Several companies sell tours of Kibera for around $30 per person. You can easily visit the slum independently for free. No guide is necessary. This guide explains, step-by-step, how to tour Kibera slum for free. It includes info on transportation, safety, things to do, and more.
A Bit of Info About Kibera
Kibera is a division of Nairobi. The area is considered to be the largest urban slum in all of Africa. Depending on the source, population estimates range from 170,000 to well over a million people. Many living on around $1 per day.
The neighborhood suffers from a multitude of problems. Mostly stemming from extreme poverty. Diseases from unclean drinking water and poor hygiene are common. HIV and AIDS rates are high. Healthcare options are limited. Violent crimes including robbery, rape, and assault are common. Unemployment is high as well. Education is poor.
Recently the Kenyan government developed a clearance program for the slum. The goal is to relocate Kibera residents into high rise apartment buildings and clear the land that the slum currently occupies.
How to Get to Kibera from Nairobi
The Kibera district lies just 4.1 miles (6.6 km) from Nairobi CBD. The neighborhood is easily accessible from anywhere in the city. The main road leading toward Kibera is Ring Road Kilimani. There are several ways to get there including:
- Uber- The ride from downtown costs just a few dollars. Your driver will drop you off right in the center of the neighborhood. This is probably the most stress-free way to get to Kibera. My friends and I took an Uber from our hostel on Milimani road. Our driver seemed to think we were crazy for going and didn’t seem too happy about driving us there, but he did it anyway. The roads entering the slum are rough and crowded. He gave us his number so we could call him to pick us up but he didn’t answer when we wanted to return.
- Taxi- You can simply flag down a cab and tell the driver that you want to go to Kibera. Be sure to bargain hard with the driver. Some drivers won’t budge on price and some simply don’t want to take their cars over the rough roads in Kibera. If that happens, just find one that actually wants the fare.
- Matatu (shared minibus)- I’m not sure of the exact route, but you could easily find out by asking around. I saw plenty of matatus on the main road near Kibera so I know they operate in the area.
- Walk- Because Kibera is so close to the city center it is possible to just walk. After our Uber driver didn’t answer when we wanted to be picked up, we decided to just walk back to the hostel.
What to do once you arrive in Kibera
Kibera is kind of built on the side of a hill but extends out in all directions. The slum sprawls over a pretty huge are. The first thing I recommend you do is to walk to the highest point and take in the view. The size of the neighborhood is really impressive. This will also help you get the lay of the land. The area is kind of a maze. It is pretty easy to get lost.
Next, you can begin just wondering around. Dirt roads and paths wind throughout the whole neighborhood. Some are busy and full of people, traffic, and businesses. Some are quiet and residential. You’ll see children playing with homemade toys and people going about their lives doing laundry, cooking, etc.
Make your way to the low point in the slum where you’ll find a small stream. Here, you’ll people where wash their belongings and themselves. Several rickety old wooden bridges cross the river. Watch your step when crossing.
Tip: While wandering around, try not to be too intrusive. People are just living their lives. It’s best not to bother them. Try not to take too many photos or loiter around too much. The locals don’t like it, which is understandable. I don’t like random people nosing around my home either.
The final place that is worth checking out is the railroad. It is located on the eastern border of Kibera. I am not sure if the line is still in use. Here you find some shops with people selling all sorts of items. I saw everything from food to ancient looking electronics.
While wandering around, consider buying a drink or snacks from one of the vendors. Small convenience shops can be found all throughout the area selling a variety of items. One of my friends bought a can of beer. This is also a nice way to support the community.
Safety while visiting Kibera
I’m not going to sugar coat it. This area is dangerous. Crime rates are high. Theft, mugging, murder, assault, and rape are all common. With that being said, it is safe enough to spend an afternoon walking around the area. I never felt in danger. To limit your risk of becoming a victim, you will want to take a few precautions.
To stay safe in Kibera, I recommend you:
- Don’t visit Kibera at night- Most crime happens at night. Multiple people including our Uber driver encouraged us to leave before dark.
- Go in a group if possible- I visited Kibera with two friends that I met in the hostel. Even though I would feel comfortable enough going alone, it is best to be in a group if it is an option. There is safety in numbers.
- Don’t stay too long- The longer you say, the more risk you expose yourself to. You can get a good feel for the area in just a couple of hours.
- Respect everyone- Don’t go around pointing a camera everywhere and acting like a stereotypical tourist. Treat the area like any other neighborhood.
- Watch where you step- The roads and pathways are not paved and some are very steep. Potholes, stones, and garbage blanket the ground. This makes walking difficult in some places. Be careful not to fall.
- Don’t get lost- There doesn’t seem to be any urban planning going on in Kibera. Streets and paths go in all directions. It would be pretty easy to get lost if you aren’t paying attention to where you are going. If you do get lost, try to walk uphill so you can reorient yourself with the land.
To me, the only argument one could make for taking a guided tour of Kibera is for safety reasons. The guide probably has a better idea of where is and where isn’t safe to walk. They will also have friends and contacts living in the area if something goes wrong. If you are alone, you may not feel comfortable walking around Kibera. It is a lot to take in and is a bit risky.
Just a few days after my visit, one of my friends found an article online about a recent crime in Kibera. Five mutilated bodies were found near the railroad tracks. It is believed that they were victims of organ harvesting. Check out the article here.
For more general information on safety, check out my guide: Is Travel in Africa Safe? Avoiding Crime, Disease, Injury, and Scams
The Ethics of Touring a Slum
Slum tours have become pretty popular for adventure tourists over the past decade. You can tour the favelas of Brazil, Dharavi in Mumbai, and Kibera in Nairobi. Those are the main three that I am aware of where organized tours are sold.
Some travelers hold the belief that it is unethical to visit a slum for tourism purposes. That by touring a slum you are exploiting the population and treating their home as a zoo. While I understand the argument, I believe that it is invalid.
Slums are just parts of cities. They are neighborhoods. In my mind, taking a stroll through a slum is no different from taking a walk in the city center. Of course, you should be respectful of the residents just as you would in any other neighborhood. Don’t vandalize their property or shove your camera in their face. Personally, I see no ethical problem.
Touring a slum can benefit the local people as well. Slums have their own economy. They are full of shops and restaurants. By making a purchase, you are adding to the economy and helping out in some small way.
One thing that you should not do is give money to people who beg. While walking around Kibera, most likely someone will approach you and ask for money. In the long run, it does much more harm than good. If you wish to make a donation, there are legitimate charitable organizations that can put the money to good use. More on that in the next section.
Volunteering or Donating Money in Kibera
Visiting a slum like Kibera can be a profound experience. If, after your visit, you have the desire to volunteer or make a donation, it is possible. Several nonprofit organizations do work in Kibera slum.
I am not familiar with any of the specific organizations but one piece of advice that I can give is to be very cautious of which organization you decide to work with or donate to. This is true not only in Kibera but in all of Africa.
Most volunteer organizations are corrupt or simply not efficiently run. There are cases where less than 10% of donations actually go toward helping the people in need. Officials pocketing donations while the needy starve is a real problem. Some of these organizations operate as businesses where the volunteer is the customer. Oftentimes volunteers end up accomplishing nothing or in some cases do more harm than good.
With that being said, there are charitable organizations do a lot of good. The most reliable way to find legitimate volunteer work in Kibera and in Africa, in general, is to travel there and seek it out. By actually being there you can see with your own eyes what the organization is accomplishing
Final Thoughts on Visiting Kibera
While it is incredibly heartbreaking to see so many people living in such extreme poverty, it is, at the same time, fascinating to see. As you walk through the narrow streets of the slum you that life here can be pretty normal. People run small businesses such as convenience stores and barber shops. Children run around laughing and playing with balls made from nothing but trash wrapped in string. People are just living their lives the best way they can under the circumstances.
How do you feel about the ethics of touring a slum like Kibera? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments below.