Kenya: On the train from Nairobi to Nanyuki on Mount Kenya

yFriday at 9 a.m. A train departs from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, in the direction of 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.” This does not seem necessary. Upon departure, the five carriages are barely full.

The train leaves behind the skyscrapers of Nairobi and rolls slowly through the suburbs of the capital, past industrial areas, housing developments, and mountains of garbage. Dust and stench seep into the carriages through the windows.

Source: world infographic

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 flight is 200 Kenyan shillings, equivalent to 1.60 euros. Men, women, and children now sit in two rows of benches, close to each other, as on a subway. All around her were bags, big potted plants, and provisions for the trip.

A train from Nairobi hits a wooden wagon

In turn, the first-class private compartments offer plenty of space and comfort. For 1,000 Kenyan shillings (about eight euros), passengers get two beige leather beds, a sink and even a cup holder. But you don’t travel in luxury in first class either. Electricity does not work and no tap for drinking water. The colors in the cabin show the years.

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“The train is over 40 years old. The locomotive was still made in Germany,” explains the engine driver. The rails date back to the British colonial era – which ended in 1963.

Time and time again, the motorist has to sound his horn away from the narrow stretch because dogs, cows, or motorcyclists block the road. A man pulls his wooden cart off the rails too late. In a collision with a train, the car disintegrates into its individual parts. After a short break we continue.

Kenya: On the train journey you get a lot of country.  Here a herd of cows grazes next to the train tracks

You will learn a lot about the country on the train journey. Here a herd of cows grazes next to the train tracks

Source: dpa-tmn

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.

From Nanyuki to Mount Kenya

The train arrives at Nanyuki on time. The city remains relatively unknown to tourists. About 50,000 people live here. For a small Kenyan town, Nanyuki looks surprisingly calm and relaxed. Mount Kenya forms the background on the horizon.

Kenya: Calm reigns in the small town of Nanyuki, about 180 kilometers from Nairobi

Things are quiet in the small town of Nanyuki, about 180 kilometers from Nairobi

Source: dpa-tmn

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 clear sky and illuminates the rocky mountain tops. 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.

The rocky peaks of Mount Kenya are always on display: the guide shows the way to the summit via a circular road

The rocky peaks of Mount Kenya are always on display: the guide shows the way to the summit via a circular road

Source: dpa-tmn

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 over 21 kilometers up to 4,100 metres, with the rocky peaks of Mount Kenya always visible.

Kenya: The landscape on Mount Kenya is reminiscent of the Mexican steppes

The landscape of Mount Kenya reminds us of the Mexican steppes

Source: dpa-tmn

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’s like a dormitory 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 others, 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).

Kenya: Animals that would otherwise struggle in the wild have found a home at an animal orphanage.  Many have lived here for a long time so they trust

In the animal orphanage, the animals found a home that would have been difficult in the wild. Many have lived here for a long time so they trust

Source: dpa-tmn

If you want to see a lot of animals for little money and without a guide, you can visit Mount Kenya Animal Orphanage. Here are the animals that probably wouldn’t survive in the wild. Entrance costs Kenya shillings 2,000 for tourists, and proceeds will go to animals.

Like a zoo full of llamas, antelopes and tigers

The area looks like a mini zoo for pets. Antelopes, ostriches and llamas roam around the visitors. Other animals are watching what is happening from their enclosures. The reasons why animals live here are very different: the tiger has lost a paw. Nitin is rescued by a Maasai tribesman. But when the animal killed one of the man’s goats, the man brought the cheetah here to the orphanage.

Kenya: One of the two hippopotamus chapters who have been living in the animal orphanage since 1969 is drowning in the pond.

A hippopotamus who has been living in an animal orphanage since 1969 drowns in a pond

Source: dpa-tmn

Hippos came to Kenya in 1969 as a gift from the President of Liberia. Now they are drowning here in a small pond. Most animals appear to be relatively unaffected by visitors. A poorly sighted pig with a twisted hip sways across the meadow and sniffs at guests. A few meters away, a giant turtle pushes itself through the grass. “We are trying to get all the animals back into the wild,” explains one ranger.

Kenya: This buffalo has also found a new home in the animal orphanage

This buffalo has also found a new home in the animal orphanage

Source: dpa-tmn

But this does not always work. “Cheetahs are very accustomed to people. In the wild, they would rather approach them than escape.” However, in packs, these animals should at least be used for research and knowledge transfer, for example when school classes visit the site.

The most exciting attraction in Nanyuki itself is the tropical border to the south of the city. A handful of men are standing next to information signs. In a small experiment, they want to show the tourists that the water flows in the opposite direction in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere, and they ideally want to sell some souvenirs in their small shops.

In Kenya, the equator passes right through the quiet town of Nanyuki

In Kenya, the equator passes right through the quiet town of Nanyuki

Source: dpa-tmn

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 tips and information:

Access and entry: Lufthansa offers direct flights to Nairobi from Frankfurt/Main. To enter Germany, tourists need a visa ($50), which can be applied for only online in advance, as well as full protection against a coronavirus vaccination or a negative PCR test. The German Foreign Office website provides updated travel advice.

Take the train to Nanyuki: The Nairobi to Nanyuki train departs every Friday at 9am and returns every Sunday at 9am. First class tickets cost Ksh 1,000 and can only be booked directly at the platform. All the information about the Nanyuki train can be found on the Kenya Railways website.

travel time: The best time to travel is usually from December to March.

Information: Kenya Tourism Authority, http://ktb.go.ke/; Animal Orphanage at Mount Kenya Wildlife Sanctuary: mountkenyawildlifeconservancy.org/animal-orphanage

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