Nairobi to Addis Ababa?
July 26, 2010 3:33 AM   Subscribe

Reasonably-costed way to get from Nairobi to Addis Ababa by land or air?

I will be in Nairobi this fall and am interested to visit Ethiopa afterward. I have looked into routes and it seems that few people in Kenya ever go to Ethiopia (the countries seem to have no business relationship). Consequently, nobody could suggest a reasonably-costed way to get from Nairobi to Addis Ababa. (Flights on Kenya airways were ~$600, which seems high for a one-country flight.)

Furthermore, people advised me about dangers near the Kenya/Ethiopia border were I to travel.

Are there any MeFites who can advise me on this? Thanks in advance.
posted by meadowlark lime to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
I put in a random date (12-20 November) and found a $500 fare on Ethiopian Airlines on Skyscanner. So cheaper is possible, but it looks like the only two airlines who serve this route directly are Kenya Airways and Ethiopian. I would ask a travel agent once you arrive in Nairobi. Airlines like Daallo Air from Djibouti, for example, may exist and could possibly do the route but will be hard to book online.
posted by mdonley at 4:37 AM on July 26, 2010

I would *not* go by land. I don't think there are many matatu or bus routes that go up through northeastern Kenya. It's dangerous - the combination of Somali border hoppers, poorly developed roads, and general crime and violence on the highways is an impressive deterrent. I have a friend who was driving up to Samburu and stopped at an overlook 30 minutes before 6 people were killed at it by bandits, and was one car in front of a group of people who were carjacked and then shot.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:57 AM on July 26, 2010

Best answer: Kenya Airways (KQ) and Ethiopian Airlines are the only reliable and relatively safer options for you. Because they have a relative monopoly on this (and a majority of the rest of the intra-African routes), you are going to pay higher rates. There's no competition driving the cost down, and those who can afford to go there will pay. You will likely find EA to be a bit cheaper than KQ most of the time, however.

You do not want to go over land if you can at all avoid it. It will be long (read: many days), the roads will be bad (where they actually exist, that is), and it will not be safe - particularly if you are of a lighter skin tone. Westerners have gone missing near the rather porous borders between Ethiopia / Somalia / Kenya as recently as last year. Go to the embassy web-page for your country of origin (here's mine, for example) to educate yourself on traveling in these countries, and while you are there, register your trip so they have you on file whilst you're in country.

I would also strongly advise against going with any smaller / budget / whatever airline that is not KQ or EA.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:58 AM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you have the time and (a little bit of) guts, I would definitely recommend the overland route. The roads between Addis and Nairobi have been significantly upgraded in the last year or so, as have the transportation options along the route.

Kampala Coach is one of the best private bus companies plying the route. As of February 2010, they were running an 18-hour "express" bus from Nairobi to Moyale, connecting through Isiolo. The ticket is about $30, and the bus has western style wide, comfortable (and reserved) seats, air conditioning, bottled water and a decent meal included.

When I last looked into it, the bus was departing from Nairobi at 7am on Wednesdays (best to buy your ticket at the depot on Tuesday afternoon). The bus leaves every Wednesday unless there is a security issue (rather rare these days). Again checking in at the depot will help you get a feel for this.

I used Kampala Coach to get from Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda, Kampala to Kigali, Rwanda, and from Kampala to Eldoret, Kenya. I cannot speak personally to the Nairobi-Isiolo-Moyale leg of the journey, because I ended up improvising my own route and hitch-hiking from Eldoret across Northwest Kenya to the Ethiopian border at Moyale.

The roads in that part of Kenya range from terrible to non-existent, and it took me three days to get from the Ugandan to the Ethiopian borders, but I was rewarded with some of the most beautiful territory and amazingly hospitable people I'd seen since I started my journey in South Africa.

Once you get to Moyale, you'll walk across the land border into Ethiopia (make sure you have a visa since you can't always get them at the border). The town on the Ethiopian side is also called Moyale. There's a bus depot about a ten minute walk up the main road from the border that will get you to Addis. If you make it on the bus early enough (before 7am), you might be able to get to Addis by the following morning. If you get on at 1pm like I did, you'll probably overnight in Dilla and be in Addis the following evening.

As with any frontier travel, practice good situational awareness and ask the local experts about current conditions. Information on the internet tends to be somewhat out of date and rather conservative. I found that people in the transportation industry (bus operators, truck drivers and the like) generally have a good handle on safety conditions.

All told, you can go from Nairobi to Addis for about $50 if you use long-haul, express "luxury" buses. Hitching rides in lorry cabs will be even cheaper and much more interesting. The Moyale border area is well policed and thoroughly safe, as is the entire route in from Moyale to Addis.

Finally, Addis is a large, sprawling metropolis. Like the rest of the African capitals, there are some great museums and sights, but the joy and beauty of Ethiopia and Kenya are both in the towns and villages off the beaten track. Flying from Nairobi to Addis is not only expensive, but will deprive you of some of the most fascinating towns and people in the region.

I apologize for the long-winded message. I spent the period from December 2009 to March 2010 hitch-hiking from South Africa to Egypt, and your question covered one of my favorite parts of the journey. After reading metafilter since 2002, your AskMe finally prompted me to register. I have a travelogue which covers the voyage, as well. I don't want to self-link, but I'd be happy to provide via memail if you are interested.
posted by aliquidnovi at 8:00 AM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

That should really be an FPP tbh
posted by infini at 8:35 AM on July 26, 2010

Information on the internet tends to be somewhat out of date and rather conservative. I found that people in the transportation industry (bus operators, truck drivers and the like) generally have a good handle on safety conditions.

aliquidnovi brings some good info to the table and I too would be keen to hear the road-trip story, but I have to take a bit of an issue with the above. My information isn't out of date - I'm typing this from Nairobi and I was in Addis myself earlier this year. As a Kenyan resident, I've driven myself to most corners of this country.

I work for a large NGO and we won't even allow our staff to go to certain parts of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia out of persistent and very real security concerns. A truck driver may have an excellent grasp on the general security for Kenyan truck drivers in these parts, but he is going to have little-to-no expertise to speak to security concerns for foreigners, traveling alone, and especially for foreigners of some particular nationalities.

Telling you to avoid road travel in places where we have to hire trucks of armed guards to drive our staff through - places where Al Shabab is known to actively operate - isn't conservative, its common sense. Your safety / life is worth the couple hundred extra bucks to fly. Get off the beaten track and plug in with local culture for sure, but do it in safer places, in both countries.

I have a friend who was driving up to Samburu and stopped at an overlook 30 minutes before 6 people were killed at it by bandits, and was one car in front of a group of people who were carjacked and then shot.

This kind of thing happens so regularly here in Kenya it is considered daily news. Here is just one snippet of my weekly security advisory email at work:

Incidents ranging from carjacking to highway robberies were reported during the week. As a result of increased activities and threats by Al-Shabaab militia, security forces in North Eastern province remained on high alert. The Somalia border is under intense surveilance by government security. The government curfew is still in force in Mandera and El-Wak towns. Security operation along the Kenya-Somalia border continued during the period. Threat of carjacking of NGO and government 4x4 vehicles remains high in these areas. The same security atmosphere is expected to continue in the coming week.

Eight suspected gangsters were killed in separate incidents...a Busia-bound bus was hijacked and passengers were robbed of their cash and valuables in an attack...police recovered 3 bodies of people suspected to have been murdered in Naivasha and Gilgil...

If you do decide to go by road, be off of the roads before dark whenever possible (not possible on an 18-hour bus FYI), have a charged mobile phone with emergency contacts, have emergency SOS insurance, and don't accept any food / drinks from strangers (and keep an eye on your own). I could rattle off a longer laundry list - emergency cash in your sock, etc.. but I think I've blabbed enough for now.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:34 AM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

allkindsoftime speaks wisely, and it is not my intention to debate. Everything said above is accurate. Al-Shabaab has been more active as of late, and foreigners certainly have a different risk profile than Kenyan and Ethiopian truck drivers and construction workers.

My comment about asking local experts about travel conditions was focused less on asking the local lorry driver for his opinion, and more about checking in with the scheduled common carrier operators, like Kampala Coach. KC is a large regional outfit operating in over a dozen cities three countries. Carrying mostly regional businessmen, it looks like they take the safety of their passengers quite seriously. I know they cancel the Nairobi-Moyale route when conditions along the way are even slightly suspicious.

As a solo white American male traveler of a non-imposing stature, laden as I was with a rucksack and a big, fancy camera around my neck, I stood out quite a bit from my surroundings. Of the thousands of road miles I traveled by car, bus, motorcycle, boat, lorry and matatu, I was always the only Caucasian aboard my various conveyances.

I received daily updates on my blackberry from the various security advisory services, including the US Embassy, but also several private subscription services including Jane's Terrorism monitor and CRG's daily situation updates. The convoy policies of the major NGOs exist for good reason. However, many of the places considered off limits to NGO and diplomatic staffs were among the most benign, safe and downright friendly places I visited.

Just one small example: Berbera, Somalia was in early March considered off limits to most UN personnel posted in the area (they were restricted to Hargeisa at the time). I spent four days there with no armed guard and no escort, mostly walking miles and miles up and down the heart-stoppingly beautiful coastline, exploring the town and its markets, and taking meals and drinking tea with different strangers at every meal. Much like its cousins on the various restricted lists such as Kivu Province in the DRC and a number of small towns in Sudan, Berbera seemed safer to this American than Cairo, Kampala, Nairobi, Jo'burg or the Hunters Point-Bayview district of San Francisco.

Of course this is all anecdotal, and once again the safest thing to do would be to fly from Nairobi to Addis. Good luck, and I hope there's some place we can read about your adventure if you end up doing it the long way!
posted by aliquidnovi at 5:29 PM on July 26, 2010

aliquidnovi - you sir are a brave man - I salute you. Berbera in particular sounds like something I would love love LOVE to try, but might never. Thanks for adding your perspective to the question!
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:16 AM on July 27, 2010

A mefi mail reminded me to add the following:

Please be aware that Kenya is voting on a referendum of its constitution and the country remains heavily divided on the topic (at least from what I can gather in the news and a cursory glance across my social circles here). With the violence following the previous election, and even the more recent bombings in town (Nairobi) here, there is good cause for extra caution particularly during the month of August. Hopefully things will have cooled down by mid-month, but you should keep an eye on things and be well advised if security is still an issue upon arrival.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:15 AM on July 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to all who chipped in on this thread so far! I best'ed allkindsoftime's and aliquidnovi's answers, even though they're at loggerheads, because they both give solid information from experience. I'm not sure who's advice I'll follow yet. I'm in somewhat of a reckless mood and might well do the Kampala Coach thing, combined with other mutatus and whatnot throughout Ethiopia. I have a month to burn, so time is not an issue. But if I blow 5 or 6 hundred on a plane ticket, that seriously cuts into my budget for the month.

aliquidnovi, I don't think it's a self-link if I ask you to link to your travelogue in this thread? Otherwise, MeMail me a link? Would be interested to see it and ask some questions. Welcome to MeFi as well.
posted by meadowlark lime at 8:55 AM on July 27, 2010

I traveled overland in the opposite direction by public transport in 2007. Obviously, conditions change over time. Although it was an interesting trip and a great travel story to tell it took me three days, three buses and a ride in the back of a truck. I was a woman traveling alone and when the scheduled bus from the border to Nairobi decided not to leave I rode in the back of a range rover with a cage welded on the back. We were late leaving and weren't included in the police motorcade.

Despite my negotiations and the driver's reassurances 18 more people jumped in and I sat compressed upon myself for 8 hours or so until I was let out for a bathroom break. We continued on all night and I finally caught a bus from a town a few hours outside Nairobi. I'm a very adventurous traveler and okay with local transport but this was ridiculous. Unless you can verify the "Western Style" bus I'd just fly.
posted by Bunglegirl at 3:19 PM on July 29, 2010

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