East Africa offers travellers iconic beach destinations to explore, coupled with unique safari experiences.

East Africa has been regarded for many years as a wildlife destination, with the Big Five, the Great Migration between Kenya and Tanzania, and gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda. Yet the region has some of the world’s most notable beach destinations, which can easily be packaged for international travellers looking for the full experience. Tourism Update finds out from the industry which are the most popular destinations.

In demand

Gabriele Manzoni, Coastal Aviation Marketing Manager, says beach and bush combinations are still a popular choice amongst international travellers to East Africa. “After a safari or a Kilimanjaro experience, customers like to spend at least a few days relaxing on the beach,” says Manzoni, adding that Zanzibar’s increase in popularity is due to the many international flights and direct charter flights that connect the island to the rest of the world.

Deepesh Gupta, Business Development Manager at Auric Air, agrees and says almost 70% of passengers combine both elements into their East Africa experience.

Augustin Ndikuriyo, MD of Augustine Tours, notes that 2018 saw increased interest in beach and bush combinations, with many beach tours being added to Great Migration and gorilla trekking packages in Uganda and Rwanda.

Ruth Chege, Head of Sales and Product for Sense of Africa East Africa, says all safari packages in Kenya and Tanzania are easily combinable with a beach stay, as there are easy connections using local scheduled flights.

Bush and beach packages

Hilda Nakato, CEO of Lakato Safaris, says many packages are being created to incorporate East Africa’s beaches, especially honeymoon, holiday, wedding and adventure packages.

Ndikuriyo says there are a variety of packages available, depending on the preference of the client. These often include scuba diving, snorkelling, diving, fishing, boat rides around Zanzibar, Pemba, Mombasa and other islands, and are ideal for couples, honeymooners or groups.

Another way of exploring East Africa’s beach destinations is through solo trips, says Ndikuriyo, which generally include accommodation in budget lodges/hotels and short visits around the ocean.

Charlotte Smith, Manager of Giltedge DMC, says: “We usually incorporate a safari with a beach or island experience, like in our ‘Romance in East Africa and Zanzibar’ tour.”

Popular bush and beach destinations

Sandra Inyangat, Head of Marketing at Lakato Safaris, says bush and beach combinations show no sign of slowing down. She says Kenya’s Maasai Mara for safari and Mombasa for its beaches are the most popular among international travellers, as well as the Serengeti and Zanzibar.

Giltedge Africa usually packages the Maasai Mara and Mombasa together, or the Serengeti and Zanzibar, so clients can experience wildlife and the Indian Ocean, says Smith.

“Zanzibar is a popular option with its beautiful azure, warm sea, cultural diversity with both Maasai and Muslim influences, a variety of activities from snorkelling to cycling and incredible oceanfront resorts,” she adds.

Ndikuriyo explains that special attention has been placed on Tanzanian wildlife safaris and Zanzibar sailing tours, which Augustine Tours is noticing in requests. Augustine Tours beach and bush packages include a five-day Zanzibar cruise and a seven-day wildlife safari to Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Tourists land in Arusha and leave from Zanzibar.

A beach and bush package from Lakato Safaris includes three days on safari and six days exploring the beaches of Zanzibar. Guests are met at Arusha Airport or Kilimanjaro International Airport and then taken to Tarangire National Park, famous for its elephant population. Other highlights in the tour include the Ngorongoro Crater, where guests can see the Big Five, a Maasai cultural experience, handcraft galleries, and then on to Zanzibar where guests can relax and explore the island.

Another popular bush destination that can be included in a beach and bush package is Akagera National Park in Rwanda. Sarah Hall, Tourism and Marketing Manager at Akagera National Park, says there has been an increase in international visitors to the park, who now make up 46% of the park’s paying visitors, overtaking Rwandan nationals for the first time.

Akagera National Park is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kigali on good roads, thus making visits easy for even those with limited time. Furthermore, many operators are organising single or multi-day trips to the park, explains Hall. “We are seeing more international operators visiting Akagera on FAM trips and adding it to their itineraries. The rise in international visitors could be in part attributed to operators packing it in their tours.”

Chege says popular bush regions in Kenya include all premium parks and national reserves, such as the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Amboseli National Park, Lake Nakuru National Park, Samburu Game Reserve, Aberdares Mountain and Tsavo National Park.

In Tanzania, popular bush regions include northern Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro.

Popular bush regions in Uganda include gorilla safaris in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, chimpanzee trekking in Kibale Forest, Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park.