Cycling seems to be a popular (and practical) mode of transport in Kenya. However, it's worth bear in mind that in Kenya – as in many other parts of the developing world - cyclists can be a law unto themselves.
It is common for Kenyans to ‘ride shotgun’ on the back of bikes and some bikes are specifically equipped with an extra seat to facilitate it. However, the absence of an extra seat isn’t going to deter a determined cyclist from offering a ride to one or more of their family or friends! Cyclists are erratic enough on bad roads, as they weave in and out to avoid potholes. However, add on an additional load of 60kg, ill balanced on the back of the bike, and it is liable to lurch unpredictably any time that either rider or passenger shift their weight (regardless of road conditions). My advice is therefore to treat them with caution and give them a very wide berth!
P.S. I’m not even going to start delving into the challenges of trying to dodge the random motions of unlit bikes on bad roads after dark – suffice to say that I would strongly advise that you simply don’t even consider venturing out on the roads after sundown!
(work in progress)
In my (admittedly limited) experience, I have come to the conclusion that reliable road signage in Kenya is about as rare as black rhino!
In my more generous moods, I would deem it ‘deficient’ and in my more realistic moments, I would describe it as being as rare as hen’s teeth (or probably resort to even ruder metaphors). It is perhaps helpful to think that the system is designed for locals who know where they’re going, and only need sporadic (random) prompting, in which case you won’t expect too much – and therefore won’t be disappointed!
There is at least a certain bitter, self reliant comfort in adapting to the complete absence of road signs. However, what is doubly confusing is in the rare town (such as Naivasha) where an attempt at road signage has been made, which lulls you into a sense of false security and then lets you down when you need it most. For example, the turn from Lake Naivasha onto the highway for Nairobi was completely unsignposted at the time of writing (July 2011).
The situation is complicated by the fact that it isn't easy to get good tourist maps - we tried both in Kenya and at a specialist map shop in South Africa and drew a complete blank. My husband and I have developed a cynical theory that any decent road signage is removed by the travel industry in an attempt to achieve further job creation for tour guides!
Both in Nairobi and Mombasa the bus system is efficient.
You can get your ticket on the bus and you can buy it from the bus conductor.
Frequent ‘matatus’ a 15 seat (most of the times you can find more than 20 sitting in there) light pickups and minibuses also charge similar fair but the two times we got in one such we were out in minutes because they were in a real bad condition and we had to call and be brought another one.
Taxis are white with a yellow band and they are the most reliable. They also include metres.
If you get in an old yellow taxi, be sure to agree about the price in advance as these don’t have metres.
There are the fleet of London-style black metered cabs in Nairobi as well, but here you have to pay a 10% tip.
Taxis are found parked outside hotels and restaurants and also out at intersections
In Nairobi they drive on the left.
It can be very frustrating and you have to wait in the car for long in case you are in the city in a rush hour. If you have been in India or China you will know what I am talking about. There is much noise, and everyone seems to hurry thus creating long lines of cars waiting because they get stuck.
In non residential areas the speed limit is up to 120 kms .
It is compulsory to wear a belt.
The roads are really bad and earthly in most areas. Just to give you an idea of the situation a distance of 22 kms can be covered in 2 hours. It happened to us lots of times while there.
For emergency breakdown assistance see the thread I have below.
Getting Around by Rail
Generally trains depart in the evening and arrive early the following morning after a journey of 14 to 14 hours.
If you decide to travel by train, prefer the first or second class because here you can have the door of your compartment locked from the inside.
Never leave valuables unwatched when out of the room.
Children up to their 3rd year can travel free, and from 3 up to 15 they pay half fare.
If you wish to travel you can either buy directly from the railway stations or through a local agency.
Getting to Kenya by Road
We were driving always with locals while in Nairobi and with a jeep.
There is a wide network of buses that runs throughout the country that connects almost every town, but they are very crowded and I did not trust them.
Many accidents happen often, and the buses or lorry’s are most of the time in bad condition.
Scandinavia Express runs coaches between Nairobi and Mombassa and Tanzania as well as Uganda.
Nairobi (NBO) (Jomo Kenyatta International) It is16km southeast of the city.
Buses leave every 20 minutes and it takes about 40 minutes drive to the city.
The other International airport is Mobasa (MBA) or (Moi International) and it is 13 kms west of the city.
Here buses to the centre leave regularly and it will take you about 20 minutes drive to reach the city.
AContact the Kenya Missions Abroad or the Embassy in your country for the latest info.
These visas are valid for 6 months. I remember we got ours while at the airport upon arrival, and we had 2 passport photographs with us.
Venture Africa is a very safe reliable way of getting around Nairobi. They are are easy to find with a desk within the Nairobi Airport arrivals lounge (just look for the wooden booth on arrival with the Venture Africa sign) and they offer not only airport connections to your hotel, but can also arrange day trips to all of Nairobi's sights for you. For me I did a day tour of the Giraffe Centre, David Sheldrick Wildlife trust and the City with my own personal driver named William. I found this to be extremely informative, a great chance to meet one of the locals as my very friendly driver was local to Kenya and of course in a city such as Nairobi safety is a must. I wouldn't have wanted to travel Nairobi any other way.
Venture Africa can also arrange a transfer to other nearby cities to Nairobi which can also be negotiated with the bookings desk at the airport.
The departure lounge and gates at Nairobi airport are a right mess. The gate that I needed to use on the Kenya Airways to Amsterdam flight looked like it was a bit of an after thought.
As you can see from the slightly blurred photo the entrance to the departure gate is somehow squeezed in next to the Java coffee house. Both the Kenya Airways flight and the coffee were poor.
Akamba Bus are probably the only bus company in Kenya that are still going from the time I first visited Kenya back in 1990.
And they are still going stong on a bit of a search for my next trip I came across their own website with a nice easy to use DEPARTURE SCHEDULE
UPDATE NOV 2010: Since writing this tip I have since been to kenya and found that some of the services on the Akamba website DEPARTURE SCHEDULE do not exist.
Getting from the airport to the centre of Nairobi can be a real nightmare. If you are travelling in and around the 'rush' hour from the airport it is not unusual to spend 2 hours now in the traffic jams.
What kind of car do you need (4x4) or only driving within the city?
I have a Landcruiser, stationned in Nairobi. Its a private car and I rent it out.
If you are interested just pm me.
To or from Arush/Nairobi there are several shuttle bus options.
Most companies seem the same and charge 30 USD for a 1 way trip.
At the border, you get off and walk through Tanzania and Kenya customs to check/buy visa. Visa will take about 10-15 mins to buy here.
The journey is meant to take 4-5 hours, but I find this impossible as the road is a shocker. 100m of tarmac then 1 mile of dust is the pattern that repeats over and over again. You will be shaken and covered in dust. It took us 8 hours. You must also allow for the hectic Nairobi traffic.
Your hotel can sort out the bus which will pick you up at the hotel and drop you at your chosen hotel.
Make sure your bag is on the bus before getting on as we saw many get mixed up despite the driver being told which bags should go on which bus.
Taxis are plentiful if Nairobi.
Negotiate the fee before setting off.
Best to ask a hotel/cafe etc to call a taxi for you to ensure a reputable, safe and fair priced taxi.
Cost from downtown to the International airport should be around 1500-1700 KS
From downtown to a hotel such as Wildebeest Camp, expect to pay 400-500 KS
Most drivers seem to have perfect English