The African country of Kenya offers some of the world’s greatest safari opportunities. You will get the chance to see the “Big 5” up close and it’s varied national parks host a diverse range of other wildlife of all shapes and sizes. But first of all, you need to get there! Whether you’ve already booked a safari or are planning to figure it out for yourself , we’ve got you covered in this transportation guide to reaching and getting around Kenya.
Most visitors to Kenya will fly into the country. When searching for flights, always book as far in advance as possible to save money and be aware of baggage fees. Use sites like Skyscanner or Expedia to find cheap fares. Make sure to check the visa section below too. Note that flight numbers usually increase to match the busy dry seasons (the best time to go on safari - from early July to late October and from mid-December to mid-January.), but also will be booked out further in advance by holidaymakers.
Most safari visitors will fly to this airport, located 15km outside Kenya’s capital, Nairobi - in the east of the country. The reason? Most international flight carriers offer cheap and regular flights here and it offers easy connections onwards.
From Nairobi it is easy to find transportation to the national parks, either by land or flying from Wilson airport (see below). Pre-booked safari tours will usually begin in Nairobi, taking you out into the countryside as part of your safari package. Note that flying overnight can save you a night’s hotel accommodation in Nairobi, if you can live with the jetlag.
The most popular carriers who fly to Jomo Kenyatta include:
Note that many of these fly from London or mainland Europe, so if you are travelling from outside this region you’ll probably be taking a connecting flight here, going via the Middle East or direct from the USA.
The other major Kenyan airport is about 10km out from the city of Mombasa, on the southeast coast. This is usually the gateway to Kenya’s lovely beaches but some safari tourists might use it if they are doing a package tour involving the coast, or if they need to connect with a domestic flight. Many of the carriers listed above also fly to Moi.
Wilson airport, a short drive from Jomo Kenyatta in Nairobi, is the domestic safari flight hub. Here you can fly to various Kenyan towns and cities close to the national parks, or take private/chartered flights straight into safari country. More expensive package tours will fly you to Nairobi, transfer you to Wilson and fly you out into the bush - you can go from sitting at home to camping next to zebras and giraffes all in the same day! Though you might want to check into one of these amazing safari camps and relax after your long flight, first.
Flying to National Parks for Safari in Kenya Photo by Clive
It’s worth pointing out that although flying out to the national parks is expensive, it is a big time saver and spares you the bumpy and often uncomfortable road trips. Be aware that small flights fly on circuits and may make a number of dropoffs at different airstrips. Give yourself plenty of connection time (even a day) if you have not pre-booked, as some flights won’t leave until there are enough passengers.
Baggage allowance on small internal flights can be limited, usually around 15kg and some allow no hard cases. However you can store luggage at the airports if required, and if the flight isn’t full they will often overlook the restrictions. If you have a lot of stuff and are taking an extended trip, you might want to bring a few bags so you can store the excess whilst you’re on safari.
Here are some domestic and safari flight carriers, some of these also offer chartered services:
Getting Vaccinated before your travel is extremely important. Photo by Craig
Most visitors need a visa to enter Kenya, including citizens of the USA and most of Europe. Some countries are exempt though so check here .
When getting a visa your passport must be valid for the next 6 months after the travel date. You will usually just need a single-entry visa unless you are travelling elsewhere in Africa, in which case you may be able to use the transit visa or lump for the expensive East Africa visa, check beforehand which you need.
If you are flying into Jomo Kenyatta airport, you can just buy a single entry visa on arrival (or the other visas) at customs. The cost is around $50 for single entry and you can usually pay in US$ or Euros, check the price in advance. This is usually the easiest option for most travellers.
Otherwise, Kenya now has an electronic visa system which makes it quite easy to apply and gain a visa (it’s a bit more expensive than buying on arrival). You can also get one from a Kenyan embassy or Kenyan High Commission. Another, expensive, option is to use an agent to do the application for you - you’ll just send them your passport and details and they’ll sort out the rest - good if you need a fast turnaround. But if you aren’t flying to Jomo Kenyatta, or want to skip the queues, the electronic system is your best bet.
It’s also important to know that you might need a Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate if you come from, or have recently travelled to a country with a yellow fever risk. If you’ve just been on holiday to South America or South East Asia for example, you might need to get a yellow fever vaccination in order to enter Kenya. Do your research beforehand, websites like CDC can help. The rules around this requirement seem to be a little vague and can change and short notice, so do check and remember that getting the vaccination could take a week or two to arrange in your home country if you need it.
Kenya’s roads are a mixed bag. Some are fully sealed and painted, others are pothole filled dirt monstrosities. Traffic is chaotic and dangerous driving the norm. Honking and light flashing are commonplace so don’t be alarmed, it can take a bit of getting used to the roads here!
If you’re travelling in a package tour, your road transport will usually be arranged for you. You’ll be taken by bus, taxi or 4 wheel drive to a national park and then you’ll probably be travelling the park and viewing the wildlife from a custom safari vehicle. 4x4’s and safari buses here are specially designed to be high off the ground, have easy roof access and have lots of windows or open sides for good viewing opportunities.
Buses are readily available - on major routes you can book tickets in advance with larger companies which will have their own ticket booths/offices. Or you can embrace local culture, tell people at a bus station where you want to go and navigate the host of offers you will receive. The local bus experience is a memorable one, vendors ply their wares through windows, you will probably be cramped but see every aspect of Kenyan life in the process! But if your focus is just on safari, probably best to stick with the established companies - hotels and websites will offer solid company recommendations for your destination and your tour operator or hotel will make transport arrangements for you.
A tuk-tuk in Mombasa Photo by Melanie
In bigger towns and cities you can find standard metered taxis - if there’s no meter, you’ll need to negotiate the price in advance. Bear in mind that the price will include time factored in for being stuck in traffic (a common occurrence in towns and cities here). Some towns have cheaper three-wheeled taxi tuk-tuks, a much more noisy but fun experience. If you don’t have much gear, a more adventurous option is to hop on a very cheap motorbike taxi (called piki-piki) or a regular bicycle taxi with passenger seat (boda-boda). If you find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere, it’s quite normal in Kenya for people to flag down lifts and pay a taxi price for a ride (check the correct etiquette before you go, and obviously don’t take unnecessary risks).
If you fancy driving yourself and braving Kenya’s roads, you could hire a car or 4x4. Or you could just hire a vehicle to explore a national park once you get there. To rent a vehicle you will need a valid driving license, either an international one, or from your own country. Be aware of the difficult and challenging roads and traffic conditions in Kenya. In national parks, you’ll be driving on rough terrain and you need to be aware of safety and national park rules. If there’s a group of you, hiring a 4x4 and exploring yourselves can be an economic option. However, bear in mind that without an experienced guide/driver, you will probably miss a lot of wildlife that you might otherwise have seen. You may need to provide specific travel itineraries and routes for the hire company and you’ll have to pay the national park fees as well.
If you aren’t on a tour, you can easily arrange a driver or guide and vehicle hire at any of the national parks. Note that prices are usually cheaper if you get someone just outside of the park. Having a guide is good, but many drivers act as guides as well, and if your driver has a good eye then you won’t need another pair of eyes to spot elusive wildlife. If your driver or guide has an official guide certification then you should be confident that they are worth the money. KATO is a good source for reliable drivers/guides and tour operators.
The Rough Guide has a great article with more tips about renting, driving and transport in Kenya - check it out here .
However you choose to get into the wild, you can be sure that once you’re there, it’s worth it. If time is an issue, then paying extra to get out there fast and having an experienced guide and driver will ensure you get the maximum chance to see the amazing wildlife on offer in Kenya. We hope this article was useful, check out our other safari articles for more information for your African adventure!