From Nairobi to Juba by road; the experience of a Kenyan traveller

By Daniel Many | Monday, Feb 24th 2020 at 12:24
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The easiest way to travel to Juba, the Capital city of South Sudan from Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, by road is to pass through Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.

There are many buses plying the Nairobi-Kampala route. Most can be found along River Road or around there. Mash Poa, Simba Coach, Modern Coast, Trinity coach, Buscar, Crown bus, Mombasa Raha, Spanish Coach, La Face, just to mention but a few.

One-Stop Border Posts

The fare from Nairobi to Kampala ranges between Sh1,800 and Sh3,000. You will find buses leaving Nairobi at 5 PM, 6 PM, 8 PM, 9 PM, and even 10 PM. Some will pass the Nairobi-Kisumu-Busia route, some Nairobi-Eldoret-Busia route, while others will prefer the Nairobi- Eldoret-Malaba route.

Most of these buses will arrive in Busia or Malaba borders early in the morning. The good thing is, both borders operate 24 hours. This means even if travellers arrive at either of the borders at 4 AM, they will still be attended to by immigration officers on the Kenyan side and immigration officers on the Ugandan side.

Travel documents

Contrary to what many citizens of East African Countries think, one still needs travel documents to pass through the borders. At least a national Identification card and a Yellow Fever Certificate. It will be an added advantage if you carry your passport with you. This will save you the hustle of filling a certain form that stands in place of your passport. Also, you will fill another "entry form" stating how many days and nights you will spend in Uganda.

It is an immigration procedure to take a passport size picture of you as well as your fingerprints before your passport (or that equivalent form) is stamped "exit" on the Kenyan side and "Entry" on the Ugandan side.

Because you are going to Juba, you also need to, while still in Nairobi, process and acquire a Visa. For a Kenyan, a South Sudanese Visa costs 50 USD. If you have Kenyan shillings, you will have to actually change it into USD. They strictly do not accept Kenya shillings. You can apply for the Visa at the Embassy of South Sudan, off Galana road. It will only take 48 hours to process.

If you are going to work or do business in South Sudan, you will also need to get a work permit. At the Kenya-Uganda borders, they will not ask you for a Visa or a work permit. They will only ask for your Yellow fever certificate, National ID, and a passport (or equivalent form which you fill at the border at no cost).

New currency

When you're done with the immigration, you will be allowed to enter Uganda. You will find your bus waiting for you on the Ugandan side. Also, you will find money vendors waiting for you. They will pester you to exchange your Kenyan shilling and/or USD into Ugandan shillings. 1 Kshs ~35 Ushs.

You can decide to forex trade with these vendors operating by the roadside or choose to exchange your money inside the immigration offices, which is more safe and genuine. Better still, you can decide to do the exchange when you arrive in Kampala City.

5-Hour drive, Roasted chickens

From Busia border to Kampala City is roughly a 5-hour drive. Just like in Kenya, you keep left while driving in Uganda.

Uganda is very green. You will feast your eyes on the green scenery lining the road from Busia border all the way to Kampala and also from Kampala all the way to Nimile border (Uganda-South Sudan border). Another thing to feast on is the roadside roasted chicken and maize. Very delicious.

You will pass through 3 major towns before you finally arrive in Kampala. The one town that you will not forget is Jinja. I think you will remember it because of the enormous bridge and of course the Lake Victoria. Also, the vast sugarcane plantation and the numerous industries (amongst them a brewery and a sugar factory). Jinja is an industrial town.

Swarm of motorcycles

Well, Kampala is Just like any other city. Like Nairobi. The only notable difference is the presence of millions of motorcycles in the city. This makes it look a bit chaotic. Every road junction or a roundabout, you will be amazed at the swarm of motorcycles crisscrossing each other. It is a wonder, a miracle even, how they manage not to bump into each other.

Life in Kampala is cheaper compared to life in Nairobi. The price of goods and services is almost half the price of the same goods and services in Nairobi. So if you are not planning to spend many days in Kampala, you don't need to change a lot of money. Even Kshs 3,000 should be enough for a two days stay in Kampala, gorging yourself with chicken and beer.

Another convenience a Kenyan traveller in Kampala will experience the availability of Mpesa services and the use of the Kiswahili language. In fact, some traders in Kampala even accept Kenyan money.

12-hour border operation

Most buses operating along the Kampala-Juba route prefer to leave Kampala at around 9 PM and travel during the night so as to arrive at the Nimile border in the morning.

The fare from Kampala to Juba is Ushs 70,000 (around Kshs 2,000). You can pay in Kshs or Ushs.

The bad thing is, the Uganda-South Sudan border does not operate 24 hours. So even if you arrive at the border at 3 AM, you will have to wait until 5 AM when the Ugandan side of the border is opened.

The procedure is basically the same. Queue, present your papers, have your photo taken, have your fingerprints taken, and finally have your passport stamped "Exit" on the Ugandan side of the immigration.

After that, you cross a bridge to the other side of South Sudan. You then enter the immigration offices and queue. There are two lines—one for South Sudanese nationals and another for foreign nationals.

Here is where you also remember to carry your Visa and work permit. If you don't have a Visa, you pay 50 USD, and they'll process for you one. If you don't have a work permit, you will be in trouble. Might part with some undisclosed amount of money. If you don't have a yellow fever certificate, you will not proceed to enter South Sudan. When your papers are in order, they will stamp "Entry" on your passport and allow you to enter South Sudan, where you will find your bus already waiting for you.

Money vendors will also be eagerly waiting for you to exchange your Kshs, Ushs, or USD into South Sudanese Pounds (SSP). 100 USD~ 32,000 SSP.

Security Convoy

Unlike in Kenya or in Uganda, your bus will not proceed after clearing with the immigration. The bus will park and wait for other buses coming from Uganda. When all of them, around eight buses, have cleared with the immigration, two security vehicles full of soldiers wielding machine guns, one in front and the other at the back, will accompany the buses from Nimile border to Juba City as a security measure.

Another thing you will notice is that the vehicles keep right. Also, they drive at a relatively high speed. I hear this is also a security precaution

The drive from Nimile border to Juba Takes around 6 hours inclusive of a 1-hour mandatory stopover at a place approximately halfway. Here, the eight buses coming from Uganda meet up with around the same number coming from Juba. This place is also a trading centre, so passengers are allowed to buy food and drinks and given a short time to alight and relieve themselves in the nearby bushes.

Juba is an expensive town. Here you will need a good amount of money to survive. For a one week stay, you can easily gobble down 200 USD (Sh 20,000).

The trick is to find someone to host you so that you only spend on food, drinks, and motorbike/ Matatu rides.

The language they speak here is Arabic. Some can speak English, but most of them speak Arabic so many times you will find it hard to communicate clearly.

Juba is hot. You will sweat. But their fried meat (Sheya) is the best you will ever eat.

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