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History of Transport in Malindi

Malindi has a long tradition of boat building. These vessels range from the small Ngalawa, mashua, and dhow to the large Jahazi that can carry as much as 10 tonnes. The smaller boats were mainly used for fishing while the larger ones transported people and goods. Once goods landed on the mainland, they were transported overland by porters, ox-carts, and later motor vehicles. Public road transport has grown from the 8 seater Land-Rovers to 23 seater buses. However, boats still served to ferry people and goods across the Sabaki River before the construction of temporary and permanent bridges. Today modern luxury coaches ferry people and goods to Kilifi, Mombasa and upcountry destinations like Nairobi and Kisumu. Air transport which started with private airplanes went fully commercial when an airport was constructed in the early 1960’s.


According to Sheik Salim Ramadhan, the first mode of transport was donkeys then bicycles. The first known vehicle in Malindi was spotted in 1949 and it had wooden box body. Known as the Royal Mail, the vehicle was used by the post office before independence to deliver mails and passengers. Each day it made one trip to Mombasa, to return the next day because the bad road was blocked by many wild animals like elephants. The vehicles had wooden benches behind but first class had cotton padded seats. In the early 1960s, Tana River bus was introduced on the Mambrui – Malindi – Mombasa – Garsen- Hola route.


In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s there were only privately owned single engine aircrafts with a capacity of 1-4 people. The airplanes would fly to Mombasa, Malindi and Hola. Later in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, there were bigger planes that landed near Dr. Rozinger’s house. In 1960’s Malindi airport was constructed to handle larger planes that flew all over Kenya.


In 1950’s, the early dhows were small boats without engines which moved with the help of wind power and sails (tanga) tied on a mast. They were mainly used for fishing and ocean tours. Later there were larger cargo vessels that had a capacity of 10 tones. In 1961 there was a temporary ferry that carried people and goods. The current dhows have petrol engines.




Prior to 1961 people used to walk from Mambrui to Malindi along the beach before the bridge was built. They crossed at “Kivukoni” using mashua/dhows.

Source: MMS Archives




The earliest bridge was washed away in the 1961 by floods/storm water when there were very heavy rains in Kenya.

Source: Shamoon Rajabali, MMS Archives




Old Bridge Prior to 1961 which was washed away




During the time of construction on the Sabaki River around 1961-1962, people used to cross the river by Ferry that was pulled across the River Sabaki by ropes

Source: Prof. Abdullah Naji Said




The bridge in 1980s during construction by the Public Works Department




The current bridge was officially opened in the 1980s by President Moi.









The bus plied the Malindi – Mombasa – Nairobi Route in the 1980s through to the 90s. This was at the pick of the expansion of the transport industry in the region. The proprietor was Naji bin Said who was the pioneer in public transportation in the region. He started his business with an eight sitter land rover station wagon in the late 50s. Then he acquired 23 sitters and later to 63 passenger buses.

Source: MMS Archives



Public transport bus

Photo by Prof. Abdullah Naji Said



Photo donated by Prof. Abdullah Naji


A Malindi taxi with a view of Malindi town taken from the roof top of Lamu Hotel.



The bus was owned by Sheikh Said Omar Dahman who started his transport business in 1984. The bus plied the Malindi-Mombasa route and later expanded to Malindi-Ganda-Kakuyuni route. The bus also transported dried catfish from the lower Tana River region.





The first planes to land in Malindi were small single engine aircrafts whose capacity was 1 to 4 people. The aircrafts were operated by two companies Avon Air and Pullover, and flew between Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu in the late 40’s and early 50’s during the 1st World War and 2nd World War.



The first airstrip in Malindi was inland from Eden Rock Hotel, on occasion small aircraft would also land on the beach. A Liwali of Malindi flew from Lamu to Malindi and the aircraft landed at the beach. The British officers were in charge of the airstrip at that time since this was a prohibited area. Local people were not allowed to walk through the area.

Source: MMS Archives


Photo by Mr. Daniel Mbogo 2014

The current air strip space was donated by Sheikh Omar Bin Dahman. The Colonial Government began construction work for the landing strip and arrival lounge cum cafeteria in 1957. Fire and rescue services were introduced in 1959. Communication to alert other operators was by ringing a bell due to lack of traffic controllers.



Photo by Mr. Daniel Mbogo 2014


The Kenya Airports Authority has managed the airport since 1991.

Source: Airport Manager (Mr. Walter Agong)


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