Taking the train to Tsavo seemed like such a neat idea that we decided to test it out for ourselves. We opted to begin from Mombasa and end up in Nairobi, with a night’s stay at the exclusive Finch Hattons Camp in Tsavo West National Park.
Getting a booking on the train was super easy as this is done online and is quite straightforward. The only possible issue one may have is the only mode of payment is by MPESA (mobile money) for which a local SIM is required.
Once your tickets are booked, you have the option of going to your nearest terminus and getting the tickets printed, or waiting until the day itself to print them at the terminus. We opted for the former which made things a whole lot easier. In order to print out the tickets, you will need the confirmation number, as well as the mobile number used to pay for them.
As the train departs Mombasa at 8 am, we needed to get an early start (6am) as driving through the city in the morning traffic can be quite frustrating, but thankfully as it was a Saturday, traffic was light and we arrived at the train terminus in Miritini at 7 am.
First up was a security check where all the bags were lined up, and sniffer dogs run through the line. Following this, the bags went through the security scanner. Take note that passengers are not permitted to carry alcohol on the train.
After the scanning was done, we entered the terminus building, and our bags went through another security scanner, before we arrived at the departure lounge. We had to wait until the platform was opened for boarding, which was quick and easy as the hostesses on board were there to help and everything is clearly marked.
Travelling 1st class, the seats are all arranged facing forward like on the plane, with 2 seats on either side of a central aisle. Economy class has 2 seats facing forward and 2 seats facing backwards. All seats have tray tables and lots of leg room. In addition, 1st class passengers are given a bottle of water and pack of biscuits.
Baggage has to go overhead, however these rails are quite high up so if your bags are heavy, you may need to step on the seats, or ask for assistance. Heavier bags have to be stored next to the toilets.
The journey was quite uneventful with the train going at speeds of between 100 – 110 km per hour. There was a refreshment cart coming through every so often, the cleaning crew for the toilets, and the hostesses also passing through the cabin on a regular basis.
Before arrival at every station, notice is given of the approach, the exact time the train will stop (normally 3 – 4 minutes) and as this is repeated several times, you have enough time to get your bags and wait at the exit to disembark. Surprisingly for Kenya, the train is exactly on time to depart as well as to arrive at every station.
On arrival at Mtito Andei station, we were pleasantly surprised to find Julius, our driver/guide from Finch Hattons, waiting for us just at the exit door. After loading the vehicle and paying for our park fees, we were off.
Tsavo West National Park is a huge park with few roads so oftentimes it is difficult to spot game, but the scenery more than made up for this. As we entered from the Chyulu gate, we passed over the lava flow, which came from one of the volcanoes in the hills, about 200 years ago. At that time, the local people thought that the devil was emerging from the ground and gave it the name Shaitani, meaning the devil. The name has stuck and today the Shaitani lava flow extends as far as 50 sq km, covered in parts with strangler figs, but we did see some vegetation struggling to get through.
The drive to the Camp takes about an hour and a half, by which time we were so ready for lunch. This delightful meal was served outdoors, in a beautiful setting. The Camp itself consists of 17 tented suites built overlooking various waterholes that have emerged from the natural springs nearby. Each suite has an indoor and outdoor shower, as well as a bathtub, offering you a range of bathing options.
They have a swimming pool, a gym, and a spa with a hammam and a lap pool. Yoga sessions are held on the deck, though this will attract an extra charge if you are booked only on full board.
The lap pool looked so inviting in the shimmering heat, that we just had to have a quick swim before our afternoon game drive, and it was well worth it.
Our game drive was a little disappointing as we didn’t see much – just a few zebras, although Julius did try hard to spot some game. At sundown, we stopped next to the hippo pool where we enjoyed a cup of tea, before returning to Camp.
Dinner that night was a real treat – dinner had been organized on the rooftop under a star-studded sky…absolutely perfect. The staff advised us that all guests are given the opportunity to enjoy dinner on the rooftop at least once during their stay.
On our way back to the tent, our ‘askari’ (guard) advised us to wake up at 6 am to catch the hippos in the waterhole outside our tent.
Our morning tea was brought in so unobtrusively that I might have slept through it, had I not awakened to see the hippos. Sadly, there were no hippos in sight, and so after breakfast, we departed reluctantly. A word to the wise – if you enjoy your drinks, then opt for the all-inclusive package at the Camp as the drink charges were exorbitant.
Julius got us to the terminus in time for our train back to Nairobi. This time, there were only two security checks for the bags, and we had exactly 4 minutes to board the train.
Again, the journey was uneventful, until we got to Athi River where some of our fellow passengers got a little excited and noisy. Their excitable chatter and bantering took us till the end of our journey and the disembarkation was quite orderly and smooth.
All in all, I found the whole experience to be quite relaxing and a wonderful way to experience the country and its amazing people and places.