Once again, we spent Christmas in Kenya. I’ll write more about the holiday itself in an upcoming post. This post is about the drive down.
J. had gone via car with his family when he lived in Kenya in the 1980s. This was our first time driving together and it was his first time driving the car down himself. We researched it. We got lots of advice. We were prepared for everything.
Mombassa Highway is a decent enough road as far as how well it’s paved. The issues about driving it have to do with traffic and idiot drivers. Luckily, we made it without a hitch. Much of that is luck. We didn’t have too many idiot drivers in the way. There weren’t any big accidents. But part of why the drive went well was planning.
First, we left early, just as dawn broke. We wanted to beat the traffic. The two places where there are major chokeholds are Athi River and Machakos. Leaving super early really helped because we beat the traffic. Once we passed those points we knew it would be smooth sailing, barring any accidents.
Second, we decided to break the trip into two days. You can do it in one day. But we felt that breaking it up was the more civilized way to go. Also, if you break it up, in case there might be an accident or traffic, you won’t risk getting caught out on the highway at night. (No lights and various people who don’t use their headlights make night driving on Mombassa Road very dangerous.)
We stopped overnight in Voi. There will be a post on where we stayed…spoiler alert: the place sucked. Despite being in an utterly shitty lodge, it was good to have a rest, relax and stretch out our legs.
The next day we drove through Tsavo East on our way to the coast. Going through Tsavo was nice. We saw giraffe and elephant. It was a pretty if bumpy ride. The problem was once we left Tsavo and got onto the “highway.”
C103 is listed as a highway. However, as we learned, much of the road (at time of writing) was not paved. It’s a really rough road. It was worse than the roads in Tsavo. For about one-third of the stretch, we had terrible road conditions. Then it became paved and was fine.
Here’s about 30 seconds of video, sped up to double speed, to show some rough road followed by murram and then finally seeing paved road to the side (but couldn’t drive it yet).
We followed the highway into Malindi and then drove down to Watamu along the road connecting Malindi and Mombassa. All in all, each leg took about six hours.
On the way back, we broke things up the same way and also left early each morning to avoid traffic. We chose to drive back via Kilifi and then take Mombassa Road the rest of the way to avoid the rough road on C103.
We stayed in Voi again and left as early as possible to head back to Nairobi. On the way back it’s harder to beat the traffic because you’ll still arrive around rush hour. But, we still beat it. We get near Nairobi around noon and, maybe because it was a Sunday, the traffic wasn’t bad.
It was six hours on each leg back as well. That’s not bad at all. It was a very smooth and pleasant enough drive.
That said, I wouldn’t do it again. It was fine. But you don’t save money because you book the lodges. And you spend two days each way rather than a 40 minute flight. It was good to do once for the experience. But I’ll fly from now on.
If you decide to do the drive, here’s my advice:
- Leave early
- Break up the drive
- Really look into road conditions, especially see if C103 is fully paved when you go
FYI – some of you may know that I have a herniated disc, so long drives are painful for me. The way down wasn’t too bad. The way back wasn’t fun. I managed by making sure to really stretch before and after each drive. And codeine. I needed codeine to keep the pain at bay.
It was manageable. But it’s another reason I would rather fly. In fact, I may put a time cap on how long a car ride I can do. Back to back six-hour legs are too hard.