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Is Kenya Travel Safe?

As December 27 dawned, millions of Kenyans headed to polling sites to vote for a president. As December 27 drew to a close, I booked an airline ticket from Nairobi to New York. And as the next few days progressed, Kenya plunged into violence that has left more than 650 people dead, so far.

I’ve spent the past few weeks reading horrific tales of bloodshed with the hope that post-election killings will cease any day. I’m not scheduled to visit Kenya for another 5 months, but regardless of how much the situation improves by then, it’s scary to think that what is widely regarded as the most stable country in Africa can dissolve into tribal conflicts and machete attacks at the drop of a ballot.

Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member smokeysf

The violence is never far from my mind; a friend with whom I’m traveling signed us up to receive email notices from the US State Department, so I’ve been getting near-daily warnings in my inbox, along with invitations to town-hall meetings in Kenya. And I’m not the only traveler wondering what happens when you have a ticket to a dangerous situation. The New York Times, the Seattle Times, and every publication in between has been searching for answers.

For my part, I called the airline to inquire if it’s possible to change my itinerary free of charge (so that I’d fly to New York from Tanzania). The airline’s website says that it’s allowing fliers to postpone immediate travel to Kenya, but doesn’t hint at what it might do if the violence continues. And since I’m organizing a trip where I’ll be meeting friends arriving from all over the world, it seems complicated—and potentially risky—to wait until the last minute to decide that we all need to bypass Kenya. I was curious if we could make that difficult decision now and pursue a new plan.

Apparently not. At least, not without paying a fare difference and a change fee. So we’re going to wait a bit longer to discuss our options. I’m torn between my desire to see the legendary Masai Mara and my instinct to play it 100% safe. Somehow the assurances that tourists aren’t targets are not very assuring. In life, as in travel, things are unpredictable.

Do any other travelers have experience with touch-and-go trips—or words of advice on what to do when political violence or other unforeseen circumstances come into play when you’re planning?


My name: Michelle Doucette

How I earn my keep: I'm an editor at

Favorite way to get around: Some of my favorite trips involved renting cars in foreign countries and driving through the countryside, stopping on whims. You get a feel for the culture away from the big cities and meet interesting people on the road, including, I must admit, an embarrassingly high number of local policemen. I suppose it would be prudent to learn all of the traffic laws ahead of time.

Best meal I've had while traveling: Since a succession of gelato cones probably doesn't count as a meal, my favorite must have been a fresh crabmeat lunch prepared by a St. John sailboat captain while we took a break from snorkeling in the Caribbean. Sharing baklava as the sun came up over Paros, Greece, (while, once again, not technically a meal) was also memorable.

Travel ambitions: Since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I've figured out that I'd like to keep trekking while traveling. I've got my eyes on epic hikes in Nepal, Bhutan, and Peru.



that could provide you with an indication of what it’s like!

Nothing But Bonfires

Wow, what a tricky one. I really don’t know. My instinct would be just to GO, because I feel that you’ll always regret it if you don’t, but you’re absolutely right to be worried about playing it safe.

My boyfriend and I woke up in Cambodia the day before we were set to cross the border into Thailand, only to turn BBC World News on and find that Thailand had staged a military coup just a few hours before. We got all sorts of email from concerned people warning us to stay away, but truthfully, we only hesitated a second before going ahead with our original plans anyway. (And hey, guess what, now we have an awesome dinner party story! And some interesting photos of tanks in Bangkok.)

That said, the coup in Thailand was peaceful and non-violent,of course, and the situation in Kenya is, well….not. I know it’s obviously a TOTALLY different ballgame, so wow….good luck with making the decision!


That’s a crazy story! I’m glad you didn’t scrap your trip to Thailand. Thanks for sharing–and for the supportive words!

Paula Kahumbu

I’m in touch with the manager of the Mara Conservancy and can confirm that the Mara itself is very safe as are all the parks in Kenya. Travel to these places by air wherever possible if the roads pass through dangerous areas. In general the problems are localized and most Kenyans are getting on with day to day life. I wouldn’t cancel a holiday to the Mara which is about the most amazing wildlife spectacle one could ever hope for.


Hello, I was just reading your story,which seemed very similar to mine. I was scheduled to leave to go to Kenya June 28 with Delta Airlines. I had no idea that this was Ameria’s first time sending there planes to Kenya. Apparently, Obama was trying to restore the relationship between the U.S and Kenya. My flight got cancelled because of terrorist threats. I mean a plane carrying all American to Africa makes things more risky. I was thinking about changing my airline to a European Airline instead, but my parents told me to hold off on this trip. I was devastated. I got a scholarship to go, and it is difficult to just pick another country. I felt like during my months of planning, I had already made a connection with Kenya. I am still planning on going sometime in September. Good Luck with your plans!

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