Mombasa is Kenya’s number one tourist destination. The name Mombasa is loosely used to mean the general coastal area in Kenya. Some notable tourist hotspots on the Kenyan coast include Mombasa, Kilifi, Malindi, and Watamu which are on the north coast, and Diani which is on the south coast. Lamu Island is also an area of interest, especially for more exclusive and private getaways.
Kenyans know that there are two main ways of accessing the Kenyan coast from Nairobi, where most tourists come from, and the two ways are either by flight or train using the SGR aka the Madaraka Express. The question is which is truly the better way to get to Mombasa.
The cost of an air ticket versus the cost of a train ticket is probably the biggest factor most travelers consider when choosing between flying or using the train. Long story short, the train is obviously much more affordable. A one-way ticket from Nairobi to Mombasa goes for KES 1,000 on economy class and KES 3,000 on first class. On the other hand, the price of air tickets varies wildly depending on many factors such as demand. Competition among several local airlines has helped bring down the cost of air tickets but despite the free market’s best efforts, the price is still higher than that of train tickets.
As a seasoned agent in Kenya’s travel industry, the lowest airfare I have come across from Nairobi to Ukunda (Diani) was KES 3,950. However, this is more of an exception than the norm with airfares normally ranging from KES 4,950 to KES 7,100. Airfares from Nairobi to Mombasa average around KES 5,100. Doubtless, the cost of air tickets goes up during weekends, especially a return flight from Friday to Sunday as well as during public holidays and other dates of interest such as Valentine’s Day. Train ticket prices remain the same throughout the year while air ticket prices can vary unpredictably.
Mombasa is approximately 480 kilometers from Nairobi. Covering such a distance can be a time-consuming endeavor. A flight from Nairobi to Mombasa takes about 45 minutes and 15 more minutes if one is flying direct to Diani. The train, on the other hand, takes six hours. Furthermore, if one is traveling to Diani one has to then use a taxi service from the train station to Diani which is about 40 kilometers away. Further still, there is bound to be traffic in Mombasa, especially at the ferry crossing to get to the south coast. This can add a couple of hours to one’s journey from Nairobi.
Such logistics leave Kenyans weighing between paying for an expensive flight and saving time or paying for an affordable train ticket but losing time that could be spent relaxing at a hotel or by the beach.
A soft advantage, so to speak, of using the train is that it passes through Tsavo National Park where passengers are treated to the sight of wildlife such as elephants. For a more detailed SGR experience description, kindly see our article on the same here.
For some people, the journey is more important than the destination. As such, the experience of either flying to Mombasa or using the train is perhaps a bucket list item for many-a-tourist, and therefore, cost and time do not even come into consideration.
Flying for the first time can be the highlight of one’s trip. Some travelers may save up and buy an expensive air ticket just to fulfill their dream of flying. On the other hand, using the train has a road trip feel to it. All one has to do is ensure one’s traveling party sits together, brings snacks, and buys some drinks, which are sold on the train by the way, and travel sharing stories and enjoying the scenery. On this point, it comes down to personal preference.
At the end of the day, almost literally when it comes to using the train, the most important thing is to arrive safely.