Getting around Kenya is relatively easy. Unless you're travelling on an organised safari, in which case your transport will be taken care of, there's a mix of bus, train, matatu and flights to choose from.
Kenya Airways air services connect Nairobi with regional cities, but smaller air charter companies fly you into remote air strips in the parks, reserves and conservancies.
Airlines in Kenya
Including the national carrier, Kenya Airways, a handful of domestic operators of varying sizes run scheduled flights within Kenya. Destinations served are predominantly around the coast and the popular national parks, where the highest density of tourist activity takes place. Most operate small planes and many of the 'airports', especially those in the parks, are dirt airstrips with very few if any facilities.
With all airlines, be sure to book well in advance (this is essential during the tourist high season). You should also remember to reconfirm your return flights 72 hours before departure, especially those that connect with an international flight. Otherwise, you may find that your seat has been reallocated. All of the following airlines fly to Nairobi.
Airkenya Amboseli, Diani Beach, Lamu, Lewa, Malindi, Masai Mara, Meru, Mombasa, Nakuru, Nanyuki and Samburu.
Fly540 Eldoret, Kisumu, Lamu, Lodwar, Malindi, Masai Mara and Mombasa.
Jambo Jet Subsidiary of Kenya Airways that flies to Diani Beach, Eldoret, Kisumu, Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa.
Kenya Airways Kisumu, Malindi and Mombasa.
Mombasa Air Safari Amboseli, Diani Beach, Kisumu, Lamu, Malindi, Masai Mara, Meru, Mombasa, Samburu and Tsavo West.
Safarilink Amboseli, Diani Beach, Kiwayu, Lamu, Lewa Downs, Loisaba, Masai Mara, Naivasha, Nanyuki, Samburu, Shaba and Tsavo West.
Chartering a small plane saves you time and is the only realistic way to get to some parts of Kenya. However, it’s an expensive affair and may only be worth considering if you can get a group together. There are dozens of charter companies operating out of Nairobi’s Wilson Airport.
Loads of Kenyans get around by bicycle, and while it can be tough for those who are not used to the roads or climate, plenty of hardy visiting cyclists tour the country every year.
Safety Whatever you do, if you intend to cycle here, do as the locals do and get off the road whenever you hear a car coming. And no matter how experienced you are, it would be tantamount to suicide to attempt the road from Nairobi to Mombasa, or from Nairobi to Nakuru, on a bicycle.
Rural touring Cycling is easier in rural areas, and you’ll usually receive a warm welcome in any villages you pass through. Many local people operate boda-bodas (bicycle or motorcycle taxis), so repair shops are quite common along the roadside. Be wary of cycling on dirt roads as punctures from thorn trees are a major problem.
Mountain biking The hills of Kenya are not particularly steep but can be long and hard. You can expect to cover around 80km per day in the hills of the Western Highlands, somewhat more where the country is flatter. Hell’s Gate National Park, near Naivasha, is particularly popular for mountain biking, but you can also explore on two wheels around Mt Kenya, the Masai Mara and Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Hire It’s possible to hire road and mountain bikes in an increasing number of places, usually for KSh600 to KSh1000 per day. Few places require a deposit, unless their machines are particularly new or sophisticated.
The only ferry transport on Lake Victoria at the time of writing is across the Winam Gulf between Mbita Point (near Homa Bay) and Luanda Kotieno, where matatus go to Kisumu. You might also find motorised canoes to Mfangano Island from Mbita Point.
Sailing on a traditional Swahili dhow along the East African coast is one of Kenya’s most memorable experiences. And, unlike on Lake Victoria, a good number of traditional routes are very much still in use. Dhows are commonly used to get around the islands in the Lamu archipelago and the mangrove islands south of Mombasa.
Facilities For the most part, these trips operate more like dhow safaris than public transport. Although some trips are luxurious, the trips out of Lamu are more basic. When night comes you simply bed down wherever there is space. Seafood is freshly caught and cooked on board on charcoal burners, or else barbecued on the beach on surrounding islands.
Propulsion Most of the smaller boats rely on the wind to get around, so it’s quite common to end up becalmed until the wind picks up again. The more commercial boats, however, have been fitted with outboard motors so that progress can be made even when there’s no wind. Larger dhows are all motorised and some of them don’t even have sails.
Services Kenya has an extensive network of long- and short-haul bus routes, with particularly good coverage of the areas around Nairobi, the coast and the western regions. Services thin out the further from the capital you get, particularly in the north, and there are still plenty of places where you’ll be reliant on matatus.
Operators Buses are operated by a variety of private companies that offer varying levels of comfort, convenience and roadworthiness. They’re considerably cheaper than taking the train or flying and, as a rule, services are frequent, fast and can be quite comfortable.
Facilities In general, if you travel during daylight hours, buses are a fairly safe way to get around – you’ll certainly be safer in a bus than in a matatu. The best coaches are saved for long-haul and international routes, and offer DVD movies, drinks, toilets and reclining airline-style seats; some of the newer ones even have wi-fi. On shorter local routes, however, you may find yourself on something resembling a battered school bus.
Seating tips Whatever kind of conveyance you find yourself in, don’t sit at the back (you’ll be thrown around like a rag doll on Kenyan roads) or right at the front (you’ll be the first to die in a head-on collision, plus you’ll be able to see the oncoming traffic, which is usually best left to the driver or those with nerves of steel).
Safety There are a few security considerations to think about when taking a bus in Kenya. Some routes, most notably the roads from Malindi to Lamu and Isiolo to Marsabit, have been prone to attacks by shiftas (bandits) in the past; check things out locally before you travel. Another possible risk is drugged food and drink: it is best to politely refuse any offers of drinks or snacks from strangers.
The main national bus operators in Kenya:
Busways Western Kenya and the coast.
Coastline Safaris Western and southern Kenya, and Mombasa.
Dreamline Executive Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi.
Easy Coach Rift Valley and western Kenya.
Modern Coast Express Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi and western Kenya.
Kenyan buses are pretty economical, with fares starting at around KSh150 for an hour-long journey between towns, while fares between Nairobi and Mombasa begin at KSh600 for the standard journey and can go as high as KSh2000 for premium services.
Most bus companies have offices or ticket agents at important stops along their routes, where you can book a seat. For short trips between towns, reservations aren’t generally necessary, but for popular longer routes, particularly Nairobi–Kisumu and Nairobi–Mombasa, buying your ticket at least a day in advance is highly recommended.
Major Bus Routes
|From||To||Price (US$)||Duration (hr)||Company|
|Mombasa||Tanga||10||4||Modern Coast Express|
|Mombasa||Dar es Salaam||15-20||5-8||Modern Coast Express|
|Nairobi||Kampala||30||10-12||Modern Coast Express|
Car & Motorcycle
Many travellers bring their own vehicles into Kenya as part of overland trips and, expense notwithstanding, it’s a great way to see the country at your own pace. Otherwise, there are numerous car-hire companies that can rent you anything from a small hatchback to a 4WD, although hire rates are very high.
If you’re a seasoned driver in African conditions, hiring a sturdy vehicle can also open up relatively inaccessible corners of the country. However, do be aware that Kenyan drivers are some of the most dangerous in the world, and be prepared to have to pull off the main Nairobi–Mombasa highway in order to avoid collisions with oncoming overtaking trucks in your lane. This is definitely not a place for inexperienced or nervous drivers.
If you don't fancy driving yourself, hiring a vehicle with a driver rarely costs a lot more, but then of course you have to pay for the driver's food and accommodation and that quickly adds up.
A useful organisation is the Automobile Association of Kenya.
Although things have improved, police will still stop you and will most likely ask you for a small ‘donation’ or, as Kenyans say, the police will let you know that they are 'hungry'. To prevent being taken advantage of, always ask for an official receipt – this goes a long way in stopping corruption. Also, always ask for their police number and check it against their ID card as there are plenty of con artists running about. If you’re ever asked to go to court, consider saying yes as you just might call their bluff and save yourself a bit of cash.
Bringing Your Own Vehicle
Paperwork Drivers of cars and riders of motorbikes will need the vehicle’s registration papers, liability insurance and driving licence; although not necessary, an International Driving Permit (IDP) is also a good idea. 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 well in advance of your departure.
Shipping 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.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is not necessary in Kenya as most foreign licences are accepted, but it can be useful. If you have a British photo-card licence, be sure to bring the counterfoil, as the date you passed your driving test (something car-hire companies may want to know) isn’t printed on the card itself.
Fuel & Spare Parts
Fuel prices Generally lower outside the capital, but can creep up to frighteningly high prices in remote areas and inside national parks, where petrol stations are scarce and you may end up buying dodgy supplies out of barrels from roadside vendors.
Availability 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.
Parts Even if it’s an older-model vehicle, local spare-parts suppliers in Kenya are very unlikely to have every little part you might need, so carry as many such parts as you can. Belt breakages are probably the most common disaster you can expect, so bring several spares.
Fire equipment Note that you can be fined by the police for not having a fire triangle and an extinguisher, although the latter is more often asked for in neighbouring Tanzania.
Hiring a vehicle to tour Kenya (or at least the national parks) is an expensive way of seeing the country, but it does give you freedom of movement and is sometimes the only way of getting to more remote parts of the country. However, unless you’re sharing with a sufficient number of people, it’s likely to cost more than you’d pay for an organised camping safari with all meals.
Four-wheel drive Unless you’re just planning on travelling on the main routes between towns, you’ll need a 4WD vehicle. Few of the car-hire companies will let you drive 2WD vehicles on dirt roads, including those in the national parks, and if you ignore this proscription and have an accident you’ll be personally liable for any damage to the vehicle.
Driver requirements A minimum age of between 23 and 25 years usually applies for hirers. Some companies require you to have been driving for at least two years. An International Driving Permit is not required, but you will need to show your passport.
Vehicle condition It’s generally true to say that the more you pay for a vehicle, the better its condition will be. The larger companies are usually in a better financial position to keep their fleet in good order. Always be sure to check the brakes, the tyres (including the spare), the windscreen wipers and the lights before you set off.
Breakdowns The other factor to consider is what the company will do for you (if anything) if you have a serious breakdown. The major hire companies may deliver a replacement vehicle and make arrangements for recovery of the other vehicle at their expense, but with most companies you’ll have to get the vehicle fixed and back on the road yourself, and then try to claim a refund.
Crossing borders If you plan to take the car across international borders, check whether the company allows this – many don’t, and those that do charge for the privilege.
Starting rates for hire almost always sound very reasonable, but once you factor in mileage and the various types of insurance, you’ll be lucky to pay less than US$50 per day for a saloon car, US$80 per day for a small 4WD or US$150 per day for a proper 4WD.
Kilometre limit Hiring a vehicle with unlimited kilometres is the best way to go.
Insurance costs Rates are usually quoted without insurance, with the option of paying a daily rate (usually around KSh1500 to KSh3000) for insurance against collision damage and theft. It would be financial suicide to hire a car in Kenya without both kinds of insurance. Otherwise you’ll be responsible for the full value of the vehicle if it’s damaged or stolen.
Excess Even if you have collision and theft insurance, you’ll still be liable for an excess of anywhere between KSh5000 to KSh150,000 (depending on the company) if something happens to the vehicle; always check this before signing. You can usually reduce the excess to zero by paying another KSh1500 to KSh2500 per day for an excess loss waiver. Note that tyres, damaged windscreens and loss of the tool kit are always the hirer’s responsibility.
Tax As a last sting in the tail (unless you've been quoted an all-inclusive rate), you’ll be charged 16% value added tax (VAT) on top of the total cost of hiring the vehicle.
Petrol And a final warning: always return the vehicle with a full tank of petrol; if you don’t, the company will charge you twice the going rate to fill up.
We recommend the following local and international hire companies. Be aware that some places offering car hire in Kenya online are scammers. Never wire money to anyone, and double-check the reputation of a company before entering into a contract.
Adventure Upgrade Safaris An excellent local company with a good range of vehicles and drivers.
Avis Has outlets in Nairobi, at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Mombasa and Mombasa airport.
Budget Offers car hire at both the airport and downtown Nairobi. Also has an office at Mombasa airport.
Central Rent-a-Car Long-standing car-hire agency with 4WDs, SUVs and normal cars at competitive rates.
Market Car Hire Local car-hire firm with a solid reputation that has been operating for 40 years.
Roadtrip Kenya New arrivals in Nairobi, this long-standing Dutch-run agency has been working in Uganda and Tanzania for years and offers excellent value, local knowledge and support.
Driving in Kenya without insurance would be an idiotic thing to do. If coming in your own vehicle, it’s best to arrange cover before you leave. Liability insurance is not always available in advance for Kenya; you may be required to purchase some at certain borders if you enter overland, otherwise you will effectively be travelling uninsured.
Most car-hire agencies in Kenya offer some kind of insurance.
In small towns and villages parking is usually free, but there’s a pay-parking system in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Nyeri, Nanyuki and other main towns. Attendants issue one-day parking permits for around KSh100, valid anywhere in town. If you don’t get a permit, you’re liable to be wheel-clamped, and getting your vehicle back will cost you a few thousand shillings. With that said, it’s always worth staying in a hotel with secure parking if possible.
Road conditions vary widely in Kenya, from flat, smooth highways to dirt tracks and steep, rocky pathways. Many roads are severely eroded at the edges, reducing the carriageway to a single lane, which is usually occupied by whichever vehicle is bigger in any given situation.
Trouble spots The roads in the north and east of the country are particularly poor, although the situation is improving. The main Mombasa–Nairobi–Malaba road (A104) is badly worn in places due to the constant flow of traffic, but has improved in recent years. The never-ending stream of trucks along this main route through the country will slow travel times considerably.
National parks Roads in national parks are all made of murram (dirt) and many have eroded into bone-shaking corrugations through overuse by safari vehicles. Keep your speed down, slowly increasing until you find a suitable speed (when the rattling stops), and be careful when driving after rain. Although some dirt roads can be negotiated in a 2WD vehicle, you’re much safer in a 4WD.
The slightest breakdown can leave you stranded for hours in the bush, so always carry drinking water, emergency food and, if possible, spare fuel.
Vehicles The biggest hazard on Kenyan roads is simply the other vehicles on them, and driving defensively is essential. Ironically, the most dangerous roads in Kenya are probably the well-maintained ones, which allow drivers to go fast enough to do really serious damage in a crash.
Potholes On poor roads, potholes are a dual problem: driving into them can damage your vehicle or cause you to lose control, and sudden avoidance manoeuvres from other vehicles are a constant threat.
People & livestock On all roads, be very careful of pedestrians and cyclists. Animals are another major hazard in rural areas, be it monkeys, herds of goats and cattle, or lone chickens with a death wish.
Acacia thorns These are a common problem if you’re driving in remote areas, as they’ll pierce even the toughest tyres.
Bandits Certain routes have a reputation for banditry, particularly the Garsen–Garissa–Thika road, which is still essentially off limits to travellers. The road from Isiolo to Marsabit and Moyale has improved considerably security-wise in the last few years, while some coast roads between Lamu and Malindi remain subject to occasional insecurity. Seek local advice before driving any of these routes.
- You’ll need your wits about you if you’re going to tackle driving in Kenya. Driving practices here are some of the worst in the world and all are carried out at breakneck speed. Indicators, lights, horns and hand signals can mean anything from ‘I’m about to overtake’ to ‘Hello mzungu (white person)!’ or ‘Let’s play chicken with that elephant’, and should never be taken at face value.
- Driving is on the left-hand side of the road, but Kenyans habitually drive on the wrong side of the road whenever they see a pothole, an animal or simply a break in the traffic – flashing your lights at the vehicle hurtling towards you should be enough to persuade the driver to get back into their own lane.
- Never drive at night unless you absolutely have to, as few cars have adequate headlights and the roads are full of pedestrians and cyclists. Drunk driving is also very common.
- Note that foreign-registered vehicles with a seating capacity of more than six people are not allowed into Kenyan national parks and reserves; jeeps should be fine, but VW Kombis and other campervans may have problems.
Hitchhiking is never entirely safe in any country, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. It’s safer to travel in pairs and let someone know where you are planning to go. Also beware of drunken drivers. Although it’s risky, many locals have no choice but to hitch, so people will know what you’re doing if you try to flag down cars.
Signalling The traditional thumb signal will probably be understood, but locals use a palm-downwards wave to get cars to stop.
Contributions Many Kenyan drivers expect a contribution towards petrol or some kind of gift from foreign passengers, so make it clear from the outset if you are expecting a free ride.
National parks If you’re hoping to hitch into the national parks, dream on! You’ll get further asking around for travel companions in Nairobi or any of the gateway towns.
Local hitchers On the other side of the wheel, foreign drivers will be approached regularly by Kenyan hitchers demanding free rides – giving a lift to a carload of Maasai is certainly a memorable cultural experience.
Matatus, usually in the form of minivans, are the workhorses of Kenya's transport system. Apart from in the remote northern areas, where you’ll rely on occasional buses or paid lifts on trucks, you can almost always find a matatu going to the next town or further afield, so long as it’s not too late in the day. Simply ask around among the drivers at the local matatu stand or ‘stage’. Matatus leave when full and the fares are fixed. It’s unlikely you will be charged more than other passengers.
Safety Despite a periodic government drive to regulate the matatu industry, matatus remain notorious for dangerous driving, overcrowding and general shady business. A passenger backlash has seen a small but growing trend in more responsible matatu companies offering less crowding, safer driving and generally better security on intercity services. Mololine Prestige Shuttle is one of these plying the route from Nairobi to Kisumu or Nakuru.
Accidents As with buses, roads are usually busy enough for a slight shunt to be the most likely accident, though of course congestion never stops drivers jockeying for position like it’s the Kenya Derby. Wherever you go, remember that most matatu crashes are head-on collisions – under no circumstances should you sit in the ‘death seat’ next to the matatu driver. Play it safe and sit in the middle seats away from the window.
The Uganda Railway was once the main trade artery in East Africa and, after massive investment, will be again. Inaugurated in 2017, the new high-speed Nairobi–Mombasa rail service has cut travelling time from 18 hours (the old train service) to just 4½ hours. It's faster, cheaper and safer than taking the bus. The service stops in Mtito Andei and Voi.
The line – operated by Kenya Railways – will eventually extend to Naivasha as well (with a branch line to Kisumu), and then on to Kampala in Uganda, if all goes to plan.
Classes & Costs
There are two classes on Kenyan trains – as all services are seat only, the difference between the two is all to do with comfort.
Services are likely to increase over the coming years, but for now there's one 9am departure daily in each direction. From Nairobi, services stop at Mtito Andei (one way 2nd/1st class KSh360/1490, 2¼ hours) and Voi (KSh510/2130, 3½ hours) en route to Mombasa (KSh900/3000, 4½ hours).
There are booking offices at the train stations in Nairobi (Syokimau Railway Station) and Mombasa, and at present it’s recommended that you show up in person; online and phone booking services have been promised, but were not yet operational at the time of writing.