Taking the bus between Kampala and Nairobi? Try MASH!
The brilliant East Africa Tourist Visa and Interstate Pass mean that travel between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda is easier than ever for nationals and has become easier and cheaper for tourists and expats too. Cue: a lot more travel around the three countries for this Muzungu! I’ve taken the MASH bus between Kampala and Nairobi a few times now, and can recommend it.
Overall, the Kampala / Nairobi MASH bus service has been excellent. I hardly felt the dreaded bump, bump, bump of the ‘rumble strips’ and managed to sleep most of the journey. Or shall I say, I fell asleep / woke up / fell asleep / woke up… over and over again.
We liked the idea of having a toilet on the bus. If it had been working, that would have been even better! According to the driver, “it is women’s fault that the toilets do not work.” Hmmm… surely they could have fixed it though?
The MASH system is well organized and departs – on time – from the relative calm of the National Theatre, making it a far less hectic experience than going to downtown Kampala bus parks with all their congestion and pickpockets. In Nairobi, however, the bus departs from the rather hectic River Road. Have your wits about you here, as lots of guys will come running at you trying to sell you a cab fair / give you unwanted directions, etc. It can be a bit overwhelming if you’ve just woken up!
Back at the National Theatre in Kampala, an hour before the agreed departure time, a lady called us over to a table in front of our bus where she checked our tickets and passports. Next to her, a very friendly guy checked the contents of all our bags. Another two or three men dressed in bright orange overalls loaded bags and boxes into the bus. I was asked to remove the padlock from my bag, which obviously I did not want to do. I was told that it was necessary for the security check at the border. I removed a couple of valuables that I’d put in my big bag, and just hoped that everything else would be safe. It was.
The MASH bus was clean. The seatbelt worked, as did the single power socket on the wall next to me. I chose to sit in the second class ‘executive’ section, just a few seats from the front. It had a decent amount of legroom and a reclining seat. My friends in the VIP seats, directly behind the driver, had even more legroom, plus they were allowed to have their big bags with them.
Every bus passenger was handed a small packet of biscuits and a packet of sugary ‘juice’. My experience of cross-border bus journeys in East Africa is to avoid drinking at all costs, as you can never be sure the driver will stop when you need him to! However, on the MASH bus, we had three ‘comfort breaks’ before we arrived in Nairobi. “A short break for a short call” and these guys do not hang around, believe me.
The driver put on some loud music for our uneventful drive to the border.
Entering Kenya later that night, one of the immigration officials growled a demand to see my Yellow Fever certificate. Luckily I had a photograph of it on my phone.
According to Wikipedia, “Elmenteita is derived from the Masaai word muteita, meaning “dust place”, a reference to the dryness and dustyness of the area, especially between January and March. In the south-to-north sequence of Rift Valley lakes, Elmenteita is between Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru. The major Nairobi-Nakuru highway (A104 road) runs along the nearby escarpment affording motorists a spectacular vista towards the lake. Today the lake is a protected area due to its birdlife. Elmenteita – together with Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria – has been named a heritage site by UNESCO.”
Julia complained that she hardly slept for the whole journey. She only fell asleep for the most interesting part: passing through a private wildlife reserve, where I spotted zebra and antelope from my window seat. “You snooze, you lose!” As she likes to tell me… Lol.
Travel tips for taking the bus – Kampala / Nairobi
- MASH buses leave on time.
- The MASH booking office in Kampala is in Dewinton Road. Kampala tel +256 790915726.
- The MASH booking office in Nairobi is in River Road. Nairobi tel +254 718121251 / 708939319. In Kenya, you can also book your bus tickets and reserve your seat online and pay by M-Pesa.
- I have the above contact information from the bus ticket I was issued in October 2016 but can’t guarantee it is correct. For full information on ticket prices and times, check out the MASH East Africa website or visit one of their offices. I paid 80,000 UGX for a single ‘Executive’ ticket to Nairobi. The VIP ticket costs 100,000 UGX. Standard tickets are I think 60,000 UGX.
MASH Cool is the air-conditioned bus. MASH Poa can get a bit sweaty! I liked MASH Cool, though you will need a blanket (or shuka) if you take the overnight bus. The MASH Cool bus has curtains too.
- Make sure you have your Yellow Fever Certificate on you.
- Keep photographs of your passport and other important travel documents (ticket and Yellow Fever Certificate) on your phone.
- Although the bus does have power sockets, in my experience, they don’t always work. Take a spare battery pack for long journeys so you can access documents any time.
- Nationals of Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya just have to show a passport or national ID and are given a temporary Interstate Pass. Expats with work permits can get an Interstate Pass at the border as well. There is no form to fill in (just the standard arrivals form) and there is no cost.
- If you need a visa, you have to apply online in advance, whether it’s for a single country visa or an East Africa Tourist Visa. Check out the blogs I’ve written on the subject of tourist visas: NOW LIVE: apply for Ugandan tourist visas online and What is the East Africa Tourist Visa? A definitive guide.
- The set-up at the border has changed a bit and you now leave one country / enter another within the same building. Previously, you had to get your exit visa from one country and then walk across the border before getting your entry visa into the next country. I found the new system confusing and had apparently entered Kenya illegally! I.E. did not have one of the required passport stamps, even though I had seen three people at immigration.
- The MASH ticket says “Smoking, alcohol, chewing miraa is prohibited. Maximum luggage limit is 15 KG, any extra weight will be charged. Passengers are warned not to take any foodstuff offered by stranger.” In the past there were incidences of bus passengers being drugged and robbed (not on any particular route or with any particular bus company).
- In addition to the Uganda / Kenya route, MASH also operate to major towns across Kenya.
- Dreamline have also been recommended to me.