Kenya consistently tops lists as one of the world’s best safari destinations. The East African country is home to the Great Wildebeest Migration; more than 80 species of animals including the “Big Five” — elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion and leopard; and the world famous Masai Mara. There’s no question about Kenya’s natural beauty or the awesomeness in experiencing the wildlife, the land and the people so closely. That’s why it also tops so many people’s bucket lists. But, is it safe to safari in Kenya?
That was the first thing I wanted to know when I was invited to take a recent media trip to Kenya. Is it safe? Yes, that came before I questioned where I would stay, how many khaki pants I should bring, and what is the best time of day to spot a leopard? I needed to know about my safety.
Travel Warning for Kenya
The day before I learned of the trip a new travel warning was issued from the U.S. State Department for Americans traveling to Kenya. The week I was departing for the trip there were attacks on the Kenyan Coast. While these terrible acts did not occur in or near tourist attractions, they still cause alarm to prospective travelers especially after the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in 2013. I’m no exception. My initial reaction was fear, concern, and sadness for those involved; very similar to my reaction when acts of violence happen in the United States. I wish I could say that mall shootings, school shooting or even bombings at historical events like the Boston Marathon don’t happen in my country, but unfortunately I can’t.
I decided to take the 9-day trip to Kenya and was pleasantly surprised that my time spent on safari in the Mara was perhaps the most peaceful, relaxing and safe I’ve ever felt on a vacation.
I’ll be doing a series of posts including several luxury camp reviews, must-do activities, and packing tips; but before I give you all those must-know details I want to share my experience regarding safety first so you can plan on checking “Safari in Kenya” off of your list, too.
No one can guarantee safety while traveling, but there are things you can do to make sure you’re putting yourself and your family in the best situation possible.
Plan your safari adventure with a reputable tour operator who can guide you and recommend the best options to fit your needs. Most details of your trip can be tailored exactly how you want it and the tour operators know how to do that in the safest way possible.
I felt safe flying in and out of the Nairobi airport; and at the hotels where we stayed in Nairobi before and after visiting the Masai Mara and Amboseli National Park. The security in the city differed greatly from what I experienced in “the bush.” In the city, gated properties, armed guards, metal detectors, and even vehicle bomb checks with mirrors were visible and apparently necessary. At first it was a little unsettling to see, but ultimately I felt safe because these things were in place.
Stay with the Group
I didn’t venture out on my own and took heed of our guide’s advice about keeping car doors locked, windows up and valuables out of sight. Once we left the city for the Mara, it was a totally different world. I never saw a firearm or felt the threat of any kind of crime or violence. Any previous fear or concerns about my safety or violent attacks quickly disappeared and was replaced with excitement and the awe of nature and all its splendor.
We flew to and from the Mara on small charter planes, but driving (it’s approximately a 4-5 hour ride) is an option for those who prefer it. Our scenic 45-60 minute flight was an exciting introduction to the Masai Mara including touching down on the airstrip with zebras grazing less than 50 feet away.
It may seem obvious but following the rules, the laws, or even simple instructions are important for your safety when on safari – or traveling anywhere. I can admit I’m somewhat of a scaredy-cat, and a little fearful of most animals. Yes, I have been known to run on the opposite side of the street if I see ducks or geese along my path. Never did I imagine that I would sit in an open SUV 20 feet from a pride of lions and feel at ease, but I did.
The safari guides know how to co-exist with the wildlife and will instruct you on what you can and cannot do. It’s really that simple. Their extensive knowledge about their country, the animals, the people, the culture and the land is beyond impressive. I was amazed at how we could be so close to the wildlife, sleep in unfenced camps and even park our vehicle to eat breakfast under a tree in the bush and be safe. I also listened when I was told not to get out of the SUV, to have a security escort at night, and to latch my zipper closed on my tent so the monkeys won’t invite themselves inside to snack on my sugar cookies.
Shots and Sickness
Take precautions when it comes to your health and talk to your doctor or a travel clinic about what shots and/or pills they suggest that you need for the trip. The CDC has requirements and recommendations on their website.
Kenya is NOT included in the recent Ebola virus travel warning issued by the CDC. The outbreak and warning affects three countries in West Africa – Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
For my trip there were no required shots necessary but I did get typhoid and hepatitis A and B shots. I already had a current tetanus shot; and got a prescription for anti-malaria pills. I also brought a travel kit with antibiotics, anti-diarrhea medicine, ibuprofen, allergy medicine and a ton of first aid essentials. While I barely used anything in it, it was great to have in case of an emergency.
Bug spray with DEET was also a must, although every camp that I visited had bug protection available for guests.
Food and Water
All of the places I stayed during my trip were eco-friendly and provided plenty of safe food and water. Many had their own organic gardens which made it safe to eat salad and other fruits and vegetables without hard peels.
Every meal I had during my stay in Kenya was fantastic. Really. We dined on a mix of traditional Kenyan dishes as well as American, European and Indian inspired cuisine. In efforts to protect the environment the camps provided clean drinking water in jugs, pitchers and reusable canisters – not smaller sealed plastic bottles.
It’s very necessary to follow the water instructions at your camp to avoid getting sick; things like brushing your teeth with the clean drinking or bottled water make a difference.
The knowledge, experience and passion of the people that I encountered during my trip gave me a strong sense of security that allowed me to be fully present and enjoy this extraordinary experience. The hospitality and attention to detail was outstanding. Everyone from the tourism representatives, to the guides, the property managers, the pilots, the night watchmen at the tented camps and the chefs have such a love for their country and for what they do. For us it’s a vacation, for them it’s home.
For more information, visit the Kenya Tourism Board at Magical Kenya.