If you’ve never set foot in Sub-Saharan Africa before, getting around in Kenya and finding accommodation will be different than you’re used to. Schedules, though often followed, should be taken with a grain of salt. Your go-to websites may not help (but often, they will). Travelers should be willing to be flexible and go with the flow when figuring out accommodation and transportation in Kenya.
Although Kenya is one of the biggest tourist hubs on the continent, and a jumping off point for safaris, it still has a system of its own. Be prepared for adventure and vibrance, but also variety and globally tuned-in population — especially in Nairobi. More importantly, get briefed on how to get around and find a place to stay. The rest will fall in place.
Table of Contents
- Rental Cars
- Buses & Matatus
- Taxis, Boda-bodas & Shared Taxis
- Finding Accommodation
- Popular Destinations
Getting Around Kenya: Transportation
There are more transportation options in Kenya than you probably knew existed. From boda-bodas and bicycle (yes, bicycle) taxis, to trains, planes, and rental cars, you’d better be sure you’ll have options.
Flights to Kenya
Getting to Kenya is pretty easy from Europe or North America. Oddly enough though, it’s sometimes more expensive and complex to fly to Kenya from within the African continent than from outside of it. Most international flights will bring travelers into Kenya via Nairobi’s international airport, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta. If you’re continuing on elsewhere, you can find a connection here.
International Airlines Servicing Nairobi
- African Express Airways Berbera
- Air Arabia
- Air Mauritius
- British Airways
- China Southern Airlines
- Daallo Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Jubba Airways
- Kenya Airways
- KLM Amsterdam
- LAM Mozambique Airlines
- Precision Air (Tanzania only)
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Air Maroc
- South African Airways
- Swiss International Air Lines
- Turkish Airlines
Flights to Kenya are surprisingly affordable from Europe and North America. To give you an idea of how much you’ll spend, below are a few roundtrip fares (done with Kayak about 5 weeks from the date of search):
Flights to Nairobi From:
- New York – Round trip flights from JFK can be found for as little as $650
- Washington D.C. – IAD to Nairobi are $600 – 650
- Paris – Round trip flights from CDG are about $515
- London – Turkish airlines runs flights for as low as $475 from Heathrow
- Toronto – Round trip flights from Toronto will run from $785 – $1,075 depending on how many stops you’re willing to tolerate
- Johannesburg – A non-stop flight from Jo’burg is $522, but the least expensive flights (about $400) have a stop in Ethiopia
- Dar es Salam – A flight from Kenya’s southern neighbor, Tanzania is a quick 1h20 flight for about $200 round trip
- Kampala – Round trip, nonstop flights from Kenya’s eastern neighbor, Uganda, will run about $300
- Dubai – Round trip, nonstop flights from Dubai are about $400 – 550 but non-direct flights are as low as $250
- Guangzhou – Nonstop flights from Guangzhou, China would run you about $2,200 while those with stops are $785 – 800
Once you’ve landed in Nairobi, be prepared to purchase a visa on arrival. Citizens of most countries will pay $50 USD (Euros, British Pounds, US Dollars, and Swiss Francs are accepted) in cash for a single-entry visa; $100 for multiple-entry. Alternately, you can apply for a visa in advance online.
Getting From Nairobi Airport to Nairobi
If Nairobi is your first stop in Kenya, you can get from the airport to downtown Nairobi using a taxi or a bus. Most of the taxis servicing the airport will have meters, but if they don’t, or the meter is broken, make sure you agree on a price in advance. A taxi ride should cost about 1200-2200 KES ($12 -22) for a one-way ride, depending on which neighborhood you’re going to.
The more economical options are bus #34 to Nairobi City, which runs every 20 minutes and costs 35 KES ($0.35 USD), a Citihopa mini-bus (40 KES / $0.40 USD), or a shuttle service from your hotel (900 KES / $9 USD). If you haven’t reserved a shuttle in advance, you can also grab one at the arrivals terminal. Some hotels will offer shuttles too.
Alternately, you can schedule an airport transfer for about $20 for two people or book a cab in advance.
Flights Within Kenya
AirKenya, Kenya Airways, and Jambojet are the main domestic airlines within Kenya. Through them, you can catch domestic flights to 39 different locations throughout the country including Kisumu, Lamu, Mombasa, and Masai Maara.
Although the roads in Kenya are quite rough, you can rent a car, or get a car hire, to explore the country. Rental cars are available at Nairobi Airport and Mombasa Airport (as well as other major cities). If you’re up for it, it’s an adventurous way to explore and there are a good number of other Africans road-tripping their way up the Eastern coast of Africa.
If you do take this route, keep in mind that:
- Most rental car agencies will not let you take your car across the Tanzanian or Ugandan borders.
- Driving in Kenya is challenging. Bring a good GPS system and basic mechanical skills.
- Roving Rovers is one service that will rent safari-ready range rovers in Kenya.
If you’d rather not drive, but still have your heart set on a Kenyan road trip, the alternative would be to hire a guide and car — though, obviously, this option is pricey.
Buses and Matatus (Minibuses)
For budget travelers in Kenya, buses are your best friend. There are two types of buses in Kenya:
- Large buses that service routes between major cities, to Tanzania, and Uganda (e.g. the route between Kampala and Nairobi).
- Local minibuses called matatus. These will get you to most smaller destinations (e.g. Nairobi to Nakuru).
The major bus lines are pretty nice, air-conditioned buses like those you’d find anywhere else in the world. For these routes, it’s best to buy a ticket in advance (best done in person) and they’ll leave pretty much leave on time. Just try to sit closer to the front if you’d prefer not to bounce up in the air every time the bus rolls over a bump (which is often).
For shorter rides, you’ll have to take a 14- to 16- seater matatu, or a 6- to 7- seater shuttle. For matatus, ask any local where the central bus terminal is. In Nairobi, you’ll want to go to the River Road area. Just note that these areas are high-theft areas, so keep your valuables on you and stay alert.
Taxis, Boda-Bodas, & Shared Taxis
To get around cities, or towns, in Kenya, you have a few options:
- Taxis – even small towns in Kenya will have at least one.
- Bike taxis – sometimes, you’ll find biycles outfitted with a seat on the bike rack that operate as taxis.
- Motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas) – similar to bike taxis, these motorcycle taxis have a driver and can fit 1-2 passengers.
- Shared taxis (peugeots) – these actually are more common for getting out to suburbs, or from town to town, and not really for inner-city transit. They usually leave when full, so prepare to be patient.
Some larger cities, like Nakuru, Malindi, Nairobi, and Mombasa will also have tuk-tuks (rickshaws) like what you’d find in Southeast Asia.
Even with a coastline of 420 km, Kenya only really has one local boat service between the mainland and Mombasa Island. The ferry, called the Likoni Ferry, is free for pedestrians but vehicles pay a toll.
Trains are not as common in Kenya as they are in Europe or even North America but there is one train line in Kenya that runs between Kisumu – Nairobi – Mombasa three times per week. For schedules, tickets, and more information, visit Rift Valley Railways or East Africa Shuttles. I’d also recommend trying to call / visit the railroad once in country to verify that trains are running when scheduled (and running at all).
Accommodation in Kenya
Like transportation in Kenya, accommodation options are also highly varied — but you may not have unlimited options as you would in a city like Bangkok or New York. Booking in advance helps (especially for higher-end options or high-season). At the same time, some accommodation is difficult to book online in advance — particularly more budget options.
That said, you can expect to find one of the following options throughout Kenya:
Especially in or around national parks, campsites and tented camps (where tents are provided) are common. Some will require you to have your own tent and equipment.
These aren’t that common, but can be found in Nairobi, Mombasa, and a few other popular tourist sites like Diani and Lamu. Some guesthouses will also have shared dorm rooms.
There a few larger chains, like the Fairmont and Hilton, that have properties in Kenya, but most hotels are small local or regional operations.
Tip: search for these by entering “guesthouse” or “bed and breakfast.” Also don’t overlook accommodations labeled as “lodge” or “campsite” — sometimes they have actual rooms
If you’re staying in or near a national park, you’ll find a variety of safari lodges ranging from 5-star luxury resorts to quaint thatched hut style cottages.
Kenya has a few luxury resorts, particularly along the coast and near popular safari destinations. A couple of websites with — albeit limited — listings include:
- Small Luxury Hotels
- Elegant Resorts
- Five Star Alliance
- Serena Hotels (a hotel chain)
- Travel + Style (my personal favorite)
For a list of Kenyan beach resorts, TravelStartBlog has a great list.
Find Accommodation in Kenya
To search your accommodation options in Kenya, you’ll get the most comprehensive overview by looking at local tourism websites. However, a few more general search engines that will help you include:
- Bigger search engines like Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet, which tend to be the most comprehensive
- Jumia Travel, an Africa-centric hotel search engine is also comprehensive in Kenya and other African countries
- AFK Travel is an African travel website. They list some hotels throughout the continent along with reviews and photos
- Airbnb has listings throughout Kenya; if you’re looking for more unusual or smaller places to stay, this is definitely your best bet for finding that cute-but-affordable bungalow by the beach
- Sleepout is basically Africa’s version of Airbnb and a great Airbnb alternative to use
- The Kenyan Camper has great advice and information on budget and self-catering accommodations in Kenya (in blog form); well worth a look if you’re trying to avoid the luxury lodges and camp
Popular Destinations in Kenya
Local tourism boards and websites tend to be much more helpful for sifting through all of your accommodation options. Below is a list of Kenya’s most popular attractions and accommodation tips for each.
You can view all Maasai Mara accommodation options on the official tourism site. About.com also has a list of all accommodation inside the Maasai Mara park but the cheaper options will be located outside of the park itself.
Most of the budget accommodations are campgrounds. There are over twenty campgrounds and the Oloolaimutiek Camp Site near the Oloolaimutiek gate and the Riverside Camp — both run by local Maasai — are two options to start with.
In the coastal town of Lamu you can either stay in the Shela Beach area (options include Lamu Retreats, Majilis Resort, Kisimani House, and the Banana House) or in the town itself (options include Lamu House). CN Traveller has a full list of Lamu accommodations.
There are 2 lodges and a few campgrounds in Lake Nakuru national park, as well as more in the town (which is kind of dingy). All of these and nearby options are listed on their tourism site. There are even more options at the nearby Lake Naivasha, which has several lakeside hotels, lodges, resorts, and campsites (Fisherman’s Camp being the most popular). It’s also close to Hell’s Gate National park, which is one of the only parks you can bike, or walk, through.
Mount Kenya has about 3 lodges at the base of the camp, as well as 5 more basic huts higher up the mountain. View the full list of accommodation options near and on Mount Kenya.
Amboseli National Park
A full list of options are available on their tourism website.
Again, the most comprehensive list exists on the Turkana Land tourism website.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Lewa has a handful of lodges and safari camps listed on the conservancy’s accommodation page. Alternatively, you could look for lodging on the north side of Mount Kenya.
Tsavo National Parks
The national park website for Tsavo has a comprehensive list of luxury, mid-range, and budget places to stay in and around Tsavo.
Malindi is big enough that most of the usual search engines (TripAdvisor, Bookings.com, Jumia Travel, Airbnb etc.) will have listings here. It’s also a hub for 5-star and luxury resorts and lodges. Watamu, a beach about a half-hour drive south of Malindi, is similar in terms of the variety and amount of accommodation options.
Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs National Reserves
Each of these three neighboring reserves has a lodge inside the park as well as a few camping options. There’s a list on Kenyalogy that may or may not be very up to date, as well as a post on The Kenyan Camper that’s a better resource for budget travelers.
You’ll find the widest variety of accommodation options in Nairobi. The hostel and campsite that I stayed at in Nairobi was Upper Hill Campsite, but Khweza and Wildebeast also come well recommended for budget travelers. The Fairmont and Hilton, have hotels here (the Marriott has plans to open one soon), as do a wide range of smaller guesthouses, as well as bed and breakfasts.
- Getting to Kenya from outside Africa is pretty affordable; this is not always the case from within the continent
- Getting around Kenya will likely involve a cheap flight on one of the national airlines, a bus, or driving; taxis, motorcycle or bike taxis, tuk-tuks, and buses can be found for inner city transit
- Boat and train transportation is limited to one route each
- Within cities, towns, and in beach areas, you’ll find a wide variety of hotels, hostels, lodges, cottages, vacation rentals, and campsites
- Accommodation in and around Kenya’s national parks — probably the reason most visitors come to Kenya — you’ll most easily find expensive but beautiful luxury lodges alongside simple and basic campgrounds or guesthouses
While in Kenya, be willing to go with the flow, for things to not always run exactly on time, but to enjoy every moment and relax. Next up, figure out what you’ll need to pack for your trip to Kenya and hit the road. Safari njema!
Photo credits: Peggy_Marco, Inklaar, MaraEdenSafariCamp, meaduva, Hawkeye UK, Tom Erickson, Traveloscopy