Keep Calm and Go to Kenya

It’s been a month since the much-publicised travel advisories to Kenya and, while visitor numbers are down, for the most part it’s business as usual as travellers continue to go on safari in the country’s top reserves: the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Tsavo and Samburu. The Masai Mara in particular is the place to be right now, as the wildebeest herds of the great migration have arrived and visitors are being treated to the sight of herds by the hundred forging their way across the Mara River.

Several countries – the United States, Australia and France – have advisories against travel to certain areas within Kenya while last month the UK changed their advice to include all but essential travel to Mombasa Island and a narrow strip of coastline running from Mtwapa Creek in the north to Tiwi in the south. Although only for a relatively small area, this update has caused a large amount of confusion and misunderstanding.

The misunderstanding is that many people have blanketed the whole of Kenya as an unsafe destination rather than the few potentially volatile areas that are covered by the advisories. When, following this update, two large tour operators cancelled their charter flights to Mombasa and flew their remaining clients (some 400 British holidaymakers) back to the UK, the media spotlight focused in on images of queuing travellers with headlines screaming “evacuation”. 

To clear up the confusion, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued a clarification statement part of which reads: “Our travel advice for Nairobi or any other part of the country has not changed. The British Government is not evacuating its citizens from Kenya. Some British tourists flew out of Mombasa last week on the advice of their tour company, following their decision to discontinue their charter flights to the area.”

There have been problems in Nairobi with several explosions caused by small, hand-made devices. The most recent of these was on 16 May in Eastleigh– a Somali business centre and market located 10 km from the CBD - both the Eastleigh district and Nairobi’s low income areas are also covered in the UK advisory. But bear in mind that Nairobi is a big city, and this warning does not affect the tourist areas, where local security agencies are working on heightened alert to ensure the safety of travellers who continue to enjoy their holidays in Kenya.

We asked Nairobi-based tour operator Asili Adventure Safaris for on-the-ground feedback, and they pointed out the following: 

  • The bombing that occurred recently in Nairobi was at a market called Gikomba that deals with second hand clothes, a commercial area not visited by tourists. 
  • There have not been any incidents in Mombasa that have affected any tourists and security in all tourism establishments within Mombasa remains high.
  • Besides the UK company moving their clients, most of whom had finished their holidays, many other tour operators continue to sell safari circuits in Kenya and the coastal resorts of Diani, Hanzu, Malindi, Watamu, Kilifi and Lamu which are not within the travel advisory zone.
  • Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and all safari circuits throughout Kenya continue to operate as normal and Kenya Airways, British Airways and other scheduled carriers continue to operate their usual flight schedules into Kenya.
  • Finally, based on the current situation on the ground, I wish to say that there has been a lot of exaggeration by the media. Kenya is peaceful and not as messy as is being portrayed.

So while we’re not saying you should ignore the advisories, we are recommending you read them carefully. Kenya is a large country with a few problem areas, as “Dombs” a recent traveller writes in her TripAdvisor reviews: ““Please do not let these travel advisories put you off travelling on safari /Nairobi (as they had us worried!). We had a life changing holiday in Kenya and I would hate for people to miss out on this.” 

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