Public Transportation

Public Transportation

Kenya offers a lot of local public transportation, so getting around town isn’t hard. If your destination lies somewhat off the beaten track, or outside town limits, it is advisable to ask locals around the station how to get there. This won’t be hard either: Kenyan people are very helpful and the station is teeming with people trying to sell you either travel tickets or food and drinks for during the trip. What can be found in and around the station?

Taxis: taxis are a reliable way of getting around. They are quite cheap for cab standards, and most of them know their way around town better than you could hope for. Do negotiate a price in advance, because the meters can be questionable. Very suitable for medium length trips, like driving from a township to town proper.

Tuktuks: is your destination close, but just out of walking range? Are you staying within town limits with no more than 3 passengers? Then take a tuktuk. These 3 wheeled scooters with a canopy can be found in all the major cities, and get you where you need to go without paying attention to things like traffic rules or signs. Slightly cheaper than taking a cab, and more fun.

Buses: buses are cheap, slow and stop often. They are mainly ancient school buses that take the long way around to maximize their customer range, and often take on priests or medicine sales representatives, who will then explain what they are peddling at the top of their voice for an hour or so. This is when the bus is driving. When it stops, cargo is loaded on the roof by nimble climbers, and women sell you pineapples in the isle.

Matatus: matatus are small Toyota vans suitable for 8 people, made to fit 15 and they do not count children as passengers. Matatu rides are fast, very cheap and often somewhat dangerous, but once you get used to the conductor’s noisy, high-paced customer management style, they are the best way to travel through the country for short to medium length trips.

The matatus connect where buses don’t. Their connective network is extensive and their services quite regular: the van moves when there are 13 to 15 people on board. Matatus are heavily customized in urban areas, and can resemble rolling discos or 70s love shacks, depending on the amount of dashboard plush. Don’t be surprised if someone’s child is put on your lap – children don’t count, so they won’t take up seating space.

Train Travel

Train travel is more of an adventure than a valid travel solution. It is however recommended to try it out, if only for a 1 way trip.

The train in question is called the Jambo Kenya Deluxe, a remnant of British colonial times, wobbling along on a narrow gauge track from Nairobi to Mombasa, straight through Tsavo National Park and countless towns and villages. It’s a slow night ride (10 hours on average), and if you travel first class, which at about $50,00 a ticket you might as well, comes with a 3 course meal served in an aging restaurant car, and a warm breakfast a few hours before arrival. In the first class restaurant car you’ll encounter most other tourists on board, and the closeness of the dining booths will most likely insure you exchange travel stories with the other passengers.

Sleeping arrangements consists of lockable 2-berth compartments which convert from a sitting room with sofa by day to sleeping berths at night.  Bedding is provided and there is a  vanity basin in the compartment. The toilets are found along the corridor, and come in both European and African style. The personnel will make sure you keep your windows down and berth locked, and when asked will regale you with scary stories of robberies and murder.

Things to bring on the train trip are insect repellant, water, and a roll of toilet paper. Playing cards don’t hurt either, as well as binoculars for early morning elephant spotting if you’re lucky. Some disclaimers are the wobbliness of the ride, which can prove a bit much for people with motion sickness, and the fact that no one is surprised if the train leaves up to 2 hours late, so do not plan tight travel connections – you will miss them.