5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Kenya

Tourists always attract their fair share of beggars and souvenir sellers, but don't be afraid to step out of that tour bus – just be sensible and take some safety precautions.


Safari literally means 'journey' in Swahili.  This photo was taken in Kenya, just before a big downpour.

While Kenya is a comparatively safe African destination, there are still plenty of pitfalls for the inexperienced traveler.

From everyday irritations to more serious threats. A little street sense goes a long way here, and getting the latest local information is essential wherever you intend to travel.

Josh Steinitz from NileGuide.com shares some of his tips for first-timers in Kenya.

1. Be Careful Eating Meat

Be careful eating meat outside of the higher end lodges. Sometimes the quality level, or the cooking style, don‘t suit foreign stomachs.

2. Malaria Pills

Whatever you do, don't forget your malaria pills. Err on the side of caution on this one.

3. Small Insects Are Dangerous Too!

Remember that the small things (biting wasps, acacia thorns) are often more dangerous than the Big Five, so come prepared with spray and long pants.

If you‘re planning a bike ride, be extra careful and bring a spare kit, because acacia thorns are deadly to bike tires.

4. Mt Kilimanjaro - It's Cold!

Just over the border in Tanzania is Mt Kilimanjaro, which many travelers to Kenya also visit.

It can be very, very cold on summit day before the sun rises. Bring warm clothes and you'll enjoy the summit all the much more, and prevent getting a cold on the way down.

5. Stay Street Smart in Nairobi

Nairobi isn't the best place to wander around as a Muzungu. Keep your street smarts about you, and ask your hostel which areas to avoid.

Here are some reasons why the capital is often called Nai-robbery!

Basic Safety Rules for Travelers to Kenya

Actually, these safety tips from GoAfrica.com could be applied to anywhere you travel!

  • Make a copy of your passport and keep it in your luggage.
  • Don't walk on your own at night in the major cities or on empty beaches.
  • Don't wear flashy jewelery.
  • Don't carry too much cash with you.
  • Wear a money belt that fits under your clothes.
  • Don't carry a lot of camera equipment - especially in the major cities.
  • Beware of thieves posing as police officers.

Learn Some Local Lingo!

It's always helpful to know a bit of the local language, learn Swahili with WorldNomads Swahili Language Guide.

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  • Isaac said

    Very informative and straight to the point. I am a tour consultant in Kenya and the information is well put.

  • victor said

    This has not been posted by a Kenyan, please don't be posting this maliciously. If am not wrong Malaria attack is mainly in Mombasa, Kisumu and maybe Nairobi. Am not sure there is an epidemic of Malaria.....Poverty depends on which neighborhood you come from because many whites are moving to Kenyan Posh Estates as they are very modern. I dont think England has estates similar to Nyali, Muthaiga, Runda and many others (Those in Uk are too old)

  • Debby said

    These are not important. Poverty is everywhere on different levels and so are thieves. Everyone excercises caution wherever they go. Our cooking style is simply Kenyan so adjust, applies to any other country. Mt Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania so advise on Mt Kenya instead, Nanyuki region and generally the cold season in Kenya.

  • blessedbetty said

    The information provided is Quite minimal and general. In Kenyan coast, we have some of the beautiful beaches in the world. We also have world class hotes, historical museum's dating back to 13th century. The world spectacular migration of wild beast and our favourable climate all year round. Welcome to Kenya and see for yourself. let no one mislead.we've got a lot to offer.

  • Kevin said

    Just back from Kenya. My son and I were on a two week safari. I have never met so hostile people than I did in Nairobi, one time a man stopped his motor bike just in front of us and snarrelled at us. I got fed up with people not replying to my hello I just stopped saying it.
    The safari itself was terrific and people working at the lodges were nice....maybe because of the tips. Nairobi just wasted it and I would never go back.

  • Martin Cook said

    It is articles like this that, whilst likely being of good intentions, really does not portray the actual facts about a country, and quite honestly I see and have many similar articles, particularly about Kenya that come across naïve to say the very least.

    I live and work in Kenya; Nairobi in fact. I would hence hope that whoever reads my response to the above article knows that this is coming from a genuine opinion and not one simply from a visitor’s perspective.

    Let’s start with the food. Nairobi has some of the most diverse culinary choices you could imagine ranging from high end restaurants to fast food, Subway, KFC, and an numerous South African franchises such as News Café along with locally sprung enterprises such as Dormans Coffee and Art Café. Food in most lodges during the tourist peak season is often a wide buffet selection or a set menu. Hygiene standards are very good. So to say (as the highly acclaimed travel safety expert Phil has said) to ‘be careful eating outside of higher end lodges’ is utter gibberish.

    Malaria Tablets? Well when you live here you cannot keep taking them! I am not saying that it is not wise to exercise caution but, they can seriously mess up your holiday with countless side effects.

    Biking in the bush? Watch out for those acacia thorns? Given that 90% of safari’s in Kenya are accompanied by an experienced safari guide, should you get a puncture he or even she would be there to help. This would in my eyes be more of an inconvenience that a serious security risk! This point is serious, trivial dribble if you ask me……

    Why reference Mt Kilimanjaro? This is in Tanzania not Kenya? Was not the article meant to be about Kenya? Wasn’t the title ‘What I wish I knew before travelling to Kenya’?

    Nairobi isn't the best place to wander around as a Muzungu. Wow the writer has learned the word that references a foreigner. Well done! Literally translated it means "someone who roams around aimlessly"

    It is hence not the most pleasant thing to be called, and by using this word the Author is suggesting that as a foreigner, this is what every Kenyan thinks of you. Kenyans are extremely hospitable people, but when you are walking around Nairobi, do you honestly expect everyone who doesn’t know you to come over to you and shake your hand? These are just normal people simply going about their life, and for many of whom, life is at times seriously tough.

    Yes, watch out for the traffic, Kenyans drive to their rules not any other. Yes, as a traveler, drive or be driven by your guide at night to avoid any issues. You might also wish to note that pavements are either none existent or are not particularly well maintained so walking in Nairobi in general is best avoided.

    Safety travel expert and journalist? Really?

  • mona said

    Wtf!!!!!! Meanest post i have ever read! Nkt!

  • Brian said

    You clearly have no idea what you're talking about. Malaria pills? Acacia thorns? Muzungu? Im sure you just pulled this off the net. For realistic travel advice --> http://theculturetrip.com/africa/kenya/articles/17-things-they-don-t-tell-you-about-visiting-nairobi/

  • Sue said

    I have just returned home to Australia from Kenya and cannot think of one bad thing to say about Nairobi. I loved it and will return again one day.
    As with any city in the world you need to be careful if you are not familiar. I only experienced kindness and lots of offers of guidance.
    People in Nairobi were very friendly and I can say hand on heart that everyone I encountered or saw gave me their biggest warm smile.
    I too went on Safari in Tsavo then to the Mara and loved every second of it. Yes I got bitten by an acacia thorn or two but this was due to me not wearing adequate shoes.
    Malaria??? Nah it's all good. Totally no issues in the areas I was frequenting.
    Nairobi will always be in my heart and thank you so much for having me.
    Signed one happy mzungu

  • ben said

    This is a very racist, bigoted and a dangerous article about Nairobi and Kenya.The ignorant writer of this article should apologize for demeaning Africans

    Nairobi has the largest expatriate population in Africa because of the many NGOs serving the neighboring countries like Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.Nairobi is the headquarters of the UNDP and many international staff are stationed there.These people live in some of the best neighborhoods in Africa and shop in some of the best malls in Africa, so for the writer to suggest that tourists should not walk in Nairobi is plainly IGNORANT and severely STUPID

    Just like any other city like the Bronx in NYC or any slum surrounding a major city like Rio, Nairobi has its fair share of a slum like Kibera.I bet the writer spent a night there then come out of the night and made his conclusion after spending a few hours there.Shameful that racists use websites like these to utterly lie and lie and spread fear and misinformation when Kenyans are spending lots of money to advertize the country as a good tourist destination

  • Lawrence said

    Nairobi is brilliant, mental but brilliant, the bussle, the fumes, people selling shit in every space, just get used to the cry muzungu, you are and ATM on legs deal with it, no need to inpolite to people, I find saying " not today" is as good as saying leave me alone to any sales pitch or begger, give something if you want to don't if you don't but either way, don't let it get to you, for the most part you'll be treated as special which you may not deserve either.
    Learn some swahili phrases or even some Sheng, like any place get some survival language under your belt, hello, thank you, how much is, etc the usual and a couple of choise street words 😉 although I found "Kwani ume chizi" ( are you crazy) worked quite well with a laugh, to break the ice if someone is being out of order.
    Doesn't matter where you go 70% of the time you'll pay muzungu prices again don't let it bother you, it will still be way cheaper than you'd pay at home, these people are poor and if they get a little bit more of your holiday money than a local would pay so what, they've got a family to feed, still haggle and pay the price your ok with paying, don't let it spoil your holiday.
    Do go on safari and go for the medium to top end and be treated like a king why the hell not, there are also some pretty expensive restaurants and go to at least one and spoil yourself, Mombasa is lovely but maybe avoid mtwapa it's more sex tourists there or if you are in to that go there that's where the fanny is lol
    Most of all get to know the people, yes 8 times out of 10 they'll be hoping for something off you but so what it's only polite to share, so walk the streets of nairobi, yes walk at night ( sober) just be street wise, watch your phone it will be swiped out your hand, just watch your stuff with a bit of streetwise and you'll be fine, anticipate problems and avoid them.
    Everyone can be bribed, police, officials, doormen, in fact if anyone does anything for you they'll expect a tip, it's not bad it's just the culture and that's why you're there right to experience another culture.
    Have fun, be nice, be smart and pretty soon kenya will get under your skin the place is friggen magic 😊

  • Alex maina said

    This is about one the worst articles I have ever read! If you are taking advice from this racist and definitely not experinced traveller. You as well is as much of a racist as he. This needs to be taken down. I cannot stand people who think they know Kenya but when they obviously know very little. PHIL SYLVESTER don't ever visit Kenya again. Terrible article

  • Caroline t said

    Kenya is beautiful

  • Daisy said

    Nairobi is even called nairobbery by the Kenyans. And don't lie.....it's just the same as any other major city in the world 'watch out thieves are about'... Coast area above beautiful and the most magic place in the world-where you are called muzungu daily...because that's what the parents teach their kids to say.Put grills at your windows like everyone does...don't lie Kenyans. ..because that's how you try to protect your property. Yes coastal is very friendly...
    Malaria ...take med if you are a tourist otherwise..live and protect the outside of your body and it will protect the inside.
    Don't travel with lots of cash jewelry on etc or your asking to be robbed...just like any other place in the world.
    Don't eat outside food not the same standards as Europe. ..you will get sick..
    Take note and then after that sit back and enjoyone of the most beautiful places on earth..

  • Silvia Njoki said

    Wtf ??? Kenya may not be perfect but 98% of this is hearsay and bullshit

  • Rebecca Rowson said

    We have lived in Kenya most of the time since late 2011, when we were with US Peace Corps. We live on Lake Victoria and serve children in need. Every area is very different. I have lost money twice (up to $800 at one time) by using an ATM card, where Equity bank says I got the money when I did not. Also happened at Cooperative Bank.

    If you rent, do not expect your deposit back. Then you'll feel happy if you receive a small fraction of it.

    Work with the needy children is worth far more than a little money. Kenya is a beautiful and tragic place.

  • grace said

    This one of the meanest article ever.Does it mean that every kenyan you come across is poor? Simply because kenya is an african country doesn't mean that everyone lives in poverty.There are high end areas like Kileleshwa,Lavington,Karen,Muthaiga and Runda.We cook our meals the way we do because this is kenya and thats why you came visiting otherwise you should have carried your packed meals all along.On that note you just dont go buying anything you come across since its appealing,take precautions...don't eat on the street we also don't.About malaria,the entire country ain't malaria risky but its good to be prepered with some malaria tabs all the same ensure that wherever you decide to sleep your bed is covered with a mosquito net. Mt. Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania and not in kenya,talk of Mt. Kenya,the Aberdare ranges...this only shows that the information above is not a direct experience but rather a hearsay.Kenyans are friendly but don't expect that we will be standing on the streets waiting to shake you hand simply because you are a "mzungu".On the streets of Nairobi everyone is busy going everywhere about their businesses so stop saying hi to each and every person you encounter you don't matter in their lives unless you requesting for some help of which i would advice you do a security guy otherwise you shall subject yourself to unnecessary robbery.Be street smart everywhere you visit not only in kenya,most experiences are just a reprica of everywhere else.
    Just visit kenya and have a first hand experience

  • Adam said

    Hello, all. I'm no expert on Kenya notwithstanding having great Kenyan friends who have lived with us here in the U.S. for a while. I can't speak to the value of what the article shares, but I'm disappointed and baffled at the unfounded accusations against Phil as being "mean" or "racist." Is he incorrect in his perspective and advice? Maybe, maybe not--I don't know. If he is incorrect, I appreciate the efforts of others to help correct or add additional context. But the responses applying the label or mean, hateful, bigoted, and racist seem to be applied by those who have much more hate in their hearts than anything I sensed from what Phil wrote. That's unfortunate. Seems to be the kind of society we live in--everyone looking for a reason to hurl insults at others, often violating the principles they accuse others of violating. We can do better than that. Let's give Phil and others the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their intentions and character instead of looking for reasons to believe otherwise.

    All that said, I appreciate all the tips offered above--from Phil and from others. Thanks for sharing your helpful advice. Safe and happy travels to all, whether you go to Kenya or elsewhere. Be well!

  • Aaron said

    Yeah, it's aint called Nairoberi for nothing. It's probably murder capital of the world after SA. Although the authorities keep all these murders and shootings as quiet as possible due to not wanting to scare away tourists.

    Don't take malaria pills as they make you incredibly sick. If you go to a malarial zone take the meds for it and pop them at first signs.

    Never go out after dark. Ever.

    Be prepped to have your pocket picked every time in Nairobi. They also like to take bags of excrement and hold it up to your face and threaten to smear it all over you if you don't hand over your wallet. Tourism books will tell you this as well.

    Biggest slum in East Africa - stay away. Lots of diseases as there is no place for sewage so it's just everywhere.

    All the trees and animals are disappearing. If you go stick to the national parks. Do NOT camp yourself or you'll be at best robbed. Usually shot.

    I've gotten Typhoid and food poisoning from even the best places. Nothing you can do about it.

    If you want to call the truth a bigoted, racial, mean post that's your problem. Kenyans are sensitive to their poverty stricken country and have a tantrum if anyone speaks ill of it. Go ahead and scream racism if you want. The FACTS are undeniable. Don't scream racism when someone recites FACTS.

    Clean up your country, stop killing people for 5 dollars, stop chopping down all the trees then start crying that it won't rain, stop killing all the animals and whinging that no tourist will come, etc.

  • Scott said

    well, all I can say is Kenya is Good. Its on a tropical hot and humid region. So mosquietoes are in plentifull. But all tourists coming probably have a hotel booking and are A class for sure. The safaris are so good indeed. Also get ready to be called mzungu. Mzungu is a swahili word that comes from the word Kizungu( which is also another swahili word) which means a person who speaks English , hence "mzungu" means a person who speaks English. All foreigners (Tourists) are called mzungu irregardless of which language you speak because Kenyans were colonized by the British and they used to call the British Mzungu( a person who speak english) so for generations the word has been embedded in their tongues. So dont get upset.

    Kenyas are hard working and hustle to get a good pay, hence most of their big cities have peaple who are always in a hurry to get something done. Its their norm there. So if you probably start walking arround in the streets greeting peaple , some might not answer you because they are not used to getting greated by strangers in the middle of a city. Well that is not to generalize, if you great someone and eye contact is made then you will get a reply. But is no eye contact is made then chances is the person never even heard your greetings. Take an example moving in New york greeting peaple, most probably not every one would reply. But Kenyans are generally good and are welcoming to Tourists.

  • Danny said

    Been to Kenya 5 times, enjoyed every visit. People are friendly, very welcoming.
    Never had any problems while there, being with a Kenyan friend probably helps.
    Very interesting place, outwith the city centre, meeting ordinary everyday people is great.
    As to "Nairobbery", no worse than any other big city anywhere else in the world. Even in Glasgow, 5 miles from me, you could be unlucky and get mugged.
    Best way to enjoy Kenya is to treat the people as you would like to be treated, if you are polite and respectful, it will be reflected by the locals 😀

  • Amy Eades said

    This person who made this post is actually dead on when it comes to Africa. Thank you for your insight. People need to stop worrying so much about something supposedly sounding rude to them and focus on this article potentially saving lives which is what really matters! Most African's themselves would agree with what he's posted.

  • Mish said

    I love Kenya, we are visiting family who live in Nairobi and its wonderful. Everyone is nice and friendly, yes they expect a tip but thats just life. I do think that this article is misguided and inaccurate but not "bigoted". Malaria pills, take them if you're nervous but don't stress too much. Robbery, come on, its the same in every big city. Paris. NYC. Rome. This is just common sense and I think calling Nairobi "Nairobbery" is just awful. And as for food, again, come on. The food here is great. Hygiene standards are ALOT better than people would have you believe. Just wash your hands before and after eating (common sense, I know, but I think you'll find that it isn't so common) and drink bottled drinks.

    P.S. Don't drink anything with ice.

    Enjoy your trip! You'll love it!

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