Travelling across African countries by road is becoming increasingly popular among locals and tourists alike. With improving road and railway networks, it is now possible to visit different countries via buses, motorcycles or trains. While there are no direct routes, one can reach Harare, Zimbabwe and Bujumbura, Burundi from Nairobi, Kenya using connecting buses and crossing land borders.
Why Travel by Road?
Road travel in Africa provides an economical way to move around the continent while taking in the incredible scenery and cultural experiences. Here are some key reasons to consider travelling overland:
- Cost savings: Road travel via buses is much cheaper compared to flying. For budget-conscious travellers, this is an attractive option.
- Flexibility: Buses allow you to set your own pace, stop over wherever you want, and change plans at the last minute if needed. This freedom is hard to beat.
- Immersion in local culture: Overland travel allows you to interact with locals along the way. From tasty street food to impromptu experiences, you get a deeper appreciation of daily African life.
- Scenic views: Bus windows provide front-row views of the magical African landscape - from the Great Rift Valley to Victoria Falls and beyond. It's a continent best explored overland.
- Adventure: For intrepid travelers, overland journeys are thrilling adventures into the unknown. From border crossings to breakdowns, it's an exciting way to explore Africa.
Clearly, travelling overland has some major advantages and provides a more authentic experience compared to quick airplane hops between cities.
Nairobi to Bujumbura by Road
There are no direct buses from Nairobi to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. However, it is possible to travel between these cities by taking connecting buses and crossing borders through Kampala, Uganda and Kigali, Rwanda. Here is a step-by-step guide:
Nairobi to Kampala
- Duration: 8-10 hours
- Distance: 500 km
Many bus companies like Modern Coast, Mash East Africa, Simba Coach operate daily buses between Nairobi and Kampala. Buses leave in the morning or evening and travel overnight. Book in advance to get seats.
At the Busia border, everyone has to disembark for immigration procedures. Have your passport, Yellow Fever certificate and other documents handy. Get back in the bus after clearing both Kenya and Uganda immigration.
Kampala to Kigali
- Duration: 8-9 hours
- Distance: 250 km
There are numerous buses plying the Kampala-Kigali route daily. Companies like Jaguar Executive Coaches run comfortable buses with charging points. Rwanda immigration at Gatuna can be slow so be prepared to wait.
If spending a few days in Kampala, visit attractions like the Kampala Hindu Temple, Kasubi Tombs, Bahá'í Temple and more. Ugandan street food like Rolex, Samosas and Nsenene are must-trys.
Kigali to Bujumbura
- Duration: 7 hours
- Distance: 385 km
The Nyabugogo Bus Terminal in Kigali has buses to Bujumbura that leave in the morning. Try to take an early bus to avoid getting stuck at crowded borders.
At the Rwanda-Burundi border, all passengers have to disembark with their luggage for customs clearance. The process can be lengthy so maintain patience.
Tips for Visiting Rwanda and Burundi:
- Have valid passports, Yellow Fever certificates and other documents required for border crossings
- Carry some Rwandan Francs and Burundian Francs for visa fees, food, etc.
- Do not carry any plastic bags into Rwanda which has a nationwide ban
- Dress conservatively as you move through rural areas in both countries
- Try the local cuisine in Rwanda (goat brochettes) and Burundi (bean stew)
- Respect rules regarding photography near government buildings
- Learn some handy phrases in Kinyarwanda and Kirundi languages
Nairobi to Harare by Road
To travel from Nairobi to Harare by road, you will have to pass through Tanzania and Zambia. It typically takes 2-3 days to cover the entire distance. Here is an outline of the route:
Nairobi to Dar es Salaam
- Duration: 15-18 hours
- Distance: 1,100 km
Buses run day and night between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, departing from River Road in Nairobi. Choose a reputable company and reserve seats in advance.
At the Namanga border point, everyone has to get off for passport checks on both sides. Have your Yellow Fever certificate handy. Try to get back into the bus quickly after clearing immigration.
In Dar es Salaam, stretch your legs and grab some food before the next leg of your journey. Visit the National Museum and botanical gardens if you have a day or two.
Dar es Salaam to Lusaka
- Duration: 21-25 hours
- Distance: 1,875 km
The Dar-to-Lusaka route is covered by several reputable bus companies like Taqwa, Julben, etc. Buses stop for food, toilet and leg stretching breaks along the way.
At the Tunduma border, you have to disembark with luggage and obtain a visa to enter Zambia. The process can take 1-2 hours so be mentally prepared.
Lusaka to Harare
- Duration: 16 hours
- Distance: 1,120 km
Lusaka has many coach companies operating overnight buses to Harare. Get to the bus station early to compare schedules and fares across operators.
At Chirundu border crossing, you need to get a visa for Zimbabwe on arrival. The process is quite smooth but can take 1-2 hours, depending on traffic. Foreign registered vehicles also need temporary import permits.
Tips for Visiting Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe:
- Carry US Dollars in cash for visas at borders along the way
- Keep photocopies of your passports handy in case immigration officers need them
- Fill out visa application forms carefully and completely before reaching immigration counters
- Snacks, books, headphones etc will come handy during long transit times
- Buy a local SIM card upon reaching Harare for connectivity
- Zimbabwe uses US Dollars along with local RTGS Dollars, so carry USD cash
- Check for accommodation options online before reaching Harare
What to Expect at Africa's Land Borders
Overland travelers between Nairobi-Bujumbura-Harare need to cross several international borders along the way. Here's an idea of what to expect at each:
- Can take 1-3 hours depending on traffic
- Yellow fever certificates and visa fees needed
- Avoid early morning and late evening when congestion is high
- Changing money openly at the border can attract touts
- Meticulous procedures so keep documents ready
- Medical certificates and corona test results may be checked
- Small visa fees charged in USD cash
- Money changers available on Rwanda side
- Procedures relatively faster than Gatuna
- Both arrivals and departures can experience delays
- Medical certificates may be checked
- Small businesses line the roads on both sides
- Separate procedures for immigration and customs
- Visa can be obtained on arrival for most nationalities
- Cash payments required for visas so have USD ready
- Roadside stalls sell quick snacks
- One-stop border post makes procedures easier
- Visas issued on arrival for most nationalities
- Carry passport photos as they may be required
- Money changers on both sides provide good rates
The key things to remember at all borders are:
- Carry documents in an easily accessible folder
- Declare all currency, perishable goods, livestock
- Be patient and cooperate with immigration officers
- Keep luggage locked and don't leave it unattended
- Hang on to bus tickets to avoid mix ups while re-boarding
Why Visit Harare and Bujumbura?
Many overland travelers passing through Harare and Bujumburaoften don't spend much time in these cities. However, both capitals have some fascinating attractions that are worth exploring if your schedule allows:
Top Experiences in Harare
- National Gallery of Zimbabwe - African arts, Shona stone sculptures
- Botanical Gardens - Peaceful gardens over 100 acres
- Chapungu Sculpture Park - Outdoor gallery of Zimbabwean stone works
- Chivero Lake Recreational Park - Picnics, boat rides, fishing
- National Heroes Acre - Burial ground for prominent personalities
- Mukuvisi Woodlands - Small game park close to the city
Top Experiences in Bujumbura
- Central Market - Lively market selling colorful fabrics, produce
- Museum of Life - Provides insights into Burundi's culture
- Lake Tanganyika - Second deepest lake, nice for boat rides
- Rusizi National Park - Spot hippos, crocodiles from boat safaris
- Kibira National Park - Hiking trails inside rainforest area
- Livingstone-Stanley Monument - Marks famous explorers' meeting spot
So do spend a few days exploring the sights, sounds and cuisine in Harare and Bujumbura if your overland itinerary permits!
Overland Travel Tips for Nairobi-Harare-Bujumbura
Here are some additional tips to make your overland journey between these African cities safe and enjoyable:
- Book reputable bus companies in advance to secure seats, especially in high season
- Carry snacks, entertainment gadgets to pass time during long transit
- Keep reserves of USD cash aside exclusively for visas at borders
- Pack a flashlight, padlock, jacket and other essentials in your hand luggage
- Download the Maps.me app which works offline for navigation
- Carry local currency of each country for taxis, meals, tips
- Keep valuables concealed and avoid flashing expensive items
- Travel in pairs or groups for safety through remote areas
- Learn some basics in Swahili, French and local languages
- Take an open-jaw flight home from your end destination
Overland travel by road through Africa provides the trip of a lifetime if planned properly. While not as quick as flying, you get to soak in the raw natural beauty and culture of the continent. The bus connections between Nairobi-Bujumbura-Harare provide a cost-effective way to explore multiple countries. Just pack your bags wisely, do some research, and be prepared for an epic adventure traversing eastern and southern Africa!