When looking into how to get to Mombassa’s train station from Kilifi, we came across a lot of conflicting and confusing advice. Lucky for us, we chose the most surprisingly painless, affordable, and quick (by Kenyan standards) route. If you’re looking for the same, read on.
Warning: Get Your Tickets in Advance!
Before getting into how to get to Mombassa’s train station, it’s worth stressing that unless you’re taking the 8 a.m. train (which is not advisable anyways, because it’s way harder to get to the station so early and you’d arrive in Nairobi at peak rush hour), or you’re taking first class (which isn’t worth the extra 2300 KSh), get your tickets in advance because they sell out.
Unfortunately, getting tickets is not as easy as it should be. Scalpers have been quick to discover there is a reliably high demand for tickets, so they buy them all as soon as they become available, then resell them “illegally” at a premium. Unless you manage buy the tickets as soon as they become available (four days in advance), you’ll have to pay an extra couple of bucks to get them off a scalper. To contact one, ask the receptionist at your hotel or hostel. Everyone has a “friend” involved in the hustle.
How to Get From to Mombassa’s Train Station from Kilifi
Read on even if you’re willing to pay for a private car (we were offered one for 2000 KSh). This way you can ensure your driver takes the right route. You might be inclined to save yourself tons of time in traffic by following Step 3.
Step 1: Avoid Mombassa and Take a Matatu to Kiloleni – 45 min
This is the key. Don’t take the matatu to Mombassa. Most people told us it was easier to simply go to Mombassa and get a tuk tuk to the train station from there. Wrong! It may involve one less transfer, but it is much less direct and will dump you dead center in the hopeless chaos of Mombassa traffic. You’ll wish you had bought flights instead.
Go through Kiloleni. The matatus from Kilifi to Kiloleni don’t leave from the main terminal of Kilifi, so be sure to go to the right departure point, which is not far away. From there, direct matatus leave regularly, take 45 minutes, and cost 200 KSh each. Unlike other highways in Kenya, this road is delightfully truck-free and smooth.
Step 2: Matatu to Mombassa-Nairobi Highway – 40 min
When we got to Kiloleni, our matatu driver offered to take us all the way to the train station for “only” an extra 1200 KSh ($12). He said he’d get us there in about 40 min, whereas the matatu would take over 2 hours.
That was a complete lie.
While the matatu from Kiloleni to the Mombassa-Nairobi highway did stop from time to time to pick up passengers along the highway, and it was much more cramped than the matatu from Kilifi to Kiloleni, it only took 40 minutes and was perfectly comfortable. And it costed only 200 KSh for the two of us.
Also politely decline the people who will try to convince you to get on the big bus. It is slower than the matatu, unable to dodge traffic as crazily as matatus can, and simply isn’t worth the marginally lower cost.
Step 3: Motorcycle from the Highway to the Station
We were taken aback when, well before arriving at the Mombassa train station, our matatu driver told us to get off and hop onto a waiting pair of motorcycles instead. We seriously considered ignoring him and staying on. Good thing we listened to him.
The motorcycles took us on an exciting ten minute shortcut through a small village, away from the chaos of the highway, and directly to the gates of the train station for only 50 KSh each. It saved tons of time and was a fun ride.
Note 1: Even if you decide on a private transfer from Kilifi to Mombassa’s train station, you should consider taking this step. It will save you tons of time.
Note 2: This village is your last chance to get food before getting onto the train. As long as time permits and you’re not afraid of eating at local hotelis (and you shouldn’t be), take the time to eat here. Your only option, which we took, is to pay someone when you’re waiting at the station to drive back to town and pick something up for you.
Step 4: Shuttle into the Station
At the gates to the Mombassa train station, which are in the middle of nowhere and still another 500 meters or so from the terminal, we were once again taken aback. This time it was because we were told to get off our motorcycles and get into another car. “Another person we have to pay?” we thought. Nope. This car, which took us to the security gates, was free!
The station is where you pick up your tickets from your scalper, or from the machine if you somehow manage to beat the scalpers to the chase.
Step 5: Enjoy the Train Ride From Mombassa to Nairobi
The train ride from Mombassa to Nairobi was exactly as promised. It left and arrived on time, was clean, smooth, and comfortable, and we saw tons of animals. Elephants galore, giraffes, zebras, and buffalo were all easily visible from the windows.
Be sure to hold on to your ticket, as you’ll need it in Nairobi.
Step 6: Train to Nairobi CBD
Unless you’re going to the airport (which is close to the train station), take the commuter train on to the CBD to save a bit of money and maybe even some time. It will be waiting downstairs in the same station as you arrive and to get on you just need to give the guards your ticket.