Getting to the Trail Head
Once you’ve had your fill of Nairobi, it’s time to head to Mount Kenya national park. Each of the three main trails begin 10-20km from the towns of Naro Moru, Chogoria and Nanyuki (Sirimon route).
The cheapest way to get to these towns is by matatu: banged up mini vans that careen between cities in Kenya. It’s not exactly the safest mode of transportation, nor the most comfortable as there’s a tendency to squeeze four people in three seats, but it is the cheapest. It’ll cost about 500Ksh (fixed price) for a one way trip taking 3 hours optimistically and 4 hours realistically.
Matatus head to the Rift Valley from River Road in Nairobi: a hellish crush of minivans parked in every direction, passengers and hustlers squeezing into every remaining gap. Matatus are grouped together by town and have signs on top stating their destination, so it’s easy enough to find the one you need. If you’re looking lost, the drivers will ask you where you’re going and helpfully point you in the direction of the matatu you need.
This is a matatu stand in Nakuru, not Nairobi. But you get the idea.
Once you’ve found your matatu, the process varies a little, but generally you buy your ticket from a nearby booth (or sometimes direct from the driver). You then sit in the matatu and wait till it fills up with (slightly too many) passengers. Once everyone is all aboard, your tickets are checked a final time and then you ride like the wind! Your thoughts will oscillate between wishing the driver would slow down to wishing he’d speed up so you get out of this cruddy vehicle as soon as possible.
Alternatively a bus is safer if slower, and a taxi would be the most comfortable option, if also the most expensive. If you fancy the latter, taxi drivers are bound to approach you while you inevitably end up waiting at the matatu stand.
The Final Leg…
Once you make it to the town, you can hire a taxi or a motorbike to take you the final 10-20km to the park gate. With your conspicuous hiking boots and backpack, the drivers will know exactly where you want to go. If memory serves me well, I believe it cost 1500Ksh for the taxi ride from Nanyuki to the Sirimon gate. Part of it is on the road, part of it is on a suspension crunching dirt track. A motorbike ride would of course be cheaper, but is not to everyone’s taste. Whichever you choose, just remember to negotiate.
I can’t speak for Chogoria nor Naro Maro, but Nanyuki was actually a pretty interesting town. With an altitude of 1,947m, it’s not a bad idea to spend a night there for acclimatisation before starting the trek.
Where to Hangout in Nanyuki
The equator: one of the more popular hang out spots.
You can amuse yourself in Nanyuki by visiting the equator, where a few enthusiastic opportunists will be happy to demonstrate the illusionary Coriolis effect for a tip. Next to the equator there are a range of curio shops selling trinkets at an actually reasonable price, providing of course you’re willing to engage in a bit of haggling. The curio shop owners have a system where they take turns over each new customer. This means that when you turn up, the shop owners will well-meaningly yell at you to go into one specific shop first. It’s a fair system for them, even if a bit annoying, but once you’ve had a look round your first pre-determined shop, you are then free to browse as you please.
Finally, I’d recommend paying the Lilly Pond Art Centre a visit. There wasn’t much art on display when we were there, but it’s a beautiful shaded garden that you’ll likely have all to yourself with excellent food served on demand (rare in Kenya). An ideal place to chill if you need (and you will) to spend a few hours away from it all.
Private time with the equator in Lilly Pond art centre.