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Is it Safe to Travel to Kenya?

There is no denying that Kenya has had more than its fair share of tragedy over the past few years. Ordinary Kenyans have suffered the Nairobi Mall attack, an accidental fire at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, bombings in the far north along the border with Somalia and, most recently, the attack on students at Garissa. Except for the fire, all the other incidents are connected to terrorism perpetuated by al-Shabaab, a militant group based in Somalia. Much like ordinary New Yorkers and Londoners who survived the attacks by al-Qaeda, Kenyans are determined not to let the terrorists get the upper hand or wear them down. But, unlike those in New York or London, they don’t seem to be getting any global support. In fact, countries who have also been victims of attacks are advising against travel to Kenya – rather than offering a hand in solidarity.

The hard question is: for the average tourist who wants to experience the once-in-a-lifetime splendour of game viewing on the Masai Mara or the thrill of the wildebeest migration, is it safe to travel to Kenya?

Is it safe to travel to Kenya? Balloon safari
Kenya remains Africa's favourite destination for bucket-list safari experiences.
Is it safe to travel to Kenya? Anja & Ashley
Go2Africans Anja and Ashley about to board their short flight to Amboseli.

An affirmative ‘yes’ comes from no lesser person than Virgin entrepreneur and lodge owner Richard Branson (he owns Mahali Mzuri in the Motorogi Conservancy). In a recent blog, Branson outlines his reasons for taking a ‘Screw it, let’s go to Kenya’ approach. His argument boils down to two main considerations: firstly, incidents occur very far from general tourism areas. You’re likely safer on a game drive in a private conservancy in the Masai Mara than driving a car on a multi-lane turnpike! But his second reason is that, without tourist dollars, unemployment will skyrocket. This will inevitably lead to more general crime but will also make desperate people more vulnerable to being recruited into organisations like al-Shabaab, who peddle an anti-Western, anti-capitalist doctrine.

As Branson puts it, ‘[Travel] advisories destroy economies, causing dire circumstances and resentment, from which environments are created where extremism is more likely to thrive.’

Where extremism gains a solid foothold, it will become more difficult to quell them. The conservation industry also relies heavily on foreign currency – without funds from visitors, important conservation projects will have to scale down or close. Poaching is likely to thrive as national parks are forced to lay off rangers and anti-poaching units. The knock-on effects for vulnerable wildlife could be horrifying if the tourism industry dries up.

Is it safe to travel to Kenya? Game Drive
Kenya continues to provide world-class safari holidays to guests from all over the world.
Is it safe to travel to Kenya? Samburu
Anja, Mary and Ashley enjoying sundowners in Samburu Game Reserve.

But what is Kenya like on the ground today?

Three Go2Africa Safari Experts – Ashley Gerrand, Mary Keet and Anja Naude – recently returned from an extensive tour of Kenya where they stayed at properties in both Nairobi and the Masai Mara.

They reported back that airport security is very high, giving passengers peace of mind. Some hotels in Nairobi have also instituted security measures such as metal detectors but that these are a minor inconvenience that is soon forgotten.

As part of Go2Africa’s seamless door-to-door approach, Ashley, Mary and Anja did not drive themselves or take any form of local transport; as Ashley says, ‘It certainly added to our sense of comfort and security to be met at the airport and being in the care of a local guide or driver throughout our visit.’

And although Kenyans are undoubtedly upset by the incidents, Anja says lodge and camp staff are as resilient, charming and efficient as ever, not dwelling on politics. ‘It was usually us guests who brought the situation up – but not often, as it really didn’t seem to be something to discuss as we felt no threat whatsoever. The beauty and scenery of this incredible country was far more relevant to talk about.’

Our ASEs stayed at Hemingways Nairobi and Nairobi Tented Camp in the city, two tranquil spots that are firm favourites with travellers. From there, they zigzagged Kenya, staying at Ol Donyo, Porini Amboseli Camp in elephant country, Sasaab and Saruni in Samburu, Branson’s own lodge Mahali Mzuri, and Porini Lion Camp. Their itinerary allowed for chartered flights and private transfers with trusted and professional suppliers all the way, ensuring their safety at every step.

Is it safe to travel to Kenya? Elephant
Destinations like the Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage in Nairobi, are huge highlights for international visitors.
Is it Safe to Travel to Kenya? On safari in Amboseli
While you may notice increased security in the cities, in parks like Amboseli, it's just another day in paradise.

Multi-million investments in Kenya – and the US president

In addition to Branson recently completing Mahali Mzuri, three other new lodges are due to open in 2015 and 2016. In June 2015, Steve and Nicky Fitzgerald – the renowned and experienced team behind more than 60 &Beyond camps – will unveil Angama Mara, an incredible lodge on the escarpment of the Mara Triangle. With more than three decades in the safari game, the Fitzgeralds know their stuff and investing heavily in Kenya is massive stamp of approval for the country’s attractiveness as a safe, comfortable and stable travel destination.

The most powerful man in the world – US President Barack Obama – will visit Kenya in July 2015 as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and for talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Security will no doubt be at an all-time high in the country, which is an added bonus for safari goers heading to the Mara River for the first crossings of the Great Migration.

Is it safe to travel to Kenya? Dhow
If you're travelling to Kenya in the next few months, take normal travel precautions as you would going to any other international destination.
Is it safe to travel to Kenya? Family safari
Kenya remains a fantastic destination for multi-generational family safaris.

How we keep our travellers safe

Our guiding principles to keeping our thousands of Kenya visitors secure every year are:

  • Remain as far from the Somali border as possible. The distance between Nairobi and Mogadishu is 1 182km or 735 miles on poor roads. Somalia lies to the east, while the Masai Mara is in the north of Kenya.
  • Avoid large gatherings and townships. Our accommodation is handpicked and falls within the most exclusive neighbourhood in Nairobi, named Karen, which is also home to international schools and large numbers of foreign diplomats.
  • Bypass Nairobi altogether and fly straight to your camp in the Mara after landing at Jomo Kenyatta.

No destination is the world is without risk but we firmly believe that the risks to ordinary visitors to Kenya are very, very low. As a flagship wildlife destination and a place that has given so much pleasure to so many animal lovers over the years, it is wonderful to be able to extend a hand of friendship, compassion and solidarity to Kenya. The country is open for business and its smiling people are ready to welcome us, as always, with a hearty, ‘Karibu!’

Screw it, indeed, let’s go to Kenya!

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