Bush to Beach - Northern Route
Where in the world can you combine world-class safaris, with visiting tribal villages, hiking in lush mountains and swimming in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean into one epic trip? The bush-to-beach Tanzania safari is the ultimate one-way road trip and righteously our most popular. Start in Arusha and hand over your car in Dar es Salaam (or vice versa).
This itinerary is ideal for those looking to combine the classic safari experience with mountain scenery, culture, and a beach road trip, away from the crowds and resorts. It's also a great itinerary for family holidays, because of the variation. The Usambaras and Swahili coasts are not touristy and easy to explore on a budget. We recommend a minimum of 16- 22 days / 15-21 car rental days to follow this route.
Scroll down below to see the day-to-day itinerary for this suggested road trip, including distances and driving times.
Check the day to day itinerary
Day 1 of 22
Welcome to: Arusha
Arusha town is a pleasant introduction to East Africa. It is a green, orderly town with several nice coffee bars and restaurants. Being considered the safari capital of Africa, it's bustling with Landcruisers, safari guides, and the like, but you're a trendsetter when going on a self-drive bush-to-beach Tanzania safari!
Day 2 of 22
Destination: Tarangire National Park
Drive: 150 km | 2,5 hours
It's an easy 2-hour journey on a smooth asphalt road, so you can still bite some dust for your first afternoon self-drive safari in Tarangire. The game viewing tracks are well signposted and the public facilities like toilets and picnics sites are well maintained. There are even food trucks ( bush baristas nowadays..). Tarangire is famous for its large herds of elephants, giant baobabs and scenic landscapes. During dry season, Tarangire has, after the Serengeti, the highest wildlife density of any Tanzanian National Park. Animal concentration peaks between July till November and January to February. Between March and early June, much of the wildlife has migrated and you might want to consider visiting Lake Manyara National Park instead.
Tip the Tanapa public campsite in Tarangire is at a scenic location, and as opposed to the campsites in the Serengeti, it feels like a bush camping experience.
Day 4 of 22
Destination: Serengeti - Seronera section
Drive: 260 km | appr 6 hours.
When visiting Serengeti, you first transit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The entrance permits for the NCA need to be reserved in advance, this can't be done on arrival at the gate. Roadtrip Africa can help you with this. It's a smooth tarmac road from Tarangire to Loduare Gate, the entrance to the NCA. It's a scenic ride, whereby you pass Mto wa Mbu, the touristy gateway town of Lake Manyara National Park and Karatu, the last town before entering the NCA and the Serengeti. In Karatu, you'll find several hotels in all price ranges and its a good place to refuel your car and stock up on supplies.
Approximate driving times to the Serengeti are as follows:
-Loduare Gate (NCA entrance) to Ngorongoro Crater entrance: 1 hours
-Loduare Gate (NCA entrance) to Naabi Hill Gate (Serengeti entrance): 2.5 hours
-Naabi Hill Gate to Seronera: 1 hour
The road from Naabi Hill gate to Seronera is a challenging road, with a rocky surface and washboard ribbons. Drive at limited speed (25 km/h), or else you'll risk losing control instantly.
The public campsites in the Seronera section have a large setup and can be crowded with overland trucks and budget safari operators. It comprises the bush camping feeling.
Day 5 of 22
Enjoy game drives in the Serengeti. It's great fun to drive yourself. We personally like to spot the wildlife ourselves and be surprised and rewarded ( that's why it's called ''game drive'') instead of following the other tour guides with their radios, as then you can be certain you shall be lined up with other vehicles when watching the game. Serengeti is rattling with wildlife. If you nevertheless find it hard to spot predators or have a specific interest, you can always decide to hire a ranger to help you spot wildlife better. You can arrange this at one of the gates.
Day 6 of 22
Start: Serengeti, Seronera section
Destination: Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Drive: 140 km | appr 3,5 hours.
If you want to keep your time inside the NCA limited to one permit ( valid for 24 hours), then we advise you to enjoy a morning game drive in the Serengeti, enter the NCA in the afternoon, and do your Crater safari the next morning.
From Seronera to Naabi Hill gate is approx 1 hour and from Naabi Hill to Ngorongoro Crater is approx 2.5 hours.
Day 7 of 22
Enjoy: Ngorongoro Crater or surrounding areas. Sleep: Karatu town
The Ngorongoro Crater is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The crater is the world's largest intact caldera and is the only place in the world where you have a very high chance of seeing the 'Big 5' in one day. In half a day, you are able to cover most of the game-viewing tracks, so if you are only planning to discover the Ngorongoro Crater, one 24-hour permit for the NCA is enough. Consult our Ngorongoro Travel Guide for more practical information.
Day 8 of 22
Destination: USA River / Arusha National Park / West Kilimanjaro
Drive: 3-5 hours, depending on which area you choose.
Time to say goodbye to the safari parks. Before we continue to the Switzerland of Tanzania, we first drive to the foothills of Kilimanjaro, a great base from which to undertake several outdoor and cultural activities. Or, just enjoy some chilling beside the pool of your lodge. Hence, if you have the time, the Kilimanjaro Foothills is a fine place to linger around a bit longer.
Day 9 of 22
The foothills of Kilimanjaro are a great base from which to undertake outdoor activities such as mountain biking (offered by Rivertrees Inn) and canoeing at Lake Duluti (offered by Wayo).
Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru in Arusha National Park are fantastic for walking and hiking. Simba Farm offers 1-day hikes up to the Kili.
Moshi town is nice to visit and a good place from which you can arrange cultural tours such as visiting a coffee farm or banana plantation. Just a few suggestions for your bush-to-beach safari in Tanzania.
Day 10 of 22
A magical day or overnight trip is a visit to the Kikuletwa Hot Springs (Maji Moto). When we first discovered this site 10 years ago, it was not plotted on Google Maps and it was a real challenge to find! Nowadays the hot springs are plotted, so more people come to visit. Best visited during weekdays. From Boma Ngombe town, it's appr a 30 min ride on a very rough road with no signposts. If you get lost, ask a local.
If you have hired our camping gear, you can stay for the night and pitch your tent. Not many people do this but we think its highly recommendable. Campfires are allowed and before anyone arrives the next morning, you can be the first to make a morning dip.
Day 11 of 22
Start: USA River / Arusha National Park / West Kilimanjaro or Hot Springs
Destination: Mkomazi National Park
Drive: 250 km | 4-5 hours
It’s a scenic drive on smooth tarmac, but be cautious of the numerous speed bumps. Mkomazi National Park is surprisingly little visited. It's a scenic park, the rangers are enthusiastic and friendly and last but not least, you can visit the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary.
Day 12 of 22
Destination: Lushoto - Western Usambara's
Drive: 75 km | appr. 90 mins
In the morning you can track the Rhino's and then continue your roadtrip to the Usambara Mountains You will pass through extensive sisal plantations with the Pare Mountains towering on the left. From Mombo, the road starts climbing to Lushoto. This region is less visited by the traditional safari tourists, and offers many affordable places to stay.
Day 13 of 22
Enjoy: Western Usambara's
Lushoto resembles a Swiss Alpine village, yet set in an African context. The town peaked during colonial times, and many of the buildings on the main street date back to the early 20th century when Lushoto, then known as Wilhelmstal, provided weekend relief for German settlers farming the dry, dusty Maasai Steppes below.
The area is fantastic for (multiple) day hikes and biking, passing through villages, colourful markets, farmland and some scenic lookout points. Some farms, mostly still run by Germans and Swiss, cater to day visitors and provide delicious, homegrown food.
Day 14 of 22
Stay another day in Lushoto to explore the Western Usambara's. Or, if you have the time, make a detour to the Northern Usambara's.
Start: Western Usambara's
Destination: Northern Usambara's
Drive: 65 km | appr 3 hours.
If you think the Western Usambara's were beautiful - eat your hart out. The Northern Usambara's are even more scenic, where the high escarpment offers breathtaking views over the Mkomazi Plains deep down (1.3 km!) below. Be prepared for some off-road driving - windy roads, steep cliffs and no other traffic. For some, this is road-tripping at its best and must be included in the bush-to-beach Tanzania safari!
Day 15 of 22
Enjoy: Northern Usambara's
The owners of Mambo Viewpoint Eco Lodge are a great source of information on culture, birding, hiking and biking possibilities in the region. They have developed a number of itineraries, which can be undertaken on your own with a GPS or with a guide. The grassroots organization Friends of the Usumbaras and the Bradt Travel Guide that comes with the Roadtrip car also provide detailed information about the region. Note there are only budget places to stay in the Northern Usambara's of which of Mambo Viewpoint is the best.
Day 16 of 22
Start: Mambo Viewpoint or Lushoto
Drive: 7-5 hours depending on the starting point.
Exciting day ahead – we are going to the Indian Ocean! From African Alpine villages to palmtrees, tuk-tuks and Swahili coastal towns, what a change. When starting from Mambo Viewpoint, return to Lushoto. The road from Lushoto to the tiny village of Pongwe is tarred and in good condition.
Day 17 of 22
Tanga, a historical fishing town, remains unaffected by tourism. We relished our time spent at the public beach, observing the local communities engaged in their daily activities. If you want more barefoot luxury, beautiful beaches, and quietness, stay at Fish Eagle Point, a very special place tucked away in the mangroves.
Day 18 of 22
To: Kigome Beach or Ushongo Bay
Drive: 2-3 hours
We are personally a big fan of doing a roadtrip along the coast, instead of flying to Zanzibar.
The Tanzania coastline is untouched, which is a rarity nowadays. Prices are very low, it's authentic, and quiet with a handful of nice small-scale lodges and campsites.
If you like doing a coastal road trip and handing over your car in Dar, we recommend 2-3- nights Tanga (Fish Eagle Point), 2-3 nights at Kigombe Beach (north of Pangani town) or Ushongo Bay ( south of Pangani, across the river), Bagamoyo ( 1 night) and Dar
Day 19 of 22
Enjoy: the beach
Time for some relaxing after constantly being on the move - it is vacation after all. You can consider spending some nights at Kigombe, north of Pangani town and some time at Ushongo ( south of Pangani, take ferry to cross the river) or just utterly relaxed at one place.
Day 20 of 22
Drive: 300 km | 5,5 hours
Today you’ll drive to Bagamoyo, your next destination on the Swahili coast. During the second half of the 19th century, Bagamoyo was one of the most important settlements on the East African coast. The town was the terminus for the slave trade caravan connecting Zanzibar all the way to Lake Tanganyika ( Burundi). After the long and dangerous journey, reaching Bagamoyo felt like coming home for the traders. Legendary explorers like Livingstone, Speke, Burton and Stanley started and ended several of their journeys in this historic town.
Today it remains a truly traditional town, interesting to absorb Swahili culture. If you arrive in the afternoon, one night will be enough. If you enjoy traditional culture, spend two nights.
Day 21 of 22
The best way to explore and appreciate Bagamoyo’s rich history is through a guided city tour by foot and bajaj (tuk-tuk). The tourist office can arrange reliable guides to show you all the historic sights. Bagamoyo is a small town and the tour will not last more than an hour or two.
The beaches in Bagamoyo are lively and a great spot to enjoy the Swahili coastal culture, but not a place for sunbathing in your bikini. The mix of fish auctions, football, children, fishermen, hawkers and tourist are a lusty sight, and the busy Dow traffic in the port and along the shores still gives you a pretty good feel of what was going on back in the day.
Day 22 of 22
Destination: Dar es Salaam International Airport
Drive: 75 km | 2,5 hours
If you have an evening flight, we advise spending the night in Bagamoyo and driving the next day to Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam. Allow for ample time, as the traffic in Dar can be dreadful.
If you have a day flight, then spend the night in Dar es Salaam and reserve some time to explore the city. It is Tanzania’s largest city and is fundamentally a Swahili city. The center is historic, traditional and bustling, and is surrounded by up-market peninsulas with shopping malls, upmarket restaurants and beaches. Move around by taxi or tuk tuk.
What to expect on your Bush to Beach safari in Tanzania
Travel time and road conditions
A minimum of 16- 22 days / 15-21 car rental days are recommended to follow this route.
Time is not on your side? Skip the Northern Usambara's (3 days), and/ or Tanga (2 days) and/ or the additional day in Tarangire and USA River/ Kilimanjaro area - and safe up to 7 days.
Less is more when building a good itinerary, so better to skip destinations than try to squeeze the number of nights at one location. At least spend 2 nights at a location to have time to undertake non-car-based activities, to enjoy your hotel (some lodges are a destination in their own right), and to factor in time for the unexpected - especially on a self-drive rental.
All the primary roads connecting Arusha to Ngorongoro in the west, to Moshi and Kilimanjaro in the east and to Lushoto in the far east are tarmacked. You can expect a lot of speed bumps and the occasional pothole. Only the coastal road in Tanzania is in a poor state.
Limited budget or don't like driving a manual? When you skip the Serengeti you can follow this route with a RAV4.
How to compose your beach roadtrip
When doing a one-way Bush to Beach road trip, there are many ways how to compose your beach days and end your trip.
We are personally a big fan of doing a road trip along the coast, instead of flying from Arusha to Zanzibar. Zanzibar is beautiful, but has become very touristy and turned into a resort-like destination. The Tanzania coastline is untouched, which is a rarity nowadays. Prices are very low, it's authentic and quiet with a handful of nice, small-scale lodges and campsites.
If you like doing a coastal road trip and handing over your car in Dar, we recommend 2-3- nights Tanga (Fish Eagle), Pangani (2-3 nights) Bagamoyo ( 1 night) and Dar es Salaam.
Alternatively, you can consider ending your rental at Tanga, from where you take a ferry to Pemba Island. Or you take a speedboat from Pangani to Zanzibar ( arrange with Emanyani Beach Lodge) or you catch a ferry or airplane from Dar to Zanzibar.
Low season (March-May + Nov): from € 2713 / vehicle
Regular season: from € 3153 / vehicle
Peak season (July + Augustus, 20 Dec - 5 January): from € 3373 / vehicle
Price includes a 21-day Landcruiser rental, excess fee to cover for the one-way drop off in Dar Salaam, unlimited mileage, 24/7 backup support, accommodation tips and Ngorongoro reservation quote.
Fuel is at your own expense.
Like to discover the Bush to Beach with the company of a driver-guide? Add € 840 to your total trip amount.
Toyota RAV rental
Peak season (July + Augustus, 20 Dec - 5 January): from € 1833 / vehicle
Rest of year: from € 1613 / vehicle
Price includes a 21-day RAV4 rental, excess fee to cover for the one-way drop off in Dar Salaam, unlimited mileage, 24/7 backup support, accommodation tips and Ngorongoro reservation quote.
Fuel is at your own expense. Note you can't explore the Serengeti in a RAV4, a Landcruiser is required. We don't facilitate car swops when only visiting the Serengeti.
Like to discover the Bush to Beach with the company of a driver-guide? Add € 840 to your total trip amount.
Create & Book
From safari in the Serengeti to the Swahili Coast - make this road trip yours. Hire a 4x4 rental car in Tanzania and Drive Your Own Adventure.Reserve your roadtrip car
- Car delivery to your hotel or airport
- Comprehensive car insurance
- Roadmap and Bradt Travel Guide
- Electrical fridge
- Camping gear