Transport and Driving in Kenya

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transport in KenyaExpats living in Kenya will find various modes of transport available. When it comes to travelling nationally, domestic airlines are the fastest way to get from A to B. For everyday travel, most expats hire a local driver who is familiar with the area and Kenyan driving behaviour.

Kenya’s public transport infrastructure is underdeveloped. Unless one has lots of time on their hands, travelling by train or intercity bus isn't an option. New arrivals will become accustomed to seeing local Kenyans packed into a matatu or using tuk-tuks or motorcycle taxis to get around. Although using these might be an experience, they're generally unsafe or uncomfortable.

Public transport in Kenya


Expats moving to Kenya will find the public transport infrastructure to be somewhat limited. Long-distance buses serve most destinations, but journeys are long. Train travel is even more restrictive, with just a few services to even the main destinations each week.

Buses

Kenya has a large long-distance bus network used by the majority of people who travel within the country. Travelling by bus is a cost-effective but time-consuming way to get around Kenya. For example, the 329-mile (530 km) journey from Nairobi to Mombasa takes approximately eight hours.

As bus journeys in Kenya are long and not always comfortable, expats are advised to travel with an established company that has a more modern fleet of vehicles. Expats should also purchase first-class tickets wherever possible as these offer larger seats with additional leg room at a minimal cost. There are a number of bus companies to from which to choose. Reputable providers include Crown Bus Services, Easy Coach and Modern Coast Express.

The frequency of buses depends on a particular route. On popular routes, such as that from Nairobi to Mombasa, there are around four buses per day. Tickets usually need to be bought at a bus terminal, although some companies have started selling tickets online.

Trains

Kenya’s rail network is very limited and more of a tourist attraction than a viable means of transport. Trains travel between Nairobi and Mombasa around three times a week and between Nairobi and Kisumu just once a week. Train journeys in Kenya tend to be extremely slow.

For example, the trip from Nairobi to Mombasa is said to take 13 hours, but it can take as long as 30 hours. Passengers often arrive at the station to find that their train has been delayed or cancelled without warning.  

On a more positive note, train fares are cheap, with options including sleeper compartments. Despite being slow, train travel is generally more comfortable than bus transport. For expats with some time on their hands, travelling by train in Kenya provides a great opportunity to view the stunning natural landscapes.

Matatus

Matatus are privately operated minibuses that cover short or medium distances in Kenya. Vehicles usually seat 25 people comfortably, but some drivers will load more passengers into a single matatu.
 
While travelling by matatu provides a uniquely Kenyan experience, with their colourful décor and loud music, it can be risky. Matatus are often driven badly with drivers swerving in and out of traffic to get to their destination quickly and stopping suddenly to pick up passengers at the side of the road.

However, the Kenyan government has taken steps to make travelling by matatu safer by ensuring that vehicles have seatbelts and that drivers don't exceed capacity.

Matatus are the cheapest way of getting around in Kenya, with prices based on distance travelled. However, expats should avoid using them for anything but a short journey within a town or city as they are notoriously uncomfortable.

Tuk-tuks in Kenya

Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled motorcycle taxis that can be found in Kenya’s main cities. They can carry up to three passengers and are a speedy way to get around town.

There are no set prices, so expats will need to get used to negotiating with the tuk-tuk drivers before starting a journey.

Piki-piki or boda-boda in Kenya

Piki-Piki or boda-boda are the local names given to motorcycle taxis, which can be found in all major towns and cities.

While these provide a quick way to get around a city, especially during rush hour when traffic becomes congested, they aren't the safest mode of transport. Helmets are not provided, so expats who are inclined to travel on motorcycles should invest in a helmet and a reflective jacket for their own safety.

Again, prices should be negotiated with the driver in advance and are dependent on the journey's distance.
 

Driving in Kenya


Driving in Kenya is not for the faint-hearted. Although driving through Kenya at one’s own pace and taking in the scenery is a nice idea, the fact is that road infrastructure is poor. Roads are potholed and poorly maintained. New arrivals will also find that many road users drive aggressively and recklessly, so expats are advised to exercise caution when driving and crossing roads in Kenya.

Those who do decide to drive in Kenya will find that most global car rental companies have branches in Nairobi and Mombasa. There are smaller companies that offer more competitive rates, but these are unlikely to offer a full back-up network in the event of a breakdown, as the big names such as Avis or Sixt would be able to.

Many car rental companies in Kenya offer the option to hire a car with a driver. Expats who are settled in Kenya tend to buy a car and hire a driver. Expats looking to travel off the beaten track should look at buying or hiring a 4x4, as these are better equipped to deal with dirt roads. Furthermore, road signage is Kenya is very poor, so expats should ensure they have a good map or GPS system.
 

Domestic flights in Kenya


Flying in Kenya is often the fastest way to get around. Kenya Airways is the national airline and offers daily domestic flights between Nairobi and Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu and Kisumu. While the prices of domestic flights in Kenya fluctuate, they're reasonably priced and online booking is available.

Other domestic flight operators include Fly540 and Air Kenya which serve Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Amboseli, Masai Mara, Meru, Nanyuko and Samburu. The frequency of these flights varies and delays and cancellations are common; expats are advised to check with the airline before travelling to the airport.

Expats taking domestic flights in Kenya are advised to securely lock checked-in luggage as items are often reported to have gone missing while in the care of airlines in Kenya.

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