Kenya is a dream destination. It has everything from mountains and deserts to safaris and white sand beaches in between. But, as with all foreign destinations, driving in Kenya is probably not the same kind of driving you’re used to if coming from Europe or the USA.
You could opt to avoid driving in Kenya altogether by either flying, using taxis or hiring a car with a driver. But, there is nothing quite like have the independence and convenience of your own car at your disposal. There is no one to organize, no waiting time, and you can be a little bit spontaneous too.
I grew up in Kenya and have driven all around it, so here are all the tips to make sure your experience of driving in Kenya is a safe one.
The official rules and regulations for driving in Kenya are pretty similar to most countries in the world.
The car has to be roadworthy, be insured, you can’t break the speed limit, there is no driving under the influence of alcohol, you can not use a mobile phone while driving, you must wear a seat belt, you must carry your vehicle insurance and registration documents with you, and of course, you have to have a license and be over 18 years old to drive too.
My Kenya driving license says ‘over 18’ as the date of birth. You can’t get into bars using, I’ve tried.
The only things that might differ from your home country are that you drive on the left in Kenya, this was inherited from the British. And, the car is insured, not the driver, so you don’t need your own personal insurance, but the car must be insured itself.
This is really handy, as it means any license holder can drive any car and be insured rather than having personal driving insurance.
There are, of course, a load more laws about driving in Kenya, and each of them is described in the official 239-page traffic act document, which you can read here.
Of all the rules mentioned, these are the most important ones to follow:
All in all, it’s pretty simple but driving in Kenya is more about the local laws than anything else.
In essence, very few of the rules and regulations above are followed and it’s more of a make-it-up as you go along kind of situation when driving in Kenya. Here are some local laws to be aware of.
Animals, including goats, chickens, and cows have the right of way. If you kill an animal on the road, even though it shouldn’t be there, you are going to have a real headache to deal with.
The local Kenyans depend on their animals for a lot of things, and at a minimum, you’re going to have to buy the animal you killed to make them whole again.
This adds a whole new dimension to hazard perception, as you’ll need to spot a chicken coming out of the bush and sprinting across the road so you don’t hit it.
Everyone does drive on the left until they have an obstacle in front of them. Obstacles can include animals, potholes, and even traffic. You should always be ready for the car in front or coming towards you to swerve out, so your senses need to be high.
I have seen a two-way street turn into a six-way road in heavy traffic. Everyone is pushing to wiggle their way into the tightest of spaces and the hard shoulder, or dirty track becomes extra lanes in an instant.
Boda Bodas, aka motorcycle taxis, are the cheapest way to get around in Kenya, and they are everywhere. Expect to be overtaken from both sides, simultaneously, by these guys, and use your mirrors so you are not caught out.
There are opportunities to overtake safely but a lot of cars and Matatus (local minibus transport) take it to another level. You’ll often see them go for an overtake with barely any room, forcing cars to slow down or pull over so they narrowly escape a crash.
It does have the hairs on the back of your neck alert and standing, but you barely ever see a crash, even though they do happen, and should happen more often based on the way they drive.
Always be ready, if a minibus is overtaking you, to let them pull in at a moment’s notice. The best advice is just to slow down and let them go.
The saying ‘there is no hurry in Africa’ is true. If you’re in a rush, trying to get somewhere quickly, the world seems to be against you. The idea is to arrive at your destination, not at any specific time, by to simply arrive when you get there.
It’s best to take this approach when driving in Kenya, it’ll make life way smoother plus there are loads going on to watch and look at whether it’s lock culture, a market, or stunning nature.
There are a few tips and things to be aware of when driving in Kenya, and knowing them will make every journey a little bit easier.
When driving in Kenya, you’re likely to experience some police checks. So you can see them coming as there will be spikes across the road and some men in blue shirts holding rifles waiting to greet you. Don’t be unnerved by the guns, it’s just the way it is in Africa.
90% of the time, the police will check the insurance disc on your windscreen to ensure it’s valid and maybe ask for your license. Sometimes, they will try to find a problem with your car, ask to search it, and possibly suggest you pay a fine there and then, which could be asking for a bribe.
Bribery is illegal in Kenya, so if asked for a fine, make sure to request a receipt and ask to see the police person’s ID.
Gas stations in Kenya are reliable and you’ll find major brands such as Shell, Texaco, and Total. They are placed regularly across pretty much all roads, so you shouldn’t get caught short. You can usually buy water, soft drinks, snacks, oil, and even phone credit at them too.
They also offer other services such as air for your tires, and most of them will be able to fix a puncture for you for a small price of $5 or less.
You’re quite likely to get a flat tire in Kenya, and luckily fixing them is easy, as mentioned above. But, you should always carry a spare tire, jack, and wheel spanner just in case.
Parking in Kenya can range from pulling up on the dirty by a shop, to parking in a sophisticated shopping mall in Nairobi. Make sure you park in an area you know to be safe, and don’t be surprised if a parking attendant asks for 50 cents when parking on the street, it’s part of the law in some towns.
It’s safe to drive at night in Kenya, just avoid unsafe places, which is the norm in most countries. The one thing that is tough about driving at night is the headlights. A lot of people drive with their full lights on which blinds you a bit. I’ve even used sunglasses to get around this and not get a headache.
Another thing to be careful of is a single headlight. You naturally think it’s a motorcycle but more often than not, it’s a truck or car with just one working headlight. So do not think to overtake or squeeze through, as it’s not always a little motorbike coming.
Most speed bumps in Kenya are hidden. Most of them were painted or had a sign at some point in their history, but these have never been maintained. They look like the road, and you can easily end up missing them and hitting one at 80 kph, which is going to damage your car.
If you look to the side of the road, locals will have often put rocks on the dirt next to them, to mark where they are, so be sure to look out for these tell-tale signs.
Almost all the main roads in Kenya are tarmacked but most of them will have potholes in them somewhere. Make sure to add spotting and dodging potholes to the list of other hazards to be aware of. If you can’t avoid the potholes, take it as slowly as possible so that you don’t damage your car.
If you venture off the main road, you’re likely to end up on a dirt road driving in Kenya. These are way more peaceful than main roads but they can be a little bouncy and dusty, so take it slow.
There are no toll roads in Kenya, every road is free to drive on, and won’t cost you anything.
Renting a car in Kenya is a viable option and there are global car hire companies at the airports which are reliable such as Europe Car, Avis, and more. Be sure to stick with reliable companies as others might not give you the service or cover you’re expecting.
To hire a car in Kenya, you have to be at least 23 years old, under 60 years old and have held your license for at least two years.
An international driving license or a driving license from your country of residence are both valid and can be used to hire a care in Kenya.
Yes, it comes with theft protection and a collision damage waiver but does not include any supplementary liability insurance. This is means you are liable for any damage you cause to others, but the car is insured. The maximum you’ll pay for the car, if damaged, is around $1000.
The major car companies in Kenya do but a 1500 km limit on the hire and anything exceeding this will cost 0.35 USD per km, so if you’re driving long distances in Kenya, it might get expensive.
If you search on major car companies’ websites, you can find a rental for a week for around $180, but that’s for the smallest car. If you’re looking for a larger vehicle, like a 4×4, you should expect to pay $150 per day for the rental.
There aren’t really any specific apps made to help with driving in Kenya but when it comes to navigation, both Google Maps and Waze are pretty good.
You should be cautious though, as neither Google Maps nor Waze give any thought to the areas you’re going to be driving through or the roads you’re going to be driving on, they care about getting you from A to B as fast as possible, and you could find yourself in a tricky spot or on a super bumpy road.
My advice is to always check with locals about a route and safe areas to drive through, and use the Google Maps satellite view to check out your route. You should be able to see the type of road you’ll be driving on, dirty or tarmac, so you’ll know what to expect.
Absolutely. Driving in Kenya is actually really fun if you take it all with a pinch of salt. You see all sorts of interesting things, get a real feel for the country and culture, plus it’s your ticket to going on a self-drive safari too.
I hope I haven’t put you off. In the 30 years of driving in Kenya, I have only witnessed one accident, when I was rear-ended in traffic. Most of the time, driving in Kenya is pretty chilled, especially if you’re outside of Nairobi or Mombasa.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.