Nairobi — I asked several people what I thought would be a relatively straightforward question: Approximately how long is the 460 km bus journey from Mombasa to Nairobi?
The answers I got varied wildly, from five to six hours, to six or seven, and even seven to eight. Today it wound up taking just under 11, thanks largely to the traffic we crawled through as we reached the edges of Nairobi, where it took about two hours to cover the final 20 kilometres or so. Friday afternoon and early evening traffic is quite dense in the Kenyan capital, even worse, according to my cab driver, at the end of the month when people get paid and scurry out of town.
But it you’ve got the time and patience, it’s certainly worth riding through this bit of flyover country. (For a point of comparison, the flight between Kenya’s two largest airports was about 45 minutes.) From Mombasa, much of the first two-and-a-half to three hours will be extremely bumpy and slow over a dirt road, thanks to a badly needed construction project (it’s a brand new highway that’s being built, actually) to fit the trucks pulling containers from the Mombasa port. Thankfully, most of those –at least a few hundred anyway– were held up at the Customs and Transit station in Mariakim, about an hour out of Mombasa, where truckers are greeted with a large billboard that reads, “Stop Bribery, Save our Roads.” But the road is quite good the rest of the way, allowing time for a relatively brief nap or two and plenty of sightseeing.
Along the way you pass dry rivers and creeks, ghost towns, ruins of modest hotels, a few prisons, lots of goats, fewer cows, and plenty of baobab trees, to me, the king of all trees. Locals wave as the bus passes, oblivious the dust and deisel sputtered their way, and eager hawkers descend upon the bus at every stop, selling everything from nuts and water to marinated baobab seeds to bananas and potato chips.
This particular bus stopped twice: a brief stop at Voi, a dusty town still in the coast district, and again near near Mtito Andei, where most of the passengers enjoyed a modest but good lunch of rice and extremely well done beef (with a drink, 185 KES/2 EUR/2.75 USD).
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There are apparently a few other companies operating this route several times daily; I picked Coastline for no apparent reason other than they seemed to be the only one with an office in Central Mombasa’s gritty main bus hub. 1000 KES (11 EUR/14.50 USD) one-way for regular bus, 1200 (13 EUR/17.50 USD) for the air-conditioned version. It was hot on board but not uncomfortably so, so don’t fear if you can’t get a seat on the AC’d line.