Flying is the only straightforward way of getting to Kenya, unless you’re travelling overland from southern Africa. Flights to Kenya are generally most expensive from early July to late October and from mid-December to mid-January. Make reservations as far in advance as possible, especially if you want to travel at these popular times.
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Nairobi is the major hub for East Africa and is served by many airlines so there’s a competitively priced choice of flights, but the cheaper tickets generally have fixed dates that you won’t be able to change without paying an extra fee.
With the exception of the package-holiday charter airlines from Britain and Europe, there are no direct flights to Mombasa without going to Nairobi first. However, an inclusive package trip can make a lot of sense. Some packages, based around mid-range coast hotels, are relatively inexpensive and, if you choose carefully, you shouldn’t feel too constrained. Based on your flight, plus a week of half-board accommodation (dinner, bed and breakfast) they cost from around £700 from the UK. It’s worth remembering that you aren’t obliged to stay at your hotel all the time: you could use it as a base to make independent trips around the country.
Adding some safari travel to a beach package holiday will increase the price by at least £200 per person per day of safari. If you have more time and flexibility, book a safari in Kenya.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
London Heathrow is the only British airport with direct flights to Nairobi, operated by Kenya Airways and British Airways, and taking around nine hours. Fares for flights on fixed dates start from around £500 return in low season and rise to above £1000 on key dates in high season. It may well be cheaper, particularly if coming from other UK cities such as Edinburgh or Manchester, to take an indirect flight, changing planes in mainland Europe (see below) or the Middle East.
There are also several charter operators with whom you can sometimes get “seat-only” deals to Mombasa out of London (and sometimes one or two UK regional airports) from around £400. Any online or high-street agent can give you a quote.
Flying from Ireland, the choice is to fly to Heathrow or to one of the mainland European cities with direct flights to Kenya (see below). Flights should cost between €850 and €1200, depending on the season.
Flights from the US and Canada
There are no direct flights from the US or Canada to East Africa. The fastest routes to Nairobi are usually two nonstop legs via London or another European city such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Paris (see below). Other possible but longer connections are available with the Middle Eastern airlines, or by going via Johannesburg with South African Airways. Fares start from around $1400 for a low-season round-trip ticket out of New York, and from $2000 in high season, and from Toronto around Can$1700 in low season and Can$2400 in high season. Shortest journey times via Europe are 17hr from New York and 18hr from Toronto.
Travellers from the west coast might want to consider flying via East or Southeast Asia. Kenya Airways has flights between Nairobi and Bangkok, Hanoi, Hong Kong and Guangzhou in China.
Flights via mainland Europe, the Middle East and Africa
Kenya Airways offers direct flights to Nairobi from Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris, while European carriers with direct services include Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, Swiss and Turkish Airlines.
You can also route to Nairobi with Emirates via Dubai, Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, Etihad Airways via Abu Dhabi, Qatar Airways via Doha and South African Airways via Johannesburg.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
There are no direct flights to Kenya from Australia or New Zealand. From Australia, South African Airways has some good connections to Nairobi via Johannesburg, while Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways also offer decent connections. Another option, with a potential bonus stopover, is from Perth to Mauritius and then direct to Nairobi with Air Mauritius. From New Zealand, Emirates via Dubai is your most obvious bet, but Air New Zealand and Qantas can get you to Kenya in combination with other airlines, such as South African from Johannesburg. Another option, with a potential bonus stopover, is Australia or New Zealand to Mauritius, followed by a direct flight to Nairobi, all on Air Mauritius.
Except for the Christmas period, when you will have to pay more, fares to Kenya from Australia and New Zealand are generally not seasonal. The lowest-priced return tickets bought from a discount agent or direct from the airline cost around Aus$2000–3500 from Australia or NZ$2400–4000 from New Zealand.
Flights from South Africa
There are several daily direct flights to Nairobi from Johannesburg (taking just over 4hr) on South African Airways and Kenya Airways. Round-trip fares start at around R4000.
Overlanding to/from Kenya
With plenty of time and a sense of adventure, travelling overland can be a rewarding way of getting to or from Kenya. Central African conflicts have effectively closed routes from West Africa for the time being, and while adventurous self-drive overlanders are heading to Kenya from Egypt, taking a boat from Aswan to Wadi Halfa in Sudan, crossing into Ethiopia at Metema and entering Kenya at Moyale or at the northern end of Lake Turkana, this route is not an easy one.
Currently the only advisable route is from southern Africa. You can drive by various routes, take the train up through Zambia and Tanzania, go overland by local transport or hook up with an overland operator – any number of which run multi-week tours between Cape Town and Nairobi.
Scrutinizing the operators’ websites gives an indication of what to expect from a trip, and given that prices vary widely (anything between $50 and $120 per day, including the local kitty), be sure to research what is included in the price and what is not (many activities cost extra). Also be aware that overlanding is group “participatory” travel (putting your own tent up and down, helping with cooking etc), which can be lots of fun for the adventure, camaraderie and company, or may be your worst nightmare: think carefully whether it will suit you before booking a long tour. While overlanding has traditionally involved camping, thanks to ever-increasing improvement of tourist facilities in Africa, many companies also offer “accommodated” trips – although sometimes this may mean not much more than a bed in a banda at a campsite.
Most of our recommended operators offer more or less the same classic Nairobi–Cape Town tour, taking eight to ten weeks – the southbound trip starts in Nairobi and does a loop into Uganda and Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas, heads back through Kenya for the parks and then down through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The northbound itinerary from Cape Town is exactly the same in reverse. Alternative options that deviate from this route loop through more of Zimbabwe (than just Victoria Falls), travel through Mozambique and into South Africa via Kruger National Park to start and finish in Johannesburg. You don’t have to book the entire trip and can do sections to/from Nairobi.