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 prevail to prevent travelers from reaching Kenya. I want to address some of these myths to help you calm down and feel confident about experiencing that bucket list safari you’ve always wanted. This will not be a marketing spiel; 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 outlandish to say the least. Kenya suffered several incidents of terrorism throughout 2013 and 2014, the most notable of which was the attack on the Westgate Mall. However, most of the activities were on a much smaller scale: grenades were 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 Somali group affiliated with Al Qaeda, are reported to be the main offenders.
Unfortunately today, terrorism happens everywhere and anywhere. 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 every day in Kenya, so you have a good chance that you will make it out alive. Kenyans want peace as much as anyone else. Furthermore, the parts of Kenya that you, as a traveler, would frequent are not terrorist targets; to date, there have been no attacks on any national park or game reserve. There is a terrorist risk near the border with Somalia and in parts of Nairobi.
The current travel warning from the Australian government is that only some areas are dangerous, not the entire country. And dangerous areas are of little interest to the average safari visitor.
Myth 2: Nairobi is a “Nai robbery”
A decade ago, auto theft, armed robbery and mugging were relatively common in Nairobi, earning the city the nickname “Nai robbery.” But one mayor worked a lot with the street kids and today Nairobi is as safe (or risky) as any other big city in the world. Expatarrivals.com says that crime in Nairobi is “opportunistic, straightforward, comparable to other capitals around the world.” The crime rate has decreased every year since 2012 according to Standard Digital.
I have lived in Nairobi for five years and have never been physically assaulted. One night my phone was stolen, but I was walking downtown at night just talking on my 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 abounds and foreigners are attacked because they are believed to have more money
I cannot say that corruption is not widespread. It is, but as a tourist you are unlikely to find it. If you book a full safari package, there will be little opportunity for the police or any other official to ask you for a bribe. Tourists are rarely attacked. Foreigners are not an easy target because we tend to ask too many questions and we don’t always understand what is really going on. We are not in the habit of shoving money in the door handle for the traffic cop, for example. Expats involved in corruption mean that crime continues to go unpunished and Kenya’s development remains stymied. The phrase “When in Rome …” should not apply to bribery and corruption.
President Kenyatta says the right things about cleaning up Kenya’s corruption, but it will be a huge change. However, it 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 businesses, but in this internet age you can certainly do your own due diligence and avoid getting scammed. There are many review sites online, and many allow you to contact reviewers directly to ask 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 that I am writing 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 is $ 80 for a 24 hour ticket to the Maasai Mara. So if you’re booking a two-night safari to Maasai Mara for $ 200, you can do some simple math and figure that $ 160 is for park fees, leaving only $ 40 for transportation, accommodation, and food. Park fees are public information, so you can do some rough calculations. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Either your operator is paying bribes at the park gate, or your vehicle is unmaintained, or your food will be deficient. 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 that you can enter the park cheaply.
The Kenya Tour Operators Association and the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism are also working hard to introduce measures to curb cheating.
The tabloid 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 amazing country that it truly is.