The Central Circuit

The Central Circuit

The central and southern part of Kenya is known for its diverse and abundant nature. You start and end in Nairobi. You visit Samburu, Lake Naguru, Lake Navaisha and Hell's Gate and top it off with the Maasai Mara. This Circuit is ideal for those who primarily come for wildlife watching, want modest driving hours a day, and have limited time. 

Scroll down below to see the detailed day-to-day route with lot's of insider travel tips and accommodation suggestion that you can book yourself. The suggested lodges are places we like to stay ourselves when we are roadtripping; small-scale, good price-quality ratio and owner-managed when possible.

Check the day to day itinerary

Day 1 of 13

Destination: Nairobi
Drive: 25km | 1-2 hours

Welcome to Kenya, or in Swahili: Karibu! Today you will arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and depending on your arrival time, you will have some time to do some Nairobi sightseeing. Highlights in Nairobi are the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Giraffe Centre or the Karen Blixen Museum. Alternatively, you can get up on the International Conference Centre Tower for a 360 view over the city. 

Accommodation suggestion:
Mid-range accommodation: Wildebeest eco camp

Day 2 of 13

Start: Nairobi
Destination:
Mount Kenya
Drive: 160 km | 4 hours

Today you will receive your vehicle for the trip. You drive to Mount Kenya! It is amazing how quickly the landscape changes, within a few hours you have changed the concrete jungle of Nairobi for a green lush and hilly countryside. Get active at your lodge with a strenuous hike on the slopes of this beautiful mountain, or relax on your veranda.

Accommodation suggestion:
Mid-range: Castle Forest Lodge

Day 3 of 13

Enjoy: Mount Kenya

Get active at this lodge with a strenuous hike on the slopes of this beautiful mountain, or relax on your veranda.

Accommodation suggestion:
Mid-range: Castle Forest Lodge

 

Day 4 of 13

Start: Mount Kenya
Destination:
Samburu NR
Drive: 230 km | 5+ hours 

Samburu NR is on the menu today. This reserve sets in a greater conservation area with Shaba NR and Buffalo Springs NR. With one entrance fee you can enter all three. The reserve is set in a beautiful dry desert-like landscape. Large mammals such as elephants, and predators like leopards are frequently seen. Chances to spot the entire BIG 5 are high and lots of other animals like ostriches, snakes and antilopes are spotted easily. One of our favorites! 

Accommodation  suggestion:
Camping: Riverside Campsite - Buffalo Springs
Budget: Lion king Bush Camp or Sabache Camp
Mid-range: Ashnil Samburu Camp

Day 5 of 13

Enjoy: Samburu

Today you will spend the day exploring Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo springs NR. As the Ewaso Ngiro river flows through these reserves, it is a life line water resource for the animals. So, your game drive will pass alongside the river, where you can spot wildlife such as crocodiles, elephants, and an array of birds.

Day 6 of 13

Start: Mount Kenya
Destination:
Samburu NR
Drive: 330 km | 6 hours 

Today you will head out to Lake Nakuru National Park. Take enough time to reach your destination as you will pass through the beautiful Laikipia Plateau you might would like to stop here and there.

Accommodation suggestion: 
Camping: Malakai Public Campsite or Camping at Ziwa Bush Lodge
Mid-range: Kembu Cottages

Day 7 of 13

Enjoy: Lake Nakuru NP

Spend a day at Lake Nakuru National Park. The size of the park makes it an easy manageable experience in one day. Black rhino’s are fairly easily spotted as well a other mammals such as zebra, buffaloes and giraffes. There are lots of stops along the way; look out points, a waterfall. You can head out for a buffet lunch at the larger lodges within the park.

Day 8 of 13

Start: Lake Nakuru NP
Destination:
Lake Naivasha
Drive: 115 km | 2+ hours 

Today you will drive to Lake Naivasha. Lake Naivasha is a place to get active. In Hells Gate NP, (close to the lake) you can go for a bicycle or walking safari, and from your accommodation you can arrange a variety of activities.

Accommodation suggestion:
Budget/Mid-range: Camp Carnelley’s
Mid-range/deluxe: Wileli House

Day 9 of 13

Enjoy: Lake Naivasha

Spend a day at Lake Naivasha or head to Hell's Gate NP. Much of the lake is surrounded by forests of the yellow barked Acacia trees. These forests abound with bird life, and Naivasha is known as a world class birding destination. The waters of the lake draw a great range of game to these shores. Giraffes wander among the acacia, Buffalo wallow in the swamps and Colobus monkeys call from the treetops while the hippos relax in the shallow waters. With no dangerous predators, you can safely walk and cycle.

Day 10 of 13

Start: Lake Naivasha
Destination:
Maasai Mara
Drive: 250 km | 6 hours 

Today you will head south to the Maasai Mara. The Maasai Mara National Reserve will easily fit in your top 3 as a highlight of your trip. Its landscape has a beauty that is unmatched: fields and fields of waving grass turning from yellow to green depending on the season. Roads are rough on the last stretch, so calculate enough time to reach Talek.

Accommodation suggestion:
Mid-range: Aruba Mara Camp

Day 11 of 13

Enjoy: Maasai Mara

You cannot get enough time in this park! The Maasai Mara, or the Mara, as the locals and insiders call it, is a beautiful national reserve bordering the Serengeti in Tanzania. The Maasai Mara's wildlife is prolific and it has excellent opportunities for game viewing. The wildebeest migration which takes place every year is World famous. It includes the dramatic crossing of the Mara river by these millions of animals.

Accommodation option:
Mid-range: Aruba Mara Camp

Day 12 of 13

Start: Maasai Mara
Destination:
Nairobi
Drive: 255 km | 6 hours

After your last morning game drive, it’s time to drive back to Nairobi. If you leave the park at noon, you’ll have enough time to reach the capital city before night fall (and traffic jam!).

Accommodation suggestion:
Mid-range: Wildebeest Eco Camp

Day 13 of 13

Enjoy: Nairobi

Time to go! If you have enough time before your departure, you can spend the day exploring Nairobi with an organization like I like local, or if you cannot get enough of game viewing, you can go for another safari in Nairobi National Park.

What to expect on this 4x4 self-drive adventure

Travel time and road conditions

A stay of 13 days with 11 day car rental is recommended to follow this route. On average, you spend two nights at one location. On a travel day, you will drive around five hours without factoring in time for lunch, pictures etc.

Road conditions are good year round. It is asphalt pavement, with an occasional pothole and speed bumps. The roads to the Maasai Mara are notoriously bad. It is a challenging road due to the rocky surface with washboard ribbons. Drive at LIMITED SPEED (25 km /h).

Offline navigation is easy if you download Maps.me on your smart phone before you go. More tips at the on the road section.

Go to Travel time and road conditions

When to go

Kenya is nice to visit year-round. It never gets really cold (except in the mountains) and even during the rainy season your travel will not be hindered, as the rains can be heavy but are typically short.

The country has one long, hot dry season from December until the beginning of April.The rainy season generally lasts from April through to May, with some short rains from September to November. Find more info about the weather and timing your safari in the 'before you travel' section. 

The migration of wildebeest in the Mara starts around July and last until end September. More regarding the Mara can be read in our blogpost 'Self drive in the Masai Mara'

Go to When to go

Prices

Low season | 1st March - 31st May

Price includes 11 day car rental, airport drop off and pick-up.

This trip can be done with a Toyota Landcruiser only, as the Maasai Mara is restricted for Toyota RAV4.

Want to do the Central Circuit with the company of a driver - guide? Add USD 440 to the total.

  Toyota Landcruiser
  Regular Stretched
Per car $ 1,169 $ 1,389

Rest of the year

Price includes 11 day car rental, airport drop off and pick-up.

This trip can be done with a Toyota Landcruiser only, as the Maasai Mara is restricted for Toyota RAV4.

Want to do the Central Circuit with the company of a driver - guide? Add USD 440 to the total.

  Toyota Landcruiser
  Regular Stretched
Per car
$ 1,272 $ 1,499

 

 

Create & book

Book the Central Circuit as a fully accommodated road trip. Or secure your roadtrip car, and use this suggested route for inspiration only.

Plan your trip

Included in your accomodated roadtrip

Included

  • Comprehensive car insurance
  • Airport transfers
  • Roadmap and Lonely Planet
  • 24/7 Road assistance
  • Unlimited mileage

Optional

  • Electrical fridge
  • Driver-Guide
  • Camping gear