As the crow flies Arusha is far closer to Nairobi then it is to Dar es Salaam. Therefore the majority of visitors to the ‘Northern Circuit’ of game parks fly into Nairobi and have to cross the border. There is a reciprocal tourist arrangement between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda that if you have already a Kenyan visa then you don’t need another one when crossing back from Tanzania or Uganda. It is crossing the border and back which is the interesting part.
My crossing from Kenya to Tanzania
Essentially this is no problem. I caught a shuttle bus operated by the Impala hotel in Arusha for $30. It can be pre-booked online and collects from your hotel on request. But your safari company should provide transport – make sure they tell you about the $50/£30 visa. This is generally not part of the holiday cost.
The Impala shuttle did pick me up from my Nairobi hotel and will stowed my luggage on the roof. Its offices are at the Silver Spoon hotel and that is where the majority of passengers will get on. It will be a mixture of tourists and Africans. It takes about two hours to drive down to the Tanzanian border on exceptionally bumpy roads (truly bum crunching) and the ubiquitous toilet break at a Curio Shop where overpriced African nick-nacks are on offer.
The border is at Namanga. The place is very dusty and clogged with monster trucks. First you have to get stamped out of Kenya and a small glass office allows you to get an exit stamp on your passport. The bus then drove us into Tanzania and we had to go into another blockhouse for immigration. Make sure you have a crisp American $50 bill; anything else will slow them up. British pounds and Euros are an option but not a welcome one going by the hectoring one of our bus passengers got from an immigration clerk. But for the money you get a six month Tanzanian visa.
The return journey – back into Kenya from Tanzania
The Impala Shuttle leaves from the ‘Impala Hotel’ in eastern Arusha. I know this because it failed to turn up to collect me and I had to trek down there in a panic. There are two departures from the hotel 2.00pm (the bus they booked me on) and 7.30am (the bus they should have booked me on). The Impala Hotel itself has its own Safari Company (Leopard safaris) which has a good reputation.
After passing through the acacia desert you are back at the border at Namanga. The exit stamp office is quite efficient but outside is a no-man’s land between Tanzania and Kenya that you must traverse on foot. It belongs to neither country and therefore is not law enforced; it is stacked to the gills with thieves and hawkers.
The Maasai women lie in wait. They will rush you waving jewellery and gewgaws trying to get your custom. The trick is to ignore them and just keep going. Don’t stop for a second – and keep a hand on your valuables. It is quite harrowing to have an old Maasai woman block your way and shove beads in your face. But push through and you will be in Kenya. Everyone goes through it – we saw them accost nuns.
On the way back to Nairobi. They will drop you off at Jomo Kenyatta airport if you wish. The final stop is the Silver Spoon hotel and any other hotel on request.