It’s back to the coast for me! Since visiting Watamu last year, I have dreamed of returning to the coast and doing so via the SGR Nairobi to Mombasa train. In 2017, the Kenya Railways Corporation introduced a newer and more efficient way to travel from Nairobi to Mombasa and vice versa, replacing the old train’s journey of 15 hours+ with a shorter ride of a little over 5 hours.
As someone who prefers overland trips to flying, I am very excited that this option is available. In many cases, it is also cheaper, although the difference in cost is paid in time. While it takes about an hour to fly from Nairobi to Mombasa, the train journey takes a much longer time.
When we visited Watamu, we flew with Jambojet and took advantage of a promotion that was running at the time. We wound up paying $40 each for a round-trip ticket. When I checked recently, the lowest price for a round-trip ticket was $82. In contrast, an economy class seat return ticket on the train costs only 2000ksh (~$20).
If you aren’t on a budget, have no reservations about flying and are pressed for time, I’d say flying is the way to go. However, if you want to see more of the countryside on a budget and in relative comfort, the SGR Nairobi to Mombasa train (also known as the Madaraka Express) is your best bet.
How to Book a Train Ticket on the SGR From Nairobi to Mombasa
Booking a ticket on the Madaraka Express is quick, and easy and can be done in one of three ways. You can book via the KRC website by heading to this address and selecting the date, time and class of travel. You will need to book your return leg separately and at the moment, payment is only via Mpesa. Another method of purchasing a ticket is by dialling *639# on your Safaricom line and following the prompts.
You will receive an email or SMS with your assigned coach, seat and ticket number for these first two options. There’s no way to choose your seats. You will then need to arrive at the terminus early to print out your ticket.
The third available option is to buy your tickets in person at the station and pay with cash or a credit/debit card. Be aware that seats on the train tend to sell out during peak travel periods, so booking in advance is advised. You can book up to 60 days in advance and for up to 10 persons at a time. If you’re travelling as a group, it is better for one person to book for the group, so that you can get seats close to each other. (PS: I booked for my group and our seats were on the same row in different aisles).
Also, if you find that seats are sold out (during off-peak periods), you may keep refreshing the site to see if anything opens up.
At the time of this writing, the SGR Madaraka Express operates two daily services – the Inter-County and Express Service. The Express service departs from the Nairobi and Mombasa termini at 3 pm and 10 pm and arrives at their destinations at about 8 pm and 3:45 am respectively. The 10 pm overnight train schedule is relatively new and I read that it will remain part of the regular schedule if patronage is high. The Inter-County train departs at 8 am from both stations.
PS: From February 2023, the Madaraka Express Trains will make a stop at Voi station, adding about 20 minutes more to the arrival times of the trains to Mombasa and Nairobi.
SGR Fares From Nairobi to Mombasa
An economy-class ticket on the Madaraka Express costs 1,000ksh (~$10) while a first-class ticket costs 3,000ksh ($30). Children between 3 and 11 years old pay half the price for both classes, while children under 3 years go free.
Getting To and From the Nairobi and Mombasa Stations
The Nairobi Terminus is located in the Syokimau area of Nairobi County. It is quite far away from the city centre and if you’re like me who doesn’t quite enjoy the thrill of running to catch a nearly missed ride, you’ll need to leave early. When I checked on Google Maps for an estimate of the time to get to the station, it said 30 minutes. But it took me exactly 1hr 6 minutes to get there. The train leaves at the exact time, so there’s no room for lateness.
My Uber ride to the station cost me 1140 ksh. When I arrived in Mombasa, I got on a bus that cost 400 ksh for my accommodation for the night. My friends paid 860ksh via Uber for the same trip. So if you’re travelling in a group and splitting the costs, Uber or a hired bus service would be a better option.
The Mombasa Terminus is located in the Miritini area of Mombasa County. From the Likoni Ferry station, it takes about 35 minutes (without traffic) to get there. Our Uber ride cost us 950ksh. Split among 3 people, it was within the range of a matatu ride per person.
Back in Nairobi, there was an option to use the commuter train into the city’s Central Business District for 50ksh. we opted for a Uber ride instead.
How Long Does SGR Take From Nairobi to Mombasa?
The entire journey on the express train takes a little over five hours. The train leaves Nairobi (and Mombasa) at 3 pm and arrives at about 8 pm (8:18 pm from February 2023). Personally, I found the journey very pleasant and relaxing. I also got the chance to enjoy a ‘free safari’.
As we passed through Tsavo National Park, I saw several herds of the famous ‘Red elephants’ of Tsavo, giraffes, zebras, gazelles and impalas. My messages to Aina, whom I travelled with were filled with ‘More Elephants! Giraffes! More Giraffes!’ It was all very exciting!
Nairobi to Mombasa Train – First Impressions and Review
The SGR service is as standard as train services get. My first impressions were excellent! The termini buildings and platforms are beautiful, exits and entrances are well labelled and the staff were courteous.
Security is also a serious business. Upon arrival at the station, you go through at least 6 different security checks before you get to the platform. They’re all quite quick and painless. Well, except for when a sniffer dog spends too much time on your bag. Turns out he was a fan of Blue 🙂
Nairobi to Mombasa Train First Class Review
I decided to ride in both first and economy-class cabins just to check each one out. My onward trip to Mombasa was in economy class (reviewed below) and the return trip to Nairobi was in first. Generally, I preferred riding in first class but the difference in my experience was not very significant.
Riding in a first-class cabin came with a few perks. First, you got to chill out at the First Class Lounge at the stations. I did so at the Mombasa terminus and can’t really say what is particularly special about this area. The second perk you get is being able to use the restaurant car on the train.
The food prices ranged from 100 ksh to about 300 ksh – not so bad. I ordered a chicken sandwich (for the experience), and I would not recommend that you do the same. Apart from the chicken sandwich fail, I enjoyed being in this car. I actually preferred it to my cabin seat, which did not have a tray table at the very front of the cabin. Also, I was able to change my seat to the right side of the train to enjoy the wildlife viewing at Tsavo.
Other perks of being in first class include a charging port beside each row, 2X2 forward seating arrangements and more legroom. Whether this is worth paying 3x the price for the economy cabin is up to you and your preferences.
Nairobi to Mombasa Train Second Class Review
The economy-class cabin, in my experience, was just as comfortable as the first. The major difference was the arrangement of the seats and the presence of a charging station next to them. The cabins in the economy berths are arranged with 3×3 seats facing each other on one side of the aisle and 2×2 facing each other on the second side. My row had just me and another passenger, so we had enough space and legroom.
Compared to my ride in first class, the economy cabin (at least on my side of the coach) was quite noisy but I plugged in my earphones and had a relatively quiet and pleasant ride.
Tips on What to Pack for Your Train Trip
To make the train ride more enjoyable, here are some items you should travel with;
- Your mask, hand sanitiser and wipes
- ABC Fruits: Apples, bananas, carrots (ABC, see what I did there? :))
- Chocolate bar
- Power bank (If you don’t have a power bank and are seated in an economy cabin, there’s no need to fret. At the entrance of the cabin, there are two charging ports. If you’re lucky, your cabin mates will not hog them)
- A laptop to work on or watch your favourite movies (Fun fact: I worked on this blog post on the train en route Mombasa and Nairobi)
- A book
- Boardgame (If travelling as a group, this may be a good way to pass time. Scrabble and Clever are our go-to games)
Overall, I enjoyed my ride on the SGR and I would use the service again. Between working on new blog posts, conversations with my seatmates and catching up on a few pre-downloaded episodes of a Netflix show, five hours flew by quickly. I was also able to remain online with my Safaricom line as there was a connection for most of the way.
So, tell me, given a choice between taking a 5-hour train ride and a 1-hour flight, which would you go for and why (20 marks)?
Personally, I would rather take the train. Fun Fact: I once took a 28hr train ride to avoid taking a 2-hour flight! 🙂 Are you me?
Also, if you have taken the SGR before, please share your experience with me.