Accommodations & Transportation in Kenya

Jessie Beck

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

Getting Around Kenya: Transportation

transportation Kenya

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

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:

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.

Rental Cars

transportation Kenya

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:

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)

transportation Kenya

For budget travelers in Kenya, buses are your best friend. There are two types of buses in Kenya:

  1. Large buses that service routes between major cities, to Tanzania, and Uganda (e.g. the route between Kampala and Nairobi).
  2. 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

transportation Kenya

To get around cities, or towns, in Kenya, you have a few options:

  1. Taxis – even small towns in Kenya will have at least one.
  2. Bike taxis – sometimes, you’ll find biycles outfitted with a seat on the bike rack that operate as taxis.
  3. Motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas) – similar to bike taxis, these motorcycle taxis have a driver and can fit 1-2 passengers.
  4. 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.

Boats

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.

Train

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

accommodation 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:

Camping

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.

Hostels

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.

Hotels

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

Safari lodges

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.

Luxury resorts

Kenya has a few luxury resorts, particularly along the coast and near popular safari destinations. A couple of websites with — albeit limited — listings include:

For a list of Kenyan beach resorts, TravelStartBlog has a great list.

Find Accommodation in Kenya

accommodation 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:

Popular Destinations in Kenya

Maasai Mara

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.

Maasai Mara

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.

Lamu

In the coastal town of Lamu you can either stay in the Shela Beach area (options include Lamu Retreats, Majilis ResortKisimani House, and the Banana House) or in the town itself (options include Lamu House). CN Traveller has a full list of Lamu accommodations.

Lake Nakuru

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

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.

Lake Turkana

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

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.

Nairobi

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.

TL;DR

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, InklaarMaraEdenSafariCampmeaduvaHawkeye UKTom EricksonTraveloscopy