Getting Around Kenya

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Getting Around Kenya

By plane

Most international visitors will arrive through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi (NBO). If you are already in Nairobi and need to get to the airport, please make sure that you plan at least two hours to get there as the main road to the airport has heavy traffic jams, and security checks are tedious.

Kenya Airways (KQ) offers the most scheduled connections from JKIA and regular daily flights to the following destinations: Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu and Kisumu. A return flight from Nairobi to Mombasa will cost about Ksh 11,000. Online booking is available. Check in is 45 minutes before departure for local flights and two hours for international. Pay attention to the announcements while in Unit 3 of JKIA as passengers on different flights are put in the same waiting area. If you are flying from another destination to Nairobi and using Kenya Airways in the tourist high season (July-September, December-February), note that KQ flights are frequently delayed and preference is given to international connecting passengers, platinum frequent-flyer card holders, and first-class passengers.

A low-cost, no-frills airline Fly540 also flies from JKIA and offers scheduled connections to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Kisumu and Masaai Mara. Plans are to extend the service to the East African region. A return flight to Mombasa from Nairobi will cost about $99 (without tax) Online booking is possible.

Another airline Airkenya flies from Wilson Airport Nairobi to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Amboseli, Maasai Mara, Meru, Nanyuki and Samburu. The lounge features a Dormans cafe. Check in can be done up to 15 minutes before departure. Wilson Airport was once the busiest airport in Africa outside South Africa and still remains a major hub for local flights to the nature reserves in Kenya and to cities in neighboring countries. Anyone using Airkenya is advised to lock their checked-in bags. Things have been known to go missing from luggage while in the care of Airkenya.

Jetlink flies from Nairobi to Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu.

Most charter tourists fly directly to either of the coastal airports of Mombasa or Malindi.

By bus

Kenya has a network of long distance bus lines. Speed is limited to 80km/h, and the highways can be very bumpy and dusty, so be sure you pick a comfortable and reputable coach company for the long journeys. Travelling during the day is preferable to travelling at night due to the threat of carjackings and road traffic accidents.

Local buses in town are run by private companies, such as the green and yellow Citi Hoppa, which provide transportation for an inexpensive fee (usually around US$0.66). They have regular services in and out of the Nairobi city suburbs. They usually seat 20-35 passengers (no standing passengers are allowed by law) and are a cleaner and less hectic mode of transport than matatus, while still plying many of the same routes.

By matatu

Matatus are privately operated minibuses, typically for 14 or 25 passengers and operating over short and medium distances. Travel by matatu can be somewhat risky as the vehicles are sometimes extremely badly driven, with matatu drivers swerving in and out of traffic and stopping at a moment's notice by the side of the road for passengers. Some are poorly maintained, and many are to be found in fascinating and colorful decor, which is a major feature of Kenyan urban culture. Previously matatus were usually packed to well over capacity – up to 25 people in a 14-seater vehicle – but in recent years there has been increased government regulation and policing of matatus, especially in the larger cities, and now most matatus provide seatbelts and do not exceed the vehicle's stated capacity. An unfortunate side-effect of better regulation has been a loss of individuality and character of some of the vehicles, and drivers and conductors are now obliged to wear set uniforms. Tourists should be careful to ensure that they are wearing the seatbelts provided, unless they wish to find themselves taken on an inconvenient unscheduled trip from a road checkpoint to the police station.

Although most matatus ply their trade along set routes, it is often possible outside of major towns to charter a matatu on the spot as a taxi to your your desired destination. Make sure you have categorically confirmed your negotiated price and exact destination before the vehicle goes anywhere, or you may find yourself in the shadier areas of Nairobi at night at the mercy of an indignant matatu driver.

Matatus provide a very cheap and quick method of transport in all the major towns and many rural areas. The name matatu hails from the Kiswahili word for the number three – tatu – because some time ago the standard fare was three ten-cent coins.

By train

The Kenya-Uganda railway starts in Mombasa and travels via Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda. This is the famous "Lunatic Express" and was also featured in the Val Kilmer & Michael Douglas film "The Ghost and the Darkness." This train does not currently travel all the way to Uganda but instead stops in Kisumu. The train is extremely slow and usually delayed. The speed of the train is due to the old narrow gauge track installed by the colonial authorities which hasn't been improved in 50 years of independence. Currently the train travels Nairobi-Mombasa route three times a week and Nairobi-Kisumu route once a week.

By Jeep

You can hire a jeep and drive through Kenya, though you need to be proficient at traveling, since there is very little signage along the roads and one can easily get lost. Also, bandits may stop your travel and take your belongings.

By Rental Car

Most worldwide rental agencies have offices in Nairobi and Mombasa, and these offer expensive but reliable cars with a full back-up network. One can also rent cheaper cars from local distributors who are mostly reliable.

Getting around in Kenya, especially for roads out of the city, is difficult. Though Kenya does have a lovely countryside,the roads are often in a dilapidated state due to neglect. Rent a heavy duty car/jeep to get you there. A good map is essential, and if you are self driving to game parks and the like a GPS would be very useful - sign posts are rare and you are never quite sure if you are on the correct road, leading to many wrong turnings and backtracking.

Carefully read the rental contract to check for rules on insurance liabilities in case of accident / theft of the vehicle. One of the most well known car rental brands in Kenya is Sixt Ca Renta.

Central car hire are a reliable, trustworthy and helpful rental company based in Nairobi. Two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles are available and are well maintained. 

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