Just How Dangerous is Nairobi?

13 03 2009

nairobi-rhino-mw“Hand over your wallet or I’ll charge!”            (Nairobi National Park, Kenya)



The other evening I was watching a documentary on gun trafficking. In the course of the programme, the story described Nairobi as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.


Not for one moment would I dispute the Kenyan capital’s reputation, but I should say that in my time spent there I have never had a problem. In fact, it is amongst my favourite cities in the world.


Over the years I have heard the stories of people mugged at knife point or car-jacked at the end of an AK-47. All are apparently true, but then again Saskatoon is officially the most dangerous city in Canada and a friend of mine was once mugged in a Swiss village of less than 700 people. I should also add that apart from one pick-pocketed backpack, I have never personally known a single traveller who actually had a problem in Nairobi.


So, just how dangerous is ‘Nairobbery’?


Well, very…apparently. Although much of the crime afflicts residents rather than tourists because we have the luxury of frequenting better parts of town and travelling by taxi.


I am undeniably a cautious traveller. Although I don’t barricade myself in my hotel room, I do take sensible precautions especially in unfamiliar cities or ones with dubious reputations. These are the customary practices of knowing where you’re going, not flaunting wealth, flashing money, wandering into quiet areas or strolling in drunken pride late at night singing ‘Bay City Rollers’ songs. Although all quite sensible, they of course do not guarantee that you’ll end up unmolested…but they help.


Nairobi is a big, busy city. Its sidewalks are constantly jammed with people and there’s a steady vibrancy. The Kenyan people are wonderfully warm and friendly. By day, you can stroll the markets, shops or city centre free of fear…unless scared of aggressive souvenir sellers or people just wanting to make conversation with a visitor. If you don’t mind a bit of mild adventure, you can even ride the public buses or shared taxis.


Nairobi changes by night, however. Although its sidewalks still bustle – especially on a Friday or Saturday evening – it’s always advisable to travel by taxi. But don’t let the darkness leave you locked in your hotel eating room service spaghetti because Nairobi should not be missed after sundown.


Tourist haunts like Carnivore aside, Nairobi has great restaurants including one of my favourite Italian places in the world – and that includes Italy. Restaurants will always happily call a taxi at the end of your meal, although most taxis will either offer to come back once you’ve finished or actually wait outside until you’re done…at no extra charge!


There are plenty of other places to eat including traditional Kenyan establishments and superb curry houses. There are also fast food outlets and even decent pizza places. After dinner, you can head to a club for dancing, socialising or people-watching and see what affluent young Kenyans do after work…which is pretty much the same as anywhere else in the world: dancing, socialising and people-watching.


And there are always the legendary bars and watering holes for a nightcap, like the Lord Delamere Terrace at the Norfolk Hotel.


Although by no means a perfect country, Kenya’s newspapers are as critical and honest in their assessment of their leaders as any in the west and its citizens proud of their democracy. The people waste no time in sharing tales of untrustworthy politicians, are courageous in the face of systemic corruption and love meeting visitors. If passing through Nairobi on the way to or from your safari, don’t be put off by its reputation and be sure to spend a few days in one of the world’s great cities.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan



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