Jodi Sebso completed medical school at the University of Arizona in 2006. Jodi used her $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation to support work in a community clinic in Kenya.
Here are Jodi’s travel safety tips:
Traveling in Kenya is definitely not for the faint-hearted or those with back problems! Before you go, register with the US Embassy, which you can do quite easily by filling out an online form. Kenya is listed on the State Department’s list of locations with travel warnings, so keep this in mind when planning a trip there. Places in Kenya such as Nairobi and the coast (Mombasa and Lamu), are typically considered slightly higher risk because they are more tourist-oriented. In addition, be sure to get your travel immunizations—typhoid, a polio booster, yellow fever, and meningitis vaccine, the only one that is optional. Overall, if you do your research and use common sense, you will find Kenya to be quite safe.
When flying to Kenya, there are a number of airlines which you can choose from. British Airways, KLM, and Kenya Airways all service Nairobi. You will fly into the Jomo Kenyatta airport. You must have a visa to enter the country, and you can either get this before you depart by sending your passport and other required items to the Kenyan embassy in Washington, D.C., or by waiting in line at the airport once you arrive. All information can be found at www.kenyaembassy.com. I had my visa before I left home, which made customs take only about ten minutes. Be sure to leave plenty of time before your flight when you depart Nairobi, as the security is very tight (3 separate X-ray machines and several bag checks), and takes anywhere from 1-2 hours just to get to your gate. Once in Nairobi, you can either be met at the airport or take a taxi into town. While in town, there are a number of buses and matatus (small Nissan vans) that shuttle people around the city. Do not travel in one of these vehicles at night if you can avoid it. The streets become pretty unsafe at night, and there is a reason that the city’s nickname is “Nairobbery!” Always keep money and other important items in a money belt. There have been incidences lately of buses on the way to the coast being held up by robbers who are savvy to money belts that hang around your neck or wrap around your waist, so the best kind to use would be one that you can attach around your leg.
I spent the majority of my time in western Kenya near Lake Victoria and in southern Kenya near the Maasai Mara reserve. In order to get from Nairobi to Kisumu, the largest city in the west, there are several buses and matatus. I would recommend the Easy Coach bus company. While it is not the fastest way to travel, it is safe. It costs 700 Sh ($10) for a one-way ticket on a fairly comfortable bus that may have air-conditioning, if you are very lucky! The roads are in extremely bad condition, and the majority of your 7-hour trip will be spent bumping around due to huge potholes. But you will spy zebras, baboons, gazelles, and other animals as you drive through the Great Rift Valley.
Once in Kisumu, you can catch a matatu or boda boda (a bicycle taxi) to get around the city. Boda bodas should cost you between 10-20 Sh per ride. Always take a taxi if you are traveling anywhere at night, or to get back to your hotel if you are at dinner or the like. A good safe hotel is the Sooper Guest House. (No, that’s not a misspelling!) If you are traveling to any location along the lake, you will need to take a matatu. These vehicles are supposed to only hold 14 passengers and drive 80 km/hour, but this is rarely what occurs. I found that the best seats were in the very back by the windows. In this manner you get fresh air and are the least crowded when people are getting in and out during your trip. There are also sometimes small buses that travel to larger villages, and these afford more room but a much rougher ride once you hit dirt roads. There were several instances when I was literally flying out of my seat! A matatu ride of up to 2 hours should cost 150-180 Sh, max. Matatu drivers will charge based upon what they think you can pay, so be firm on your price. All matatus leave from the matatu stage in Kisumu, which anyone can easily point out to you. Nearly everyone that you meet is very friendly and wants to help however they can. Your smile will always be the best tool you have to approach situations. Have a great trip!