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Artisan in Maasai market
Artisan in Maasai market | © ITU Pictures / Flickr
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11 Things Tourists Should Never Do in Kenya

Picture of Nandika Macharia
Updated: 4 April 2018
Kenyans are world-renowned for their hospitality, vibrant cultures, and safari adventures in the country’s wilderness. When visiting Kenya, however, there are several things you should not do, in order to avoid unnecessary offenses or misunderstandings. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will enhance your time with the locals.

Never refuse hospitality

Hospitality in Kenya is deeply ingrained in the cultures of the people. It is expected that visitors will be served with food and drink wherever they go. Refusing to have a bite is considered rude and unacceptable. Invitations to dinner at restaurants and homes are to be expected and accepted graciously.

Do not buy items derived from endangered species

Ivory from elephant tusks, hides from big cats or rhino horns are some of the things you should avoid buying. While they are not sold out in the open, unscrupulous individuals may try to sell you items made from ivory or rhino horn, placing you at risk of being locked up.

Mother and Baby Elephant ....
Mother and baby elephant | © Mara 1 / Flickr

Refrain from using foreign currency

When exchanging money, do so in a reputable exchange bureau, like the ones in your hotel or the malls. Make your payments to local vendors and outlets in Kenyan shillings. Using foreign currency can make you a target for theft.

Do not ask people’s tribe

Being from a certain tribe is considered a thing of pride but it does not define a person from Kenya. This is especially so among young people, who prefer to define themselves as Kenyans first. Since there are many stereotypes surrounding tribes, asking people about it can be misconstrued to mean you are stereotyping them, even when you are not. You can, however, ask about the different tribes in the country.

Do not take people’s picture without their consent

It is not uncommon to see Maasai Morans walking the street, adorned in their traditional red shuka (robes). Tempting as it may be to snap a photo, ask first to avoid offending anyone. Usually, locals they are friendly and proud to show off their regalia.

Watch what you wear

Kenyans have a conservative streak to them. What may be appropriate in high fashion may not be suitable on the streets of Nairobi and other cities. If the disapproving stares don’t get to you, then do not be surprised if a random woman slides up to you and offers you a leso (wrap) to cover up. However, do not show up underdressed for an event either.

Do not carry valuables around

Your valuables, especially jewelry, should always be in a secure place. Carrying them around and displaying them in public will definitely make you a target for theft. Your camera should also be carried discreetly, seeing as it is an expensive piece of equipment.

Do not explore the city on your own

Like every other country in the world, there are unsafe places in Kenya. It is better to move in a group, or with a guide, to avoid such places. Some streets are safe during the day but not at night, so be aware of your surroundings.

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Toi Market, Nairobi | © Ninara / Flickr

Do not treat art and crafts the same

Buying art is different to shopping at the crafts market. Art takes time and is very unique to individuals and, in some instances, cultures. It takes resources, creativity and energy, and the price tag tends to reflect these sacrifices. Haggling too much can make you appear cheap and the artist feel unappreciated.

Never refuse a security check

With the rise in terrorist activity all over the world, including Kenya, security checks at the entrance of buildings have become mandatory. It is usually a quick frisk, with an electronic wand being passed over your person and your bag.

Refrain from drinking water from unknown sources

As a rule, only drink bottled water from the supermarkets or restaurants. Water from unknown sources can harbor harmful pathogens. Even the locals do not trust such water and always boil their water before drinking it.