Mad driving on the roads in Kenya

Driving in Kenya – a Hazardous Affair

While the quality of the road surface is getting better all the time, we would still not recommend any first time visitor to self-drive in Kenya…

To be honest, I was not so sure whether to write this post about driving in Kenya at all. It is very easy to get into a “developing country bashing” mode when complaining about traffic issues and hazards. However, as we spent a lot of time on Kenyan roads, we got a fairly good idea about the traffic there. In short, it is quite mad.

Truck wreck on the side of the road - driving in Kenya is dangerous
This is unfortunately not the only wreck we saw in Kenya, not even the only one we saw that day, so please do beware

Local Driver/Guide is a Must

Now, we fortunately did not get into any accidents during our trips across the country. We had a local driver/guide all the time and did not regret it for a second. That is something highly recommended to any first timer in the country. Most of the time, we were with Chris, and felt absolutely safe with his driving style. He drove us from Nairobi to Mount Kenya, and from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate. I also went with him to the Nairobi National Park.

We had a different driver/guide for our trip to the Amboseli National Park. While safe, he was not the most reliable with regard to punctuality, so we could not really recommend him. Around Mombasa, we used a local taxi driver for several days. Do remember that you have to bargain a lot for taxi fees. They would always start with an exorbitant fee, and you can usually bring it down at least a half, if not a lot more.

Matatu, a passenger van taxi in Kenya
You will encounter countless matatus in Kenya – the ubiquitous passenger vans, often decorated in the most outlandish manner, but alway packed full of passengers, way over any safe limit

Driving Infrastructure in Kenya – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The road surface quality on most major routes throughout Kenya is actually very good. They are working a lot on improving the road network quality all the time. While it is beneficial for the traffic quality in the long run, its immediate pitfalls are many partial road closures for expansion and resurfacing. Well, you simply can’t have it both ways.

Outside the main routes, the roads are of varying quality, deteriorating rather rapidly. It is really not advisable to be on the road after nightfall. There are very dangerous potholes all over the place, which are very difficult to spot. Moreover, the oncoming cars will more likely than not use the blinding high beams all the time.

Other Drivers are the Main Danger, to You and Themselves

The short GIF just above best describes the situation on a busy road, and most main routes are this busy most the time. The white truck that recklessly overtook us on the hard shoulder unfortunately caused an accident several hundred metres down the road. Most accidents we saw actually involved a truck of some kind. They tend to live by the “might is right” mantra, but poor maintenance and sheer carelessness are sadly a very bad combination.

Basically, err on the side of caution and always drive defensively! Also, do talk to your driver freely and express any concerns you may have. We repeat that we felt OK with our drivers all the time. To their credit, they insisted we tell them should we want anything altered regarding their driving. Most drivers in the tourism industry have years of experience and are very reliable. However, it is often the third parties that cause accidents, so keep your vigilance – better safe than sorry.

Night shot of a traffic jam along the entrance road to Nairobi
All the entrance roads to Nairobi seem to feature 24/7 traffic jams – try to avoid the absolute peak rush hours and head out either very early, or after 10:00

Having said all this, do exercise caution, but do not let the fear of traffic in Kenya spoil your idea of this amazing country. We loved every minute we spent there, and yes, we did fall asleep while on the road more than once 🙂

FAQs for Driving in Kenya

Is driving in Kenya safe?

In short, for novices to the country, and for inexperienced drivers, we unfortunately have to say that it is not. Hiring a local driver/guide does not have to be very expensive and their know-how is really invaluable.

Should I self-drive in Kenya?

If it is your first time in Kenya, and you are not a professional driver, with some off-road experience, we would strongly advise against it. On subsequent visits to this amazing country, you may give it a try, should you feel like.