Getting Around Kenya: Essential Tips for Transportation
0 Comments May 26,2023
Navigating Kenya's diverse landscapes and vibrant cities is an adventure in itself. Whether you're exploring wildlife reserves or bustling urban centers, efficient transportation is key. Discover essential tips for getting around Kenya, from the iconic Matatus to domestic flights, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable travel experience throughout the country.
Flying Options in Kenya
- Major operators: SafariLink, Kenya Airways (including Jambojet), Airkenya, Mombasa Air Safari, and 540 Aviation.
- Destinations: Connects main towns, cities, coastal resorts, and iconic safari destinations such as Amboseli, Maasai Mara, Meru, Tsavo West, Samburu-Shaba, Lewa Downs, and Loisaba.
Convenience and Availability
- Daily services with multiple flights on select routes.
- Flight frequencies may be reduced during the low season.
- Note that flights can be canceled due to low passenger numbers, potentially affecting same-day connections.
- Flights to parks and reserves follow circuit routes, allowing passengers to disembark at different airstrips. This may result in varying flight times and arrival orders.
- Flying within Kenya, particularly to parks, offers time savings compared to long and bumpy road trips.
Baggage Allowance and Storage
- Baggage allowance on smaller planes (serving safari destinations): Limited to 15kg per person in soft bags.
- Rigid suitcases may not be accepted.
- Baggage allowance flexibility if the flight isn't full.
- Excess baggage storage arrangements can usually be made during the safari.
- High-season return fares (approximate):
- Nairobi-Maasai Mara: $345
- Nairobi-Lamu: $375
- Nairobi-Diani Beach (Ukunda): $275
- City-to-city fares with Fly 540, Kenya Airways, and Jambojet are cheaper and unaffected by the season.
- Examples: Nairobi to Eldoret on Fly 540 starts at $82 one-way, while Nairobi to Mombasa on Jambojet starts at $55 one-way.
Chartering for Convenience
- Consider chartering a small plane for trips to safari parks and remote airstrips if time is a priority, especially for groups or large families.
- Costs depend on aircraft size, passenger count, fuel requirements, and landing fees.
- Charter services available from SafariLink, Mombasa Air Safari, Tropic Air, and Yellow Wings.
Car Rentals: Convenient Ways to Get Around
- All parks and reserves allow private vehicles for exploration.
- Renting a car provides the freedom to choose your own itinerary.
- Ideal for groups of two or more, as it may not save money for solo travelers compared to cheaper camping safaris.
Finding the Best Deal
- Compare prices and negotiate for the best rental deals.
- Consider the duration of your rental and the season.
- Busy periods like July, August, and Christmas require advance booking.
- Rates vary in Kenyan shillings, dollars, or euros, with some offering unlimited mileage.
- Minimum age for car rental is usually 23, sometimes 25.
Options with a Driver
- Rental companies may provide a driver or driver-guide.
- Having a driver can enhance relaxation and serve as an introduction to the country.
- Expect an additional cost of around Ksh3000/day for the driver's salary and expenses (plus tip).
- Fuel expenses are not included, so clarify the arrangements beforehand.
Insurance and Protection
- Review the insurance details and ensure to pay the daily collision damage waiver (CDW) premium.
- CDW may be included in the price but verify to avoid high costs in case of damage.
- Theft protection waiver (TPW) should also be taken.
- Despite insurance, you may still be responsible for an excess of $500-1000 in case of claims.
- A substantial deposit is required, usually equivalent to the anticipated bill, but credit card details are typically acceptable.
PSV Licence and Police Checkpoints
- Police may request evidence of a PSV (passenger service vehicle) license at checkpoints.
- Ensure the rental car has a windscreen sticker and the letters "PSV" on the body.
- Clarify this with the rental company beforehand.
- PSV vehicles should have speed governors limiting the top speed to 80km/h, but they are often non-functional.
Dealing with Police Checkpoints
- Expect frequent police checkpoints, marked by low strips of spikes across the road.
- Always stop, greet the officer, and wait to be waved through.
- If accused of breaking a law, accept what you are told, even the possibility of a court appearance.
- Instances of bribery occur but responding with propriety and refusing to pay is advised.
Breakdown and Assistance
- In case of a breakdown, place bundles of sticks or foliage 50m behind and in front of the car.
- These act as universally recognized "red warning triangles" in Africa.
- Even if your vehicle has a red triangle, use the sticks or foliage.
- Wedge a stone behind at least one wheel to prevent the vehicle from rolling away.
- Consider joining AA Kenya, offering temporary membership for Ksh2000, including breakdown and rescue services (where available) for up to six months.
Selecting and Managing Vehicles: A Guide to Efficient Transportation
When traveling in Kenya, the type of vehicle you choose is essential for a smooth journey. Here are some recommendations and safety considerations:
- For driving within Nairobi, along the main coastal road, or on major tarred highways, a normal saloon (sedan) car is sufficient.
- However, if you plan to venture outside these areas, it is highly recommended to opt for a high-clearance four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle.
- Entrance roads and access tracks in Kenya are often unsurfaced and can become difficult to navigate, especially after rain.
- Most car rental companies do not rent out non-4WD vehicles for park use, and park rangers may turn away such cars, particularly in wet weather.
- The Maasai Mara and mountain parks (Mount Elgon, Mount Kenya, and the Aberdare range) prioritize safety and require appropriate vehicles.
- Four-wheel drive Suzuki jeeps with long-wheelbase and rear seats are widely available and offer stability and ample space for passengers and luggage.
- Other reliable options commonly rented out include the Nissan X-Trail and Mitsubishi Pajero.
- These models are capable of handling rough terrains and can usually be repaired at local workshops.
- However, be cautious of their tendency to tip over on bends or sloping gravel hard shoulders.
Vehicle Preparation and Maintenance:
- Before setting off, thoroughly inspect the vehicle to ensure it is roadworthy.
- Check the engine, tires, spare wheel(s) (preferably two), and carry essential tools.
- Always have a tow rope, spare water, and ideally spare fuel in a jerrican, as petrol stations may occasionally run out.
- Consider bringing a spare fan belt and brake fluid.
- While renting the vehicle, you are responsible for any necessary repairs and maintenance.
- Reputable car rental companies typically reimburse for spare parts and labor and provide assistance during breakdowns.
Flat Tire and Repairs:
- Flat tires are common while driving in Kenya.
- Have them mended promptly, which is inexpensive (approximately Ksh100–200) and can be done almost anywhere.
- Local mechanics are skilled and resourceful in handling challenging situations.
- However, spare parts, tools, and proper equipment are scarce outside the main routes.
- Negotiate and agree on the repair price before work begins.
Fuel and Refueling
When it comes to fueling your vehicle in Kenya, keep the following points in mind:
- Petrol (unleaded gasoline) prices range from approximately Ksh100–120/litre (£0.65–1/litre), depending on the location and current oil imports.
- Most petrol stations charge similar prices, usually on the lower end of the range.
- Regular and premium options may be available, but premium is more common.
- Diesel is generally 10 to 15 percent cheaper than petrol.
- When refueling, always check that the pump is set to zero and be aware that attendants handle the process.
- While some city petrol stations accept credit cards, it is not guaranteed, so have alternative payment methods.
- In Nairobi and larger highway petrol stations, ATMs are available for cash withdrawal if needed.
Remember to stay prepared, drive safely, and enjoy your journey through Kenya's diverse landscapes.
Road Etiquette: Safe Driving Practices in Kenya
To drive in Kenya, you can use either a valid driving license from your home country or an international driving license. It is recommended to have a GPS SatNav device or a smartphone with accurate road maps since detailed maps are scarce and roads can be sporadic.
Watch out for sudden changes in road surfaces. On busy tarmac roads, "tramlines" may form, caused by heavy trucks. These parallel grooves can be deep and hazardous, making steering challenging. Reduce your speed when encountering them.
Hazards on the Road
Stay alert for various hazards, including animals, pedestrians, rocks, branches, ditches, and potholes, which can appear unexpectedly. Honking your horn loudly is common practice to warn pedestrians and cyclists. Other vehicles can be a major concern, especially near towns where matatus (minibus taxis) frequently stop to pick up and drop off passengers. Flashing your lights at oncoming vehicles indicates that they should give you space to pass. Avoid driving at night whenever possible, and exercise caution when overtaking heavy vehicles due to potential visibility issues caused by diesel fumes.
While Kenya officially drives on the left side of the road, drivers tend to use the best part of the road until they need to pass each other.
Be aware of additional signals commonly used by truck drivers. When the driver ahead of you signals right, it means "Do not attempt to pass me." However, if they signal left afterward, it indicates "You can pass now." Nonetheless, never assume that it is entirely safe to pass. Never make assumptions about other drivers' actions.
Speed Bumps and Road Safety
Be cautious of speed bumps, commonly found on busy roads passing through villages and at the entrances and exits of nearly every town. Look out for small bollards or painted rocks along the roadside, but often, you'll only notice the speed bumps when your head bumps against the roof of your vehicle.
In towns and cities, particularly Nairobi, you may need to adopt a more assertive driving approach compared to what you are accustomed to. Yielding or giving way is not commonly practiced in Kenya. Most drivers assert their presence on the road and only give way when physically blocked by another vehicle or a person in uniform with a weapon. Although this may seem confrontational, incidents of "road rage" are relatively rare.
Finding parking spaces is usually not a problem, even in busy cities like Nairobi or Mombasa. Most large towns have council traffic wardens available from Monday to Saturday. You can purchase a 24-hour parking ticket (usually the only option) from them for Ksh50-150. Failure to display the ticket can result in your car being clamped or towed away. Be cautious not to inadvertently park on faded yellow lines, which may be difficult to spot.
Venturing Off the Beaten Path: Off-Road Driving Tips
- Opt for a 4WD vehicle in most parts of Kenya.
- Avoid venturing off tarmac roads with a two-wheel-drive vehicle.
Handling Mud and Puddles
- Beware of cloudbursts turning dirt roads into mud traps.
- Seek local advice before attempting unsurfaced roads during the rainy season.
- Deep mud can be challenging; drive cautiously and avoid over-steering.
- Check the depth of large muddy puddles by wading through them.
- If the puddle is less than 30cm deep and has a firm base, engage 4WD and drive slowly across it.
- For smaller puddles, gather speed and cross in second gear.
Tackling "Black Cotton Soil"
- Exercise caution on mushy "black cotton soil," especially when wet.
- Even sturdy 4WD vehicles may lack grip on this surface.
- Keep your speed down and stay in second gear.
- Try to maintain contact with vegetation-covered ground or defined ruts.
- If you find yourself stuck, avoid spinning the wheels.
- Attempt to reverse by revving the engine before engaging reverse gear.
- If reversing fails, wait for another vehicle to assist you.
By following these guidelines, you can navigate off-road challenges in Kenya more safely and effectively.
Bus Services: An Overview of Kenya's Public Transportation
When using public transport like matatus and buses, prioritizing safety is crucial. Unfortunately, these modes of transportation have a poor safety record, particularly matatus. It's important to be aware that the so-called "express" matatus can be the most dangerous. If you ever feel unsafe during your journey, don't hesitate to ask to be let out of the vehicle. In most cases, you can also request a partial refund, which is usually granted.
Consider Your Comfort: Direction and Shade
Regardless of the type of vehicle you're traveling on, it's worth considering the general direction of your trip. Additionally, think about which side of the vehicle will provide more shade. This becomes especially important when traveling on dirt roads. The combination of dust, a slow and bumpy ride, and intense sunlight streaming through closed windows can be unbearable. Planning for shade can make your journey more comfortable.
Fares and Charges
For inter-city bus and matatu journeys, fares are typically around Ksh3–5 per kilometer. If the vehicle offers deluxe services, the fare can go up to Ksh7 per kilometer. Even on the longest matatu journey from Nairobi to Kisumu, covering a distance of 345 kilometers in approximately six hours, the cost should not exceed Ksh1400 (or Ksh2400 for a "deluxe" vehicle). Fares may vary based on fuel prices, but it is rare for anyone to charge more than the approved rate. Baggage charges are usually not imposed unless you're transporting a significant load. If you suspect you're being overcharged, verify with other passengers for clarification.
Matatus: Essential Information for Traveling by Minibus
- Most matatus are Nissan or Toyota minibuses.
- In rural areas, old-style pick-up vans with wooden benches and canvas roofs are still used.
- Matatus can be fast and sometimes dangerous.
- Sit at the back to avoid witnessing risky overtaking.
- If uncomfortable with the driving, request to get out.
Regulations and Practices
- Seat belts are required but often broken.
- Loud music is prohibited but often played.
- Electronic speed governors should prevent speeds above 80km/h, but they are often broken or disabled.
- Passenger limits exist in theory but are often exceeded.
- Bribes, known as "kitu kidogo," are common at roadblocks.
- Passengers are not expected to contribute directly to bribes, but sudden fare increases may indirectly serve the same purpose.
Benefits of Matatus
- Matatus provide close contact with local people and can lead to amusing encounters.
- They are often the most convenient and sometimes the only option for transportation to smaller places off the main roads.
Choosing a Matatu
- Select a matatu that is close to full to avoid long waits.
- Beware of drivers using passengers as bait or filling the car with fake passengers.
- Competition among matatus is fierce, and drivers may lie about departure times.
- Avoid paying money before leaving town, as the initial departure may be a ploy to gather more passengers and use the fare for petrol.
Chartering a Matatu
- If your destination is not on a main matatu route or you prefer not to wait, negotiate a price with the driver to charter the entire car.
- The cost will typically be equivalent to what they would earn from a full vehicle over the same distance.
Taxis: Reliable and Convenient Transport Options
- Fare negotiation is essential beforehand.
- Typical rates are approximately Ksh500/hour and Ksh200/km.
- Drivers prefer fares of at least Ksh300-400 for any trip.
- Available in some towns, these three-wheeled vehicles are imported from Asia.
- Fares are roughly half the price of regular taxis.
Motorcycle Taxis (Piki-piki) and Bicycle Taxis (Boda-boda):
- Motorcycle taxis can accommodate one or two passengers without luggage.
- Bicycle taxis have a padded passenger seat for one person.
- Drivers are generally honest, even if surprised by a foreign passenger.
- If unsure about the correct fare (around Ksh40/km), ask locals for guidance.
Rail Travel: Exploring Kenya's Scenic Routes by Train
- Overnight Nairobi-Mombasa train runs twice a week in each direction.
- Departure from Nairobi on Mon and Fri at 7pm, arriving in Mombasa around 10am.
- Departure from Mombasa on Tues and Sun at 7pm, arriving in Nairobi around 10am.
- Journey duration typically takes at least seventeen hours, sometimes longer.
- Delays are often caused by freight trains on the line.
- Construction of a new standard-gauge railway is underway, expected to reduce journey time to four hours.
- Three seat classes: first class (private, two-berth compartment), second class (four-berth compartments), third class (hard seats).
- First and second class offer better comfort.
- Meals and bedding available in first and second class (included in the fare).
- Toilets may not all be European-style.
- Clean carriages and reasonably good state of repair.
- Drinks and snacks available on the train.
- Schedules and fares can be found on the Rift Valley Railways website, but the accuracy may vary.
- The Man in Seat Sixty-One is a reliable source of information.
- Purchase tickets at the stations, ideally a day before departure.
- Tickets can also be booked in advance through travel agents and tour operators.
- Booking fees apply for advanced bookings.
- Delivery of train tickets to hotels can be arranged by most agents.
- Fare examples for Nairobi-Mombasa: first class Ksh4405, second class Ksh3385, third class (seat only) Ksh680.
Water Transport: Boats and Ferries for Coastal Adventures
- Limited passenger shipping available along the Kenya coast.
- Small vessels connect the islands of the Lamu archipelago.
- Likoni car and foot passenger ferry operates across Kilindini Creek between Mombasa island and the south coast.
- Foreigners are prohibited from riding on ocean-going dhows.
- Short dhow trips from resorts offer opportunities for fishing, snorkeling, and sightseeing.
- Few working dhows remain, but excursion options are plentiful.
Hitchhiking in Kenya: Dos and Don'ts for Safe and Affordable Travel
- Common mode of transportation for rural residents.
- Wait by the roadside and pay for rides in passing lorries or private vehicles.
- Costs are similar to matatu fares.
- Private vehicles with available seats are less common, but locals are usually willing to give lifts.
Highway Hitchhiking Techniques:
- Use energetic gestures to signal the driver to stop.
- Quickly negotiate the ride's cost.
- Choose a safe location with ample space for pulling over.
- Busy petrol stations are a good option to ask drivers for rides.
- Prioritize safety: avoid vehicles in poor condition or drivers who appear unfit.
Hitchhiking near National Parks and Reserves:
- Hitching rides at park gates is generally unsuccessful due to safari vehicles carrying paying clients.
- Approach Kenya Wildlife Services staff at park gates for possible lifts to park headquarters.
- Park headquarters are often close to KWS accommodation and campsites.
Cycling in Kenya: Tips for Pedaling Your Way Around
- Watch out for trucks and matatus (minibuses) on main roads.
- Cycling in congested cities like Nairobi is not recommended due to heavy traffic.
Park and reserve restrictions:
- Cycling is generally not allowed in parks and reserves, except for smaller game parks without predators.
- Some exceptions include Hell's Gate at Naivasha, Kakamega Forest, Saiwa Swamp, and select private conservancies on the Laikipia plateau.
Consider climate, season, and altitude:
- Dirt roads during rainy seasons can be challenging to cycle on.
- Altitude can affect your performance, even if you're fit at sea level. Expect lethargy and heavy legs when cycling in hilly areas initially.
Renting or buying a bike:
- Renting or bringing your own bike to Kenya is possible.
- Bicycle shops in most towns offer basic mountain bikes and three-speed roadsters starting from around Ksh7000.
- Opting for a mountain bike with low gears and sturdy wheels is recommended.
- Carry essential spare parts and a secure lock for your bike.
Transportation options with bicycles:
- Buses and matatus with roof racks can accommodate bicycles for approximately half the regular fare.
- Trucks may offer you a lift as well.
- The Nairobi-Mombasa train allows bikes at a fixed fare.
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