Backpacking in Kenya – From Tsavo to Mombasa Beach

One of the best ways to hack affordable holidays is to consider backpacking in Kenya. Safaris in Kenya are considered a luxury even to the Kenyans. Thoughts of taking a safari come with how much one has to spend to achieve it.

Backpacking is the best way to go on safari without breaking the bank. Though this is common only to solo travellers. But you can also take it up as a pair or group. It is now easy to find good accommodations and most attractions sites are easy to locate with the use of google maps or even a physical map. This eliminates the need to hire a guide to take you around.

Backpacking in Kenya

Backpacking in Kenya using SGR train

In Kenya, there are various ways in which backpackers can incorporate their safari. You don’t need to book an elegant tour and make big reservations. The main information one needs is the means of transport to use to their destination. Where to get accommodation and how much it will cost them. A spirit of adventure is key in such kind of travel. Always ask questions when not sure from the relevant authority.

Tsavo National Park.

Tsavo National Park is one of the largest and oldest parks in Kenya that is famous for huge herds of red-dust covered elephants, buffaloes, lions, antelopes etc.  The park is further divided into two namely; Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park each having unique sites of wildlife.

There are many hotels and lodges found around the park, with some being located inside the parks. Depending on the actual location, the lodges offer different accommodation. Some offering top-notch safari with a 5-star experience. Most backpackers prefer friendly prices for either a night rest and maybe breakfast before they head on to their next destination.

Tsavo National Park

A night at Tsavo

The main aim of backpacking is to experience the adventure as you explore new areas never been to before. Hence a sense of luxury or having top-notch accommodation is not a priority. You might have a desire to visit the Tsavo but might not have the finances to spend on a full game drive.

How about spending just one night in the wilderness? The introduction of the Standard Railway Gauge Train that traverses between Nairobi and Mombasa twice daily, has made access to the Tsavo easier. Long ago access to the Tsavo required you to hire transport in advance. But now you can travel on your own by train.

The SGR morning train is also known as the Intercounty train stops at the Voi Station which is a few kilometres from The Tsavo. If coming from Mombasa, the trains arrive at Voi at 9.45 am. While if coming from Nairobi, the train arrives at 12.30 pm daily. From the Voi Station, depending on where you choose to stay, you can pick a taxi to drop you at your hotel of choice at a reasonable price. Or ask if the hotel offers free transfers from the station for its guest since most do offer.

Read more about the train here: SGR Train Schedule

Accommodation for backpackers at the Tsavo

When it comes to choosing your best accommodation for a night at Tsavo. I would recommend choosing hotels or lodges that are located within the park. Which means you pay the park entrance fee such as Sarova Salt Lick Lodge, Kivuko Eco Camp, Kilanguni Serena Lodge. Or choose a lodge located outside the park but near a watering hole like Voi Wildlife Lodge, Ashnil Aruba Lodge. Where you can view the wildlife as they quench their thirst. This ensures you get to see wildlife in their natural habitat without paying for a game drive which is an added expense.

H12 Kipalo Hills Tsavo Kenya

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A day at Mombasa City

No need to end your backpacking experience at the Tsavo. With the SGR train, Mombasa has been brought closer for more adventure. It is only an hour away from Voi Station with the train departing at 12.33 pm and arriving in Mombasa at 2.18 pm.

These give you a good time to explore Mombasa City. Either take a walk through the Old Town as you observe the Century-Old buildings or visit well-known monuments and tourist attraction sites like The Fort Jesus, Uhuru Gardens, Pembe za Ndovu, Buhari Gardens, Swahili Cultural Center, Haller Park among others. Or just go for a lazy walk/stall along the beach or swim.

Backpacking in Kenya

I would recommend the Nyali Public Beach if you would like a swim in the ocean as it is clean and less crowded compared to other public beaches. If you would want to experience great interaction with the local. Jomo Kenyatta Beach also known as Pirates Beach would work for you. Though you have to be ready to be swamped by people offering you different services and goods.

Nyali Beach - Mombasa

There are various guides available to take you around Mombasa. But as a backpacker, I would recommend you explore the city alone as the town is safe. In case you are not able to walk for great distances, there are scooter taxis known as Tuktuks ready to take you to your destination at a reasonable price.

Backpackers Accommodation in Mombasa

In terms of accommodation, there are very good backpacker hostels in town or out of town depending on your liking. One of the best places I would recommend within Mombasa city is CDH Backpackers. As it is clean, safe and affordable and a good location if you want to catch the morning train or flight out of Mombasa. If you would prefer a place away from the city and near the beach, then Distant Relative Ecolodge and Backpackers in Kilifi would be a good choice.

CDH Backpackers Mombasa

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  • You can book the train online in advance on their portal or dial *639#. If travelling from Nairobi, you can catch the morning train from the Railways Terminus in Nairobi City by 6.30 am to connect with the SGR at Syokimau station.                                                                                                         More Train information here. ==> SGR Booking Info.
  • Choose accommodation in the Tsavo where you will be able to view wildlife without having to book a game drive. Either a lodge located near a watering hole or located inside the park.
  • Either ask for hotel transfer from the train station or take a taxi.
  • Make sure you book a train from Voi to Mombasa in advance so as not to miss a seat. Take a matatu from the Mombasa train terminus to Mombasa City or take a tuk-tuk direct to where you will be staying.
  • If heading back to Nairobi after your trip, consider using the train as it is cheaper and most convenient. Book your ticket in advance online.
  • Carry light clothes as the area is usually very warm, make your backpack as light as possible.
  • Always carry your identification document with you like passport as it will be requested when boarding the train.
  • Be careful the kind of artefacts and souvenir you buy as items like seashells and fish skulls are not allowed when boarding the train.

Check out on more options on where to stay at The Tsavo Here: Tsavo National Park Lodges

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8 Responses

  1. ErikSanders says:

    Wow, I feel like I have to embark on this incredible adventure after reading! Sounds like such an experience! I did visit Africa several times but the elephants always seemed to allude me. Kenya is definitely on my travel next list from reading this informative piece. Thank you for the accommodation recommendations and the great place to relax on the beach!

    • Anita says:

      Waiting for you to visit Kenya and share your experience hope it will be as you have imagined or just like the picture I have tried to paint for you.

  2. Sara says:

    Great post Anita,

    Makes me want to go right now. I am in Michigan, and even though its a day after Memorial Day (summer yeah right) it is still quite chilly. An African backpacking adventure sounds like a wonderful way to warm up. I would totally love seeing the animals in their natural habitat, that is way better than visiting a zoo locally. Okay, I guess I need some gear and a plane ticket now. Thanks for this awesome warming post.

    • Anita says:

      Well Sara, it is summer almost all year here in Kenya. Plan a trip especially during your winter season and enjoy some warm African weather.

  3. Mariana says:

    Hello Anita!

    I had always thought what backpacking would be like, but I have never considered these places as my destinations to travel before, thank you for opening my eyes! 

    I think I have read about the Tsavo National Park before, but your description about how a day there would be like really catch my attention and what to experience that myself. It’s also great that there are hotels within the park, but have those budget-friendly prices too?

    The beaches at Mombasa seem very different to the ones in my country, so I would really like to visit them one day too. 

    Great article, and the summary is very convenient to come back and check the important points to take into consideration. 

    • Anita says:

      Hello Mariana,

      Am happy that you learnt something new about backpacking, different places offer different experiences. You should try to visit Kenya. Kenyan beaches are marked by warm water and cool breeze very different from Europe beaches.

  4. Pentrental says:

    This looks pretty amazing! Great information on Tsavo National Park. Red-dust covered elephants paints a nice picture. I would not imagine that there are actually hotels to be found inside the park so thank you for pointing that out. I’m glad to find out that now train travel is possible. This would make for a very exciting train ride I would think. I appreciate that you linked to the SGR train schedule, very helpful. Those tusks in Mombasa City look pretty wild! Very useful information in your summary. I’ve bookmarked your post and I’ll be keeping this trip on the radar, well done!

    • Anita says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. Most parks in Kenya have lodges within the park that are always kept eco-friendly. You should plan and visit Kenya soon.

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