Once a week, an old train runs from Nairobi to the foot of Mount Kenya – an area not many include on their list. If you take the slow train there, you will arrive relaxed.
Every Friday at 9am, the Kenyan capital Nairobi train departs for Nanyuki at the foot of Mount Kenya. The old locomotive rushes on schedule and makes a rumble as it leaves the city’s main station.
Up front: If you want to get to your destination quickly, don’t take the train to Nanyuki. The slow train takes about 7.5 hours for a distance of about 180 kilometers, and the bus is only three hours. However, the longer trip is worth it.
The employee sells tickets directly on the platform. The site reads: “Kenya Railways expects passengers to check-in at least an hour or more before departure.” It does not seem necessary. When they leave, the five carriages are barely full.
Riding the Train: Changing Industry and Industry
The train leaves Nairobi’s skyscrapers behind and rolls slowly through the suburbs of the capital, past industrial sites, apartment buildings, and mountains of garbage. Dust and stench seep into the carriages through the windows.
Eventually, the industry gives way to green fields of corn, beans, and cabbage. The train is full. “For many villagers, the train is cheaper,” explains the engine driver. The cost of a second class trip is 200 Kenyan shillings, equivalent to 1.60 euros, and men, women and children are now seated in two rows of seats, close together, as on a subway. All around her were bags, big potted plants, and provisions for the trip.
A slow train ride through Kenya slows things down. The closer the train gets to Nanyuki, the greener and hillier the landscape becomes. On the narrow single-track, the train looks like an amusement park attraction. The reactions of people along the tracks match this. Some adults take pictures with their mobile phones, which are waving to many children in their school uniform.
Nanyuki is still unknown to tourists
The train arrives at Nanyuki on time. The city remains relatively unknown to tourists. Only 50,000 people live here. But even for a small Kenyan town, Nanyuki seems surprisingly calm and relaxed. On the horizon, Mount Kenya completes the backdrop.
Batian Peak has a height of 5,199 meters and often disappears in thick clouds in the afternoon. Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa after Kilimanjaro. Climbing takes two to six days, depending on the summit, route, and experience. A day trip can also be worthwhile. For example via Sirimon Road, which starts a few kilometers northeast of Nanyuki.
The tour begins at Moses Camp at an altitude of 3,300 metres. The thermometer shows 13 degrees, the wind is blowing strongly, but the sun rises from a cloudy sky and illuminates the tops of the mountain massif. Perfect weather for hiking. “Here in the national park there are elephants, zebras, baboons and even leopards,” explains guide Desmond. But they either do not live at this height or seem to hide well. Only a badger screams in the distance.
A circular path leads to the summit at an altitude of 4000 metres
The path leads through a mountainous landscape with grasses, rocks, and different types of lobelia. The plants make the landscape look like the Mexican steppe. Only now at an altitude of more than 3,500 meters.
The road is not very steep and does not require much. Effort comes with distance and altitude. The circular path leads to over 21 kilometers up to 4100 metres, with the rocky peaks of Mount Kenya always visible.
Other hikers rarely cross the path. It’s early June, low season. “Most groups come in August and September or December,” Desmond explains. But then it can get really crowded on Mount Kenya. “Sometimes 350 people are here in one day. Plus guides and porters. Then it feels like a sleeping camp there.”
The last two white rhinos live here
But the area around Nanyuki has a lot more to offer in terms of tourism than Mount Kenya. Among other things, Ol Pejeta Reserve. The park is home to the world’s last two remaining northern white rhinos and over 140 other endangered black rhinos.
There are also zebras, elephants, giraffes and a sanctuary for chimpanzees. The Ngare Ndare forest features natural pools, waterfalls, a canopy trail and of course many other animals. There are also several other private animal sanctuaries in North Nanyuki. But the fun has its price: because without entry, a guide and a car, nothing usually works out in Kenya. For Mount Kenya, the daily ticket alone costs US$52 (€51).
If you want to see a lot of animals for little money and without a guide, you can visit Mount Kenya Animal Orphanage. Here animals that probably would not survive in the wild are housed. Entrance costs Kenya shillings 2,000 for tourists, and proceeds will go to animals.
The slow train returns to Nairobi every Sunday at 9 am. If you want to stay longer, you can also return by bus or taxi. It’s more than twice as fast, but it’s definitely only half as cute.
Kenya Railways: FAQ about Nanyuki Train Animals Orphanage in Mount Kenya Wildlife Sanctuary