Although Kenya is generally safe, there have been recurrent outbreaks of jihadist activity as well as the uncharacteristic post-election violence in January 2008 following a disputed presidential election result.
Stay alert when walking or driving through Nairobi. You should always make sure you are aware of your surroundings and, if possible, make sure you have a guide with you. Even in daylight, muggings are not uncommon on busy streets. Violent and sometimes fatal criminal assaults, including armed carjackings and house robberies/burglaries, can occur at any time and in any place, especially in Nairobi. Especially avoid walking after dark. Take a taxi if you can afford it, or a bus if you can’t, but be careful as most buses, even modern ones, tend to be overcrowded and can pose pickpocketing dangers.
Avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and property, especially tempting items such as cameras, mobile phones, laptops, MP3 players, etc. The bus from the airport to Nairobi city centre is a notorious target for pickpockets.
If you are unlucky and get mugged, a good tactic is to wave your arms and shout at the would-be robber. However, confrontations with armed robbers should be avoided – in this case, remember that your possessions are far less important than your life. Most criminals in Nairobi are more interested in a quick grab and getaway than a prolonged confrontation. Since robbery is often punishable by long prison sentences or even death, most muggers are deterred by a good show of force. As in any other city, it is quite possible to see and enjoy much of Nairobi without incident if you take sensible precautions.
The north of the country has a reputation for lawlessness and becomes more dangerous the closer one gets to the South Sudanese, Ethiopian and Somali borders. Armed robberies and kidnappings by shiftas (bandits) on the roads in these areas are common. Avoid travelling to this part of the country if possible and take extra precautions when travelling by car. Armed convoys are normal in this part of the country. Visitors to Lake Turkana (referred to as Lake Rudolf on the map) in the northwest and Lamu at the northern end of the coast should travel by air. Lodwar, Lokichokio (“Loki”) and Moyale are towns best avoided by casual travellers unless they have business with the humanitarian organisations based there.
Protect yourself from mosquitoes as they transmit many diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever. Get expert advice on malaria preventatives. Protect yourself from mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and long trousers and use an effective insect repellent, for example one with DEET. When travelling to other East African countries, a yellow fever vaccination is compulsory (without it, you not only risk your health, but complications may arise and you may have to take a bribe when crossing the border). It can be administered at an affordable price at most reliable clinics and hospitals in Nairobi, but takes 10 days before it offers protection – so get vaccinated in advance!
Malaria prophylactics taken as tablets during travel can be very effective. Consult your doctor. The most commonly used prophylactics in this region are doxycycline (an antibiotic) and malarone (a combination of atovaquone and proguanil, also sold as Malanil). (Chloroquine is less useful due to a higher rate of tolerance. Mefloquine, also commonly known as Lariam, Mehram and Mefaquine, is associated with several side effects, such as a) a higher rate of mood disturbances and a smaller risk of serious neurological disorders).
If you get flu-like symptoms, including fever, joint pain and vomiting, see a doctor immediately. If no doctor is available, take a treatment dose of an appropriate antimalarial and go to hospital immediately. While public hospitals are somewhat cheaper, long waiting times and poor conditions and care in these facilities may make it worthwhile to go to a private clinic. Costs vary, but a typical trip to the hospital for malaria tests, doctor’s visit and medication costs USD 12-30, depending on the clinic. As malaria can become serious, a trip to the hospital is recommended at the first sign of malaria.
If you get such symptoms within twelve months of returning home, you should see a doctor very quickly and tell him immediately where you have been for the last year. Delaying treatment, even by a few hours, can lead to permanent brain and liver damage or death.
Do not have unprotected sex as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are a risk. The adult HIV prevalence rate in the country (15th in the world) is over 6.1% or 1 in 16 adults. Voluntary Testing and Counselling (VCT) clinics offer free testing and counselling for HIV/AIDS.
Cholera is another danger. If you are in affected areas, seek medical attention immediately and drink plenty of water.
All water should be treated, either by boiling or by purification tablets or filters. This applies to Nairobi as well as rural areas. Typhoid is a risk and as with malaria prophylaxis, vaccination is not 100% effective. It is advisable to buy bottled water to drink. It is available throughout the country. All fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly. Eating at roadside kiosks is part of the cultural experience that should not be missed, but be aware that such places do not always have the best hygienic conditions and stomach illnesses can occur.
It is advisable to take out travel and accident insurance.