Kenya had an uncharacteristic bout of post-election violence in January 2008 after a disputed presidential election result. Things have now quieted down and the country is considered safe for travelers, but the situation remains somewhat on edge, so follow local news carefully.
Stay alert when walking or driving through Nairobi. You should be careful always to be aware of your surroundings and, if possible, ensure that you have a guide with you. Even daylight muggings on crowded streets are not uncommon. Violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including armed carjackings and home invasions/burglaries, can occur at any time and in any location, particularly in Nairobi. Particularly avoid walking after dark. Take a taxi if you can afford it, or a bus if you can not.
Avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and property, particularly tempting objects such as cameras, mobile phones, laptops, MP3 players, etc. The bus from the airport to downtown is a notorious target for pickpockets
If you are unlucky and get mugged, a good tactic is to wave your arms and start screaming at the would-be mugger. Confrontations with armed robbers, however, should be avoided â in this instance, remember that your possessions are far less important than your life. Most criminals in Nairobi are more interested in a quick grab and dash than they are in a prolonged encounter. Since robbery is frequently punished by lengthy prison terms or even death, most muggers can be dissuaded by a good show of force. It is perfectly possible to see much of Nairobi without incident if you take sensible precautions.
The north of the country has a reputation for lawlessness, becoming more dangerous the closer you get to the South Sudanese, Ethiopian and Somali borders. Armed robberies and abductions by shiftas bandits on the roads in these areas are frequent. Avoid travelling to this part of the country if possible, and take special precautions if travelling by road. Armed convoys are normal for this part of the country. Visitors to Lake Turkana indicated on the map as Lake Rudolf in the northwest and Lamu in the northern end of the coast should travel there by air. Lodwar, Lokichokio 'Loki' and Moyale are towns best avoided by the casual traveller, unless you have business with the humanitarian organizations based there.
Protect yourself from mosquitoes, as they carry numerous diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever. Get expert advice on malaria preventatives. Guard against mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and long trousers and apply an effective insect repellent, for example, one containing DEET. If travelling to other East African countries, you should have a yellow fever vaccination so as to prevent complications and paying of bribes at the border. These can be administered at an affordable price at most reliable Nairobi clinics and hospitals.
Malaria prophylactics, taken as pills during the trip, can be highly effective. Consult your physician. The prophylactics most commonly used in this region are doxycycline an antibiotic and malarone a combination of atovaquone and proguanil, also sold locally as malanil. Chloroquine is not as useful because of the high incidence of resistance. Mefloquine, also known as lariam, mefliam, and mephaquin, is associated with various side effects, including a high incidence of mood disturbances and a lower risk of severe neurological disturbance.
If you get flu-like symptoms, including fever, consult a doctor immediately. If no doctor is available, take a treatment dose of an appropriate anti-malarial and go immediately to a hospital. While the public hospitals are slightly cheaper, long waits and poor conditions and care at these facilities may make it worthwhile to go to a private clinic. Costs will vary, but a typical trip to the hospital for malaria testing, doctor's consultation, and medication will cost between $12 to $30USD depending on the clinic. As malaria can become serious, a trip to the hospital is recommended at the first symptoms of malaria.
If you get such symptoms within twelve months of returning home, seek a doctor's advice very quickly and immediately tell him where you have been in the last year. Delayed treatment, even by just a few hours, can lead to permanent brain and liver damage or death.
Do not have unprotected sex as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are a risk. The country's Adult HIV Prevalence rate 15th in the world is over 6% or 1 in 16 adults. Voluntary Testing and Counseling VCT clinics offer free testing and counseling for HIV/AIDS.
Cholera is another danger. When in affected areas, see a doctor immediately and drink plenty of water.
All water should be treated, either by boiling or through purifying tablets or filters. This includes Nairobi as well as rural areas. Typhoid fever is a risk and, like malaria prophylactics, the vaccination is not 100% effective. All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed. While eating from the roadside kiosks is part of the cultural experience that one should not miss, note that such places do not always have the highest sanitary conditions and stomach illnesses can result.
It is advisable to have traveller's and accident insurance.
Although Kenya is predominantly Christian and somewhat liberal, there are areas with major Muslim influence, such at the Coastal regions, where it is considered indecent to wear short dresses. This is true in rural Christian areas as well.
Beachwear is acceptable on the beach but not while strolling around town. Even though some hotels allow topless or nude sunbathing, these are in restricted areas and not in public areas.
Kissing or heavy petting is frowned upon in public, even though Kenyan youth engage in both liberally in night clubs.
Homosexuality is against the law but is practiced secretly. Any overt displays of homosexuality may, at times, result in open hostility. It is best to be discreet if engaging in any such activities with travel mates or locals. However, it is customary to hold a same sex person's hand while engaged in conversation.
English and Swahili are the two official languages. You can get by with English in the larger cities and when dealing with those connected to the tourism industry as well as the well-educated upper class, but, outside of that, a few words of Swahili go a long way.
Tribal languages, such as Maa spoken by the Maasai, are commonplace in more remote areas. You will still usually be able to find a local who can speak Swahili — although in such areas a guide will be indispensable. Sheng a slang of English, Kiswahili and local languages is spoken mostly by urban youths.