Getting there & away
Unless you are travelling overland from Southern Africa or Egypt, flying is by far the most convenient way to get to Kenya. Nairobi is a major African hub and flights between Kenya and the rest of Africa are common and relatively cheap. It’s important to note that flight availability and prices are highly seasonal. Conveniently for Europeans, the cheapest fares usually coincide with the European summer holidays, from June to September.
It’s also worth checking out cheap charter flights to Mombasa from Europe, although these will probably be part of a package deal to a hotel resort on the coast. Prices are often absurdly cheap and there’s no obligation to stay at the resort you’re booked into.A few adventurous and resourceful souls with their own vehicles still travel overland to Kenya from Europe, but most routes pass through several war zones and should only be considered after some serious planning and preparation.
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
Entering the country
Entering Kenya is generally pleasingly straightforward, particularly at the international airports, which are no different from most Western terminals. Single-entry visas are typically available on arrival for most nationalities (passport photos are not required), and cost US$50/€40/£30/Swiss Fr79. With that said, you should contact your nearest Kenyan diplomatic office to get the most up-to-date information.
There are no restrictions on which nationalities can enter Kenya. Citizens of Tanzania, Uganda, Scandinavia, the Republic of Ireland, Rwanda, Sudan and certain Commonwealth countries did not require visas at time of writing; check the latest situation before travelling.
Entering Kenya by bus is possible on several major routes, and it’s generally a breeze; while you need to get off the bus to sort out any necessary visa formalities, you’ll rarely be held up for too long at the border. That said, arranging your visa in advance can save you quite a bit of time and a few angry glares from your fellow passengers.
Car & Motorcycle
Drivers of cars and riders of motorbikes will need the vehicle’s registration papers, liability insurance and an international drivers’ permit in addition to their domestic licence. Beware: there are two kinds of international permits, one of which is needed mostly for former British colonies. You may also need a Carnet de passage en douane, which is effectively a passport for the vehicle and acts as a temporary waiver of import duty. The carnet may also need to specify any expensive spare parts that you’re planning to carry with you, such as a gearbox. This is necessary when travelling in many countries in Africa, and is designed to prevent car-import rackets. Contact your local automobile association for details about all documentation.
Liability insurance is not available in advance for many out-of-the-way countries, but rather has to be bought when crossing the border. The cost and quality of such local insurance varies wildly, and you will find in some countries that you are effectively travelling uninsured.
Petrol, spare parts and repair shops are readily available at all border towns, though if you’re coming from Ethiopia you should plan your supplies carefully, as stops are few and far between on the rough northern roads.
If you’re planning to ship your vehicle to Kenya, be aware that port charges in the country are very high. For example, a Land Rover shipped from the Middle East to Mombasa is likely to cost more than US$1000 just to get off the ship and out of the port – this is almost as much as the cost of the shipping itself! Putting a vehicle onto a ship in the Mombasa port can cost another US$750 on top of this. There are numerous shipping agents in Nairobi and Mombasa willing to arrange everything for you, but check all the costs in advance.
With ongoing problems in Sudan and Somalia, Ethiopia offers the only viable overland route into Kenya from the north. The security situation around the main entry point at Moyale is changeable – the border is usually open, but security problems often force its closure. Cattle- and goat-rustling are rife, triggering frequent cross-border tribal wars, so check the security situation carefully before attempting this crossing.
From immigration on the Ethiopian side of town it’s a 2km walk to the Ethiopian and Kenyan customs posts. Be aware that a yellow-fever vaccination is required to cross either border at Moyale. Unless you fancy being vaccinated at the border, get your jabs in advance and remember to keep the yellow-fever certificate with your passport. A cholera vaccination may also be required. If you’re travelling in the other direction, through Ethiopia to Sudan, you’ll have to go to Addis Ababa to get your Sudanese visa.
If you don’t have your own transport from Moyale, lifts can be arranged with the trucks from the border to Isiolo for around KSh1000 (or KSh500 to Marsabit).
Those coming to Kenya with their own vehicle could also enter at Fort Banya, on the northeastern tip of Lake Turkana. However, it’s a risky route and fuel stops are rare. There is no border post, so you must already possess a Kenyan visa and get it stamped on arrival in Nairobi – immigration officials are quite used to this, although not having an Ethiopian exit stamp can be a problem if you want to re-enter Ethiopia.
There’s no way you can pass overland between Kenya and war-ravaged Somalia at present unless you’re part of a refugee aid convoy, as the Kenyan government has closed the border to try and stop the flow of poachers, bandits and weapons into Kenya.
There has been some peace progress in recent years, though Kenya’s neighbour to the north is still far from untroubled. If things continue to improve, the Kenya-Sudan border may reopen, but at time of writing it was still only possible to travel between the two countries either by air or via Metema on the Ethiopian border.
The main land borders between Kenya and Tanzania are at Namanga, Taveta, Isebania and Lunga Lunga, and can be reached by public transport. There is also a crossing from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, which can only be undertaken with your own vehicle, and one at Loitokitok, which is closed to tourists, although you may be able to temporarily cross on a tour. Train services between the two countries have been suspended.
Following are the main bus companies serving Tanzania:
Easy Coach (020-210711; email@example.com)
Scandinavia Express (www.scandinaviagroup.com)
Mombasa to Tanga/Dar es Salaam
Numerous buses run along the coast road from Mombasa to Tanga and Dar es Salaam, and they cross the border at Lunga Lunga/Horohoro. Most people travel on through buses from Mombasa, but it’s easy enough to do the journey in stages by local bus or matatu (minibus) if you’d rather make a few stops along the way.
In Mombasa, buses to Dar es Salaam leave from around Jomo Kenyatta Ave, near the junction with Mwembe Tayari Rd. The average cost is around KSh1000 to Dar (eight hours) and KSh500 to Tanga (two hours), depending on the company you travel with and the standard of the buses.
In Dar es Salaam, buses leave from the Mnazi Mmoja bus stand on Bibi Titi Mohamed Rd, near Uhuru and Lindi Sts, along the southeast side of Mnazi Mmoja Park.
If you want to do the journey in stages, there are frequent matatus to Lunga Lunga from the Mombasa ferry jetty at Likoni. A matatu can then take you the 6.5km between the two border posts. On the Tanzanian side, there are regular matatus from Horohoro to Tanga.
Mombasa to Arusha/Moshi
A number of rickety local buses leave Mombasa every evening for Moshi and Arusha in Tanzania. There are occasional morning services, but most buses leave around 7pm from Mombasa or Arusha. Fares are around KSh1000 to Moshi (six hours) and KSh1500 to Arusha (7½ hours). In Mombasa, buses leave from in front of the Mwembe Tayari Health Centre on Jomo Kenyatta Ave.
Buses cross the border at Taveta, which can also be reached by matatu from Voi.
Nairobi to Arusha/Moshi
You have the choice of an ordinary bus or a much more comfortable minibus shuttle service between Nairobi and Arusha. Each takes about four hours and neither requires a change of service at the border at Namanga.
Riverside Shuttle and Davanu Shuttle both offer convenient shuttle services from central Nairobi, costing roughly US$35 to Arusha and US$40 to Moshi. The big advantage of both these services is being able to board the bus in the comparative sanity of downtown Nairobi. There are often touts at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi advertising a direct shuttle bus service from the airport to Arusha, but they just bring you into Nairobi where you join one of the regular shuttles.
Full-sized buses are much cheaper, but most leave from the hectic River Rd area in Nairobi; thefts are common there so watch your baggage. Easy Coach is a good option, as services leave from its office compound near Nairobi railway station. Buses from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam also travel via Arusha, and small local buses leave from Accra Rd every morning. The average cost of these services is between KSh700 and KSh1000 to Arusha, and between KSh1000 and KSh1200 to Moshi, more for the real luxury liners.
It’s also easy, though less convenient, to do this journey in stages, since the Kenyan and Tanzanian border posts at Namanga are right next to each other and regularly served by public transport. There are a couple of nice places to stay in Namanga if you want to break the journey, for example to visit Amboseli National Park, before heading to Nairobi or Arusha.
Nairobi to Dar es Salaam
Several Kenyan companies have buses from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam. Scandinavia Express and Akamba both have reliable daily services, with prices ranging from KSh2000 to real luxury coaches at KSh3000. Journey time is around 16 to 18 hours with stops.
Serengeti to Masai Mara
Theoretically it’s possible to cross between Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara National Reserve with your own vehicle, but you’ll need all the appropriate vehicle documentation (including insurance and entry permit).
Nairobi/Kisumu to Mwanza
The road is sealed all the way from Kisumu to just short of Mwanza in Tanzania, offering a convenient route to the Tanzanian shore of Lake Victoria. From Nairobi, probably the most comfortable way to go is with Scandinavia Express or Akamba; prices range from around KSh1000 to KSh2000, and the journey should take roughly 12 hours.
From Kisumu, regular matatus serve the Tanzanian border at Isebania/Sirari (KSh400, four hours); local services head to Mwanza from the Tanzanian side. Buses going direct to Mwanza (KSh1700, four hours) leave frequently from Kisii.
The main border post for overland travellers is Malaba, with Busia an alternative if you are travelling via Kisumu. Numerous bus companies run between Nairobi and Kampala, or you can do the journey in stages via either of the border towns. Akamba (020-340430), Falcon and Scandinavia Express are the main bus companies that serve Uganda.
Nairobi to Kampala
Various companies cover the Nairobi to Kampala route. From Nairobi – and at the top end of the market – Scandinavia Express and Akamba have buses at least once daily, ranging from ordinary buses at around KSh1000 to full-blown luxury services with drinks and movies, hovering around the KSh2500 mark. All buses take about 10 to 12 hours and prices include a meal at the halfway point. Akamba also has a service to Mbale in Uganda for around KSh1000.
Various other companies have cheaper basic services which depart from the Accra Rd area in Nairobi. Prices start at around KSh1000 and journey times are more or less the same as the bigger companies, with a few extra allowances for delays and general tardiness.
If you want to do the journey in stages, Akamba has morning and evening buses from Nairobi to Malaba and a daily direct bus from there to Kampala. There are also regular matatus to Malaba from Cross Rd.
The Ugandan and Kenyan border posts at Malaba are about 1km apart, so you can walk or take a boda-boda (bicycle taxi). Once you get across the border, there are frequent matatus until the late afternoon to Kampala, Jinja and Tororo.
SEA & LAKE
At the time of writing there were no ferries operating on Lake Victoria, although there’s been talk for years of services restarting.
It’s theoretically possible to travel by dhow between Mombasa and the Tanzanian islands of Pemba and Zanzibar, but first of all you’ll have to find a captain who’s making the journey and then you’ll have to bargain hard to pay a reasonable amount for the trip. Perhaps the best place to ask about sailings is at Shimoni. There is a tiny immigration post here, but there’s no guarantee they’ll stamp your passport so you might have to go back to Mombasa for an exit stamp.
Dhows do sail between small Kenyan and Tanzanian ports along Lake Victoria, but many are involved in smuggling (fruit mostly) and are best avoided.
Most companies are based in the UK or South Africa, but Flight Centres is a good local operator with offices in Nairobi, Cape Town and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Trips can last from just a few days to epic grand tours of up to 13 weeks.
Acacia Expeditions (UK 020-77064700; www.acacia-africa.com)
Dragoman (UK 01728-861133; www.dragoman.co.uk)
Explore Worldwide (UK 01252-760000; www.exploreworldwide.com)
Guerba Expeditions (UK 01373-826611; www.guerba.co.uk)
Airports & Airlines
Most international flights to and from Nairobi are handled by Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO; 020-825400; www.kenyaairports.co.ke), 15km southeast of the city. By African standards, it’s a pretty well-organised place, with two international terminals, a smaller domestic terminal and an incredible number of shops offering duty-free and expensive souvenirs, snacks and internet access. You can walk easily between the terminals.
Some flights between Nairobi and Kilimanjaro International Airport or Mwanza in Tanzania, as well as many domestic flights, use Wilson Airport (WIL; 020-603260), which is about 6km south of the city centre on Langata Rd. The other arrival point in the country is Moi International Airport (MBA; 041-433211) in Mombasa, 9km west of the centre, but apart from flights to Zanzibar, this is mainly used by charter airlines and domestic flights.
Kenya Airways is the main national carrier, and has a generally good safety record, with just one fatal incident since 1977.
The following are airlines flying to and from Kenya, with offices in Nairobi except where otherwise indicated:
African Express Airways (3P; 020-824333)
Air India (AI; 020-340925; www.airindia.com)
Air Madagascar (MD; 020-225286; www.airmadagascar.mg)
Air Malawi (QM; 020-240965; www.airmalawi.net)
Air Mauritius (MK; 020-229166; www.airmauritius.com)
Air Zimbabwe (UM; 020-339522; www.airzim.co.zw)
Airkenya (QP; 020-605745; www.airkenya.com)
British Airways (BA; 020-244430; www.british-airways.com)
Daallo Airlines (D3; 020-317318; www.daallo.com)
Egypt Air (MS; 020-226821; www.egyptair.com.eg)
Emirates (EK; 020-211187; www.emirates.com)
Ethiopian Airlines (ET; 020-330837; www.ethiopianairlines.com)
Gulf Air (GF; 020-241123; www.gulfairco.com)
Jetlink Express (J0; 020-244285; www.jetlink.co.ke)
Kenya Airways (KQ; 020-3274100; www.kenya-airways.com)
Oman Air (WY; 041-221444; www.oman-air.com)
Precision Air (PW; 020-602561; www.precisionairtz.com)
Qatar Airways (QR; www.qatarairways.com)
Rwandair (WB; 0733-740703; www.rwandair.com)
SN Brussels Airlines (SN; 020-4443070; www.flysn.com)
Swiss International Airlines (SR; 020-3744045; www.swiss.com)
If you enter Nairobi with no onward or return ticket you may incur the wrath of immigration, and be forced to buy one on the spot – an expensive exercise. Note that you can’t get a standby flight to Kenya unless you’re an airline employee.
The airport departure tax for international flights is included in the cost of your plane ticket.
Intercontinental (RTW) tickets
Discount round-the-world (RTW) tickets are a tempting option if you want to include Kenya on a longer journey, but the most common African stop is Johannesburg – if you’re coming from Europe any ticket that includes Nairobi is usually much more expensive. If you’re coming from Australia or New Zealand the difference may not be so great, but it’s still often cheaper to buy an RTW or Australia–Europe ticket, stopover in Johannesburg, and then buy a ticket on to Nairobi from there. Either way you may have to go through several travel agents before you find someone who can put a good deal together.
The following are online agents for RTW tickets:
Air Treks (www.airtreks.com)
Round the World Flights (www.roundtheworldflights.com)
The Traveller UK (www.thetravelleruk.com)
Travel Bag (www.travelbag.com)
STA Travel proliferates in Asia, with branches in Bangkok (02-236 0262; www.statravel.co.th), Singapore (6737 7188; www.statravel.com.sg), Hong Kong (2736 1618; www.statravel.com.hk) and Japan (03 5391 2922; www.statravel.co.jp). Another resource in Japan is No 1 Travel (03 3205 6073; www.no1-travel.com); in Hong Kong try Four Seas Tours (2200 7760; www.fourseastrav el.com/english).
For the location of STA Travel branches call 1300 733 035 or visit www.statravel.com.au. Flight Centre (133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au) has offices throughout Australia. For online bookings, try www.travel.com.au.
Recommended agencies include:
Anyway (0892 893 892; www.anyway.fr)
Lastminute (0892 705 000; www.lastminute.fr)
NouvellesFrontiéres (0825 000 747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
OTU Voyages (www.otu.fr) This agency specialises in student and youth travellers.
Voyageurs du Monde (01 40 15 11 15; www.vdm.com)
Recommended agencies include:
Just Travel (089 747 3330; www.justtravel.de)
Lastminute (01805 284 366; www.lastminute.de)
STA Travel (01805 456 422; www.statravel.de) For travellers under the age of 26.
Italy One recommended agent is CTS Viaggi (06 462 0431; www.cts.it), specialising in student and youth travel.
The Netherlands One recommended agency is Airfair (020 620 5121; www.airf air.nl).
Recommended agencies include:
BarceloViajes (902 116 226; www.barceloviajes.com)
NouvellesFrontiéres (90 217 09 79; www.nouvelles-frontieres.es)
New Zealand Both Flight Centre (0800 243 544; www.flightcentre.co.nz) and STA Travel (0508 782 872; www.statravel.co.nz) have branches throughout the country. The site www.travel.co.nz is recommended for online bookings.
South America Recommended agencies include:
UK & Ireland Discount air travel is big business in London. Advertisements for many travel agencies appear in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheet newspapers, in Time Out, the Evening Standard and in the free online magazine TNT (www.tntmag azine.com). Recommended travel agencies include:
Bridge the World (0870 444 7474; www.b-t-w.co.uk)
Flight Centre (0870 890 8099; flightcentre.co.uk)
Flightbookers (0870 814 4001; www.ebookers.com)
North-South Travel (01245 608 291; www.northsouthtravel.co.uk) North-South Travel donate part of its profit to projects in the developing world.
Quest Travel (0870 442 3542; www.questtravel.com)
STA Travel (0870 160 0599; www.statravel.co.uk) For travellers under the age of 26.
Travel Bag (0870 890 1456; www.travelbag.co.uk)
USA Discount travel agents in the USA are known as consolidators (although you won’t see a sign on the door saying ‘Consolidator’). San Francisco is the ticket consolidator capital of America, although some good deals can be found in Los Angeles, New York and other big cities.
The following agencies are recommended for online bookings:
Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com)
Lowest Fare (www.lowestfare.com)
STA Travel (www.sta.com) For travellers under the age of 26
IndiaSTIC Travels (www.stictravel.com) has offices in dozens of Indian cities, including Delhi (11-233 57 468) and Mumbai (22-221 81 431). Another agency is Transway International (www.transwayint ernational.com).
Recommended agencies include:
Israel Student Travel Association (ISTA; 02-625 7257) In Jerusalem.