I am sure if you are researching Nairobi that you have come across the name "Nairobbery" and as unfortunate as this nickname is, it is a place where crime runs amok.
- Do not wear jewelry. Leave your diamond rings at home, leave your Rolex at home, and do not under any circumstance dress flashy. Necklaces will be ripped off, earrings torn off your ears, and people will go to great lengths to get what you have. Don't invite it to happen.
- Try to travel as much as you can by private vehicle. While matatus are very inexpensive as a mode as transporation, they are also frequently robbed, even when full of people.
- Do not walk alone or after dark. Even if you are just going a couple of blocks, take a taxi.
- Carry as little money as you can. Keep cards hidden and inaccessable, keep money hidden ALWAYS and only openly carry small bills and small amounts of money in a pocket that you can get to quickly and easily, but a pickpocket can not.
- Get a local to help you out. I managed to find a Kenyan who escorted me through the large Masai Market in downtown Nairobi. He'd tell off young pickpockets in Swahili when they came too close to me, and he kept a watchful eye on everyone around me, he'd also barter for me and I got much better prices with his help.
- Be cautious and always be prepared. Don't ruin your trip worrying about crime, but be vigilant and don't ever let your guard down. Keep your car doors locked, keep an eye on people, follow your gut instinct about people, and don't put yourself in a compromising position.
- Do not go to the slums, they are no place for a tourist to go, no matter what. Just because there are hundreds of people around and it's broad daylight does not mean you won't be a victim of crime.
- Learn some Swahili. Even if you just know "yes" and "no" that is at least something. If you have an emergency, it's better to have some of the local language to make yourself understood.
Careful where you travel within the city
Hire a guide through your safari company for an extra day to tour around Nairobi. Easier to arrange, more reliable and cheaper than a taxi if there are several in your group sharing expenses.
Within Nairobi, you can easily become lost and find yourself in a very unfavorable part of town needing to ask for directions.
In certain sections of Nairobi, 70% or the populace has no running water, electric nor enough money to afford even the basics. Shanty towns are common place and roadside stalls are a bit unnerving in their sales practice.
Always have a knowledgeable local with you when traveling touring Nairobi
Pickpocketing in Matatu
Yes, it is definetely the most cheaper way to get from one place to another, cost you 20 - 40 Kshs only which is very very cheap. However, be in particularly careful when entering or going out because it is the moment which thiefs look out for to take your money or things out of your pockets. The guy next to you might look very polite, dressed in nice suit, but if he do not step out in order to make you room ask him do do it. It happened to me and when I tried to step out of the car I felt his hand near my sidepocket. I caught his hand strongly and pushed him out of the car but he immediately run away.
There are quite a few conmen around in Nairobi, and scams seem to be more elaborate than in other places. In the hostel where I stayed someone had put a notice up to warn about one particular scam, where some stranger will strike up a conversation with you, and just chit chat with you for a while about nothing in particular. After he leaves some fake policemen show up and start interrogating you, claiming that the person you just spoke to is a criminal, and what sort of business did you have talking to him, and then trying to get a bribe from you so that you won't be implicated in any criminal investigation.
They try to exploit the fact that uniforms usually command respect, and also that tourists are not familiar with the laws in Kenya, and are therefore easily manipulated. They try their luck to see if the person they approach can quickly be intimidated. I have never personally experienced a situation like this, but apparently they back off fairly quickly if they meet resistance. Very often just asking for the name of their superior or insisting on being taken to a policestation in order to check whether this is standard procedure, seems to put them off.
Same as any other big city, people in Nairobi are generally not interested in making friends with tourists in the street, and if they do there's usually an ulterior motive. I therefore try not to get involved into any conversations with strangers in the street, even if I have to be very unfriendly to get rid of them. The keener they are to talk to me the more likely they are probably up to something.
I hear that Nairobi is notorious for its crime, and crimes do happen often. I came across a couple making a road trip of Africa and told me that Kenya is fine except for Nairobi, or as they dubbed it, Nairobbery. I was also advised by my travel agent not to wear expensive jewelery otherwise I might attract unwanted attention
- Business Travel
- Budget Travel
This ATM or that ATM
I am not exactly sure why, but when I tried to withdraw money at a cash machine, the majority of them would not work with my card. From the airport to town, the only one I found that worked was Standard Chartered on Kenyatta. I also know, through someone who visits regularly, that Barclay's works for them as well.
Wild roads, wild drivers
I still insist that certain areas in the Middle East hold the title for worst traffic in my book (so far). Nairobi is still pretty bad though. They aren't exactly the safest drivers around. Plus you have those crazy roundabouts. What were the British thinking?? I mean hey...I will give you the whole metric thing. And the different voltage and plugs and outlets. I concede...our system is backwards in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world. But for the love of Mike, could we get some lights up at the roundabouts please?!
If you are white or obviously an American, you will be approached pretty quickly by people asking for money. My favorite was the kid wearing a nicer shirt than me with a smile on his face who gave me the old "I'm so hungry" while he patted his stomach and tried to look like he was suffering. (it was a lame attempt you little jerk) It's pretty obvious because once people see you they don't waste time in approaching you. My philosophy is that helping people is fine. Yes. There is a very great need. But not everyone has the need that will ask you. Some people are just trying to con you for money. Besides. Will giving money help someone in the long term? Will they be back tomorrow looking for a handout tomorrow? Giving can unfortunately cause people to become dependent on handouts instead of themselves. Keep in mind that all schools do feed kids (a local friend told me this). So if a kid comes up to you looking very sad and saying they are hungry, feel free to ask them why they are not in school.
From what I have been told, Nairobi has now passed J'burg in statistics of crime. Supposedly at least. I spent well over a week in Nairobi and walked the streets every day all over the downtown area and a little bit on the outskirts as well. I can say that I did not have any serious incidents, but I will say that everyday at least one person approached me to try to con me or worse. It got to the point where I knew when people were about to try and follow me and start something up. When someone asks for something stupid, like help pushing their car, get out of there. If they try and distract you by throwing a cart in front of you or cornering you or whatever it may be all of the sudden, beware. You are about to get ripped off, robbed, or worse. My general rule is that anyone who is overly friendly from the start and is too talkative is no good and you need to be careful of them. Generally people who are trying too hard to start a conversation probably have bad intentions. Just don't be naive, don't flash valuables or money, and keep a good distance between you and someone who is trying to talk to you. And if they start following you all over, get rid of them. They are up to no good for sure.
Watch your credit cards..
If you pay using a check or credit card, it is advisable that you go with the waiter and watch as he/she wrings up your bill. A friend of mine had a guy copy down his card number and try and use it at Karen Blixen Coffehouse. This can also happen at other locations favored by tourists. Better to be safe then sorry!
- Arts and Culture
Pickpokets on Matatus
Public transporation can be safe, but only if you pay attention to things. Matatus in Nairobi are overcrowded and sometimes carry skilled pickpockets. I was personally pickpocketed of 4000 Kenya Shillings on the Numeber 11 matatu. Be suspicious of people who follow you from one matatu to another, carry a briefcase on their lap but don't show their hands, and people who squeeze close to you when there is room.
Also, there is a con around Karen/Langata area where someone yells " Seatbelt check.. It's the cops". Even if it is true. do not take your eyes of your belongings, as the thieves wait for you to be distracted in your search for a belt.
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
Don't Give Money to Children
The money that is given to street children often ends up in buying cheap glue and then it goes strait up the nose. Aparently, the larger kids (bullies) will take money from the smaller ones too in the street children gangs around major cities in East Africa.
I was first in Nairobi in March 2002. I had no problem, although I did not walk on the street alone at night. (Good advice from the local folk: take a taxi or walk only together with a local guide at night).
Second time I was in Nairobi with my friend in November 2004. We had a bad luck at daytime (!) in downtown: my friend just made a picture of the street (conference center and court house in the background - see attached) when a well-dressed 50 year-old man came to us and showed an ID ("head of security") which, as we realized not much later, was obviously a fake, and said: "Did you know it is illegal to take pictures of public buildings because of threat of terrorism, bla-bla?" (UNO SC meeting was held that day in Nairobi, so it sounded quite credible), "You don't know anything about this country", "You can get a heavy fine or imprisonment for this." As he was very suspicious to me, I tried to unmask him with some questions like "Is Kenya not a free country?" and "Do terrorists look like us?" but as he became very angry, my friend asked me not to heckle the guy, I stopped and tried to be "cooperative". Finally he invited us to a small bar, sat down, then his "colleague" appeared being even more agitated. They came to the point: "To avoid bigger trouble, let's settle it now. How much money do you have with you?" Unfortunately my friend confessed to have 50 USD, I said all my money was in the hotel (although I had cca. 8,000 KES, i.e. 100 USD in my pocket), so finally they disappeared with the 50 bucks.
Lesson: never trust anybody other than official (uniformed) personnel or insist on going to the nearest police station or to your hotel.
- Budget Travel
A surreal, dangerous experience
We stopped overnight in Nairobi on our way to and from Kilimanjaro. Nairobi is an assault on the senses and not a very welcoming place. I'm not sure why someone would make Nairobi the center of a trip, if not, it's best to get out of town as soon as you can. Some of the things I remember: The Kenyan woman on the plane who said she couldn't own a car in Nairobi because it was a good way to get carjacked and/or killed. The missionary who, when I stooped to tie a loose shoelace in the airport, grabbed me up by the arm and said, "That is not a safe thing to do, keep moving." When returning from Kili on a bus, I tried to get off one block before our hotel. It seemed like a nice neighborhood and I didn't want the bus driver to have to stop twice in such a short distance. "Please stay on the bus sir, you don't walk around here with luggage." I stayed. After checking into our compound-like hotel, the clerk telling me, "You must not leave the hotel unless it's in a taxi we call for you." This is not to scare people away from Africa, on the contrary there are wonderful things and places to see in Kenya and Tanzania. Nairobi, however, is not one of them.
Bottled water is the safest
best to drink bottled water in Kenya or as i did, boil the tap water. You could use some form of tablets, although fo this cost you may as well buy the water.
Help the environment, use your own bottle and boil it.