Most international visitors will arrive via Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) (NBO). If you are already in Nairobi and need to drive to the airport, please allow at least 2 hours as the main road to the airport is very busy and security checks are lengthy.
Kenya Airways (KQ) offers most scheduled flights from JKIA and daily scheduled flights to the following destinations: Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu and Kisumu. A return flight from Nairobi to Mombasa costs around Ksh 11,000 and bookings are available online. Check-in is 45 minutes before departure for local flights and 2 hours for international flights. Be careful of announcements while in JKIA Unit 3 as passengers on different flights are put in the same waiting area.
If you are travelling to Nairobi from another destination and using Kenya Airways during the peak tourist season (July-September, December-February), please note that KQ flights are often delayed and priority is given to international connecting passengers, Platinum frequent flyer card holders and first class passengers.
The low-cost airline Jambojet also operates flights from JKIA and offers regular services to Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Kisumu, Eldoret and Ukunda (Diani). Plans to extend the service to the East African region are being developed. A one-way flight from Nairobi to Mombasa costs Kshs. 2950 ($34). You get 10 kg of hand luggage free. It is best to book online with Visa/Mastercard.
Another airline, Airkenya, flies between Nairobi’s Wilson Airport and Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara, Meru, Nanyuki and Samburu. The lounge has a cafe in the dormitory. Check-in can be made up to 15 minutes before departure. Wilson Airport was once the busiest airport in Africa outside South Africa and remains an important hub for local flights to Kenya’s nature reserves and cities in neighbouring countries. Anyone using Airkenya is advised to lock their checked luggage. There have been cases where things have gone missing from luggage while in the custody of Airkenya.
Jetlink provides the link between Nairobi and Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu.
Most charter tourists go directly to one of the coastal airports in Mombasa or Malindi.
Kenya has a network of long-distance bus lines. The speed limit is 80 km/h and the roads can be very bumpy and dusty. Make sure you choose a comfortable bus company with a good reputation for long journeys. Kenyan buses only run during the day.
Local buses in the city are operated by private companies, such as the green and yellow Citi Hoppa, which provide transport at reasonable prices ( typically around US$0.66). They regularly travel to and from the suburbs of Nairobi City. They generally offer 20 to 35 seats (standing is not allowed by law) and are a cleaner and less hectic mode of transport than matatus, although they use many of the same routes.
The Matatus are a very cheap and fast means of transport in all major cities and many rural areas. The name matatu comes from the Kiswahili word for the number three – tatu – because some time ago the standard fare was three dimes.
The Matatus are private minibuses, usually for 14 or 25 passengers, which travel short and medium distances. Some are poorly maintained and many end up with intriguing and colourful decors – usually world icons in sports and music, designer labels, among others – which is an important feature of Kenyan urban culture.
Travelling in matatu can be extremely risky as vehicles are often very poorly driven, with matatu drivers sneaking into traffic and stopping at the roadside for passengers when called. Matatu used to be considerably overcrowded – up to 25 people in a 14-seater vehicle – but in recent years, government regulation and control of matatu has increased, particularly in large cities. Today, most matatus are equipped with seat belts and do not exceed the declared capacity of the vehicle.
An unfortunate side-effect of the improved regulations is the loss of individuality and character of some vehicles, and drivers and conductors are now required to wear special uniforms. Tourists must ensure that they wear designated seat belts if they do not want to be taken on an unpleasant and unexpected journey between the roadside checkpoint and the police station. All of these new rules are intended to make the roads safer for passengers, and matatu drivers have gone on strike several times to oppose the new traffic rules.
Although most matatu are on fixed routes, outside the big cities it is often possible to hire a matatu on site as a taxi to get to the desired destination. Make sure you have confirmed the negotiated price and exact destination before the vehicle goes anywhere, otherwise you could find yourself at the mercy of an indignant matatu driver in the darkest parts of Nairobi at night.
In January 2013, the government ordered that a cashless system be introduced by 1 July 2014. Surprisingly, this could well happen, as the president of the Matatu homeowners’ association said at the end of May 2014 that they were losing too much of their income due to corruption by traffic police and robbery officers: “We are losing more than 30% of our income every day. For a long time there were no rules for Matatu’s business, but we hope that now we will find a solution. “
The Kenya-Uganda railway starts in Mombasa and passes through Nairobi to reach Kampala, Uganda. It is the famous “Lunatic Express” and was also featured in Val Kilmer & Michael Douglas’ film “The Ghost and the Darkness”. The train is extremely slow and is usually late. The speed of the train is due to the old narrow gauge track installed by the colonial authorities, which was not improved during the 50 years of independence. Currently, the only train service is the Nairobi-Mombasa line, which runs three times a week.
With the rental car
Most of the world’s rental agencies have offices in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, which offer reliable cars with a comprehensive back-up network. Cheaper cars can also be rented from local dealerships, which are generally reliable. However, it is always a good idea to do a background check before paying a deposit. When renting a car, whatever the make, always pay attention to the different dents or conditions of the car as this can be contentious, especially if a ‘refundable’ deposit has been posted.
It is quite convenient to rent a car online and pick it up at the airport upon arrival. The minimum age to drive a car in Kenya is 18 years old. To be able to rent a car you must be at least 23 years old and have at least 2 years driving experience. Other rules to follow are as follows: Drive on the left side of the road, talking with a mobile phone is prohibited, seatbelts must be worn and drivers must always carry a valid driver’s license. Make sure that the car you rent is covered by up-to-date comprehensive and liability insurance, usually posted on the upper left side of the windshield. If you are renting a car for cross-border journeys, you may need to take out additional insurance and carry the original vehicle logbook.
The CBD in Nairobi is very busy and it is difficult to find parking during working hours. If it is possible, you should avoid going to the CBD on weekdays. However, the roads outside the city are relatively easy to navigate and pleasant. Kenya offers beautiful scenery and most roads connecting the major cities are in good condition. However, smaller roads can be dilapidated and you may need to hire a 4×4 to get there. A good map is essential and if you are driving to a wildlife park or other wildlife area, a GPS would be very useful. Signs are rare and you are never sure you are on the right road, resulting in many wrong turns and detours.
Some car rental companies offer free extras, such as a mobile phone with a local number. Other paid extras include extra GPS, child seats, camping equipment, a roof tent and a driver.
Most car rental agencies offer cars of all sizes, with Japanese models dominating. All bookings can be made in English, with some rental companies also offering bookings in French, German, Chinese and Spanish. International car rental companies such as Europcar, Sixt, Budget, Avis and Hertz offer car rental services in Kenya. Local car hire companies such as Hire N’ Drive, Elite Car Rental, Offroad Car Hire, Afford Car Hire and Davina Cabs tend to be very competitive and professional.