Transport and Driving in Kenya
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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.
Still, there are other options available. For everyday travel, most expats hire a local driver who is familiar with the area and Kenyan driving norms. When it comes to travelling nationally, domestic airlines are the fastest way to get from A to B.
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.
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.
As bus journeys in Kenya are long and not always comfortable, expats are advised to travel with an established company that has a modern fleet of vehicles. Expats should also purchase first-class tickets wherever possible as these offer larger seats with additional legroom at a minimal cost.
In the past, Kenya’s rail network was very limited and more of a tourist attraction than a viable means of transport. However, an express service between Nairobi and Mombasa has been operating since the beginning of 2018. This journey would take 12 hours on the old rail network but has been reduced to four and a half hours. Economy-class tickets are affordable, being just under the cost of a long-distance bus ticket for the same route. Business-class tickets are also available but at a much higher price.
Matatus are privately operated minibuses that cover short or medium distances in Kenya. Vehicles are usually meant to hold no more than 20 people, 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.
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. If needing to get around, local buses are usually a safer option.
Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled motorised 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.
Taxis in Kenya
Taxi cabs are easily available in large cities. They can either be hailed on the street or booked in advance. Fares should be negotiated before getting into the cab as most meters are either broken or aren't switched on.
Ride-hailing services such as Uber are also operational in certain parts of Kenya.
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 often 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 may be less reliable.
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 or are provided with both by their employer.
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 various cities, as well as international flights. 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.
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. In addition, 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.