My husband and I had been living in Nairobi for a month when we decided it was time to visit Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya. Mombasa is about 475 kilometers (about 300 miles) from Nairobi. The trip is a 50-minute flight, or a 7-hour drive. Instead, our group opted to take the train, which is lovingly referred to as "The Lunatic Express".

When my husband told his Kenyan coworkers that we were going to take the train to Mombasa, they said things like, "I'll start walking to Mombasa now and I'll probably beat you there," and "Why would you do that?". Clearly, we were lunatics for taking the train.

We bought first class tickets, which entitled us to a ramshackle room with two bunk beds, worn-out bed linens, and a mediocre dinner and breakfast on the train. That's right, we needed two meals on this train because apparently it was going to take us 14 hours to get to Mombasa.

I imagine that our train car was "first-class" fifty years ago. And to be fair, it was nicer than third class, where passengers spend the entire night on hard plastic seats. But the first-class car was lacking in certain first-class amenities, such as toilet paper, light bulbs, and cleanliness.

Our first class cabin aboard the Lunatic Express from Nairobi to Mombasa, Kenya

Surprisingly, we left the Nairobi train station on time. Unsurprisingly, the train's generator broke immediately. So, we began our journey chugging through one of Nairobi's slums in the dark. I stood at an open window, breathing in the dirty air of Nairobi and taking in the scene until a train employee said, You should shut the window. We are in a slum and sometimes people outside throw rocks in here."

I dutifully shut my window.

The train had a disconcerting pattern of lurching from side to side, so dinner was a messy affair. We spilled our soup, and our drinks. We worried that the lantern swinging wildly above my head, might fall. Luckily, it didn't and after two lengthy stops, the generator was back up and running and the lantern was turned off.

The rocking of the train made sleeping difficult. My husband slept on the top bunk and we actually had to fasten a net across his bed so that he wouldn't come crashing to floor in the middle of the night. I found that I would usually fall asleep when the train stopped moving (and for some reason, it stopped a lot), and then I would wake up when it started moving again.

At breakfast the next morning, we learned that we would be arriving in Mombasa "a bit late." So we settled back down in our tiny cabins and watched Kenya roll by. Children stood next to the track and waved. Men sat outside traditional bomas, watching us pass. Women waited patiently at the intersection of the train tracks and the road, huge bundles balanced on their heads.

At 10:45 am, we pulled into the Mombasa station. It had taken us almost 16 hours to get from Nairobi to Mombasa. Luckily, we had already booked the 50 minute plane flight home.

Published in Kenya

I have been to Mombasa on several occasions; visiting family, friends or just for fun on a holiday. I have had guided tours through the city, seen some historical sites (Fort Jesus in particular), gone for a swim in the ocean, visited marine park, been on a food hunt, rode a tuk-tuk for the first time, had long walks on the stone paved streets, shoe shopping the list is endless.

This is why I wasn't surprised when I hit Google search for "Mombasa activities" and had about 4,210,000 results. There is simply too many things that you can do in Mombasa but when I recently travelled there, it wasn't so that I could go about Mombasa town doing 'this and that' rather to rest in a beach resort in Nyali, watch time go by and let my worries sway.

Nyali Beach is an attraction in its own right and has won this year's Traveler's Choice Award. A clean beach with clear, powdery, white sands; sapphire blue waters with just the right balance of waves and breeze; perfect for lazing around on those white plastic beds under an umbrella, walking along the shore, wind-surfing or going for a refreshing deep.

This time around, I stayed at the Reef Hotel

The reef is not a luxury place and not a budget place either but is an absolute delight with great customer care and lots of activities to do or watch others do. The hotel has a special event every day after dinner and during the day they have an ‘animation’ team that is responsible of coordinating the games for both children and adults. There are over 180 pictures from travelers who have stayed at the Reef on Trip advisor and over 40 professional photos. I was happy with everything about it, the food buffets, the quiet surrounding, the staff and especially the serenity it commands.

5 things I learnt at the Reef that can make you a smart traveler:

  1.   Even though the ‘All inclusive’ may seem like a bargain; for someone who doesn’t eat as much and doesn’t drink as much between meals leave alone doesn’t drink alcohol, it’s not worth it.
  2.   Everything is negotiable, including the prices for the room; you will not get it unless you ask for it.
  3.   The tours arranged by the hotel may be convenient and assuring but the private tour guides by the beach (beach boys) can offer a good deal and a great tour experience at a lower price if you are the type to take a leap of faith.
  4.   Don’t feed the monkeys -- for your own safety.
  5.   Respect the ‘No Smoking’ signs, your cigarette smoke can be enjoyable to you but is irritating to others. I was thoroughly abhorred by the people who kept smoking in the ‘NO SMOKING’ section.

Read what other travelers thought.

Published in Kenya

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