By Air: Numerous international carriers serve Kenya, which is the airline hub of the East African region. Kenya is served by two of the largest, modern and efficient international airports in Africa. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is half an hour’s drive from Nairobi’s city centre while Mombasa’s Moi International Airport is even closer to the town centre. Most tourist hotels have their own minibuses to transport guests while a public bus serves both the Jomo Kenyatta and Moi airports.
By Sea: Depending on the point of departure the voyage from Europe takes around 28 days and passes through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.
By Road: The journey from Europe to Kenya passes via North and West Africa and there are numerous overland package holidays on offer.
- Internal Air Travel: Domestic flights are a convenient and relatively affordable means of travel. They also minimize the time spent on the roads, which in general are in poor condition and suffer from hazardous driving conditions. It is also well worth seeing this diverse and beautiful country from the perspective of the air. Frequent scheduled and charter flights operate from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport and from Mombasa and Malindi to the main towns and national parks.
- Trains: Kenya’s single-track railway line, which runs from Mombasa to Kisumu (via Nairobi) and was formerly known as ‘The Lunatic Express’ for the simple reason that no one could quite fathom out why (or indeed how) the British colonial government built it, is a railway enthusiast’s dream. That said, it is worth remembering that it was completed in 1901 and has been seriously under-funded ever since, which has resulted in a number of serious derailments. The overnight service from Nairobi to the coast, however, is still regarded as one of the ‘great train journeys of the world’ and should not be missed. Travelling at the leisurely pace of 55kph (35mph), the overnight trains are timed to leave the major stations of Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu about sunset and to arrive at their destinations just after sunrise. Choice of the ‘Deluxe’ option is recommended and allows for the hire of crisp clean bedding and the use of relatively luxurious private sleeping compartments. Washroom facilities are not ensuite but per carriage. Plans exist for the running of the railways to be concessioned to a private consortium.
- ‘Matatus’: More a part of the Kenyan culture than a means of transport, the ‘matatu’ is the means by which nearly all Kenyans, and a number of budget tourists travel. Usually taking the form of minivans (sometimes converted station wagons), they ply specific routes; either in the cities or between the towns. Recently subject to rigorous regulations by the government (to include speed-governors, yellow stripes down the side bearing the route number and destination, seatbelts, regulation number of seats and uniforms for the ‘touts’ or ticket collectors), the ‘matatu’ is nowhere near as dangerous a travel choice as it used to be. Fares are regulated by ‘stages’ and payment must be made to the ‘tout’ who operates the sliding door.
Driving in Kenya
Kenyans drive on the left side of the road (or as the old joke would have it “on the best side of the road”) and, in general, European-styled traffic rules and road markings apply. It is also customary to flash the right hand indicator to suggest that it is dangerous to overtake, and the left hand indicator to suggest that it is safe to overtake; the latter should not be taken literally and, in general ‘defensive’ driving is recommended. In the case of breakdown, it is the Kenyan custom to strew broken tree branches on the road at some distance before and after the vehicle; and should the driver require assistance he/she will flag down a fellow driver by means of waving a hand up and down.
Note:never leave valuables in your car, always lock your car, always padlock spare wheels and always wind your windows up at urban traffic lights.
Visitors are advised against stopping at the scene of a serious accident – unless this is unavoidable, since feelings can run high when people have been injured, and blame (sometimes violent) can be wrongly apportioned.
Traffic Charity: in built-up areas you will often find that you are petitioned by beggars when you stop at the traffic lights. Invariably polite, usually severely handicapped and spending long hours in the hot sun, they are hard to refuse. Visitors should however beware of gangs of ‘street children’ who also petition drivers at traffic lights. Tragic though their circumstances are, the fact remains that giving them money encourages more children to be abandoned to the streets. It also encourages the glue-sniffing, a habit to which many street children are addicted.
Traffic Retailing: wherever there is a traffic jam in Kenya, there will be a troop of street vendors selling everything from magazines to ‘designer’ sunglasses. Should you wish to buy, bargaining is expected.
Cycling for Visitors
Several ‘household name’ guidebooks suggest that it is fine for visitors to cycle in Kenya; and that in this manner they can ‘get to parts of the country that would be hard to visit by any other means’. This is, however, NOT recommended; partly because of the poor road surfaces, high altitude and often searing heat; but mainly because Kenyan drivers are not noted for their respect for cyclists. The same goes for motorcycling.
Walking is a way of life for the average Kenyan: Kenyan school children walk for up to three hours to get to school, many Kenyans walk long distances to work; and going for an evening or Sunday stroll is an accepted pastime and method of courtship. It isn’t easy for a visitor to walk in Kenya though, especially in the towns where pavements are a rarity; or in the rural areas where the roadside is largely the preserve of cows, goats and cyclists. There’s also the fact that Kenyans don’t expect to find Europeans walking; the local Europeans never do. This can result in a walker being stared at; or becoming the target of unwelcome attention. Note: walking around Nairobi after dusk is not recommended; nor is venturing into non-tourist areas on foot at any time. The general rule if you wish to walk, however, is to walk briskly and with purpose; to politely decline offers of ‘showing you around’, and never to wear or otherwise display any items of value.
Travel for the physically challenged - Is not a challenge
Here at Liberty Africa, we are aware that some of our guests may not be as physically robust as others. With this in mind, we offer a range of travel and accommodation options that have been tailored to meet the needs of the physically challenged.