Tips to visiting Nairobi, Kenya.

I know this article is rather late and perhaps even outdated considering the situation in Kenya but keep in mind the hotspots at the moment are in the coastal towns and villages of Kenya. That being said, Nairobi can still be a scary place even in peaceful times especially when one is not familiar with the tricks and ways of the city.

I’m not sure how many of you may actually want to visit Kenya or Africa, unless it’s solely for a Safari in which case all bets are off, but I do know when I first got the assignment I was terribly scared unlike my co-worker. Though now when I think back, I am glad I did go as it showed me a greater world than I ever knew. Plus it offered some terrific photographic opportunities and helped to enlighten on what I should really focus on in life.

So let’s begin, the real point of today’s article a simple let helpful list of “tips”  while in Nairobi, Kenya.

If you look like me, and by that I mean, someone who looks out of place in an African city, then be on your guard if you go exploring on your own in the city especially when you’re a lady (I’m a guy by the way) . As there are many people who are trying to earn a living and continuously offer their services even when you have kindly turned them down, those you’ll have to accept as part of city, and there are those who will try to play to your Naïveté AKA the scammer. You will be approached by many people if you are going around by foot. I have listed here the many steps that have been tried on me- distilled down to the simplest form though I make no claim that this list is exhaustive.

Procedure of scams

They will first call out to you mostly when you’re walking in a secluded area, it is greatly advise to not be in such situation unless you are not alone and avoid alleyways. They will even ask you to come along with them, under no circumstances must you ever follow them! Or follow you anywhere.  Even then they will then try to become friends by asking where you’re from, how is the weather and gather as much info as possible to help them “customized” their scams but generally it follows like the steps listed below,

  1. He or she will claim that they have friends from there as well.
    1. “Oh! I have friends in there as well!”
    2. “Oh! My organization is planning to send me there.”
    3. “Oh! The university has students from there.”
    4. Or something similar to established some sort of “personal connection”.
  2. Now then they will most likely then again probe for more information such as what is the food and weather like in your country. This is the filler and building rapport step.
  3. Then mentioned the organization they are working for and what they are either trying to,
    1. Provide a much needed service to something or someone
    2. Or facing financial problems
    3. Alternatively, they will say they know someone from your country who is working in the organization who is having “financial” difficulty.
  4. At this point, if you are still even listening they will continue on with details of the situation and how it came to be. But usually at this point, I don’t even give a reply and move on.
  5. Now this is the dangerous part depending on where you are hence it is important not to be where they want you to be physically.  When they have realized their plan has failed, they will in most cases resort to begging for money straight away.
  6. But this is also the part you have to be careful of, I’ve had incident where the person has quickly move their hands into their bags or pockets clenching something which I suspect is a weapon, if they didn’t beg, this is usually the next course of action. What you should do? Get away from them or have a weapon ready of your own, I always had one ready as well.

The steps listed here is not to say that all people in Kenya are bad or scheming people, that right solely belongs to management, but in fact they are one of the nicest people I have met yet and speak very good English compared to some of the government officials here in Malaysia found in the education department. What I have listed here is actually the worse case scenario I have encountered during my many month stay there. The following will list out the smart tips on how to make your visit you Kenya more enjoyable.

Booking a safari or tour

While I didn’t make the booking or the planning, but I’ve learned from when I did make the booking and planning that it’s better to leave it to the experienced backpackers to handle all these details as it can be overwhelming. Though I think the obvious keyword is and should be the mantra for all planning,

“research, research, and research!”

Always try to bargain with tour operators whenever possible. Never deal with people who offer tours while walking out on the street and try if possible to avoid tours operated by hotels while good but not worth the price.

Instead take to the Internet and search forums for great ideas, and if all else fails, try websites like tripadvisor for review on tour operators. Try if possible to only pay on the day the tour happens, not before. Most operators are okay with that option and some may even offer credit card services, do take that option if possible and ensure your credit card has an EMV chip not just a magnetic strip. You have no idea how easy it is to clone those magnetic strip cards, have the banks disable the magnetic strip function and accept only chip base transaction.

Another important things, “Should you join a group or book one alone?”, try to go on a safari with at least a friend. If that is not possible then join a group, because nothing is more depressing than being on a safari alone. You might make a friend while with a group of vacation goers. The next ever important question, if you decide to book a safari with you and your own group of friends or family, opt for the best vehicle when traveling on exotic safaris like to the Massai Mara as the roads can be very bad. Don’t go cheap at this point or you will regret it.

For the happy shooters of the camera kind, for the other kind you can stop reading and go away, bring lots of spare batteries and memory cards along long lenses of at least 300mm. If you are using Micro 4/3, then this is your chance to get back at all those who laughed at the size of your sensors as 300mm lens is effectively a 600mm lens! You can get some great shots of the wild!

General guidelines to Kenya

Now that I’ve listed what I feel are important tips, here are some last ones to note especially when going around any of the towns and cities.

  1. Oddly the first one I have listed here is, “Not everyone is out to get you, in fact they are ignoring or couldn’t care any less about you. It’s just those desperate ones who does. So try to relax and enjoy, with that being said it does pay to be very wary of your surroundings and not to wonder into alleyways with little in the way to exit unless you’re looking for trouble.
  2. Still that doesn’t mean you should hang out in crowd areas either where people can easily walk up and snatch your bag. Be warned ye who loves to tread in open markets. Because that is when you are most vulnerable.
  3. Bring wet wipes, the place can be very dusty and windy. If out on a safari, use sunblock.
  4. Common sense also dictates that you shouldn’t buy anything illegal, especially ivory. If you want, go on a Safari and see real elephants in the wild, now tell me do you still want to buy ivory after seeing those magnificent creatures?
  5. Avoid eating bushmeat at all cost. Want someplace interesting to eat? Try Ethiopian food and Massala tea.
  6. If you want to eat western food, you can go to the many western cafes located about but you will be paying a premium for that type of food there.
  7. Also it’s okay to declined things or offer from people, you do not need to say “yes”. Politely declined and move on, do not get pressured into doing things.
  8. For those who shoot photography, please ensure that when you pass your camera to your friends to help to take photos, that they know how to focus your camera properly unless you want out of focus shots that happened to me. Not everybody is a camera geek.
  9. A shot taken by me using my D600

    A shot taken NOT by me, using my D600. This sadly wouldn’t be the last time this happened as evident by my photos to vietnam.

  10. Finally, keep an open mind and enjoy yourself. But most importantly, stay safe, keep a level head and you should get through just fine.

One thought on “Tips to visiting Nairobi, Kenya.

  1. Pingback: 2014: A year in review | dreaming Artemis

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