If you are visiting a number of parks and reserves in Kenya, the option is to either drive or fly between them. Roads in most of the wilderness areas are extremely rough and difficult, and self-drive is, in our opinion, not recommended (unless you have good off-road experience and are a talented and adventurous map reader). Instead, consider joining an organized safari and then decide whether you will fly or be driven between destinations, considering your budget and amount of time you have.
Elsewhere, all the towns in Kenya are linked by a steady stream of buses and matatus (minibuses), and in the cities there is public transport in the way of buses, matatus, taxis, and, in some places, bicycle or tuk-tuk taxis.
If you can afford it, getting around Kenya by plane is the quickest and most comfortable option. There are a few domestic airlines to choose from that link the most popular safari destinations and provide services to the coast. Some of the more up-market safari lodges have their own airstrips and use small planes operated by private air charter companies to ferry their guests in from Nairobi or Mombasa. In Nairobi, flights go from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and some operators fly from Wilson Airport, 6.4km (4 miles) from the city center off the Langata Road. Kenya Airways (tel. 020/327-4747; www.kenya-airways.com) provides regular services between Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu on the coast, and Kisumu in Western Kenya. They also operate a useful service between Nairobi and Zanzibar in Tanzania. AirKenya (tel. 020/606-539; www.airkenya.com) flies from Nairobi's Wilson Airport and links the more popular safari destinations. They fly to several airstrips in the Masai Mara, as well as Amboseli and Samburu, and Lewa, Nanyuki, and Meru; the latter three offer access to the game ranches on the Laikipia Plateau. They also fly from Nairobi to Lamu, Malindi, and Mombasa on the coast. Additionally, as they code share with Tanzania's Regional Air, they offer flights from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salam, and Zanzibar. Mombasa Air Safari (tel. 0734/400400, 0734/500500, 0722/791509, or 0722/202559; www.mombasaairsafari.com), based on the coast, links the coastal resorts and Amboseli and the Masai Mara. Safarilink (tel. 020/600-777; www.safarilink-kenya.com), also based at Wilson Airport, links the parks and, from Nairobi, touches down in the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo, Lewa Downs (for the Laikipia Plateau), Samburu, and Lamu on the coast. Fly 540 (tel. 020/827-521; www.fly540.com) is Kenya's newest "no frills" airline and flies from Nairobi to Eldoret, Kitale, Kisumu, Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, and the lodges in the Masai Mara, as well as to Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar in Tanzania and Entebbe in Uganda.
If you're headed for less-visited parks, or simply prefer to set your own schedule, the best charter airline is Boskovic Air Charters (tel. 020/602-026; www.boskovicaircharters.com), although some lodges and safari operators may have their own preferred charter company. It's expensive to charter a plane and probably worthwhile only if you can fill the entire plane with your family or friends.
On some flights using small planes, luggage is restricted to 15kg (33 lbs.) per person, but you can leave excess luggage at hotels in Nairobi for a small fee. Don't schedule any domestic flights too close to your international departure from Kenya, in the event internal flights are delayed or canceled.
Unless you are familiar with African driving culture and have great road instinct, profound map-reading skills, and an ability to know the way almost intuitively, our advice is that you avoid driving in Kenya. Many of the roads in rural areas and in the parks and reserves are not tarred, so a four-wheel-drive vehicle is essential, particularly in the wet seasons when these roads often become impassable. Besides the bone-rattling that you'll experience as you careen along potholed roads and over dirt tracks in various states of repair, you need to be wary of Kenyan drivers. Road accidents are frequent, and deaths on the roads occur frequently. Overtaking is extremely hazardous and can make being on the roads quite frightening. During traffic jams (which occur frequently, often thanks to accidents), it is a common habit for drivers to cross the median strip and drive unflinchingly toward oncoming traffic. Buses (including long-distance buses) and matatus are frequently involved in (and often the cause of) fatal accidents. Matatus, in particular, are a hazard, thanks to speeding and erratic driving.
Vehicular travel outside major cities at night should be avoided -- roads are poor, as is street lighting, where it exists at all. Also be aware that, in some areas, the roads are the only place where people have adequate room to walk, and domestic and wild animals are also regularly encountered on the roads. Warning: Carjackings are a reality in Kenya, so try not to carry valuables around with you, and make yourself aware of what's happening on the roads around you. Do not leave anything in plain sight when leaving a vehicle unattended, as this might tempt would-be thieves. In certain areas, particularly in Northern Kenya, there is a threat of banditry.
If you think you're tough enough to tackle Kenya's largely appalling roads, you can consider the following 4WD vehicle-hire companies. Rates start at $140 per day:
Roving Rovers (www.rovingrovers.com) has a fleet of well-maintained Land Rover Defenders that can be rented for self-drive expeditions. They cost $165 per day (including tax) with unlimited mileage and come fully equipped with camping equipment. There is also the option to hire a driver/cook/guide.
Avis (www.avis.com) is well stocked with vehicles catering to off-road needs, as is Hertz (www.hertz.com). Central Rent-a-Car (www.carhirekenya.com) is a Nairobi-based firm with a fleet of 4X4s and SUVs.
If you've got the time and the desire to self-drive, we recommend you first spend a few days with one of the instructors at the Glen Edmunds Performance Driving School (www.glenedmunds.com) in Nairobi, which offers training in 4WD-driving, high-performance driving, anti-carjacking, and other useful techniques for surviving Kenya's roads.
To hire a car, you must be over 23, and while you don't necessarily need an international driver's license, your license must be in English. Driving is on the left, though on badly potholed roads it is customary to drive all over the road to avoid them. Parking in the towns usually involves paying a parking attendant on the street a small fee, and they will display a ticket on your windshield. Nairobi also has some multistory car parks.
For decades, the overnight Nairobi-to-Mombasa railway was one of the world's most famous and pleasant rail journeys. However, in the last few years, and thanks to chronic underinvestment, the railway today is close to financial collapse and suffers from frequent breakdowns and derailments, making it lengthy and unsafe. In addition, much of the rolling stock (some of the carriages are 80 years old) needs to be maintained or replaced. Nevertheless, the service is still running, although the 530km (330 mile) overnight trip, which should take 13 hours, often takes a lot longer, and in the extreme, local people have been known to get off the train and take a bus for the rest of their journey. If you are a tolerant traveler and still want to take the train, first class is recommended, which is in two-bed compartments and includes dinner and breakfast in the restaurant car for around $65 per person. Tickets can be bought from Nairobi's and Mombasa's railway stations or booked through local travel agencies. Railways in the rest of the country are restricted to freight.
If you're on a budget, buses are the best and cheapest way to travel. Large buses and matatus crisscross the country and link the major towns. Longer routes link Nairobi and Mombasa with cities in neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. Some of the vehicles are quite old and can be driven rather recklessly, but recent legislation has curbed overcrowding and ensured that each seat has a seatbelt and that the vehicles are speed governed. The buses are reasonably efficient and comfortable, but exercise caution around the bus stations, as petty theft can be a problem. The best bus company to use on long routes is the Tanzanian company Scandinavian Express (www.scandinaviagroup.com).
By Taxi, Tuk-Tuk & Boda-Boda
Regular taxis are found easily on the street and outside hotels. Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled vehicles with a back seat that sits three passengers and can be used over short distances in the beach resorts along the coast. Boda-bodas, meaning "border-border," as they originated in East Africa's border towns to ferry people across no-man's land, are bicycle taxis with one seat over the back wheel. These are cheap and fun over short distances, but you need to hang on tightly. With all these, prices should be negotiated before setting off.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.