. We can either deliver the car to the airport so you can start your road trip straight away. Or you shall be picked up from the airport and taken to your lodge, and you start your road trip fresh the next morning. The lodges we select in Nairobi are based in Karen or Lang'ata, both green and affluent suburbs, boasting many good restaurants and shopping malls to stock up on supplies.
Top attractions in Nairobi are Nairobi National Park (a safari park with all the main predators enclosed by the city!), the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the Giraffe Centre, Karen Blixen Museum or shopping for souvenirs at the Masaai Market. Alternatively, you can go up to the International Conference Centre Tower for a 360 view of the city.
Day 2 of 18
Destination: Maij Moto
Drive: 200 km | appr. 4,5 - 5,5 hours
The road from Nairobi to Narok town is approximately 4 hours, depending on the traffic at Mai Mahiu (slow-moving trucks driving up the escarpment). You'll climb up and down the escarpment, with endless views across the low-laying Masai plains. It's a tarmac road and in good condition. In Narok you can fuel up your car. After Narok, you need to follow the C12, leading to Sekanani gate. Google Maps leads you to the C11. DON’T take that road. It’s a very rough road, bad for the car, and will take much longer. Follow the C12 to Sekanani gate, and branch left where you see the signpost to the camp. Then it’s a short ride on a rough road.
If you have little time, you can choose to skip the stay at Maji Moto, and continue straight to the Mara, saving you 2 nights.
Day 3 of 18
Maji Moto is a natural hot spring, about 1-hour drive from Masai Mara's Sekanani gate. The hot springs are the lifeline for the cattle and communities that have settled in the vicinity. Over and over again, roadtrippers mention that the stay at this Masai camp was a highlight of their trip.
We selected this camp, because it boasts a breathtaking location on the Loita Hills, is very well managed by real Masai warriors, and the great attention to detail provides for a real barefoot luxury experience. A stay included a full day of guided activities (nature walks, warrior training, fire making, beading, hot-spring visit).
Day 4 of 18
Start: Nairobi or Maji Moto
Destination: Masai Mara
Drive: 4,5 - 5,5 hours from Nairobi, 1 hour from Maji Moto to Sekanani. From the gate, it's game driving to your lodge inside the Mara.
The Maasai Mara and the Serengeti in Tanzania are probably the most rewarding game parks in the world. Imagine fields of waving grass in various shades of yellow to green as far as the eye can see, intersected by rivers and other water sources, and a prolific wildlife, even off-season. For a first-timer, it can be quite complicated to understand where to go and where to stay in the Maasai Mara as the tracks are not marked, so you easily get lost. When booking a car rental tour with accommodation, we make sure the routing is logical and doable for self-drivers.
Day 5 of 18
It's great fun to keep track of all the wildlife you have spotted and note it down in your journal. We also highly recommend doing a bush breakfast or bush picnic. Turn off that engine, and feel the silence.
Roadtrippers sometimes ask us - how do we spot wildlife? we don't have a walky-talky to communicate with other drivers, like the drivers from tour companies do. Well, what Peter will say, and we truly agree - the word game drive, derives from hide and seek. It's a game between you and the animal. It's so much more rewarding if you're not surrounded by other safari vehicles, and have spotted an animal yourself. And don't worry, also on a self-drive safari you will see plenty of wildlife in the Mara, always, year-round.
Day 7 of 18
Destination: Lake Naivasha & Hells Gate
Drive: 230 km | From Sekanani gate to Naivasha is appr. 4,5 hours.
Although you have the Rhino sanctuary in Nakuru National Park, which therefore makes Nakuru a must-visit for some - we choose to include Naivasha & Hells Gate instead. First of all, it saves you a 1 hour's drive when going to Amboseli the next day (which is already a very long driving day). Second, the Bush to Beach tour contains plenty of safari ( game viewing) parks, whereas Naivasha & Hells Gate offer a different experience.
Day 8 of 18
Lake Naivasha is a great place to relax and unwind. After a few days of game driving, it's nice to be in another environment. If you can't get enough of wildlife, you can still do a walking safari or boat safari, but personally, we find the boat safari rather dull. Much of the lake is surrounded by forests of yellow-barked acacia trees. These forests abound with bird life, and Naivasha is known as a world-class birding destination.
Nearby Hells Gate National Park is nice for a day trip for its dramatic scenery and the ability to get active. You can go mountain biking amidst the giraffes, zebra's and gazelles - you can do rock climbing or go on a scenic hike through the gorge. Highly recommended!
Day 9 of 18
Start: Lake Naivasha
Drive: 350 km | 7-8 hours
Wake up early, as you have a long driving day ahead. You first return to Nairobi, taking the same road passing Mai Mahiu. Then you take the city bypass, leading you to the Nairobi - Mombasa highway.
Google gives you two options; you can either branch off at Athi River, following the road towards Namanga border and then taking the C103 to enter Amboseli from the west. DON'T take this route. The C103 is in a very bad state. It damages the car and greatly increases your travel time. You have to continue on the Nairobi - Mombasa highway and branch off at Emali town. Then you follow the C102 to Kimana town and Kimana gate. This route is the fastest and the entire road is tarmacked and in good condition.
Day 10 of 18
Amboseli National Park is often called the ‘Land of Giants’ due to the impressive elephants here carrying massive tusks. The animals are set against breathtaking vistas of Mount Kilimanjaro, which makes an amazing backdrop to the small park. Everyone yearns to capture an iconic photograph against this remarkable scener. As a result, Amboseli attracts many visitors and gets crowed in peak season.
Aside from big herds of elephants, many plains animals are easy to spot. Buffalo, wildebeest, plains zebra and gazelle are all very common. Lions are the easiest to spot of the big cats.
Day 11 of 18
Destination: Tsavo East
Drive: 350 km | appr. 7 hours
Another long driving day ahead. The quickest and most comfortable route the take is to return to Emali town, and join the Nairobi - Mombasa highway. You stay on this highway until Voi, where you branch off to Tsavo East National Park. Voi is a good town to stock up on supplies again and refuel your car.
Day 12 of 18
Start: Tsavo East
Drive: 350 km | appr. 7 hours
Exciting day ahead- we're going to the coast! Yet first, we get to cross Tsavo East National Park, so you're also treated on some game drives along the way. You enter Tsavo park at Voi gate, and exit at Sala gate.
We included Tsavo as a stopover only, and don't think it adds value staying another night. Tsavo East is not an easy game-viewing destination, because it's so huge and undiscovered, and wildlife densities aren’t large. After being on game drives in several safari parks, we think you shall appreciate a totally different scenery experience. Time for a road trip along the Swahili coast!
Day 13 of 18
After some intense driving days and safaris, it's time to utterly relax by the sea.
Watamu is a well-developed resort town, offering plenty of excellent restaurants and accommodations that cater to every budget. Watamu consists of several bays with white sandy beaches. There is a big Italian community here. They used to reside in nearby Malindi village, but over the years, they have favored Watamu instead. Many Italians have started businesses, so you shall be treated to good Italian coffee, ice cream, and pasta dishes.
Day 14 of 18
Watamu offers world-class diving opportunities. Watamu is home to 20 prime diving locations, all within less than 30 minutes from the main beach town. The diving sites are protected by the Watamu Marine Reserve. There is also a lagoon just near Watamu that has great conditions for novice divers and night divers.
Other popular activities are kite surfing, dolphin and snorkel tours, sunset dhow tours and canoe rides in beautiful Mida creek.
Day 15 of 18
A few recommended restaurants and places to hang out in Watamu are
Crab Shack - a community-run place in the mangroves. You can rent a canoe and go for a tour in the mangroves. Try their crab samosas.
Lichthaus - hammocks on the water, party vibe, great for sunsets. Very instagrammable, so don't go there if you are allergic to such ''kind'' of crowd ;)
Pilipan - Indian food and good cocktails overlooking a prawn lake.
Kokomo - great Lebanese food, right on the beach at a lovely bay.
Day 16 of 18
Drive: 40 km | appr. 1 hour
Time to hit the road and explore another coastal Swahili town.
Whereas Watamu has mushroomed in a short time, and might feel a bit as an overdeveloped resort town for some, Kilifi is totally different. Kilifi town is a friendly, laid-back and authentic village located along a picturesque creek. It's not ( yet) discovered by fly-in tourism and is mainly popular among backpackers, digital nomads, and a kite surf/yoga scene.
Day 17 of 18
There are some surprisingly cool hang-out places to discover in Kilifi, and we have selected some mind-blowing beach villas.
Salty's on beautiful Bofa Beach, offers great food, good music, cool vibes, and is the place to go for sunset drinks. They also run a professional kite surf center. Distant Relatives is an eco-lodge and backpackers, set in the mangroves. Very nice place to stay for families and friends and budget-conscious travelers, but also nice to go to for drinks and good. Nautilus is a very good seafood restaurant, right at the creek. The Food Movement is a great place to go to for lunch. It's set in a former sisal plantation, not easy to find, which is now being converted to an eco-playground for creatives with ateliers, a shared office space, eco-housing projects and a school.
Day 18 of 18
Destination: Diani Beach
Drive: 110 km | appr. 3,5 hour
It's a fun and very scenic drive from Kilifi to Diani Beach on a good tarmac road. You'll cross Mombasa and have to take the ferry. NOTE: you have to prebook the Kikoni ferry and it can only be paid via Mpesa! In case you'll assistance, Peter, our manager in Kenya is there to help.
Diani, and its neighboring beaches of Tiwi and Galu, is the best-known and most established of Kenya’s coastal holiday locations.
It offers 15 km of developed beach stretch. Still, Diani has a very relaxed and laid-back vibe and attracts a nice blended crowd of Nairobians and expats over the weekends, fly-in tourists from all over the world, digital nomads, and kitesurfers. Galu Beach offers one of the best kites surfing spots in the world with consistent conditions (a steady afternoon breeze, warm water, and sunshine).
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars and accommodations on offer, catering to all budgets. We only select those beach villas and small-scale resorts that make you feel in Kenya at the Swahili coat, as opposed to a non-descript five-star resort that could be anywhere in the world.
Time to return your car. One of our colleagues shall travel down to Diani to collect the car.
Bush to Beach: what to expect on this 18 day Kenya Tour
Travel time and road conditions
13-18 days are recommended to follow the Bush to Beach.
We recommend 1 night Nairobi, 2 nights in Maji Moto, 2 to 3 nights in the Masai Mara, 2 nights in Naivasha & Hells Gate, 2 nights in Amboseli and 1 night in Tsavo. Depending on the time you have, you could do 3-4 nights in Watamu, 2 nights in Kalifi and then hand over your car in Diani, and add a few beach days in this lively resort town.
As said, we're personally a big fan of doing a road trip along the coast, because Malindi,Watamu, Kalifi and Diani are very different beach destinations, each with its own vibe and they all deserve a visit. The towns are within easy reach via a smooth, tarmacked coastal road. Taking the ferry from Diani to Mombasa is a fun road trip experience.
If you want to reduce your car rental expenses. and/or have limited time, you can skip the road trip along the coast and choose one beach destination instead, and we pick up the car from there. The minimum time needed to make a one-way trip from Nairobi to the coast, in a way that it's still somehow worthwhile the journey, is 9 days.
Consult our Driving in Kenya blog for more information about road conditions and driving in Kenya.
Starting from September this year, we shall also offer this route with accommodation in three price categories. Every guesthouse, hotel, and lodge that we select is carefully hand-picked. We favor eco-conscious boutique hotels that offer delicious cuisine, a pleasant ambiance in breathtaking surroundings, and good value for your money.
In the course of September, we shall update our website and also include the price tables, and we start taking in request for tours with pre-booked accommodation and detailed travel notes included. Stay tuned!
Create & book
Book the Bush to Beach with stays in budget, mid-range or deluxe lodges - or adjust it to your liking.Make this roadtrip yours
Included in the Bush to Beach
- Comprehensive car insurance
- Car delivery to your hotel or airport
- Roadmap and Lonely Planet
- 24/7 Road assistance
- Unlimited mileage
- Electrical fridge
- Camping gear