Safety in Nairobi - How Safe is Nairobi for Travel?

Nairobi is renowned for its cosy cafes, unique shopping experiences, and attractions like the Giraffe Manor, Karen Blixen Museum, and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust nursery for orphaned elephants. Unfortunately, Nairobi's reputation for safety and crime isn't very good. Travelling in Kenya's capital demands a considerable amount of vigilance. You could easily fall victim to violent crimes, pickpocketing, muggings, robberies, etc. You may, however, avoid danger and stay safe while vacationing in this interesting city if you exercise caution and common sense.

Pickpocketing Risk: High

Avoid displaying your valuables, including money, credit cards, high-tech gadgets, or jewellery. Pickpocketing and bag snatching are common in Nairobi, especially on public transportation. The best way to prevent stolen goods is to remain alert and on watch.

Mugging Risk: High

Kidnapping and mugging usually happen before violent crime. You can easily be kidnapped for money and valuables. Steer clear of high-risk areas like Kibera and Eastleigh and exercise extra caution when travelling anywhere after dark. If you do get mugged, do not resist.

Scams Risk in Nairobi: Moderate

There are numerous scams that foreigners are subjected to, but what is common is an overly “friendly” local that will try to help you out to distract you, and by the time you realise it, their accomplice will have stolen your belongings. For example, the picture scam. In this scam, a person will hand over their camera and ask you to take a picture of them. Upon returning the camera, they will drop it, claiming it was your mistake, and then ask you to pay for it. The other scams are taxis overcharging and taking a longer route; people at the ATM who will try to scan your card and see your pin to later drain your account; people who will try to scam you at the bars to pay their bill, etc. Be careful when someone comes up to you and tries to distract you, especially in crowded places.

Terrorism Risk: Moderate

The likelihood of a terrorist attack in Nairobi is moderate. It is a target-prone area, being the capital. Extremists with ties to Al Shabaab are a threat and have threatened attacks in the past. Attacks have targeted Kenyan and foreign government buildings, tourist hotspots, transportation hubs, hotels, resorts, markets, shopping malls, and religious buildings with little or no warning. Although Kenyan authorities are constantly on guard to stop and prevent any such activity, visitors are advised to exercise vigilance. 

Demonstration and Public Unrest Risk: Moderate

Demonstrations might happen, blocking important roads and causing massive traffic jams. Travellers can get caught in the middle of strikes and other political and economic protest activities, especially during elections. Avoid taking part in any public protests, and if you see a crowd forming, walk the other way. Ask locals, your guide, or the staff at your lodging about any escalating tensions; keep up with the news, and stay informed.

Food and Health Risk in Nairobi: Moderate

Food: Be cautious when consuming meat in Kenya. There are times when tourists' stomachs don't agree with the quality of the meat or other ingredients. Avoid consuming raw foods like salads and fruits that can't be peeled. Always choose well-cooked meals. Find a nearby doctor if you start to experience any more severe symptoms than a mild case of the runs and an upset stomach.

Waterborne disease outbreaks can happen, and the quality of the water can be poor. Refrain from drinking tap water unless it has been boiled or purified. To avoid buying bottled water, carry a reusable water bottle and keep it filled with purified water.

Diseases and Infections:
 Kenya has a high risk of malaria and yellow fever. Consult a travel physician or your primary care physician about taking medications and vaccines. Dengue, rift valley fever and filariasis are other insect-borne illnesses to be on the lookout for.

Transportation Risk: High

When travelling to Nairobi, be aware that matatus, the city's popular minibuses, are typically risky and unsafe. There have been numerous reports of bus drivers operating them irresponsibly and rashly. Pickpocketing, snatching, and other crimes are common on buses and other public transportation like trains. So whether travelling by bus or train, you should always watch your belongings and keep them close to yourself. 

Nairobi has heavy traffic, so keep that in mind if you opt to drive. Since walking is typically not considered safe for foreigners, using a licensed taxi is the best way to navigate around the city. Hire a taxi from the concierge at your hotel or a trustworthy tour operator. Verify that the cab you are using is registered. If the registration is hidden, ask to see it. Do not accept a ride from a stranger under any circumstances.
Pro tip: You should take the Mombasa road to get from Jomo Kenyatta Airport (JKIA) to Nairobi city. The old airport road (Airport South Road) and Jogoo Road have a higher risk of carjacking.

Women Traveller Risk in Nairobi: Moderate

Women visiting Kenya could very well, for the most part, have a trouble-free trip. The majority of people speak English, and the locals are friendly, polite, and welcoming. But keep in mind that there have been reports of men harassing women, and the number of sexual assault reports is worrisome. Avoid walking around alone at night, especially through dangerous areas.

Safety for LGBTQ+ Travellers

The Kenyan Penal Code criminalizes homosexual activity. Plenty of LGBTQ+ travellers visit Kenya, and as long as couples don’t engage in PDA, there should be no issue. Public displays of affection aren’t tolerated; this also applies to heterosexual couples, as Kenya is a conservative and traditional country.

Drug Laws in Nairobi

Drug laws are very strict in Kenya. Possession of class A drugs carries a penalty sentence of 10 years in prison. There are also harsh fines and penalties for drug use and trafficking. Avoid using or carrying drugs into Kenya.

Smoking Laws in Nairobi

Smoking is banned in public places in Kenya, so please be cautious. There are designated smoking areas, but when in doubt, do not smoke, as penalties for smoking in an undesignated area range from fines to imprisonment.

Safety Tips for Travelling to Nairobi

  1. It is strongly advised against walking or travelling alone at night. Walk with a group if you can.
  2. Exchange currency at a reputable bank or hotel and not with strangers.
  3. Keep valuables close to yourself. Carry your passport and credit cards separately from your wallet, if possible, in a secret money belt. 
  4. Avoid carrying anything that can draw attention while out walking.
  5. Step into a storefront or hotel to use your phone.
  6. Prior to your visit, get a prescription for malaria pills from your doctor if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors.
  7. Purchase travel insurance.
  8. Check the news for travel advisories before departure.
  9. Read up on political climate and international relations prior to your trip.
  10.  Avoid dangerous neighbourhoods such as Kibera and Eastleigh unless you are travelling with a trusted guide or on a reputable, guided walking tour.
  11.  If you must travel during rush hour, plan your travel times accordingly, as it will take longer due to heavy traffic.
  12.  Be wary of unregistered tour guides, thieves impersonating police officers, and pickpocket scams.
Kenya is full of exciting experiences, but just like other popular destinations, there may be some hiccups. Safety should be your top priority, and if you are careful and cautious enough about your well-being and keep track of how things are going, it will be a trip full of adventure and enjoyment.

This post was published by Yashita Singh

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