Is Africa Safe?

 

Is Africa Safe?: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and Alive!

Before you buy your plane ticket, book your safari, or start training for some serious trekking, you’re probably wondering one thing.Is Africa really safe to travel?” 

That one little question stops more people from realizing their dreams of coming to Africa than any other.
Considering all the media clips depicting streams of violence, movies like Hotel Rwanda, and the recent outbreak of Ebola, it’s no wonder why people are more than a little hesitant to choose it as their next destination. 
So what’s the truth?

Is Africa safe or is it as dangerous as people say?

For starters, this question cannot and should not be answered. For how similar can one African country be to another that’s almost 5000 miles away? South Africa, for example, is as far away from Tunisia as the Eiffel tower is from parts of the Great Wall of China. Even countries that share borders are often a stark contract to one another with dramatically different conditions.So the better question to ask is, Is this specific country that I want to see safe to visit?” Once you decide which country on the enormously vast continent you want to see, you can zone in on your concerns even further. Because safety is an overarching umbrella that encompasses many different aspects.

See Also:  First Time Backpacking Africa: Experience of an African American Girl Traveling Solo

Is Africa Safe? 4 Biggest Concerns:

  • Food and water safety
  • Disease and illnesses
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Crime and violence 

Thankfully with a little bit of common sense and some basic precautions, most incidents can be easily prevented.

Here’s how:

1. Is Africa Safe?: Food and Water Safety

 

No one wants to go on vacation and end up kneeling over a toilet the entire time. The usual culprit is a meal prepared with standards that would send any health care worker into a frenzy.

Showing caution about what to eat and drink is not just a problem that tourists face in African countries though. It’s a precaution that should also be shown in many other parts of the world including countries throughout Latin America and Asia.

Fortunately, traveler’s diarrhea and the like can be prevented easily. In fact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has lots of great tips to keep you out of the bathroom and on the beach longer.

Here are some of the most important rules to follow, but if you want more information check out the CDC website.

Rule #1: Avoid Tap Water Like the Plague

This means that if you wind up in a country with than less then favorable drinking conditions, choose bottled water or other bottled beverage. It also means that you should nix the ice cubes, use bottled water to brush your teeth, and avoid opening your mouth like a fish in the shower.

If you are paranoid that you won’t be able to find anything to drink, remember that boiling water for a short period of time or using a water sanitation tablet can kill off most germs. Although it’s highly unlikely you’ll find yourself in a place without bottled water, soda, or beer for too long.

Depending on the length of your trip, some travelers choose to slowly introduce themselves to small amounts of water. The choice is up to you, but if you’re only there for a short period of time it’s wise to avoid it all together.

Rule #2: Always eat food that is fresh and thoroughly cooked.

So a restaurant that cooks to order is great. A street vendor walking around with chicken on a stick may not be so great. Again, a well done steak should be no problem. Undercooked meat or other foods on the other hand might not be so friendly.

Is Africa Safe? | Backpacking Egypt

Getting my Falafel on in Egypt! It’s deep-fried, freaking tasty, and won’t get me sick.

Rule #3: Don’t eat raw fruits and vegetables unless they have been sanitized properly or have a peel that you remove.

Bananas, mangoes, and oranges shouldn’t pose any threats. Biting into an apple, popping a handful of strawberries, or eating a salad might.

Ask the waiter before you order how the produce is cleaned. Sometimes you won’t always know especially if there is a language communication gap. Most likely though, any food served at an international hotel or restaurant will be fine. However, if the place is a little shady or more hole-in-the-wall style then it’s best not to risk it.

If you’re cooking for yourself, then you can buy special sanitizing solution in many grocery stores. Or some people opt for using a small amount of bleach as the disinfectant. Just make sure you follow the right ratio, methods, and procedures.

Rule #4: Avoid all unpasteurized dairy products.

This really isn’t too hard to to do. However, if for some reason you can’t find any viable options then just opt out of dairy. Besides do you really need that glass of milk before you go to bed anyways? There are plenty of alternative sources to meet your calcium and protein needs that some even consider much healthier.

Almost anywhere you go in Africa though, even small rural towns, will have something on the menu that you can eat without any difficulties. And if all else fails, french fries and processed cookies are everywhere. They might not be great for the waistline, but they will keep you from getting sick. And look at the bright side, when else can those junk foods be considered technically healthy?

If on the off chance you do get sick, usually an antibiotic prescribed to you by a doctor or pharmacist will get you feeling better in no time.

2. Is Africa Safe? Disease and Illness

Most diseases and illness can be prevented and treated through the right vaccines and medications. Again, the CDC is an amazing resource for travelers unsure of what vaccines they need. You can look up the specific country you are visiting and read all the health warnings. They even list which vaccines are needed by dividing them up into categories by what is recommended for all travelers, most travelers, and some travelers. (The specific vaccines for Africa I took are named here…)

Other diseases like malaria (in which there is no vaccine) can thankfully be easily prevented. The best way to do so is to take malaria medicine while you are in an affected areas. Your doctor can prescribe the best kind for you to take. Most people only get in trouble when they forget to take the pills and subsequently miss several dosages. Along with the pills, bug spray and a bed net are helpful too.

All other ailments can also usually be avoided by talking to locals about what potential hazards are in the area. For example, they may warn you that a certain body of water (such as a nearby lake or river) is unsafe to swim in. By listening and follow their advice, you can save yourself from a host of unmentionables.

Basically, get your vaccines, take your medicines, be aware of the hazards, and consult a doctor and the CDC before you go or if you notice any unusual signs and symptoms during or after your trip. Do this and you should be just fine.

3. Is Africa Safe?: Accidents and Injuries

Accidents and injuries are not home to African countries alone. Car crashes, broken bones, and unseen freak occurrences are universal. While some might argue that transportation in Africa does not hold the highest safety record, no one can deny that car fatalities are a reality everywhere.

Yes, in some places the road lanes and stop signs seem to be a mere suggestion (if there are even any in the first place). However, a similar trepidation is felt by tourists visiting many other parts of the world including places like Latin America. Similarly, any American who has spent time driving on the highways of Miami, Florida will probably not feel too much more at risk.

To minimize potential threats though, consider renting a car, hiring a driver, or switching to a different bus if you notice your driver is careless. Alternatively, choose transportation with higher safety records if you are given the option. The money spent on a more professional bus company, a ferry instead of a cargo boat, or a train instead of bus may be dollars well spent.

For all other types of injuries, use some basic common sense. Obviously wild animals are called wild for a reason. So no matter how bad you want that picture, make sure you keep a safe distance.

If you want to bungee jump, white water raft, or any other adrenaline pumping activity, make sure you choose a company that has a great safety record and is recommended to you by a trusted source.

Of course accidents are bound to happen, but thankfully health care in many African countries is improving. Additionally most health insurance agencies offer international coverage for the unseen events. If yours does not or if you would like additional coverage than consider buying travel insurance. World Nomads offers great coverage. 

Is Africa Safe? Backpacking Basics

 

 

4. Is Africa Safe? Crime and Violence

 
African countries are not as plagued with AK 47’s, warlords, and acts of terrorism as some might think.

While certainly utter acts of horror have occurred throughout the continent, it is certainly not the only place that has suffered genocides, civil wars, and acts of violence.

In America alone, the FBI reported that in 2010, one murder happened every 35.6 minutes. Not to mention that every 6.2 minutes someone was raped.

That is both shocking and terrifying.

Can you imagine if you heard those facts about an African country though? You would never go. Yet because it’s America, people still flock to it as a place to live, travel, and do business.

The truth is, most people will feel very safe traveling Africa. In fact, the most common crime tourists experience is pick-pocketing (which can be easily prevented!!). And while other forms of robbery are not unheard of, they usually result in no serious injury.

Again, thankfully many of the crimes can be prevented with common sense. In fact, most problems will never occur by following the same precautions most Americans, especially women, are recommended to follow back home.

For example, it is best to avoid walking alone at night. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Avoid situations where you are completely isolated and always be aware of your surroundings.

One of the biggest ways most tourists find themselves in bad situations is when they act like they’re spring breakers for the first time. Suddenly, they’re doing things they would never do at home. Obsessive alcohol, drugs, breaking the law, and other risky behaviors come into play. That’s when most trouble happens.

Again by using common sense, taking basic precautions, and getting yourself out of situations immediately when something isn’t right, the average person will not suffer any serious problems.

Another great solution is to talk to trusted locals. Often the staff at your hotel or backpackers lodge can be a great resource for knowing what is and is not okay. So if they tell you not to walk alone at night, then don’t walk alone at night. If they tell you not to go to a certain area, then don’t go to that area.

For Americans, the State Department’s website issues travel warnings for each country so that you are aware of potential dangers. The United Kingdom has a similar site as well which also gives great maps depicting what parts of the country are safest. Both offer advice that could be useful for any nationality.

The only disadvantage of reading their warnings is that it might scare you even more. Keep in mind though that their job is to describe to you every possible scenario that could go wrong and has gone wrong. It is important to read about these dangers seriously and heed the advice given by trusted authorities. However, remember that thousands of tourists visit Africa each year and have a great time. You just don’t hear about it because it doesn’t make for a very exciting headline.

And if you are worried that you will be targeted for violence because you are a foreigner, know that you will also be equally targeted for kindness.

Why?

Because many African nations depend on tourism. Crimes against visitors hurt their economy. They don’t want to see you hurt any more than you do.

More than that though, most African countries pride themselves on being hospitable. They take joy in their reputation for being friendly, kind, and welcoming to guests. And that is what ultimately prompts the street vendor to guide you to the bus stop, the woman who offers you a cup of tea, or the kids who will wildly run to shake your hand and greet you hello.  

 

Is Africa Safe? Backpacking Uganda

Planting a tree in my honor at a backpacking lodge in Uganda

 So is Africa safe to travel?

Yes. Without a doubt, African countries can be traveled safely alone or in a group setting.

In fact most people will discover that they can be traveled with the same amount of precaution they would use traveling other parts of the world or even in their own country. Even a girl traveling solo can do it safely with no problems.

So pack your bags, book your ticket, and happy traveling!



Like this article? Want to tell your friends and family that Africa isn’t as dangerous as they think? Then share this page with everyone you know. 

 

Val Bowden
Val Bowden took off on the adventure of a lifetime in 2013 when she backpacked from Cape Town to Cairo solo using only public transportation. Since then her love of the African continent has continued to grow. She currently lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and is the author of Backpacking Africa for Beginners E-book.

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