All Things Kenyan

Planes, Trains, Buses, and Speed Taxis

In my last article, I discussed riding in a matatu. There are other ways to get around Kenya. There are speed taxis, buses, trains, and planes. Matatus are the cheapest form of transportation, but is also the slowest as they are constantly picking up and dropping off passengers.

Speed taxis are cars like a station wagon. They usually fit about five passengers along with their belongings. When the speed taxis add passengers, you may get a bit squashed but that doesn’t last very long. They cost a little bit more than a matatu but have a definite advantage. Speed taxis go between two cities and only drop off their passengers. They don’t pick up anyone else. They are much faster than matatus – hence the name speed taxi. Generally, speed taxis travel between larger cities. Matatus service just about everywhere in Kenya.

If you are traveling a longer distance, you may want to consider a bus. Buses service all the larger cities and also run at night. I’ve traveled using a night bus. It’s not bad since you aren’t wasting your day traveling. One of the buses I traveled on broke down in the middle of the night. They got another bus which had less seating than the original bus. So some of us ended up sitting on the floor. Still, a bus is more comfortable than a matatu even if the bus breaks down. Don’t be surprised to see strange things on a bus – like chickens! Several times there were chickens on the buses I rode on. I figure that the chickens were bought at market and were probably going to end up on the dinner table sometime soon.

Trains are great to ride on. They are more expensive than speed taxis or buses. Trains run between Mombasa and Kisumu. Obviously, they service a limited area. Trains have three classes of seating/compartments. Third class is for the local Kenyan people – they won’t allow foreigners to ride third class. It’s basically a train car with benches in it and the people crowd in as tightly as they can. It’s terrible. A second class compartment has four beds in it and first class also has four beds, but has two compartments. Both first and second class share the same dining car. I do remember that the bathroom was like a urinal on the floor except there wasn’t any plumbing. The toilet opened up on the tracks. Yes, you could actually see the tracks going by! So, whatever you did in the toilet ended up on the tracks! For this reason, you aren’t allowed to use the bathrooms while the train is stopped at a station.

A side note: The train line in Kenya is known as the “Lunatic Express”. The railway line was built while Kenya was still a British colony. The British people felt the plan for the railway was so ridiculously expensive they dubbed it the “lunatic plan”. The name carried over to the train line once it was completed.

Planes are the last way to get around. Again their service area is limited – to airports of course. They are the most expensive way to get around and also the quickest. I never did have the opportunity to ride in an airplane in Kenya except when I arrived & departed from Kenya.

So what do I prefer? If it’s a long trip I’d take a night bus. For shorter distances I always took a matatu. If I went back though, I’d probably utilize the speed taxis more.