A lot of people tend to think that “Africa” or “Kenya” isn’t safe for travellers. But just think of your own country, say the UK. What if people in Spain would ask, “Is the UK safe?” You would ask in return, “Where in the UK? London’s East End or a tiny village in Wales? At 1am or 1pm? With children or without?”
My point: there are huge differences within Kenya just like in your home country. Safety depends on the where, when, and with whom. You simply have to have the right information, take the right precautions and use some common sense.
Information And The Right Precautions
In general, you will be safe in Kenya when you’re among people. Don’t walk alone in abandoned areas. While there is serious crime, average people hate criminals just like you. Trust what your hotel staff etc. says about safety – they know exactly where and when it’s unsafe.
If you go out after dark – remember it’s dark early in Kenya, around 7pm – take taxis. Taxis can be trusted anytime during the day or night. They are very affordable: small trips are Ksh 300 and 10 miles cost Ksh 1000 to 1500 at the most.
Nairobi has a particular reputation for crime. I personally think it’s exaggerated. I like Nairobi, it’s a cosmopolitan place where you’ll meet all kinds of interesting people. The rules are the same as elsewhere, though.
Especially in Nairobi. They are really the only unpleasant people you will meet during the day. They might approach you in the streets claiming to recognize you from the hotel, and you are too polite to say you don’t know them. They will dish up some far fetched story and in the end, they’re asking for money in one way or the other, or they have something to sell you. Just end the conversation and walk away. It’s comical rather than scary – especially when the same guy approaches you for the third time.
Unaccompanied females sometimes get quite a lot of male attention. However, Kenyan men aren’t “mean”. If you tell them you are not amused by their behaviour, they will generally leave you alone.
Kenyans dress conservatively, even more so on the Muslim coast area (Mombasa and surroundings). Men wear long trousers and shirts, women wear long trousers or skirts that cover the knees. You won’t get remarks – Kenyans are too polite – but you may offend some and give the wrong signals to others if you don’t cover enough of yourself. In the tourist resorts and at the popular beaches, though, Kenyans are used to tourists in shorts.
Tap water is never safe in Kenya, always drink bottled water. Watch out with real cheap diners (a meal for Ksh 75) and street sellers. Watch out with meat, eggs, and anything that’s not thoroughly cooked. Local soft drinks, beer (Tusker) and liquor are all safe.
Kenya has a reputation for reckless driving. The number of traffic casualties is very high. Take this into account when deciding to drive yourself (car rent is expensive in Kenya with lots of extra costs for insurances and small print unfavorable to the customer) or bicycling.
Please remember that of the 1 to 2 million tourists that go to Kenya each year, only a few report anything unpleasant. Protect yourself but don’t be paranoid. Our planet is too beautiful for that. Go with your gut feeling about people and places and don’t be shy to act on that.
About The Author
Arjen Koopman is the editor of the Kenya Advisor – the independent Kenya travel guide.
Think you know the Pyramids? Want to know what it’s really like to be “entombed”? Catch up with us here next Wednesday and get a birds eye view from Bob Fisher, Editor of the Philosophical Traveller