Most visitors to Kenya arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) at the southern edge of Nairobi. From the airport, it is a short 17 kms hop north to the City on one of Nairobi’s busiest trunk roads, A104 Nairobi-Mombasa Road. Any visitor who has read a thing or two about Nairobi might be aware that self drive in Kenya here is a process fraught with risk.
The dangers of callousness and the bewildering variety of dangers can worry and confuse even the experienced motorist. The roads in Nairobi are noisier and busier in ways never seen before. The uptake of vehicles as the primary mode of travel in Nairobi has overtaken its infrastructure growth.
How are the road conditions in Kenya?
All the primary roads radiating out of Nairobi are tarmac roads, and will bring you comfortably to your safari destination. Road conditions are good by African standards. There are also unsurfaced roads. The so-called ‘C’ and ‘D’ roads are usually unsurfaced, you can expect potholes or eroded surfaces. The roads listed below are particularly in poor state and will greatly reduce your travel pace:
- The C107 south from Mariakani to Kinango: if you think this road is a good alternative to bypass Mombasa, think again. It’s terrible.
- Some access roads leading to the Maasai Mara Triangle are in rough state. Consult our Travel Guide about self-driving in the Maasai Mara, where driving times and road conditions are also discussed.
- A109 Nairobi – Mombasa highway; there always seems to be one part under construction, especially between Tsavo, Voi and Mombasa. This highway is much used by slow trucks, greatly reducing your travel time. Beware of fellow drivers practicing dangerous overtaking.
What precautions can I take when driving in Kenya?
We have been exploring Kenya by road for many years. The experience is rewarding and safe, as long as you follow these precautions:
- Drive at or below the speed limit (80 km/h on the highway, and 50 km/h in urban areas). Drive at a maximum speed of 40km/h off-road.
- Beware of unmarked speed bumps, which are plentiful in many parts of Kenya, especially at the entrance of towns.
- Drive defensively.
- Kenyans are experts at dangerous manoeuvres – don’t copy their behavior by overtaking trucks at blind corners.
- Avoid driving after dark (6PM); the potholes are difficult to see and fellow drivers often uses blinding high beams.
- Always carry some cash, water and a charged mobile phone to handle any situation.
- Keep in mind that a flat tire is part of the adventure, as the road conditions are rough on tires. All our cars come with a jack, and any petrol station can fix small punctures.
- As you will discover soon enough, Kenyans drive on the left side of the road.
What happens in case of a breakdown?
We drive well-maintained, secondhand cars. However, sometimes issues can occur and this is something you should take into consideration in general with hiring vehicles in countries where the roads are rough, as in Kenya. We suggest leaving enough time in your itinerary for the unexpected. Rest assures, we are very experienced in organizing adequate back up support.
In case of a mechanical breakdown, please always contact us first. The road support number is provided in your information booklet of the car, and skilled personnel in Kenya on ground, is available 24/7. We have a network of mechanics all over the country to assist you if needed, and we will try to solve the problem to the best of our ability. In case a problem with your car can’t be solved within 24 hours, a replacement car is available. Depending on your location, it might take a while to receive the car.
In case of a flat tire, this should be repaired by yourself. The information booklet in your Kenya rental car explains how to deal with this. Otherwise, we are just a phone call away.
In case of an accident, always contact us immediately. We will probably advise you to contact the police. For insurance reasons, it’s important that you receive a police report. You will need to take pictures of the damage/situation. Kindly do not leave the vehicle unattended without our consent.
What is the mileage or fuel consumption?
Exact mileage / fuel consumption depends on the terrain and your driving behavior, but is around 9-10 km /L for the Toyota Hilux and 7-8 km/ L for the Land cruiser. Keep in mind, fuel is paid in cash in Kenyan Shillings.
How to deal with traffic police in Kenya?
There’s quite a lot of traffic police in Kenya. They will frequently pull you over to check if your car is insured, if the tires look okay, and to check if you’re carrying the required fire extinguisher, triangles and a first aid kit. Of course, that is taken care of when you rent a car from Kenya car rental. They will want to see your driving license.
A valid driving license from your country of residence is accepted in Kenya. If you didn’t break the law (speeding, dangerous overtaking, etc.), there is nothing they can accuse you of. In our experience, traffic police are friendly and often just want to make chit chat. If you committed an offence, you have to pay the fine.
How do I navigate and map out my route in Kenya?
Offline navigation is easy if you install the free Maps.me on your smartphone and download the Kenya Maps, before you travel to Kenya.
When you map out your route with Google Maps or Maps.me, increase the suggested driving time by at least 30%. Don’t take short cuts, as these can lead you to minor back roads which can be in bad condition or non-existing at all, greatly increasing your travel time.
Also, providing back up support in case something happens is much more challenging when we need to search for you on some deserted road. Important tip: don’t map out the entire day, but break up the journey in pieces, as otherwise you run the risk that Google maps out the shortest route which is, as just described, in practice not the shortest route at all.
How much distance can I cover in one day?
Although asphalt roads are in good condition, you generally don’t make more than 50-60km/hour, due to the many speed bumps, the need to reduce speed when you’re passing through villages, need for sanitary stops, and because you probably want to take a lot of pictures. On gravel roads, you reach an average of 30 km/hour.
Can I cross the border?
Yes, it is possible to cross the border to Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda with a Kenya car rental. You are NOT allowed to cross to South Sudan, Ethiopia or Somalia. If you want to do a multiple country road trip, you will need to let us know in advance as we have to arrange a COMESA card, an extension of the car insurance for your vehicle. The insurance costs € 70 and is valid for three weeks. Without our consent, you are not allowed to cross the border and you are not insured for any damage.
The road traffic conditions, and the governing systems, through chance or temporary circumstances, vary in challenges. Every country has its own set of factors that partly explain the differences in driving.