Is Kenya Safe for Travelers? 11 Things I Wish I Knew

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How bad is crime in Kenya? Should the fear of terrorism stop you from visiting. Find out how to stay safe and avoid trouble with these tips.

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Downtown Nairobi Photo © iStock/millerpd

While Kenya is a safe destination compared to some surrounding African countries, there are issues with crime in major cities, and many government travel advisories warn travelers of the threat of terrorism. Check your Government's travel advice for the latest information.

Travelers will always attract unwanted attention from beggars and potential pickpockets. From street scammers to more serious threats, a little common sense goes a long way in Keyna, and staying up to date on the local situation is essential no matter where you go. These are the things you need to know to stay safe in Kenya.

1. Question food quality before you eat in Kenya

Be especially careful when eating meat in Kenya. Sometimes the quality of meat, or other ingredients used in local dishes, doesn't agree with visitors' stomachs. After a few days in Kenya, your tummy will adjust.

Don't eat raw foods, such as salads or fruits that cannot be peeled. Always opt for well-cooked meals – and there are plenty of delicious cooked meals to try, from rice dishes to samosas and bean stews.

The risk of contracting traveler's diarrhea is higher in places where sanitation and hygiene standards are poor. If you begin to feel anything more serious than a slight case of the runs and an uneasy stomach, find a local doctor. Don't let traveler's diarrhea go untreated.

Also, always eat with your right hand – do not touch food with your left hand while in Kenya.

2. Is tap water safe to drink in Kenya?

Don't drink tap water unless it has been boiled or purified. Carry a reusable water bottle and purification tablets or a water filter bottle, such as the Grayl water bottle, and keep it topped up with purified water to avoid buying bottled water.

3. Malaria and travel health tips for Kenya

Before you go to Kenya, make sure all your routine vaccinations are up to date. There's a very high risk of malaria in Kenya, so talk to a travel doctor or your GP about using malaria pills. Research the pros and cons of taking them, and stay covered up at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.

Carry any medications you need from home, in case local pharmacies don't have the medical supplies you require. Unfortunately, fake and poor-quality medications being sold around the world are one of the key reasons malaria has not been eradicated, especially in African countries.

4. Insects in Kenya

Watch out for biting wasps, mosquitos, scorpions, and acacia thorns – these are often more dangerous than the Big Five, so come prepared with insect repellent and long-sleeved clothing.

If you're going bike riding, bring a tire repair kit with you – acacia thorns will easily tear through the rubber.

5. Politics, protests, and civil unrest in Kenya

Crime and protests can increase during elections, and travelers can get caught in the middle. Avoid any public demonstrations, and if you see a crowd gathering, walk the other way.

Stay informed on your trip. Check the news and ask locals, your guide or accommodation staff about any rising tensions. Problems can escalate very quickly.

Having a good grasp of what's happening in the country can make your visit far more interesting.

6. Crime in Kenya

Crime is common in major cities, coastal beach resorts, northern Kenya (including the North Eastern province), the northern parts of Eastern, Coastal and Rift Valley provinces and north of Malindi. There's no need to be paranoid and change your travel plans – just heed the advice of your Government.

Exercise common sense and take precautions where possible to avoid crime as you would anywhere you travel: keep valuables out of sight, only carry the amount of cash you'll need for one day, don't walk alone at night.

Nairobi

There are some crime hot spots travelers should avoid in Nairobi. These include slums, such as Kibera which is the largest urban slum in Africa. Eastleigh, in Nairobi's east is considered a high- risk area due to the number of terror-related incidents that have occurred since 2012. Violent crimes have also been known to occur in Buruburu, Kasarani, Mathare, Pangan, South B and South C.

Every Kenyan will tell you to avoid River Road in daylight or at night.

Bag snatching and other petty crime are common around transport hubs. Violent crime in Nairobi is increasing in some suburbs with armed carjackings, kidnappings and home invasions. Dave Stamboulis shares more tips on staying safe in Nairobi.

Mombasa

Compared to the capital Nairobi, Mombasa's crime rate is lower, however, it's still necessary to take precautions when out and about.

Travelers should be alert and take caution in the Old Town area of Mombasa and the Likoni Ferry. Avoid hanging out at the beach at night, and take taxis wherever you need to go at night rather than walk.

7. Bandits in Kenya

Bandits or shiftas are an unfortunate problem in Kenya, and many of these people originate from neighboring Somalia. The issue is widespread in Kenya, which means you need to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions if you plan to travel beyond the urban centers. It's best to avoid traveling at night.

Shiftas in Kenya's national parks

Tourists are rarely targeted in game reserves and national parks in Kenya, but there have been incidents involving tourists on safari, even in the popular Masai Mara and Samburu reserves. Police and security forces are present in these areas, and if your safari guides tell you to put your windows up, pack away your camera and other valuables while traveling through a village; listen to them, as the occasional snatch and grab does happen.

North and West Kenya

Banditry, cattle rustling and ethnic clashes have caused sporadic violence in these areas. Travelers aren't always targeted, but it's better not to put yourself in a situation where you could be at risk.

Borders with Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia

Travel advisories warn travelers not to travel to or near these border zones. All three countries are experiencing localized conflicts. Violence, such as armed banditry, violent cattle rustling, counter raids and tribal warfare, are common along the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

Kidnapping, armed banditry and clan warfare occur along Kenya's borders with Sudan and Somalia.

In November 2008, two visitors were kidnapped from Kenya, close to the border with Somalia, and taken into Somalia. Somalia's border has long been a no-go zone for any travelers due its ever-present internal conflicts and terrorism issues.

8. Terrorism in Kenya

Anti-Somali government extremist group Al Shaabab continues to threaten Kenya with attacks on shopping centers, foreign embassies and other tourism areas. Most government travel advisories indicate that travelers should exercise a higher than usual level of caution while in Kenya.

Kenya is targetted by Al Shaabab due to its military intervention in Somalia and highly developed tourism (which guarantees media coverage of their nefarious activities). Several of the latest terrorism incidents have occurred near the border with Somalia such as the 2015 Garissa University attack where around 150 people were killed and many injured. Attacks have continued in Garissa county and neighboring Lamu county.

In 2013, Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Centre was targeted. In the shooting, carried out by Al Shaabab militants, 67 people, including visitors, were killed. In the coastal town of Mombasa, a police station targeted in a stabbing and petrol bomb attack by three assailants, leaving two police officers wounded.

9. Is Kenya safe for LGBTQ+ travelers?

The Kenyan Penal Code criminalizes homosexual activity, with a recent ruling upholding a law with a punishment of 14 years in prison for offenders.

That said, plenty of gay and lesbian travelers visit Kenya, and while public displays of affection aren’t tolerated, visitors are left alone in resorts and hotels.

The same modest code of conduct and dress also applies to heterosexual couples, as Kenya is a conservative and traditional country.

10. Is Kenya safe for women travelers?

For the most part, female travelers to Kenya will have a trouble-free trip. The locals are friendly, respectful, hospitable and most people speak English.

There have been reports of women experiencing harassment by men. Avoid hanging out at the beach or walking around alone at night. Take a taxi if you plan to head out at night, even if you are with others. And as you would at home or anywhere else, avoid getting too intoxicated.

11. Basic travel safety tips for Kenya

Here are our top safety tips to keep in mind while traveling around Kenya.

  • Make a copy of your passport and keep it in your luggage
  • Don't walk on your own at night, especially in isolated areas
  • Get local knowledge on the unsafe areas. Kenyans are a friendly bunch, and will be happy to let you know about no-go areas. 
  • Remain vigilant; travel in Africa can be confronting at times and having a good grasp of where you are and who's around will make your trip easier
  • If you do need help while in Kenya, contact the Tourist Safety and Communication Center. They offer a 24-hour helpline service for tourists in trouble
  • Leave flashy jewelry at home, it will only make you stand out
  • Keep your valuables close to you or locked up in your accommodation
  • Snatch and grabs occur in busy places. If you feel like someone is too close to you, duck into a building or shop to get some extra space
  • Try to keep cameras concealed, muggings are common and you don't want to lose all your holiday memories
  • Avoid walking or traveling after dark on isolated roads, especially in urban areas or public parks
  • Take taxis wherever you need go to downtown areas at night
  • Avoid traveling at night in rural locations. Aside from the danger of bandits, trucks and other vehicles without headlights, the journey is much riskier in the dark
  • Read up on the common scams, and remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Follow your itinerary and don't be too trusting of strangers.

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9 Comments

  • Pankaj Verma said

    The company I work for is telling me to visit Nairobi for expanding business but after reading this have to think twice thanks for the information. Take Care.

    Reply

  • Kyle D Schutter said

    Robbery is so common in Nairobi that it's best just to know how to deal with it. Here's one way to deal with it: https://medium.com/@kyleschutter/how-to-deal-with-a-robbery-f0993dadf1e6

    Reply

  • Richard Walker said

    This article paints a truly dark and dated picture ... there's need for balance.
    All one needs to be is smart and sensible.
    Why walk a slum unescorted?
    Should you be in the darker side of the city at night, or be in the brighter, more 'alive' restaurants and malls?
    I live and work in Nairobi and have only been pick-pocketed once, 20 years ago, drunk in a bar.
    Most expats live in the leafier sides of the city, where people walk their dogs late into the night, where security is guaranteed either by the police or private firms.
    There are lots of superb local and international hotel chains, international country offices, and great local restaurants.

    Food for thought.

    Reply

  • Jennifer L Peters said

    Thank you for commenting Richard. I am from the US and am planning on going on a medical mission trip to provide care for those that are in Kenya. I'll be in the more remote parts of Kenya. How is the crime in those areas?

    Reply

  • DK said

    When did kenya become so dangerous to westerners?

    Reply

  • Shimels H said

    Kenya got a beautiful nature, so much to visit. But, robbery and crime is so rampant in Kenya. The police seem part of the practice; The locals kind of approving it. In my 6 months stay in Nairobi, I was attacked 4 times; but none while working in neighbouring countries (Tanzania for 2 years, Mali 1 year, Sudan 2 years, and Djibouti 1 year). My advice is plan short trip, go with stuffs you don't mind losing, watch out your surroundings and avoid walking alone. That applies all over Kenya, though Nairobi is worse.

    Reply

  • Olga said

    Snatch and grab is real threat in downtown Nairobi. I am experienced traveler and don’t wear flashy clothes or jewelry when traveling. I do almost always wear a small gold cross on a chain that is always worn under my top. It is not worn out in the open. Within one hour I was “attacked” from the side and from behind while crossing streets. Twice, men lunged at my throat, clawing at my neck to try to snatch gold chain from my neck. You could barely see the chain, but being a “mizunga”, (white person) theives take more time to check you out for a crime of opportunity. Both times my husband grabbed the guys who fled, and my chain clasp held tight. It was a very unpleasant day in nairobi. It made me suspicious of any person walking anywhere near me.

    Reply

  • Jonathan waita said

    All this becomes irrelevant when you find a trustworthy escort. Before you go ou5 make sure to make a friend with a local (quite easy as they are friendly). You will never be attacked not even at midnight. Seeing yo with a local wins their trust and respect.

    Reply

  • Allan said

    One of the DUMBEST articles ever written. The writer starts with a photo of Nairobi in the 80s. Since some readers have never been to Africa let alone Kenya, sadly they have to listen to people who don't tell them that if you are in a foreign country, know the dangerous areas (every country has one), find a local to show you around or to advise, stay street smart, Common sense says don't go to crowded places alone, don't expose yourself.
    Glad I woke up in Nairobi Kenya, !!!

    Reply

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