Transport in Kenya - What's the best way to get around?

What are the best means of transport in Kenya? Basically, getting around the country on the surface can take a lot of time, as roads are generally bad to terrible. Domestic flights are available, but often expensive. All in all you have many options.


Traveling by Bus

Together with matatus, buses are easily the cheapest means of transport in Kenya. Both government and private bus companies maintain short and long distance lines throughout the country, and taking the bus for an hour between cities costs a little KSH 80 (US$ 1.30). Both for buses and matatus, almost nobody tries to let foreigners pay more. Buses between big cities are rather fast and comfortable, but much less so in rural areas (also because of the road potholes the size of monkeys).

Timetables are often absent – the bus leaves once or a few times per day, or when full. Not all bus companies have a great safety record – but Akamba Public Road Services, Scandinavian Express (really!), Kenya Bus and Coastline are the most reputable and safe companies.

Matatus – The African Way

Matatu is transport the African way. Matatus are privately owned, public minibuses in all (paint brushed) colors of the rainbow – the very loud benga or rap music comes free. They run on more or less fixed routes in populated areas, but you can get in anywhere by raising your hand, and get off anywhere by tapping the driver’s shoulders.

Matatu means “for three” in Swahili – originally the fare was 3 shillings. Nowadays, you pay 25 shillings (40 dollar cents) for as far as you want to go. They used to drive recklessly – hence the Kenyan phrase “Matatu Madness” – but since stricter government regulations they have improved considerably. After dark, better take taxis – matatus get robbed now and then at night. During the day they are considered safe. Don’t miss them!

Taxis

In the cities and tows, there are plenty of (often yellow) taxis around the clock – ranging from old Peugeots that are close to total breakdown to quite well kept cars. They don’t have meters – you have to negotiate the price before getting in. A few miles should cost KSH 300 (US$ 5) and a trip of 30 to 60 minutes between KSH 1000 and 1500 (US$ 16 to 24).

Be aware that gas prices are high – a high portion of your fare goes into the gas pump. Many taxi drivers have to rent the car by the day.

Taxi drivers will also be happy to be at your disposal all day. Rates depend a lot on the distance (gas prices), but if you drive locally, they start from about KSH 2500 (US$ 40).

Car Hire – With or Without Private Driver

Hiring a car is one of the more expensive means of transport in Kenya – if you’re headed for one or a few national parks, going with a tour operator is often cheaper. But if you need a car for a longer time period, and are traveling to remote areas, it can be advantageous.

However, there’s a lot of small print, especially about insurances. Be aware that there’s a high fatal accident rate in Kenya. Driving is on the left (in theory). Here are all the details about car hire in Kenya.

A nice thing about car hire is that for about KSH 1000 (US$ 16) per day, car hire companies can deliver a driver with their car. It’s then also covered by their insurance.

Railways

There’s a train connection between a few cities, mainly Nairobi and Mombasa (a night train with sleeping car accommodation), but also to Nakuru, Eldoret, and Kisumu. The train is more expensive than the bus, but more comfortable and an experience in itself.

Nairobi was actually built from 1899 on as a headquarters of the railway operations in East Africa run by the British colonizers - the first real system of transport in Kenya.

Domestic Flights

As said – flying is a quick, and sometimes the only way to get to remote parts of Kenya. The most popular national parks are served by a regular air connection, as well as tourist destinations along the coast. It’s also possible to charter a flight if you are with a group.

Here’s a list of the main companies offering domestic flights in Kenya. They all seem to have a good safety record. If you'd like to compare rates to get the best deal, then the place to go is the Africapoint site. It's the only site I know that compares different domestic air services in one overview.

Bicycle

Many Kenyans use bicycles, and if you can stand the heat, it can be a handy way to get around localities. Just do as most Kenyans do and get off your bike as soon as you hear a motorized vehicle approaching. Kenyan traffic can be chaotic and dangerous.

Related Pages:

Kenya Car Hire
Domestic air companies in Kenya

International flights to Kenya

How To Get Cheap Tickets To Nairobi

Kenyatta Airport (Nairobi)

Wilson Airport (Nairobi) (domestic flights)

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