A Tourist Guide to Public Transport in Kenya

Kenyan Buses

Kenya is a vast and varied country that has much to offer to tourists. In Kenya, travelers can find some of the world’s best natural reserves and safari parks but also idyllic beaches and multicultural cities.

In order to make the most of one’s time in Kenya and its many attractions, it is often necessary to cover a great number of miles. International travelers who decide not to rent their own transportation may be wondering about public transport options in Kenya.

In this article, tourists will learn about:

  • Means of transport in Kenya both public and private
  • How to travel Kenya on public transport
  • Safety on Kenyan buses and minibuses
  • Prices for getting around Kenya on public transport

The Public Transport System in Kenya

The Kenyan road network is very efficient and covers the vast majority of the country and all major cities. That is why most public transport moves on wheels, and road transport accounts for about 80 percent of the national internal passenger traffic.

Travelers can move between towns on buses and coaches and Nairobi has an extensive and effective municipal bus service.

Part of the Kenyan railway has been updated in recent years and now boasts a new standard-gauge line between Nairobi and Mombasa.

Besides the above, most public transport in Kenya is dominated by what is locally known as Paratransit. This system may be very different from the public transport networks most Europeans and Westerners are used to.

Paratransit is made of privately-owned and operated vehicles, also known as matatus. Most routes are very affordable and although there are no fixed schedules, the system is very effective as passengers get to reach virtually every part of town.

Several Options Available: Means of Transport in Kenya

There are several ways in which visitors can move around the country, depending on their needs and circumstances. Here are some:

  • Boda-boda. These are bike or motorbike taxis. Very popular among locals, foreigners tend to avoid them out of safety concerns. Boda-bodas can be found almost anywhere, especially on the coast and in small towns or areas where taxis are few.
  • Taxis. Travelers will have no issues finding a taxi in large cities. At night, this is the preferred means of transportation for both locals and visitors. It is best to negotiate the fare before starting the trip because most taxis do not have a functioning meter.In Kenya, the vast majority of passengers stop a cab from the sidewalk. However, there are some companies that allow phone bookings in main cities. Hotels will also be happy to call taxis for their guests.Short journeys cost around KES 350-600 (from $3.22 to $5.50)
  • Matatus. The name matatus comes from the Kikuyu word mang’otore matatu, meaning ‘3 cents’, the standard fare for most trips when the service originated.Now, passengers can expect virtually any vehicle to work as a shared taxi in Kenya, from old cars to 20-seat minibuses. The most common matatus are white Nissan minivans, which are often just referred to as ‘Nissans.’Matatus are the locals’ favorite means of transportation and can be found all across the country.

    Prices can vary greatly but they usually start at around KES 40 (just $0.37) and are overall very affordable.

  • Rickshaws. Tourists who have been to South-East Asia will be used to tuk-tuk services. Motorized mini taxis are not as present in Kenya but can be seen in Malindi, Nairobi, Mombasa, and Diani Beach.

Is It Safe to Use Public Transport in Kenya?

Overall, Kenya is a very safe country for international visitors and the government sees the wellbeing of tourists as a priority.

The capital city of Kenya, Nairobi, is an extremely fast-growing urban center. As most people move on the road, traffic can be intense. Passengers should exercise caution when flagging down a cab or minibus on a particularly busy street.

In trafficked areas, streets and pavements are usually in good conditions. Road safety in Kenya, however, is often up to the individual driver. Passengers should ask to stop and leave the vehicle should they feel uncomfortable at any time. The use of seatbelts is mandatory.

Although it is unlikely that an incident will occur on public transport during a Kenyan holiday, visitors are invited to use common sense. This includes avoiding carshares at night and only stopping in well-lit streets.

How Much Does It Cost to Get from Nairobi to Mombasa?

Nairobi and Mombasa are on the itinerary of most visitors. There are several options available for those who wish to move between the 2 cities, including flying, buses, and a new railway service.

By train, the journey on the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR or Madaraka Express) lasts between 5 and 6 hours depending on the number of stops.

A one-way ticket costs between KES 1000-3000 (from $10 to $30) depending on the class and journey. Reservations can be made online or by phone but it is also possible to buy tickets directly at the station.

Passengers are advised that they will have to go through document and security checks and that dangerous items such as weapons and blades are not allowed on board.

The most affordable way to travel between Nairobi and Mombasa is by bus. A ticket can cost as little as $7 but the journey takes about 9 hours. Those who are in a rush can opt for flying, which will cost around $100 and take a little over an hour.