Kenya is a massive country – much bigger than it looks on most maps – and we don’t recommend driving here.
Drivers are often incredibly reckless, impatient, aggressive, careless, and incompetent. Thousands of people die every year on Kenya’s roads – most often in buses and coaches driving on the wrong side of the road or careening off corners – with little effort to enforce any road safety standards by the government.
Only travel by road for short distances and with an experienced local driver.
Budget Airlines in Kenya
Flights between Nairobi and the coast start at $30 one-way and never take more than 90 minutes.
This is the best way to travel long distances in Kenya, considerably reducing your travel times. You also get a generous luggage allowance compared to budget airlines in Europe or Asia.
Most cheap Kenyan airlines are listed on Skyscanner. But just in case, you can check their websites directly below.
Note: Some Nairobi airlines use a second smaller airport – Wilson Airport – as their base. Don’t mix it up with JKIA when planning your trip. Just check your tickets to be sure.
|Airline||Routes to/from Nairobi|
|East African||Diani Beach, Homa Bay, Masai Mara, Kitale, Lamu, Lokichogio, Malindi, Wajir|
|Fly540||Eldoret, Kisumu, Lamu, Lodwar, Malindi, Mombasa, and across the border to Juba and Zanzibar|
|Jambojet||Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Malindi, Diani; Entebbe, Uganda|
|Skyward Express||Eldoret, Lamu, Lodwar, Mombasa|
Extra tip: You can also fly to/from Lamu from Malindi and Mombasa. If you’re already on the coast, this is very useful.
Overland Travel by Bus
While intercity coach travel is cheap, journey times can be long – especially if you’re traveling to the coast. For example, traveling by coach from Nairobi to Mombasa can take 12+ hours. The train takes 5 hours (in theory), and flying takes 90 minutes.
Worse, traffic is crazy, and accidents are common.
So, between Nairobi and Mombasa, the bus should be your last resort.
Bus travel is your best option besides driving for shorter bus journeys within Central Kenya – from Nairobi to Nanyuki or Naivasha. Smaller buses and minibusses (called matatus) leave from around Accra Rd. in Nairobi CBD throughout the day.
You can book tickets for Kenya’s main intercity bus routes on reliable coach companies online via Quickbus.
Take an Uber directly to the bus company’s office instead of trying to navigate downtown Nairobi.
Once you’re on the coast, matatus offer pick-up and drop-off services between every town and occasional express routes. Trips last 1-2 hours and cost less than $3. They’re also generally very safe, as the roads are straight and traffic is light.
The Nairobi-Mombasa SGR Train
East Africa’s first SGR train offers an affordable, comfortable (if you’re in first class), overland route between Nairobi and Mombasa. Cheaper than flying, it takes only 5 hours, costs from $10, and passes through the very scenic Tsavo National Park.
However, the SGR stations are 30-60 minutes outside Nairobi and Mombasa. Also, there’s a lot of security. So the actual travel time is closer to 8 hours.
Traveling to Diani or Kilifi can take up to 10 hours as you need to get a connecting bus from the SGR station.
There’s 4G+ coverage along most of the route, so at least you can get some work done while you travel.
For more information, check out this complete guide to the SGR train.
We only recommend taking the SGR if flights are too expensive or you want to experience train travel through a national park.
Hiring a Car & Driver
If you’re completely new to Kenya and can afford it, hiring a car and driver is probably the right move. Your driver will know shortcuts to avoid traffic, advise you on best practices specific to the region you’re visiting, and likely be a tour guide, intermediary, and friend throughout your stay.
Most car hire companies in Kenya have the option of adding a driver and will have vetted them.
The package starts from $70 per day. In the countryside, you might have to pay for your driver’s accommodation if you’re traveling overnight, but most rural lodges and camps have dedicated accommodation for drivers that is much cheaper.
We only recommend self-driving in Kenya if you’re very experienced with crazy traffic and cars, bikes, and buses constantly cutting you off and ignoring red lights.
Never drive between towns or in the countryside at night.
And in case of a collision, expect a mob to descend on your vehicle to find out what’s happening. Don’t expect to get any help from the police.