Dangers & Annoyances
First-time visitors to Nairobi are understandably daunted by the city’s reputation. However, don’t let fear exile you to your hotel room: the majority of visitors never experience any problems.
- Always hand over valuables if confronted by a thief.
- Exude confidence and don't wear anything flashy.
- Be wary, polite but firm with safari touts and other scammers.
- Always take a taxi from door to door after dark.
- Take particular care with your belongings and bags in the streets east of Moi Ave and at bus stations.
- There's a free helpline for tourists in trouble.
Theft & Mugging
The most common annoyance for travellers is petty theft, which is most likely to occur at budget hotels and campsites. Take advantage of your hotel’s safe and never leave your valuables out in the open. While you’re walking around town, don’t carry anything that you wouldn’t want to lose. As an extra precaution, it’s best to only carry money in your wallet, hiding your credit cards and bank cards elsewhere.
In the event that you are mugged, never, ever resist – simply give up your valuables and, more often than not, your assailant will flee the scene rapidly. Remember that a petty thief and a violent aggressor are very different kinds of people, so don’t give your assailant any reason to do something rash.
Nairobi’s handful of active confidence tricksters seem to have relied on the same old stories for years, and it’s generally easy to spot the spiels once you’ve heard them a couple of times.
As a general rule, always exercise caution while talking to anyone on the streets of Nairobi. While there are genuinely good people out there, the reality is that foreign tourists are an easy target for scamming.
It is almost a certainty that at some point during your time in Nairobi you will be approached on the street by safari touts. Most of these persistent guys are hoping to drag you into an operator’s office, where they can expect to receive a small commission. A small minority are hoping to distract you with their glossy brochures while they deftly lift your wallet.
This is not to say that safari touts are bad people – a good number of them really do want to help you make a booking. With that said, it’s better to err on the side of caution and work directly with a reliable operator.
Be aware of something known as the ‘Nairobi bump’. The usual tactic is for a scammer to bump into you in the street, and then try to strike up a small conversation. If this happens, keep walking, as it’s probably the most effective way of preventing your wallet or backpack from being stolen.
You should be wary of anyone who says they work at your hostel/hotel/campsite, even if they actually know the names of the staff there. We have received countless letters from travellers who have been duped into handing over money on the street for seemingly valid reasons, such as buying groceries for the evening’s dinner. If someone claiming to be from your accommodation asks for money, be sceptical and just walk away.
One classic Nairobi con trick that you’ll likely be subjected to is the refugee story, commonly combined with the equally well-worn university scam. In this gambit, it turns out that your interlocutor has coincidentally just won a scholarship to a university in your country (the amount of research they do is quite astounding), and would love to sit down and have a chat with you about life there.
Then at some point you’ll get the confidential lowering of the voice as the story kicks in with ‘You know, I am not from here…’, leading into an epic tale of woe that involves their having walked barefoot all the way from Juba or Darfur to flee the war. While once restricted to stories with a Sudanese focus, the scam could now include stories from Zimbabwe, Somalia or just about any troubled African nation.
Of course, once you’ve shown due sympathy they’ll come to the crux of the matter: they have to get to Mombasa or Dar es Salaam or elsewhere to confirm their scholarship and fly out for their studies, and all they need is a few thousand shilling – not that they could ask you, their new friend, for that much money, though anything you could spare to help them out would be greatly appreciated (you get the idea).
There are variations on the theme. One traveller wrote telling us how, after refusing to give anything, he was approached by two ‘policemen’ who promptly arrested the scammer and warned the traveller that he was in trouble for conspiring with an illegal immigrant. If this happens to you, ask to see police ID and try to enlist the help of people around you.
Compared to Johannesburg and Lagos – where armed guards, razor-wired compounds and patrol vehicles are the norm – Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD, bounded by Kenyatta Ave, Moi Ave, Haile Selassie Ave and Uhuru Hwy) is quite relaxed and hassle free. Walking around this area by day is rarely a problem. There are also plenty of askaris (security guards) about in case you need assistance.
Once the shops in the CBD have shut, the streets empty rapidly and the whole city centre takes on a deserted and slightly sinister air. After sunset, mugging is a risk anywhere on the streets and you should always take a taxi, even if you’re only going a few blocks. This will also keep you safe from the attentions of Nairobi’s street prostitutes, who flood into town in force after dark. Uhuru Park is a very pleasant place during daylight hours, but it accumulates all kinds of dodgy characters at night.
There are a few other places where you do need to employ a slightly stronger self-preservation instinct. Potential danger zones include the area around Latema and River Rds (east of Moi Ave), which is a hotspot for petty theft. This area is home to the city’s bus terminals, so keep an eye on your bags and personal belongings at all times if passing through here.
International terrorism first reared its head in modern Nairobi in August 1998 when Al Qaeda operatives bombed the US embassy, killing more than 200 people. Since 2011, Kenya's high-profile military presence in neighbouring Somalia has increased the risk of terrorist reprisals. The most serious attack was on the Westgate Shopping Mall on 21 September 2013, with 67 people killed, while bombings on buses and matatus, primarily in the Eastleigh area of the capital, have also claimed a number of lives. Since then, tightened security across the city and a crackdown on suspected terrorists has kept things in check and the risk of terrorism appears to have fallen as a result.
Be vigilant. Avoid Eastleigh. Otherwise, go about your daily business and remember that, while terrorism can happen anywhere, your chances of being caught up in such an incident are extremely low.
There's also a tourist helpline, a free service for tourists in trouble. It has a good nationwide network and works closely with the police and local authorities.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisory services and information for travellers:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- French Ministère des Affaires et Étrangères Européennes (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)
- Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri (www.viaggiaresicuri.mae.aci.it)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)
Embassies & Consulates
- Australian High Commission
- Canadian High Commission
- Dutch Embassy
- Ethiopian Embassy
- French Embassy Off Peponi Rd.
- German Embassy
- South Sudan Embassy
- Tanzanian Embassy
- Ugandan High Commission (Consular Section) The consular section is downtown. There's also the high commission office further out.
- UK High Commission
- US Embassy
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Police (less-urgent calls)||020-240000|
|St John Ambulance||2210000|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Homosexual acts are illegal in Kenya, and Nairobi is not the place to come out of the closet. There are no openly gay venues in Nairobi – as recently as 2014, around 40 people were arrested at a Nairobi nightclub for 'suspected homosexuality' – and nor will hotels look favourably upon single-sex couples sharing a bed, although two women are less likely to encounter difficulties in this regard than two men. As so often in Africa, discretion is the key.
If you've been travelling elsewhere in East Africa, Nairobi's wireless speeds will seem like a dream and you'll be online with ease, whether at your hotel – nearly all of which have free wi-fi – or at a restaurant or cafe. Even more reliable than free wi-fi is picking up a local SIM card; 3G can be had all over the city and data use is cheap. As a consequence of all this connectivity, internet cafes are becoming a thing of the past.
Money is easily available throughout the city from guarded ATMs accepting international credit and debit cards. There is also no shortage of money-changing offices.
Banks & ATMs
Virtually all banks in Nairobi have guarded ATMs. Barclays has the most reliable machines for international withdrawals, with a large network of ATMs across the city. They support MasterCard, Visa, Plus and Cirrus international networks. Standard Chartered and Kenya Commercial Bank ATMs are also generally reliable, but some still only accept Visa cards. Postbank is the local Western Union agent.
Banks 9am to 3pm Monday to Friday, to 11am Saturday
Nightclubs 9pm to 6am
Post offices 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday, 9am to noon Saturday
Restaurants 11am to 2pm and 5pm to 9pm; some remain open between lunch and dinner
Shops 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, to 11am Saturday
Supermarkets 8.30am to 8.30pm Monday to Saturday, 10am to 8pm Sunday
Many stands downtown sell Telkom Kenya phonecards and top-up cards for prepaid mobiles. Alternatively, there are numerous private agencies in the centre of town offering international telephone services.
It may come as a shock to regular travellers to Africa, but Nairobi now has a handful of staffed public toilets around the downtown area offering flush toilets with a basic level of cleanliness. Signs will indicate if you need to pay (about KSh10). Some central shopping centres, such as Kenya Cinema Plaza, have free public conveniences.
Despite the many safari companies with signs saying ‘Tourist Information’, there is still no official tourist office in Nairobi. For events and other listings you’ll have to check the local newspapers, search online or ask at your hotel.
The vast noticeboards at the Sarit Centre and Yaya Centre are good places to look for local information. All sorts of things are advertised here, including language courses, vehicles for sale and houses for rent.
African Wildlife Foundation is a private conservation foundation that works to combat poaching, build community engagement and protect wildlife.
Friends of Nairobi National Park is a society devoted to raising awareness about park issues and protecting wildlife-migration corridors connecting to other Kenyan regions.
Bunson Travel A good upmarket operator (part of the Carlson Wagonlit stable), it also sells air tickets and arranges safaris.
Travel with Children
For the most part, Nairobi is not the most child friendly of cities. Crowded or poorly maintained pavements in the city centre will be a challenge for those with prams, while high chairs and baby-changing facilities are non-existent. The horrendous traffic, too, can be an endurance challenge for children and adults alike. Playgrounds are extremely rare and most are in poor condition.
That said, most supermarkets stock nappies and baby formula at prices comparable to those you may be used to back home, although don't count on finding your favourite brand. There are also fabulous, family-friendly attractions that should appeal to kids of all ages. Those with a wildlife focus include Nairobi National Park, Nairobi Safari Walk, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Giraffe Centre, while the National Museum, Karen Blixen's House & Museum and Bomas of Kenya could all maintain the interest of older kids for an hour or two. The Kazuri Beads & Pottery Centre is another possibility.
Many midrange and top-end hotels have swimming pools.
Nairobi is something of an obstacle course, although it's not really a city where any travellers get out and walk, so most of your time getting around will be spent in a vehicle. To that end, a handful of ex-London taxis are spacious enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Some (but by no means all) expensive hotels have wheelchair-accessible facilities, including bathrooms.
British Council Courses for those seeking the necessary qualifications to teach English in Kenya.