The Turkana Bus is Back!

In the 1980’s taking the “toughest bus ride in the world” was one East Africa’s legendary journeys. This week long trip from Nairobi to the Lake Turkana passed through lawless districts braved by only the most intrepid of travellers. United in search of adventure international diplomats and backpackers sat side by side in Bedford trucks, bouncing through Kenya’s northern frontier.

The Turkana Bus (credit: Martin Dunn)

The Turkana Bus (credit: Martin Dunn)

By day, passengers would alight to trade with roadside hawkers and dig out the bus, and once they made camp for the night, they’d be visited by Samburu warriors who’d come to investigate. Finally, after three long dusty days on the road, guests would finally catch a glimpse of the implausibly turquoise waters of Jade Sea- Lake Turkana.  The lake shore thronged with Luo fishermen, families and herders bringing animals to water. Temperatures soared above 40 degrees and travellers slept on the roof of the truck to admire the fireflies and stars. In an era when luxury tented camps were coming in to their own, the Turkana bus was a true adventure through Kenya’s wild frontier.

Stopping at an El Molo Village (credit: Martin Dunn)

Stopping at an El Molo Village (credit: Martin Dunn)

Emma Hedges, daughter of Dick, who originally ran the bus, has revived this epic journey for a small number of set departures during March, April and May.  Guests travel in a little more comfort (the Bedford truck’s been replaced by Land Cruisers), but the same sense of exploration remains. With the wilderness of Lake Turkana increasingly under threat from proposed pipelines, railways, and oil rigs, now is the time to visit this World Heritage site.

The Turkana Bus (credit: Martin Dunn)

The Turkana Bus (credit: Martin Dunn)

The Turkana Bus has a small number of 6 night/7 day set departures, leaving Nairobi on the 8th and 22nd March, the 12th and 26th April, and the 10th and 27th May.  Extraordinary Africa can offer a 9 night trip, including international flights from London, a night in Nairobi and the 6 night Turkana Bus trip from £2,625 per person.

View the full Turkana Bus Itinerary.

All photos courtesy of Martin Dunn (

50% off at Chongwe River Lodge until 31st May

Safari doesn’t come cheap, so we’re the first to leap at a good value safari. Normally this might mean a free night once you’ve paid for three or four, or 10% for the bride. Chongwe River Camp has knocked these out of the water with a special offer that we can’t ever remember seeing before- for every night you pay for, you’ll get another one free.

It’s valid till the 31st of May, so if you can, we’d recommend trying to book towards the end of that period for frankly lovely weather, great game viewing, and one of the prettiest spots in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

Elephant at Chongwe River Camp

Breakfast at Chongwe River Camp!

Chongwe’s the perfect sort of spot for slow safari (just sit around camp- we wouldn’t be surprised if the elephants come to you). There are long, languorous boat safaris, lazy afternoon naps, and game drives or a spot of tiger fishing if you need a quick adrenaline buzz.

To add to that (do we need more?) if you want even better value, this offer’s also valid at sister lodge Kasaka. If you want to head further north and extend your safari to the South Luangwa National Park, you can combine either Chongwe River Camp or Kasaka with Kapani Lodge  and receive 30% off at Kapani too. And while you do this, we’ll be dying quietly of jealousy in our chilly office in the UK.

Hippos on a walking safari near Kasaka

Hippos on a walk near Kasaka

We’ve done a quick sketch on costs, and we think you could do six, wonderful, envy-inducing nights at Chongwe from £2,275 per person, including international flights from London, saving £1,300 per person.

Or combine Kapani for four nights with four nights at Kasaka for £2,860, saving £1,050 per person.

International and domestic flights are included, your food’s included and all of your game viewing’s included too, so all you really have to do is buy some sunscreen and a safari hat!

Why owner-run lodges really matter

A holiday in Africa’s about the animals right? Well, to an extent- but it’s also about the people. Africa attracts some pretty wonderful characters and the owner of your safari lodge can make as much of a difference to your trip as the wildlife can.

The owner’s the person who can ignore the rules, who can give you the fun, because, frankly, she’s enjoying your company and wants you to have a great time. The owner’s the guy who can help you meet an elephant because he’s been here for 20 years and knows them. The owners’ the guide who tells you the outrageous stories that you’ll tell your friends for 20 years to come. And the owner’s the person who might just say “Ah, you’re travelling with Alex. We had a few drinks in Durban a while back- have an upgrade.”

So, I’d like to introduce some people who made my most recent holiday in South Africa especially wonderful:

Lindsay and Catherine (pictured here with their Dad, Anthony) owners of Montusi Mountain Lodge

Owner run Montusi Mountain Lodge

Lindsay, Catherine and Anthony in the hills

Montusi Mountain Lodge was the surprise treat of my road trip around KwaZulu Natal. I arrived mid thunderstorm, and was the only guest eating in that night. “We’ll bring dinner to you”, I was told. So instead of trudging to the rain to sit in a lonely restaurant, I snuggled up on my sofa beside the fire, with the curtains drawn wide watching the lightening crackle across the top of the Drakensberg. Would a hotel manager have done the same? Maybe….

Ant and Tessa, owners of Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill

Ant and Tessa

Ant and Tessa

Visiting Ant’s Nest is very much like visiting someone’s home (in fact, when we visited the lodge was so full we actually stayed in Ant and Tessa’s home, and couldn’t have been made more welcome).  Meals at are eaten around one big jolly table and the rapport between the staff is so strong Ant’s been heard to joke that he’s running a marriage bureau as a well as a safari lodge.  Having Ant and his wife Tessa on site creates an incredibly fun and welcoming atmosphere for a family safari one that we think would be impossible to recreate without themOn top of this, as Ant’s family first settled here over a century ago, taking it from cattle ranch to wildlife conservancy, chatting to Ant and Tessa is a fantastic way to properly understand the land and the challenges they face- not something you’d find in an every day hotel. We learnt more about rhino conservation in our stay here than I have done in 10 years of taking safaris in Africa.

And, of course, there’s the safari camp owner who told us the tale of the unfortunate guest found roaming the camp the nude in the wee small hours, but he’d better remain nameless…