Traveling Overland From Tanzania to Kenya Uganda and Rwanda
In October 2017 after finishing up an awesome Mt. Kilimanjaro climb and safari with Ultimate Kilimanjaro we decided we wanted to spend some time visiting the other countries in East Africa. Namely Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.
Flying to these countries is always an option but we found it to be rather expensive for our backpacker budget. Luckily for us we found it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to travel overland by bus!
Riverside Shuttle from Tanzania to Kenya
Traveling from Tanzania to Kenya by bus is very easy and affordable. The primary bus service is run by Riverside Shuttle. You can even book online via their website and pay with a credit card.
The “bus” is really a mini bus and leaves twice daily from Moshi, stopping in Arusha for a pickup, and then on to Nairobi. If you catch the bus in Moshi, the cost is $40 one way or in Arusha it’s $35.
Our safari ended in Arusha so we picked up the bus there. It picks up at the Mezaluna hotel right in downtown Arusha. Any taxi should know the place. Be sure to tell the taxi its Riverside SHUTTLE and not the “bus”.
The bus was slated to leave Arusha at 0715 and they recommend you show up at 0645. While I do recommend getting there early so you get a choice seat, our bus didn’t end up leaving until almost 0815. Apparently this is common.
Once the bus finally gets underway and after a few hours of travel, you’ll stop at the border (Namanga) where you will need to purchase your visa if you don’t have one already. If you are able to, try and get the East Africa Tourist Visa which allows you multiple entry into Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda for 90 days. The cost is $100 and is cash only.
The process is relatively quick. First you will have to grab all your bags off of the bus and queue up for Tanzania departure line. I’m not sure why they make you walk all your bags across the border as no-one even looks at them. Tanzania officials will stamp you out and then you move over to the Kenya entry window. At the entry window make sure you request the East Africa Tourist Visa. They will ask why. Simply explain you plan to go to the other East African counties after Kenya. You will have to fill out a quick form and then they will literally peel a sticker from a roll, stick it in your passport, and fill it out by hand. Make sure you check everything! Mine had the expiration listed as Jan 2017 instead of 2018!
Exit the building and get back on the bus which will be there waiting for you. Try not to get too irritated at the swarms of people trying to sell you cheap souvenirs.
The remainder of the ride was comfortable as can be on a mini bus. The road from Arusha to Nairobi is nicely paved. We stopped one more time shortly after the border for a bathroom/snack/shopping break.
We did hit some gnarly traffic coming into Nairobi and combined with our late start meant that we didn’t get off the bus until about 3:30pm. The bus will drop you right near the CBD in Nairobi at the Parkside Hotel on Monrovia Street. There will be plenty of taxi drivers waiting to take you to your hotel!
Welcome to Kenya!
MASH Bus from Kenya to Uganda
As with the travel from Tanzania to Kenya, traveling by bus from Nairobi, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda is really quite simple!
There are quite a few more options for this route but we can definitely recommend the MASH bus service. They offer day and overnight coaches in normal and “super deluxe”. All super deluxe means is that the coach is air conditioned and has USB power available at your seat along with wifi.
In each coach you’ll have the option to select a normal seat, business class, or VIP depending on how much you want to pay. If you are taking the overnight bus, definitely try and get a VIP seat as it is much more spacious and reclines more than the normal seats. That said, these seats are limited and if you don’t get one it’s not the end of the world, we had normal seats on an overnighter and were just fine.
You can book the MASH bus by going to their office on Accra Road in Nairobi. A word of caution, Accra road is pretty crazy with people and busses everywhere. Be careful where you walk and watch your backpack/pockets. The MASH office however is very professional and they use a computer system to book your tickets. You select your seats at the time of booking. They accept credit cards.
On your departure day, show up to the MASH office about 30 minutes before your bus is scheduled to depart. We had a 1830 bus so we arrived at 1800 and boarded within 10 minutes. The busses all leave from the MASH office. On boarding, they will tag your bag if needed and place it safely under the bus.
We boarded and grabbed our non-vip seats which actually weren’t too bad. They reclined nicely and still had good leg room. The USB power ports both worked and provided plenty of juice to keep our phones charged up the entire ride.
Our bus had a conductor and after we got under way (only 8 minutes late!) he explained the wifi system and made sure everyone who wanted to got connected. The wifi was slow as expected, but not half bad for being on a budget bus in the middle of Africa! We were also offered water, soda and some snacks as we settled in for the long journey. The bus was pretty warm despite being an “AC COOL” bus so plan for all climates.
The roads between Nairobi and Kampala are quite good and the ride was smooth. We arrived at the Uganda border (Malaba) around 3am at which time the conductor woke everyone up to head into the border crossing building.
Unlike the Kenya boarder, you don’t have to bring your bags in the building for the Uganda border crossing. The process is pretty much the same except you don’t have to buy a visa because you already have one! Despite that, it still took over an hour waiting in line to check out of Kenya and into Uganda. Goonies was on the TV though and all of the officials were super cheerful for being the middle of the night!
Outside the building there are a few guys standing around with stacks of cash. They are basically money exchange people. They will exchange your leftover Kenya shillings for Uganda ones. I compared with the XE currency rate app and their conversion isn’t actually that bad! I had maybe 8 dollars worth of Kenyan shillings leftover so I went ahead and exchanged with them. Quick and easy.
I would recommend using the bathroom here before you board the bus again as we did not stop again after this stop! A word of caution, it costs 500 Ugandan Shillings to use the bathroom.
We left the border station at about 0400 and arrived in Kampala around 0930 for a grand total of 15 hours on the bus. We actually slept a good part of the way so it wasn’t so bad!
The bus drops off right in downtown Kampala in the National Theatre parking lot. Once again there are plenty of taxi and boda-boda (motorcycle) drivers waiting to pick you up! Don’t forget to bargain hard!
Welcome to Uganda!
P.S. MASH now offers a non-stop Nairobi to Kigali, Rwanda route if you’re not planning on spending any time in Uganda and are just trying to get to Kigali, Rwanda!
Trinity Express Bus from Uganda to Rwanda
We read a few not great things about the busses from Kampala, Uganda to Kigali, Rwanda. Crazy bus drivers and loud music were the most common themes. After doing a bit of research we found that the main companies that do this route are Trinity Express and Jaguar. Jaguar seemed to have more posts about crazy drivers, and we saw a video of one of their busses on fire. Needless to say we went with Trinity Express.
The Trinity Express office in Kampala is not in the same place where the MASH bus dropped off. It’s more on the western side of town and right across the street from the Jaguar office. Any boda-boda driver in town will know the place.
We bought our tickets the day before we planned to leave Kampala by catching a boda down to the office. It was quick and simple and as before we were able to select our seats. There are not any “business class” seats on these busses so just pick whatever suits you. The price was 30,000 shillings per person.
The bus departs from the same place as the office. Being tired of night busses, we decided on the 9am bus. They said to show up at 8am for check in, which we did and boarding was just starting when we arrived. They thoroughly searched our bags and deeming them acceptable placed a tag on them and under the bus they went.
The seats on this ride were comfortable enough but seemed a bit cramped compared with some of the others. I’m happy to report that the driver maintained a normal speed most of the time and didn’t seem to be doing anything crazy so far as we could tell. The stories about the loud music however are 100% correct. Each seat has a speaker over it and they crank the music out for the entire ride.
We arrived in Kabale, Uganda at 4pm. We decided to stop here for a few days on our way to Kigali so that we could see the Bwindi forest. If you decide to go this route, there is a makeshift Trinity Express office on the second floor of the building next to where the bus drops you off. You can book your next bus to Kigali from there. It’s the exact same bus as the one from Kampala and you pick it up at 4pm (as it passes through Kabale) on the day you want to leave. The cost is 20,000 shillings per person from Kabale to Kigali. You do not get to pick your seats and you basically grab whatever is available when the bus comes. We were able to get two seats together no problem.
About 30 minutes after leaving Kabale you will arrive at the border at Katuna. This border crossing is a bit different than the others. After exiting the bus there is a short walk over to the Uganda border control. It’s not clearly marked so just follow the crowd or ask around. This post is for both entry and exit to Uganda. Make sure you tell them that you are LEAVING Uganda and going to Rwanda. Once they stamp your passport, double check that it is an EXIT stamp and not an entry stamp.
After getting your exit stamp you have to walk down the dirt road and across the border by foot. There will be plenty of money exchange guys around vying for your business. We changed about $74 worth of shillings into about $71 worth of francs. Not a bad exchange rate!
A police man at the border proper will want to see your passport. After you pass him you will likely see the checked bags that you had under the bus laid out on a sheet on the ground. Grab your bag and proceed to the small building that serves as the Rwanda border control. They will search your bag first and then you proceed to the window. It was a pretty quick process for us, maybe 10 minutes in line. After getting our Rwanda entry stamps we had to wait for a bit while they checked the bus before we were able to board again.
After re-boarding the bus it makes a bee-line for Kigali, Rwanda. Nothing crazy, but the roads are nice so the bus can proceed at a good pace. Don’t forget to set your watch back as Kigali is one hour behind.
All in all it took another 3 hours from Kabale to Kigali (net 2 hours with the time change). Therefore if you make the entire trip in one shot your time on bus will be approximately 10 hours.
The bus station in Kigali is about 6k outside the town proper depending on where you are staying. There are plenty of taxi and boda guys that will be waiting for you. The prices they quote are naturally crazy high so plan to bargain hard for a good rate into town. (we bargained 5,000 francs for a taxi and still think that was too high).
Welcome to Rwanda!
Have you traveled this route? Have any more information to share? Have a specific question? Leave a comment below!