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4 Myths That You Can Dispel and Travel Kenya Safely
You don’t need to be afraid to go on safari. When CNN described Kenya in 2015 as a “hotbed of terrorism,” it drew attention to some crazy myths that must be prevalent to keep travelers from coming to Kenya. I want to address some of these myths to help put your mind at ease and feel confident about experiencing that bucket list safari you’ve always wanted. This will not be a marketing game; I live in Kenya so I know the good, the bad and the ugly and I will share it all with you.
Myth 1: Kenya is full of terrorists
CNN’s description of Kenya was odd, to say the least. Kenya suffered several terrorist incidents throughout 2013 and 2014, the most notable of which was the attack on the Westgate Mall. However, most of the activity was on a much smaller scale: grenades thrown at bus stations, churches and nightclubs. Two major attacks occurred in April 2015 at the University of Garissa and in January 2019 at the DusitD2 complex. Al Shabaab, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda in Somalia, is said to be the main perpetrators.
Unfortunately, today, terrorism occurs anywhere and everywhere. In the last five years we have seen attacks in Paris, Sydney, Brussels and Istanbul. But travelers still flock to these places.
Fifty million people survive each day in Kenya, so there’s a good chance you’ll make it out alive. Kenyans want peace as much as anyone else. Also, the parts of Kenya that you, as a traveler, would frequent are not terrorist targets – so far there have been no attacks on any national parks or game reserves. There is a terrorist risk near the border with Somalia and in parts of Nairobi.
The Australian government’s current travel advisory is that only some areas are dangerous, not the whole country. And the danger zones don’t hold much interest for the average safari goer.
Myth 2: Nairobi is “theft of Nai”
A decade ago, carjackings, armed robberies and muggings were relatively common in Nairobi, earning it the nickname “Nai Robbery”. But a mayor worked hard with the street boys and today Nairobi is as safe (or risky) as any other big city in the world. Expatarrivals.com says crime in Nairobi is “opportunistic, unsophisticated, comparable to other world capitals”. The crime rate has decreased every year since 2012 according to Standard Digital.
I have lived in Nairobi for five years and I have never been physically assaulted. One evening, my phone was stolen, but in the evening I was walking around the city center just talking on the phone; it was totally my fault. However, everyone who saw the thief chased after him and I got my phone back! Nairobians themselves are tired of crime in their city, especially towards foreigners because they don’t want travelers to have a bad experience of Kenya.
Myth 3: Corruption is widespread and foreigners are targeted because they are thought to have more money
I cannot say that there is no corruption. It is, but as a tourist you are unlikely to find it. If you book a complete safari package, there will be few opportunities for the police or any other official to ask you for a bribe. Tourists are rarely targeted. Foreigners are not an easy target because we tend to ask too many questions and don’t always understand what is really going on. For example, we don’t have the habit of putting money on the door handle for the traffic policeman. Expatriates engaging in corruption means that crime continues to go unpunished and Kenya’s development remains hampered. The phrase “When in Rome…” should not apply to bribery and corruption.
President Kenyatta says all the right things about cleaning up Kenya’s corruption, but he will have a big change. However, this is certainly not a reason to avoid a safari in Kenya!
Myth 4: Tour operators are dishonest and you will lose your money if you pay in advance
Yes, there are some briefcase companies out there, but in this internet age, you can certainly do your own due diligence and avoid being scammed. There are many review sites online, and many allow you to contact reviewers directly to ask them about their experience. Use Trip Advisor, do your research, check prices.
The tourism industry has suffered greatly in the last decade (due to the myths I write about here!) and tour operators have been desperate just to make a sale. But if park fees are included in your package, check that the total price can cover those fees. For example, it’s $80 for a 24-hour ticket to the Maasai Mara. So, if you book a two-night Maasai Mara safari for $200, you can do some simple math and calculate that $160 is for park fees, leaving only $40 for transportation, lodging, and food. Park fees are public information so you can do some rough calculations. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Either your operator is paying bribes at the park gate, or your vehicle has not been maintained, or your food will be poor. Or you can get all three! Please, it does not help Kenya’s fight against corruption to encourage your tour operator to pay bribes at the gate so you can enter the park cheaply.
The Kenya Association of Tour Operators and the Kenya Ministry of Tourism are also working hard to introduce measures to curb cheating.
Sensational media is destroying Kenya’s main industry and the economy is suffering as a result. So if an African safari is on your bucket list, look past the headlines and see Kenya for the wonderful country it truly is.
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