Full of treasure troves from pristine beaches to amazing and iconic wildlife reserves like Serengeti and Massai Mara, East Africa is an exceptional travel destination for all type of travelers. Like most countries in Africa, however, these countries have their share of cons.
Poverty has opened doors to relatively high crime rates including carjacking, robberies, and muggings. But honestly, you really don’t need to travel internationally to have bad stuff happen. Anyway, here are some ways to mitigate the risks and ensure that your East Africa experience is a positive one.
How to stay safe in Kenya
The first time tourists go to Nairobi they are usually daunted by the bad reputation that goes beyond its name but you really shouldn’t allow fear to exile you in a hotel room. Most tourists stroll through the city without any problem. Just a few unlucky cases most of which involve petty theft. Here are some tips to help you stay safe in Kenya’s capital.
Tips to stay safe while traveling
- Exude confidence and avoid flashy things that are likely to shout out ‘tourist’. The best thing about Kenya is that it’s a cosmopolitan city with people of all races and tribes so as long as you remain low profile no one will really notice you’re a tourist.
- Be confident as you walk around and avoid talking to strangers especially if they approach you first.
- Whenever you take a cab especially from the airport make a call while inside and give the details like the plate number to your friend or relative- Please make sure the driver is aware that you’re making the call. This will scare away any plans of hijacking. A cheeky tip; if you have no one to call, just pretend to make a call anyway.
- Avoid public transport – Well, this sounds mean but most touts are too harsh and rude even to the locals and there are likely to overcharge you. Plus public transport is not that well managed so at peak times a bus can decide to avoid traffic hence they might drop you off miles away from your actual alighting destination.
- Most of this persistent touts hope to drag you while hoping to distract you enough with their glossy brochures as they deftly lift your wallet.
- If you have to take a matatu, be sure to be polite but firm with the tout and research beforehand everything to do with fare charges based on the time of the day. Usually, the peak hours are morning and evening so the fare increase at this time.
- Take particular care of your bags and belongings while being on the street.
- Just in case you come in confrontation with thieves always remain calm and hand over your valuables or whatever they might ask for.
- Be aware of ‘Nairobi bump’– This tactic involves a scammer bumping into you and involving you in a small conversation. If this happens, please keep walking. Trust me it’s the most effective way to prevent your wallet from being stolen.
- Don’t ask directions from strangers instead there are tons of askaris (security guards) in almost every building. In case you need any assistance, they are your best bet.
- Most urban towns in Kenya are actually more dangerous than the rural areas in terms of cons and scammers. So if you can stay in big city’s suburbs it’s way better than the CBDs.
- Generally, the handful active fraudsters and tricksters in Nairobi seem to have relied on a similar story for years so it’s pretty easy to spot the spiels.
How to stay safe in Uganda
- Just like in Kenya, unfamiliar taxis most especially the ubiquitous motorcycles cabs can put you in the precarious state if you land on the wrong person. Make your entire transportation private, booked well ahead of time preferably by your hotel. You can also opt to have a single driver on your entire trip. This is the best way to make sure you build trust with your driver and you’re unlikely to land in any scam traps.
- If you’re lost, do not show it – Always walk with a purpose and if you want to stop and enjoy the views and the stunning landscape of Kampala, be vigilant and confident because once you appear lost, you automatically become a target.
- Years ago, Uganda was trending for their Kill the Gay Bill. Now, it’s great that the bill was repealed 6 months after it passed but if you’re a gay traveler just be sure to show a reasonable level of discretion. It’s best to keep it to yourself and it’s definitely safer that way.
- Don’t leave your valuables like your phone and laptop in the car. Thieves are likely to break the window and steal your belongings.
- For your health’s sake, take your anti-malaria pills – This disease is way dangerous than any petty theft you’re likely to encounter on the streets of Kampala. Uganda is the most malaria-prone country in East Africa. I know it’s super-hot but suck it up, take your meds and sleep under a treated net and you’ll walk out of Uganda healthy.
- Avoid using earphones while walking on the streets. As a pedestrian in Kampala, you need to stay aware of what’s happening around you. Bodabodas, cars, trucks, bicycles and taxis they’ll just honk at you while coming from behind and it’s your cue to step aside. If you don’t move you might be knocked. It is really not a norm here for cars to go around you.
- If you’re walking on the streets and you notice people running, please don’t ask a question just run with them! From time to time, Uganda goes through civil unrest and since the government is usually against protests, teargas might happen. Just retire back to your hotel and wait for things to cool down (they cool down pretty fast), this isn’t your fight.
- Be street smart – Well, this applies in any country in the world that you’ll visit. Don’t hang your expensive camera on your neck, don’t use your phone on the streets and be aware that most of the over-friendly people are really not trustworthy and of course do not avoid any red flags.
- This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be open to meeting new people, on the contrary, most of your memorable time will come from swapping stories and ideas with new friends.
How to stay safe in Tanzania
- Bag snatching is very common here, whereby a thief in a taxi or a bodaboda (motorbike) drives very close to the sidewalk and abruptly seize bags from a pedestrian. If you can, carry your day pack from the front and walk towards the oncoming traffic, plus keep a reasonable distance from the road.
- Before you travel to Tanzania, make sure you get a vaccination for Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Your doctor might recommend more vaccinations based on activities you’re planning to do while there and the areas you intend to visit. These include Hepatitis B, Cholera, Yellow Fever, and Rabies.
- Homosexuality is generally illegal in Tanzania. LGBT are usually publicly persecuted by the government. Well, as long as you keep your status known to you alone you should be just fine. If you’re planning to stay for a little longer, please erase the evidence of same-sex relationship from your social handles.
- Avoid traveling at night especially in rural locations. Apart from bandits presence, the infrastructure is pretty bad and there are common accidents caused by potholes.
- While ghettos are the best place to interact with the locals, there are also the most unsafe areas to visit. As long as you’re a tourist in Tanzania, just keep off the ghettos unless you’re in a group of other travelers and some local guides.
- Don’t get into a car with strangers – You’ll get ‘great’ offers from strangers to take you around but mostly these are scammers and they are more likely to harm you than help you. If you have to choose between a cool bargain and safety, please go for the latter.
- To change money be sure to do so in a reputable bank – There are tons of black market money exchange firms that are also involved in money laundering. In addition, they are also likely to rip you off unknowingly.
- Be careful while using your credit card. Now, Tanzania is primarily a cash economy and even though some major hotel might accept the use of cards, it’s uncommon even in the major cities like Dar es Salaam. Using the cards can make you vulnerable to fraud. Most of the times robbers might follow you up to the ATM and instruct you to withdraw all your money at a gunpoint. To avoid this, withdraw cash during the day and even then, be aware of your surroundings and if you suspect that you’re being followed or watched, leave the area completely.
- While having the beach all to yourself sounds like a great idea, you should be careful while visiting the fascinating shorelines in Tanzania. Be especially careful in Coco Beach area of Touré Drive, the scenic beachfront road that leads from the Sea Cliff Hotel into town. These areas have high levels of muggings, pick-pockets, and thefts.