This weekend, I returned from Mombasa, where I spent nearly two weeks on holiday with the girlfriend. Ooops – fiancée. We had planned for it for a long time, and she did not know I was planning to pop the question in style during this holiday. Upon returning, a friend called and said I must have spent millions. I laughed, because we each hardly spent 300 dollars for the entire trip! We would have spent less if had avoided first class on the train!
I know, you are skeptical. But let me give you a few tips. You can have a five day holiday in Mombasa for only five hundred thousand shillings. That is the kind of money some Ugandans blow in the fake beaches around Lake Victoria. Some even blow it in bars. But next time you want to take out your girlfriend, try Mombasa. It’s cheap, if you follow these simple tips I’m going to give you.
I like to travel, to see the world, to experience new cultures and new adventures. I’ve thus figured out the cheapest ways to enjoy the most exotic spots in the world as though I’m a rich person.
Needlessly to say, take the bus, not a plane. And certainly avoid first class on the train! The bigger and more comfortable buses no longer make the Kampala-Mombasa trip. They only go up to Nairobi. There is only one company that we found has buses going all the way to the coat. This was Mash Poa, a pretty cool and comfy bus. Still, you’ll have to take a bus to Nairobi, and then change to another one that goes to Mombasa.
Luxury busses like Queens Coach cost about 70,000 (30 USD) and 12-14 hours from Kampala to Nairobi. It was very comfortable. They gave us free snacks. The only problem was there was no toilet break between Busia and Nakuru! You can get to Nairobi for less than 70k, however. Take a taxi to Busia or Malaba, it costs only 15,000. Cross the border. Take a bus from the Kenyan side to Nairobi and you’ll pay between 1,000 KES (about 30,000, or 12 USD) and 1,350 KES (about 40,000, or about 16 USD).
|It’s common to see game along the highways of Kenya
I am not sure about this, but I think there are buses that go from Busia/Malaba to Mombasa for about 1,500-2,000 KES. We saw these buses and those rates while in Mombasa, but we already had other plans for the return trip.
The one advantage travelling by bus has over flying is not just because you save lots of money. The highways pass through game parks, and so instead of paying hundreds of dollars on safaris, just take a bus. Sooner or later, you’ll see game. Lots of game. Zebras. Giraffes. Buffalos. Elephants – Reiza was so thrilled to see the red elephants of Tsavo that she squealed and screamed at me to take the photos – The experience was better on the train.
Do not spend the night or a lot of time in Nairobi. It will only eat into your budget. There are many buses that go to Mombasa and it is possible to get one every hour. The cheapest will cost you only 1,000 KES (about 30,000, or 12 USD). It takes about seven hours. But be sure to time your trip so you do not arrive in Mombasa during the evening rush hour. It was the worst jam I ever experienced. We were stuck in it for about two hours. And it was made much worse because we had been traveling for nearly 24hours, we had not had a toilet break in nearly 3hours and my bladder was bursting.
The train leaves Nairobi for Mombasa on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can take this as well, and if you avoid first class and take economy class, which goes for only about 600 KES (about 18,000 Ugandan, or about 11 USD), you’ll see that you save almost 20,000. And you’ll see more animals because the train passes deeper into the parks than the buses do.
Once in Mombasa, you will worry about where to sleep. You of course do not want to go to a hotel or guest house where you will be robbed. The seedy kind that adulterers prefer. But good accommodation can be very expensive. And those closes to the beaches are beyond your reach. Unless you find a backpacker’s place. You can stay right on the beach, in a dorm, for as little as 800 KES a night. (That’s about 10 US dollars or 25,000 UGX).
|A resident of Backpacker’s Nirvana
We stayed at Backpackers Nirvana, which is right on Nyali beach, and it was worth the price because we were allowed to cook food for ourselves. If you are a budget traveler, then cooking facilities come in very handy because you won’t have to spend a lot of money eating in restaurants. At Backpackers Nirvana, you can get a private room for about 3,000 KES a night. These rooms can host up to three people because the beds are really huge, so if you are traveling in a group and do not want to share a dorm with strangers, this might be the cheap option.
Even cheaper and free, is Couch surfing. There is this website http://www.couchsurfing.org/ where you can find someone to host you for free in Mombasa. We put out a request and we got a lot of people offering us free accommodation in their homes. But we chose to stay at Nirvana because of it’s proximity to the beach. We wanted to be able to go to the ocean at any time of the day. It was worth it. We spent a few dawns taking a swim in the ocean as the sun rose out of the waters. Absolutely marvelous!
Now, if you make the calculations, you realize you need about 180,000 UGX (70 USD) for transport alone, and about 125,000 for bedding (50 USD). That leaves you with 195,000 (80 USD) for food, entry tickets to the popular tourist sites and fun. I’d suggest you avoid the tourist sites that are not unique to Mombasa – that you can find elsewhere, even here in Uganda. The entry fees are very expensive and will eat deep into your pocket. The only two places I would recommend are Fort Jesus, and the Marine park where you can snorkel and see the bottom of the sea. Do not go to Haller park – though it is a nice place and offers a very exciting and fulfilling experience. It is a very expensive zoo in a reclaimed quarry, and yet it doesn’t even have that many animals. You can always see those same animals along the highways.
Fort Jesus charges foreigners an entry fee of 800 KES (about 10 USD), and 400 KES for Kenyans. I paid the Kenyan rate, because I speak fluent Swahili. They do not ask for IDs, so as long as you know Kiswahili, you’ll get away with the deception. And when you go to the Marine Park, you’ll see how much you can save if you passed off as a Kenyan. Foreigners pay 1,300 (about 15 US dollars) while Kenyans pay on 100 KES! It makes me wonder if foreigners are supposed to have bigger eyes than Kenyans and so have to pay more for seeing the same crappy animals that the Kenyans will see. For the marine park, you’ll need to cough about 1,000 KES for a boat to sail in. The rate is the same, whether you want the boat for the whole day, or for just a few minutes. There are two kinds of boats, the glass boat with engines, and the angalawa (sic), which I preferred for it is indigenous and gives you a more exotic and romantic experience, especially if you take Wagna’s boat. You can find him through Backpacker’s Nirvana. I thought the boat was called a dhow, but Wagna said it is called angalawa, I hope that is the correct spelling. It sounded like that.
So if I am limiting you to only Fort Jesus (one day) and the Marine Park plus snorkeling (one day) what will you do for the other three days? Seeing that you have only slightly over 100,000 left for you to spend? Go to the beach!
There’s lots of fun you can have at the beach. Play soccer. Swim. Float. Just ogle. If you are the clubbing and partying type, go to Mtwapa, the sin city of Kenya, and you could dance right by the water’s edge. Or you could easily pick a girl – or a man – for the night!
Mombasa has many beaches that you can play in all day. There’s Nyali beach, which is closest to Backpackers Nirvana, and probably the best of those near Mombasa. But there are also beaches in Mtwapa and in Kilifi. I especially loved Bofa beach in Kilifi because we had it all to ourselves. It was so isolated that it gave me enough courage to perform a little “Will you marry me” drama right by the seaside without onlookers spoiling it with their bewildered eyes.
Kilifi is about an hour away from Mombasa by matatu, which cost us about 150 KES. While in Mombasa on a budget, avoid the tuktuks and the taxis. They will drain your pocket. Mombasa’s matatu service is very friendly, and it’s easy to get to wherever you want to go because all matatus are labeled with their routes. In our hotel, there were two girls who stayed in the dorm, paying only 10 USD for accommodation. But they were spending about 40 USD daily on tuktuks and taxis. It did not make sense to me. They might have spent less than 5 US dollars daily if they learned how to use the matutus, or walked.
|Captain Wagna leads a client to his boat
Then, you need to eat sea foods. Avoid the restaurants. They will overcharge you. I was surprised, for I thought that being by the ocean, sea foods would be a lot cheaper in Mombasa. But the prices were murder. We thought we would not taste anything until one of these beach boys, Julius, promised to get us anything we wanted. He got us all kinds of fish and crab and lobster, at give away prices, for he knew some fishermen, and we cooked it ourselves and enjoyed the meals for a tenth of the prices we would have paid in Golden Sticks. We later realized we might have gone to one of the fish markets and bought the sea foods ourselves.
Well, so there it is. Your five day holiday in Mombasa for only five hundred thousand shillings. It’s doable. Better start saving. The best way to have fun is not by buying stupidly expensive tickets to watch drunk musicians in Lugogo. Nor is it by going to Kabira country club or to Steak Out and getting drunk. Jump on the bus, leave the country and you’ll discover a whole new world that you hitherto thought was reserved for the rich!
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