Is Kenya Safe? A Full Guide on Safety in Kenya
The secret has been out of the bag for deaces now; Kenya is an unbelievably beautiful destination filled with lush wildlife, stunning beaches, and enchanting culture.
But is Kenya safe for tourists to visit?
This blog post answers this question in detail and provides a comprehensive guide to staying safe in Kenya. From food and water safety tips to terrorism, and local laws and culture; nothing goes untouched.
But before anything else…
Here’s Where to Reach us to Start Planning your Kenyan Safari
Table of Content
- Food and Water Safety Tips for Travelers
- Terrorism in Kenya
- Safest Way of Getting Around Kenya
- The Rate of Violent Crime in Kenya
- Local Laws and Culture in Kenya
- Kenya Entry and Exit Requirements
- Personal Security Measures You Should Take in Kenya
- Vaccinations Before Entering Kenya
- Is Kenya Safe for Solo Female Travelers
- So… How Safe is Kenya Overall?
Food and Water Safety Tips for Travelers in Kenya
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 600 million people fall ill after consuming contaminated food and water yearly. Now a running stomach, ladies and gentlemen, is a thing you do not want to deal with while on a game drive in the middle of the Mara. Here’s how to stay safe.
Nuh-uh! Raw Foods are a No-go Zone
Avoid eating raw foods, especially fruits, and vegetables. The same goes for undercooked meats and seafood. Make sure that everything is well cooked and hot when served to you.
Drink Bottled Water
Tap water in Kenya is not safe to drink, so make sure to stick with bottled or boiled water while you’re there. We also recommend that tourists carry chemical water treatment tablets to help purify water in cases where they cannot access bottled water.
Avoid Street Food like the Plague
Street food is one of the most common sources of food poisoning. If you’re craving street snacks, ensure they’ve been cooked at high temperatures and served hot and fresh.
Bushmeat is not Safe Meat
You risk contracting diseases like Ebola, monkeypox, anthrax, and retroviruses every time you consume bush meat. It’s best to stay away from it.
Handwashing Habits are a Must
Make sure to always wash your hands before eating, as well as after using the restroom or touching animals.
Opt for Freshly Cooked Food
Food that has been left sitting out for long is more likely to contain disease-causing bacteria, which could spread quickly if not handled properly. To help reduce the risk of illness, opt for freshly cooked food, preferably hot and served straight from the stove.
Avoid Eating Uncovered Food
Eating uncovered food can be a dangerous gamble. Not only is the food exposed to all sorts of toxic chemicals that could transfer from the environment, but it also risks contamination from disease-carrying insects like flies who may lay eggs or drop bodily fluids on the food that would make us very ill if consumed.
Boil Unpasteurized Milk
Unpasteurized milk is a major source of food poisoning in Kenya. To reduce your risk of getting sick, make sure to boil unpasteurized milk before drinking it.
Do Your Research on Restaurants
Not all restaurants in Kenya are created equal. Some have better hygiene practices than others. You can do your research before eating anywhere and make sure to only go to reputable establishments with good reviews.
Opt for Dry or Packed Food
When it comes to food safety, dry foods are always the more preferable option. That’s because germs cannot grow in the absence of moisture. This means that dry foods such as grains, cereals, and crackers remain safe for extended periods even without refrigeration, provided they remain unopened and stored in factory-sealed containers.
What to do if you Get Sick
More often than not, diarrhea, high fever, and vomiting are the earliest signs of food poisoning. Tourists should contact a doctor or visit the nearest medical facilities when and if diarrhea lasts for more than 48 hours and vomiting for more than 12.
Terrorism in Kenya
We understand that the US government has a long-standing travel advisory about Kenya. But we must insist- this advisory only applies to small, particular regions in the country. Millions of tourists continue to visit Kenya every year without incident, which begs the question, which areas in Kenya should you avoid, and which are some of the preventive measures you should take? Read on to find out.
Regions in Kenya at High Risk of Terrorist Attacks
Those traveling to Kenya are asked to exercise a high degree of caution or entirely avoid visiting;
- All of Lamu County
- Towns, cities, or national parks nearing the Kenya-Ethiopia border
- Specific areas in northern Kenya, like Garrisa and Mandera Counties
- Towns, cities, or national parks nearing the Kenya- South Sudan border
- Towns, cities, or national parks nearing the Kenya- Somalia border
- Coastal Regions like Kilifi County North and Tana River County,
Precautionary Measures You Should Take Against Terrorism
You can do several things to stay safe and avoid terrorist attacks. These include;
Remain Vigilant in Places Frequented by Tourists
Worldwide, terrorist groups are known to target tourist areas. To stay safe, remain vigilant for suspicious behavior in crowded places like the central business district, airports, shopping centres, hotels, and coastal areas like beaches. One is also advised to exercise caution while visiting government buildings, restaurants, places of worship, and nightclubs.
Report Suspicious Situations/ Behavior
Let’s say you are seated in a restaurant. A conspicuously dressed gentleman walks towards the table next to you and looks around suspiciously before placing a briefcase on the floor and quickly exiting the place. In this case, the very first thing you should do is alert the local police.
In case of such an event, immediately call this number 0800721600
Ensure that you are familiar with the Emergency Exits in every building you enter
Being familiar with the emergency exits is essential when entering a public building. In the event of an attack, this knowledge will help you escape quickly and efficiently without getting hurt.
Don’t Leave Your Luggage Unattended
Leaving your luggage unattended in any public place can be extremely dangerous. If you ever need to leave your luggage unattended, make sure to lock it.
Monitor Local Media to Stay Up to date with Travel Advisories;
When you regularly monitor local media, you can stay abreast of any security warnings or travel advisories issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Avoiding Regular Patterns of Movement
An effective tactic for avoiding terrorist attacks is practicing unpredictability by avoiding regular movement patterns. Not only does doing this reduce your chances of being a target, but you’ll also decrease your overall stress level due to not having a set routine.
Safest Way of Getting Around Kenya
There are several safe transport hubs in Kenya. Here’s a brief analysis of each.
Kenya has three major international airports, all of which are classified as safe by the Federal Aviation Administration. These include Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Mombasa’s Moi International Airport, and the Kisumu International Airport.
The country also boasts 38 other small airports and airstrips where tourists can catch domestic flights to their respective tourist destinations.
Air travel is recommendable for tourists who;
- need to get around in relative safety and comfort
- need to cover a lot of ground in the shortest amount of time
Kenya’s major means of road transport include matatus, buses, and taxis.
Matatus are the better choice for tourists on a budget looking to travel for shorter distances. However, they can get a little crowded, which then raises the question of safety. To avoid being a victim of petty crimes like pickpocketing in Kenyan matatus, one should avoid;
- boarding poorly maintained vehicles and matatus
- boarding overcrowded matatus
- Boarding matatus late at night, especially ones where you’re the only passenger. Serious accidents are also more likely to happen at night.
- Leaving their luggage unattended
Buses are more suited for longer distances. They are more comfortable and like matatus, cheap. Like matatus, avoid boarding overcrowded matatus and traveling late at night.
Last but not least are taxis and car hire. These ones are more on the pricier side, but the good thing is that they offer privacy and flexibility. With an international driving permit, you can hire your own cars which are charged daily.
Alternatively, you can also hire a taxi and a driver who can safely drive them around.
P:S: All major cities and towns in Kenya are connected by well-maintained major highways and roads.
Kenya runs the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). This is the safest and most convenient way to travel between the two cities. The SGR offers modern, comfortable, and air-conditioned coaches with various seating options. Tickets can be purchased at both stations or online for convenience.
The country also runs smaller railways connecting major Kenyan towns like Nakuru, Kisumu, and Eldoret. These railways are more suited for locals, but tourists who want to explore Kenya’s interior can take them too.
While traveling with the SGR avoid leaving your luggage and drinks unattended.
The Rate of Violent Crime in Kenya
A 2021 survey conducted by the National Crime Research Center found that for every 100,000 people in Kenya, there are approximately 170 crimes committed. The most common crimes on that list included pickpocketing, mugging, armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking.
However, it is important to note that local authorities have taken stringent measures to ensure the safety of its citizens and visitors alike. In fact, more often than not, visitors visit the country and stay for days without incident.
Tourists should, however, remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times.
Personal Security Measures You Should
Is Kenya safe? Sarah, our booking agent, says she’d be a millionaire if she had a dollar each time a potential client asked this question.
According to the Kenya Tourism Federation, Kenya is one of the safest tourist destinations in Africa, a sentiment we agree with wholly. You see, in Kenya, violent crime, particularly in urban centres, is low. However, this is not to say that crimes like armed robbery, carjacking, and kidnapping won’t occur. Here are a few personal security measures you should take when traveling in Kenya.
Avoid Joining Demonstrations
It is advisable to be up-to-date with the news to learn of any political gatherings or demonstrations. If possible, avoid travelling to areas with frequent demonstrations.
Maintain a 60KM Distance Within Restricted Borders
The Kenyan government highly recommends travellers be cautious when traveling to particular areas. They should maintain a 60 KM distance from the Kenyan-Somali border, and the South Sudan and Ethiopia borders.
Stay Vigilant in Game Parks and Game Reserves
There is little or no warning regarding visits to the national park or game reserves such as the Masai Mara. However, it is important to follow the park regulations and visit the game reserves during the daytime hours, and with a reputable tour operator. Additionally, it is best to avoid viewing wildlife on foot or in close range as well
as swimming in rivers due to risks associated with wildlife and airborne diseases.
Follow the Dusk-dawn curfew Rules
In areas like Turkana, West Pokot, and Baringo, tourists are urged to comply with the rules due to the dangers like banditry and cattle rustling. Additionally, tourists should stay away from regions in Western Kenya like Mount Elgon due to previous clashes.
Do Not Leave your Luggage Unattended
It’s important to always stay vigilant when carrying your luggage in public. Do not leave it unattended, even for a few minutes! Otherwise, you risk theft.
Do Not Walk Around With Wads of Cash or Flashy Items
Avoid carrying wads of cash or wearing flashy items like jewellery, watches, and expensive clothing when out and about. You might attract the attention of criminals. However, it is important to carry enough with you for essential services.
Crowded Areas are a Pickpocketer’s Paradise
As well as being at a high risk of terrorist attacks, crowded areas are also hotspots for petty crimes like pickpocketing. Be sure to keep your wallet and phone close to you at all times and avoid putting them in easily accessible pockets.
Board a Legitimate Taxi
Nothing is worse than arriving in a strange city, only to be robbed of your money and belongings and dumped on the streets. This could be you if you use an unlicensed taxi. Fortunately, taking licensed taxis is a simple way for travellers to protect themselves from these upsetting experiences. Licensed taxis not only provide peace of mind when it comes to safety but also offers reasonable fares for fair services.
Do not Fall for Cons and Scams
Scams are all around us and can take many forms. They often seem too good to be true, and usually, they are true. It is important to know how to recognize typical scams in urban centres in order to protect yourself from falling victim to one.
Other safety tips include;
- Always asking to see identification especially if a person claims to be a police officer
- Reject food and drink offers from strangers. Remember, this is the easiest way to get drugged
- Avoid walking alone in dark, secluded streets and alleys
- Do not talk to strangers
- When trapped in traffic avoid using your phone, especially with your car window open
- Make a copy of your passport or ID and carry it with you wherever you go
- In case of an attack, do not resist. Do as they say and as soon as you can, report the incident to the nearest police station.
Local Laws and Culture in Kenya
Did you know that the casual smoke you occasionally love to indulge in on the streets can get you arrested in Kenya? Or that dressing scantily or in clothes that show too much skin can get you in trouble with locals, especially in rural and coastal areas?
For your own safety, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with local laws and culture before you visit a new country, and Kenya is no different.
Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect:
Taking photos of government buildings including embassies can lead to detention. Also, ever since the terrorist group al-Shabaab attacked Westgate which resulted in civil unrest, the government of Kenya imposed regulations against taking photos near streets and public buildings. This ban was intended to protect citizens from further attacks, where terrorists could use the photos for reconnaissance. Furthermore, many Kenyan citizens feel uneasy when they notice someone taking photos or filming them in public areas. Therefore, it is always best to ask for permission prior to photographing a place with an official building, or even bystanders in general.
When greeting someone, it’s important to remember that in most African cultures, there is an order of respect. Elders are usually greeted first followed by other family members and then friends or acquaintances.
Bringing a gift for your host is not expected but highly appreciated. Common gifts include items like sweets, souvenirs from the visitor’s home country, and books.
Smoking is Restricted to Designated Areas
In Kenya, smoking is strictly banned in all public areas and surroundings. This is an effort to keep the air quality clean and ensure the health of both smokers and non-smokers alike. This means that instead of smoking in any open space, one should restrict their activities to either special smoking rooms or designated areas.
The Use and Trafficking of Class A Drugs is a Serious Offense in Kenya
Anyone found using or trafficking illegal Class A drugs into Kenya risks serious jail time of up to 10 years. Here’s a list of some of those drugs.
It is important to dress modestly, especially while visiting coastal and rural areas in Kenya. Women should avoid wearing shorts, miniskirts, and sleeveless tops when out in public as this may be seen as inappropriate. Men should also avoid wearing tank tops or muscle shirts when venturing out into the city streets.
Destroying the Kenyan Currency is a Crime
Destroying the Kenyan currency is considered a crime – ranging from petty to severe – depending on the amount of money and the intention behind its destruction. Not only does destroying currency devalue it, but it also detracts from the unity of the nation – since the Kenyan shilling is considered a symbol of national unity.
Homosexuality is Illegal in Kenya
While homosexuality has long been viewed as an unacceptable behavior in the eyes of Kenyan law and culture, it is only recently that being homosexual itself became a criminalized act.
What are the Current Requirements for Visiting Kenya?
Being well conversant with a country’s entry and exit requirements is yet another way of preparing for a safe and enjoyable trip. How so? Well, conducting business without the necessary documentation, for example, could land you in a Kenyan prison. Here’s everything you need to know.
Here’s a rundown of what you need in order to enter Kenya:
Proof of Covid_19 Vaccination
Prior to entry, all travelers must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken not more than 3 days before departure.
Those with neither of the two (and with flu-like symptoms) will be required to take a rapid antigen test that will cost them anywhere from $30.
Those whose rapid antigen test returns positive will be required to part with another $50 for a PCR test and isolate in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s guidance on isolation.
Here is other key information you should know about COVID-19 entry requirements.
- The vaccine administered must be one that is approved by the World Health Organization.
- Travelers under the age of 12 are exempted from the Covid-19 requirements.
- Travelers who display flu-like symptoms will be required to fill Jitenge’s passenger locator form.
If Not Fully Vaccinated…
You must provide a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken 72 hours before arriving in Kenya.
The Passport and Other Travel Documents
For successful entry into Kenya, all travelers must possess a valid passport. For the passport to be valid, it has to;
- be valid for six months from your arrival date
- have at least two blank pages
All visitors seeking entry into Kenya must possess valid visas. The Kenyan visa is primarily issued online and passengers must apply for it before departing from their countries of origin.
The Kenyan online visa application process is an easy six-step process that requires that you;
- Visit this website to create an e-citizen account
- Once, you’ve created the account, click on e-visa application
- Fill in the application form
- Make payment using your visa card, Mastercard, and/ or any other credit or debit cards.
- Await approval then proceed to download and print the e-visa from your account.
- And lastly, present your Kenya e-visa to the immigration officer at the port of entry
Foreigners looking to conduct any business in Kenya, whether voluntary or self-employed, must obtain work permits from relevant authorities. Failure to do this, they risk incurring hefty fines or worse, facing jail time.
So how do you go about applying for a work permit in Kenya?
Well, let’s begin by getting this out of the way; approval is not a walk in the park and can take anywhere from two to six months. Submitting the correct documentation, however, makes approval quicker and more likely.
To begin your application, all you need to do is submit the following to the Department of Immigration
-a filled out and signed application form
-Cover letter from you or your employer, if employed.
-A copy of your passport
-Two colored, passport-sized photos
-Proof of payment of the application fee
-After submission wait to receive a message of approval or rejection
Yellow Fever Requirements
Travelers aged one and above who are traveling from countries with a risk of yellow fever infection are required to provide proof of Yellow Fever vaccination. The same applies to travelers who have recently traveled or transited through countries in Africa and South America.
The vaccine should be taken at least ten days before traveling to Kenya.
It is also important that you carry the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) for presentation at the port of entry. Failure to present proof of vaccination can result in travelers being denied entry into Kenya.
Other Vaccinations to Consider Before You Travel to Kenya
Routine vaccines are those vaccines that are recommended for everyone. Some of you may think that these vaccines are the ones given during the early childhood period, but there are others for youths and adults.
The routine vaccine given before departure depends on health, age and vaccination history. Often, a booster dose is recommended before traveling. Some of these routine vaccines include flu, chickenpox, tetanus, Measles, polio, and shingles.
Imagine having voluminous diarrhea on a trip that was meant to help you unwind. That alone reminds you to check in with your doctor at least one month before traveling.
Although Cholera in travelers is rare, there are active areas with an increased risk of transmission. These areas include Garissa, Homa Bay, and North Eastern.
That said, there are several food and water safety hygiene measures you can take to reduce the risk of contracting cholera. See these in the ‘food and water safety’ section above.
Hepatitis B is a vaccine that is recommended for unvaccinated travelers younger than 60 yrs. Those above the age of 60 years should be vaccinated before they visit Kenya.
The Center for Disease Control urges those who wish to travel to Kenya to take prescribed medicines for malaria before traveling to malaria-infested areas. It is advisable to take the medicine a few days earlier to prevent yourself from being infected.
Infants of below the age of 11 months should be given the measles mumps rubella vaccine before traveling to Kenya.
P.S. this vaccine does not count as the childhood vaccine routine.
Rabies is mainly caused by rabid dogs. Rabies medication in Kenya is limited and more expensive compared to overseas; so if you’re sure you’ll be interacting with doggos, make sure to take the vaccine prior to departure.
Travelers more likely to come across rabid dogs include:
- those traveling to rural areas
- Laboratory workers
72 hours before appearing at any point of exit for departure, one is required to;
- Take a COVID-19 PCR test. The test should be administered at an approved laboratory in Kenya.
- Upload the document showing the negative test result on Trusted Travel. One should use the code given by the laboratory.
- Present the document showing the negative test result to the health officer desk for approval
Is Kenya Safe for Solo Female Travelers
Is it safe for a woman to travel to Kenya alone? Well, yes and no.
Yes because the Kenyan government has taken a myriad of steps to ensure the safety of all travelers in the country. And no because like every other tourist hotspot, Kenya is prone to petty crimes.
Here are a few things to consider, both good and bad.
- Kenyans are friendly people who are always ready to lend a hand. Seek local advice when you’re having trouble navigating the country, as locals are more familiar with areas and know the best ways to get around.
- Most tourist sites are safe and quite secure for solo women travelers.
- Kenya has several amazing transport hubs that are safe, economical, and efficient.
- You will run into a mischievous cat-caller at some point. Try as much as possible to ignore them but report them to local authorities if they pose a threat (Kenyan police officers are always willing to help).
- You may also run into pickpockets and bag snatchers, especially in crowded places. Be extra careful with your belongings.
- You will also likely come across fake tour guides. Make sure to confirm the identity of every ride, driver or guide you hire.
Safety for Solo Women Travelers
Under most circumstances and with the right precautions, Kenya is as safe as can be!
To have a safe, trouble-free experience in Kenya, we advise that women traveling take strong personal security measures including;
- Avoiding walking alone at night. Especially exercise caution in poorly lit areas and abandoned streets.
- Travel with reputable tour companies.
- Practicing safe drinking and dating. Never leave your drink unattended and always let one other person know where you’re going.
- Leaving valuables and flashy jewelry at home
- Dressing appropriately for the culture. Avoid clothing that reveals too much skin when traveling to rural regions in Kenya. Consequently, restrict wearing your bikini to the coastal beach resorts and swimming pools.
- Get travel insurance. Get comprehensive travel insurance to protect yourself against hefty overseas medical costs, theft, and other unexpected problems.
- Bring a mobile phone with you and save important numbers such as your hotel and the nearest police station.
- Stay alert, be aware of your surroundings, and trust your instincts. If something feels off, stay away.
- Join solo female travelers’ Facebook groups. This way, you can get tips from women who have travelled solo to the country before.
- Report any crimes or wrongdoings to local authorities.
So… How Safe is Kenya Overall?
There are two kinds of people in the world; those who’ve read the entire article to find out how safe Kenya is for travelers and those who’ve skipped to this last section.
If you are the latter, here’s the answer you are looking for: Yes, Kenya is a relatively safe destination for travelers.
But, like with all destinations, you must take the right precautions to protect yourself. Quickly skim through the article to get a rough idea of some of the safety precaution measures you should take and for a general idea of the do’s and don’ts of Kenyan travel.
Kwaheri and karibu to Kenya!