Visitors to the wilds of Kenya should take time to investigate what things they should and should not do during their safari. Too often people forget that life in the wild is nothing like life in the suburbs. A Kenyan safari is a bucket-list experience, but it’s a serious undertaking that should be approached with care and caution. While advisories warning against travel to Kenya have been issued in light of recent incidents, many tourists continue to flock to Masai Mara, Tsavo, Lake Nakuru and other reserves unscathed, and enjoy a trip of a lifetime. If you are planning to visit Kenya and its untamed landscapes, be sure to keep the following safari tips in mind.
1. Don’t Leave the Vehicle or You Might be Lunch
While that sleeping lion might seem yards and yards away, don’t attempt to get a good close-up by leaving the safety of your vehicle. If you step out of the jeep in the presence of large animals like elephants, rhinos or big cats, you are definitely risking your life. Maintaining a healthy respect for these beasts may be the only thing that prevents you from becoming a snack on the savanna.
2. Don’t Shoot Unless it’s with a Camera
The world reacted in horror when American dentist, Walter Palmer, killed Cecil the lion on a Zimbabwean safari in July. He paid a guide $55,000 to help him hunt the lion with a crossbow, which is a pretty enticing sum to tempt unscrupulous guides into the business. Conservationists – and any decent human beings – are rightly aghast at this “hobby”. Cecil drew particular ire because he was a tagged and protected lion, but no magnificent creature should be fodder for trophy hunters. Sport hunting was banned in Kenya back in 1977, but wealthy tourists sometimes get around the red tape. Don’t be that douchebag. Photo safaris are the way to go.
3. Don’t Forget the Meds
All Kenyan game parks are in the malaria zone, so malaria prophylactics are non-negotiable unless you want to risk your trip and your health. Since these medications are not 100% effective, you should definitely remember to use insect repellent and make plans to sleep under nets for a mosquito-free setting. Don’t take chances with mosquitoes. No animal kills more humans than this tiny buzzing beast.
4. Don’t Visit Garissa County or Al Shabaab Zones
Kenya use to be considered a relatively safe safari destination, but things have gotten ugly there recently. The northern region near the Somali border and particularly Garissa county have seen some alarming activity from al Shabaab terrorists, an al-Qaida affiliate. This includes a shocking shooting rampage at a university campus in Garissa that killed 147, multiple beheadings at a quarry and a massacre on a bus where targets were primarily Christians. Atrocities aren’t necessarily directed at safari tourists, but nobody wants to get caught in the crossfire. Just do your research before booking a trip to the hot zones.
5. Don’t Facebook
Selfies and wild animals do not mix. Tell yourself this 1,000 times before your plane even lands in Kenya. If you have a Facebook addiction, wean yourself off slowly before you begin your safari. Once you get home, you can tell your network all about your adventure. You don’t really want to spend your safari adventure staring at a cell phone screen, do you? Be present for every wondrous moment.
6. Don’t Smoke in Public
Add Kenya to the list of places where lighting up in public places is a no-no. Since 2008, you’re not legally permitted to smoke in restaurants, shopping malls, theaters, hotel lobbies and grounds etc. This might be good to know when passing through Nairobi or other towns on your safari. Even out in the bush and in rural lodges, it is forbidden – and ill-advised, what with all that dry brush. We’ve heard reports of some smokers getting away with it (guides can be bribed into turning a blind eye, of course), but its best to be aware of this rule and stick to designated smoking areas (congested as they may be). Most safaris provide rest stops that can accommodate smokers, if you really need to puff. Always ask before you strike a match, though, even in your hotel room. Offenders can be fined 50,000 to three million Kenya shillings or you could face six months to three years imprisonment. As for smoking drugs, just don’t do it. A few years back, a British tourist died while in police custody after being caught with ‘bhang’, a local variety of cannabis.
7. Don’t Offend the Locals
When visiting Kenya and passing through its towns and villages, you can expect to encounter customs and practices that are completely foreign to you. Do your best not to grimace or complain to the locals about their customs, lifestyle or the foods they eat. Don’t perpetuate the stereotype that western tourists are tactless and rude. Embrace the opportunity to open your mind to cultural differences.
8. Don’t Litter
If your allergies are driving you mad because of all the driving dust, don’t toss your used Kleenex out the car window just because they’re biodegradable. The wilderness tends to be a sacred place for your guides so don’t offend them – or the animals – by throwing your garbage onto the trail. Be respectful and always bring your litter back to camp with you to dispose of it appropriately.
9. Don’t Throw Food to the Animals
Remember that the Kenyan bush is not a petting zoo. You should not offer food to any animals, even those that aren’t known to be man-eaters. It’s not good for any of the animals on the safari to learn to equate food with humans. Even though you just want to be friendly and connect with that ostrich or cormorant, you could be risking a nasty pecking if don’t keep your food to yourself.
10. Don’t Take the Experience for Granted
Most westerners will go their whole lives without seeing animals like lions and leopards in the wild. Don’t take your trip for granted. By maintaining your sense of awe, you’ll get more out of your vacation, which could truly become one of the most amazing travel experiences of your lifetime. While you might be sweaty and miss the comforts of home, don’t lose your sense of wonder while traveling in Kenya.