Nairobi Mombasa train at a glance
- Location: Nairobi Railway Station is locate in central Nairobi close to the bus station
- Rooms: Very small, quite dirty and cannot be locked
- Scenery: The scenery was beautiful traveling through national parks and different ecosystems
- Staff: Somewhat friendly but very uninformed
- Food: So-so. Good but nothing I would go out of my way to eat again
- Atmosphere: Loud, lots of sudden jolting stops, not very smooth at all
- Price: More than taking the bus, but less than a half the price of flying
- Speed: You would be better off roping a turtle
- Reliability: Completely unreliable, not worth the chance of missing time at the beach
- Conclusion: I wish that the Rift Valley Railway was reliable. If it were, it would be an amazing alternative to flying and a much more scenic way to travel.
Megan and I decided to save a little money on our way to Mombasa, Kenya. So on a friends recommendation we took the train from Nairobi to Mombasa.
For 2000/- per person, about $24 second class is available, consisting of shared gender separated compartments. We didn’t really feel comfortable with that idea seeing as though we would be the only wazungus (white travelers) in the compartments. We bought the first class tickets, which run around 4200/- or about $51 per person. This price includes dinner on the train and breakfast the next morning and a bunk-bed style private compartment.
We arrived at the train station at 4:45pm. Our train was scheduled to leave at 7:00pm. We were told that the train would be a little delayed and to come back at 5:30pm to check in. We called to make our reservation ahead of time a couple weeks ago and when we checked in we found our reservation under Nathan and Megan, haha! Another African-Mzungu communication breakdown! Anyway, our adventure quickly turned into another classic African Time story. The train was then supposed to leave at 9:00pm. Then 10:00pm rolled around and still we were waiting to leave. At 11:45pm we finally pulled out of the Nairobi and started our-should be-15 hour journey to Mombasa.
(Note: I had several good images in the train station of the engine and the train cars that I was forced by undercover police to delete from my camera while still in the station.)
The accommodations in the train were less than stellar. There were two bunks that were quite dirty. The doors on the compartments lock from the inside but couldn’t be locked from the outside. This was very uncomfortable when leaving the room for meal times, seeing as though anyone can walk into your room and then hop right off the train. But our backpacks seemed to be undisturbed and we just kept our passports on our persons during meals in the dining car.
At dinner we met an amazing couple, Sam and Tina. Sam is from the UK and Tina is from Denmark. They have been traveling full time for the last three years. (They have traveled to many African countries as well as South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Australia. We had some amazing conversation over dinner. By the way, Sam is an amazing photographer. It is worth a visit to his site to see his gorgeous images.) The food on the train was good but nothing to make a big deal about.
It came as no surprise that along the way there were several more delays. Instead of arriving at 10:00am as originally planned or 3:00pm, which was the delayed arrival, we arrived instead at 9:00pm Tuesday night due to a train that derailed on the track that we were traveling on. Needless to say, the 15-hour-turned 29-hour escapade was quite exhausting.
The train wasn’t a total bust though. The scenery along the way was absolutely gorgeous. The tracks run through several ecosystems including a red sand area not unlike the South Western United States. The trip also treks through a few national parks. We saw elephants, Zebras and gazelle along the way.
Am I glad we took the train? Yes, I quite enjoyed the view we had all the way to Mombasa and meeting our new friends. Would I take the train again? No chance. The ride was bumpy and full of stops, which made trying to sleep difficult. There is no guarantee of making it to Mombasa anywhere close to scheduled time.
We were in no rush to get to Mombasa so it worked out. However, if the schedule of a trip is tight, it probably isn’t worth missing the beach to brave the somewhat miserable, hot, sticky train ride. It is unfortunate that the train is so unreliable. If it were not I would very much recommend it as a cheaper and more interesting means of travel between Nairobi and Mombasa. Maybe the plans for the new railway financed by China will help restore the glory days of the Nairobi-Mombasa train.