With all of the shocking news reports of violent crime, war, disease, and various atrocities occurring in Africa, many travelers assume that the continent is dangerous to visit. The reality is that there are plenty of safe African countries to visit. Of course, there are also some risks. This guide answers the question, Is Africa Safe? In this guide, we’ll outline some dangers you may encounter while traveling in Africa and explain how to avoid them. We’ll also share some useful safety tips to help you avoid crime, disease, injury, and scams while traveling in Africa. We’ll also talk about which regions are safe to visit and which should be avoided. Hopefully, this guide makes your trip to Africa a little bit smoother and safer.
I will start off by saying, Africa is, by far, my favorite travel destination. The continent is spectacularly beautiful, the people are friendly, and travel is relatively affordable. Unfortunately, there are a few dangers that must be taken into consideration that you don’t have to worry about as much in other parts of the world.
In Africa, the dangers vary greatly by region. After all, Africa is a massive continent consisting of 54 countries and over 3000 ethnic groups. Some African countries are safer, more developed, and more hospitable for tourists than others. This guide outlines the main dangers of travel in Africa.
A few potential dangers of traveling in Africa include:
- Mugging and robbery
- Pickpocketing and petty theft
- Armed Conflict/War
- Natural disaster
- Organ harvesting
Unfortunately, all of these dangers exist somewhere on the continent. The good news is that you can avoid these dangers by doing your research, avoiding certain regions, and taking some basic precautions. There are many parts of Africa that are perfectly safe to visit.
Table of Contents
- The Safest African Countries
- The Most Dangerous African Countries
- Violent crime in Africa
- Sickness and disease in Africa
- Petty theft in Africa
- Scams in Africa
- Transportation Safety in Africa
- Food and Drink Safety
- Wild animal safety in Africa
The Safest African Countries to Visit
- Mauritius: A tropical paradise in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius lures travelers with its beautiful blue waters, pristine beaches, and unique mix of cultures. The island’s rich Creole heritage and luxury resorts make it a top pick for honeymooners and luxury travelers. Mauritius is often considered to be the safest African country due to its Global Peace Index ranking. It ranks number 28 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 1.570. Violent crime is rare. There is some petty crime, such as pickpocketing. Scams can be prevalent in touristy areas. The country is safe for female travelers. Natural disasters can be a risk here. Cyclone season runs from November to May.
- Ghana: Ghana offers visitors a glimpse into West Africa’s history, vibrant festivals, and excellent beaches. The historic Cape Coast Castle stands as a testament to its profound past. The country also offers a rich culture and warm hospitality. Ghana ranks number 40 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 1.759. This makes it the second safest country in Africa by GPI. Petty crime and violent crime do still exist in the country. You need to look out for pickpockets and muggers. It’s best to avoid carrying valuables. You need to be extra cautious at night. There is also a risk of crime on the beaches in Ghana. Scams are also an issue. Friendship scams, romance scams, and business scams are relatively common.
- The Gambia: Enveloped by Senegal, this tiny West African nation offers golden beaches, a tranquil River Gambia, and vibrant local markets. The Gambia ranks number 45 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 1.792. The Gambia is considered to be the third safest country in Africa, even though the crime rate is fairly high. Most crime occurring here is petty crime such as pickpocketing and theft. You need to keep a close eye on your belongings here. Avoid carrying valuables. Police corruption can be an issue as well. Scams are also common. Tourists are often targeted. Violent crimes, such as muggings, are not common here.
- Rwanda: Often dubbed the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, Rwanda boasts lush green landscapes, incredible wildlife including the majestic mountain gorillas, and a great recovery story post-genocide. The country’s commitment to safety and cleanliness is evident in its bustling capital, Kigali. Street crimes such as mugging, pickpocketing, bag snatching, and general theft do still exist so you do have to exercise some caution. Rwanda ranks number 72 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 1.945.
- Namibia: Namibia offers some of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen from the Namib Desert’s red dunes to the petrified trees of Dead Vlei to the wildlife-rich Etosha National Park. Namibia ranks number 68 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 1.908. It’s one of the most peaceful African countries. It is also politically stable. Namibia has a well-developed tourism industry and good infrastructure. This is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries. Make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while visiting the desert.
- Zambia: Home to the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls, Zambia is an adventurer’s dream. Apart from its cascading beauty, the country offers authentic safari experiences. Zambia ranks number 56 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 1.841. Zambia recently improved its relations with its neighboring countries and cut military spending. Its GPI ranking has been improving in recent years.
- Botswana: Renowned for its unique water-based safaris in the Okavango Delta and the vast Kalahari Desert, Botswana provides a pristine wilderness experience coupled with a strong commitment to conservation and sustainable tourism. It’s also one of the safest African countries. Botswana ranks number 48 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 1.801. There is still some crime here. You have to look out for pickpocketing and bag snatching. More serious crimes like mugging and carjacking can also occur. Wild animals can also be a danger here. Listen to your guide and avoid swimming in rivers and lakes to stay safe.
- Morocco: Morocco is a politically stable country with a well developed tourism industry. Petty crime can be an issue here but the risk of encountering violent crime is low. The country also offers a rich history, great cuisine, and some spectacular landscapes. Morocco is one of the safer countries in Africa. It ranks number 74 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 1.969.
These countries are all great choices for first-time Africa travelers because they are reasonably safe. They are politically stable and violent crime rates are reasonably low.
The Most Dangerous Countries in Africa
- Somalia: A nation on the Horn of Africa, Somalia boasts a rich history and spectacular coastline. Unfortunately, Somalia has been plagued by ongoing civil conflicts, terrorism, and piracy activities for the past few decades. Al-Shabaab, an Islamist extremist group, often carries out attacks. There are regular attacks in and around the city of Mogadishu. There is also a high risk of kidnappings. Violent crime such as armed robbery is also common. According to the Somalia travel advisory from the U.S. Department of State, you should “Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney” if you plan on traveling to Somalia. It’s that dangerous. Currently, Somalia is considered to be the most dangerous country in Africa. Somalia ranks number 156 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 3.125.
- Central African Republic (CAR): A landlocked nation in central Africa, CAR is home to several national parks and wildlife reserves. The country is currently suffering from a number of issues. Ethnic and religious clashes, coupled with political instability, make it a high-risk travel destination. Rebel groups and violence are common. There is a high rate of violent crime including muggings and robberies. Kidnappings are also a risk. Central African Republic ranks number 155 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 3.125.
- Sudan: With ancient pyramids and the vast Sahara desert, Sudan offers much to the history enthusiast. Civil conflicts and political unrest have persisted over the years. There is a risk of terrorist attacks, mugging, kidnapping in some regions. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing, is also common in places. Parts of Sudan are considered safe to visit but some parts should be avoided. Sudan ranks number 154 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 3.007.
- South Sudan: The world’s youngest nation has abundant wildlife and rich cultural diversity. Since its independence in 2011, South Sudan has witnessed constant civil war, resulting in a severe humanitarian crisis. It is considered one of the most dangerous countries on the continent. There is a risk of terrorist attacks, kidnapping, armed robbery, home invasion, and mugging. South Sudan ranks number 159 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 3.184.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): With the Congo rainforest and active volcanoes, DRC is a natural wonder. The country is famous for Virunga National Park and the mountain gorillas. Armed conflicts, especially in the eastern regions, and sporadic outbreaks of diseases like Ebola pose risks to travelers. Crime rates here are high. Travelers are at risk of muggings and kidnappings. Police corruption is also a serious issue. Authorities have been known to arrest foreigners and demand payment for release. Parts of the DRC are relatively safe to visit but the security situation can change quickly. The DRC ranks number 158 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 3.156.
- Mali: Mali, known for its ancient cities like Timbuktu, is a haven for history lovers. Northern Mali often witnesses clashes between militant groups and the military. Kidnappings of foreigners have also been reported. It’s best to avoid travel in Mali at this time. Mali ranks number 150 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 2.911.
- South Africa: From iconic Table Mountain to wildlife-rich Kruger National Park, South Africa offers a diverse range of attractions. It’s one of the most naturally beautiful countries on earth. Visiting South Africa is a dream for many. While many parts of South Africa are safe for tourists, there’s a high rate of violent crime in certain urban areas. It’s essential to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Muggings, burglaries, assaults, and carjackings, are common. The South African police service is understaffed and underfunded. The South African authorities don’t have the resources to investigate all crimes. South Africa ranks number 118 on the Global Peace Index with a GPI score of 2.283.
Violent Crime in Africa
As a travel destination, Africa gets a bit of a bad rap. Over the years, you’ve probably read shocking stories in the news about terrorism, kidnappings, genocides, assassinations, kidnappings, piracy, and robberies in Africa. The continent has its fair share of crime. Violent crime rates in Africa are some of the highest in the world. The media sometimes makes it sound like the whole continent is a war zone.
The reality is that, while these violent crimes do happen, they are usually pretty localized. The continent is generally pretty peaceful. Violent crimes against tourists are pretty rare in most countries. If you stick to African countries that are at peace, you can significantly reduce your chance of encountering any type of violent crime.
Africa is a massive place and risks vary greatly by region. Some countries are perfectly safe to visit but there may be specific regions to avoid. Security conditions can also change quickly so it’s best to research your specific routes and destinations before and during your trip to make sure your itinerary is safe.
To help you get started in your research, check out the travel advisories from the U.S. Department of State. Read about each country you intend to visit and the current risks. Travel advisories aren’t always perfectly accurate, but they are a good place to start.
A few violent crimes to be aware of while traveling in Africa include:
Robbery in Africa
When it comes to violent crime, mugging and robbery are probably the biggest concerns for tourists. There is some level of risk in every big city.
Robbers can work alone or in a gang. Muggers can wait and hide in isolated areas. They could hide next to vehicles, down dark streets, or in the bushes next to hiking trails. When someone walks by, they attack and rob them.
Gangs of robbers can also create roadblocks. They stop vehicles on the road and rob the driver and passengers. Carjackings can occur in some countries.
In some places, home break-ins are a problem. Robbers wait outside until come home or open your front door then they force their way in and rob the occupants.
Sometimes motorcycle taxi drivers can also rob their passengers. They may drive to a deserted area then demand that you hand over money or your belongings. This really only happens at night.
In some African countries, robbery is a major problem. South Africa is an example. Mugging incidents are, unfortunately, common. Nairobi also has a reputation for muggings. The city has earned the nickname “Nairobery”.
Regardless of where you’re traveling, it’s a good idea to take some basic precautions to reduce the risk of getting robbed. A few precautions to take include:
- Avoid flashing valuables- Keep expensive electronics like phones and cameras concealed in a backpack or stored safely in your hotel. Don’t wear jewelry.
- Don’t walk around at night- Most areas are relatively safe during the day. The risk of getting robbed increases after dark. Robbers can hide and wait for a victim. Take a taxi instead of walking at night. Try to stay in well-lit areas where there are other people around when you’re on foot.
- If you are not familiar with an area, don’t walk around- Take an Uber, taxi, or public transportation to your destination instead.
- If possible, walk with someone else or in a group- A group of people is much harder to rob than an individual. There is safety in numbers.
- Leave your passport and important documents somewhere safe- Store your passport in your hotel room. Lock it in your luggage or in the safe if the hotel has one. Alternatively, carry it in a money belt. Have copies just in case.
- Don’t carry large sums of cash- Only carry enough cash for the day. Divide your cash up among different pockets so if you get robbed you might have some left.
- Don’t walk around drunk or intoxicated- It just makes you a target. If you’ve been drinking, take a taxi. Also, don’t allow yourself to get too intoxicated. It makes you an easier victim.
- Be selective of which ATM you use to withdraw money- Make sure there is security nearby. If the area feels unsafe, find a different ATM.
- Always keep the doors and windows locked- Even when you’re inside, keep your hotel room locked up.
- Avoid traveling between cities at night- It’s best to avoid night buses in Africa. In some countries, it’s safe to take night buses.
For more tips, check out my guide: How to Avoid Getting Robbed While Traveling.
Tip: Use a money belt to keep your cash, passport, and credit cards hidden from muggers and pickpockets. Some travelers like to carry a decoy wallet stocked with a few dollars and some expired credit cards to hand over if they’re robbed. I have used the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover money belt for about 8 years and am very happy with it. Check out my full review here.
Terrorism in Africa
Several terrorist groups are currently active throughout Africa. Security conditions can change quickly. Before booking your trip, check on the political situation where you plan to travel. Some occupied regions are no-go zones where you should not travel. A few terrorist groups operating in Africa include:
- Al- Shabab: This terrorist group operates mostly in Somalia but has also been known to carry out attacks in Ethiopia and Kenya. Mostly along the border. In general, Somalia is a no-go zone. Al-Shabab has carried out numerous violent attacks, killing hundreds of people in the capital, Mogadishu. Kidnappings of foreigners are common. If you wish to visit Somalia, you’ll need to hire private security but even then it is not safe. You can, however, visit Somaliland which is a relatively peaceful part of the country in the north of Somalia. It is stable and possible to visit at this time. For more info on visiting Somaliland, check out this article.
- Boko Haram: This group, also known as the Islamic State in West Africa, operates mostly in northern Nigeria. They can also be found in West and Central African countries including Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. This group is very fragmented and has many different names and affiliations. Boko Haram is the most deadly terrorist group currently operating in Africa. So far, they have killed 15,000 and displaced 2.1 million people according to this article from the UN website. They are the same group that kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014. Most of which still haven’t returned home. Avoid travel in northern Nigeria and the area surrounding Lake Chad. The risk is highest in these regions. Boko Haram is still active. They target military as well as civilians in their attacks.
- Al-Qaida: Groups affiliated with Al-Qaida and the Islamic State are operating in Mali and near the border of Burkina Faso and Niger. They mainly target the military and the UN. There have been cases of suicide bombings and car bombings. Currently, France is helping to assemble a military group consisting of soldiers from Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad to fight terrorism in the region. At this time, travel in Mali is not recommended because of the danger of terrorism. Some parts of the south as well as the capital, Bamako may be safe enough to visit at this time.
Organ Harvesting in Africa
Organ harvesting does exist in Africa. It’s not a particularly common crime and tourists aren’t generally targeted.
A few days after I visited Kibera slum in Nairobi my friend sent me a news article stating that five mutilated bodies had been found in the slum. It is believed that they were victims of organ harvesting.
While this crime is pretty rare, you don’t want to go wandering around areas that you are unfamiliar with. It is also best not to walk around while drunk or intoxicated.
If you’re interested in visiting Kibera, check out my guide: How to Visit Kibera Slum Independently and Without a Tour.
Petty Theft, Pickpocketing, and Bag Snatching in Africa
Some of the most common crimes that a tourist is likely to encounter in Africa are petty theft, pickpocketing, bag snatching, and bag slashing. Tourists are targeted for these crimes in Africa because tourists tend to have valuable items like expensive phones, cameras, laptops, and cash.
In large cities and touristy areas, you have to look out for pickpockets. Some of the most common places for pickpockets to operate include Cape Town, Cairo, and Marrakesh. Of course, you could get pickpocketed anywhere. This is an extremely common crime. You also have to be careful with your belongings. Things can get stolen.
To avoid having your things stolen, here are some precautions that you can take:
- Make sure that all of your belongings are secured in pockets that close- Try to store your wallet and phone in a pocket that buttons or zips shut if possible. This will make it more difficult for pickpockets to steal from you.
- Store your valuables in your front pants pockets- It’s harder for pickpockets to reach into your front pockets than your back pockets.
- Never leave anything unattended- Always keep a close eye on your belongings. If you give criminals the opportunity to steal things, they will.
- Never set your phone or wallet on the table when you’re eating in a restaurant- Someone could walk by and snatch it.
- Wear your backpack on the front when you’re in a crowded area- I know it looks goofy but by doing this, it is less likely that someone will try to reach in or slash your bag and steal the contents.
- Divide up your valuables into different pockets- This way, if you do get pickpocketed, you don’t lose everything.
- Walk with purpose- Walk fast. You’re less likely to be targeted if you look like you know where you’re going. It’s also harder for a criminal to steal from you if you just zip right by. They don’t have as much time to act.
- Don’t let anyone distract you- Pickpockets commonly work in teams. One person distracts you while the other picks your pocket. Someone might tell you that you dropped something, drop something at your feet, or simply start chatting with you to distract you. Try not to fall for these distractions. In Uganda, some guys told me that I dropped my wallet. I think they were trying to get me to feel for it so they could see where it was then they would try to steal it.
My Experience Getting Pickpocketed in Africa
I was pickpocketed in a minibus in Tanzania. One guy distracted me by trying to store a big bag near my feet while his accomplice, who was sitting in the row behind me, reached into my pocket and took my phone. I noticed my phone was missing as soon as I climbed out of the bus. Luckily, I noticed my phone was missing before the bus pulled away. Ran back to the bus and demanded my phone back. Miraculously, I was able to get it back. You can read the full story here. This is just one of the many reasons that I will never return to Tanzania. For more tips, check out my guide: How to Avoid Pickpockets While Traveling.
Hotel Room Theft in Africa
At lower-end hotels, it is possible that items go missing from your room. A cleaning person or even a manager could go into your room and go through your belongings while you’re out. I don’t believe this is a particularly common crime but I have heard of it happening.
To avoid this, try to only stay in properties that have decent reviews. Read through the reviews to see if anyone mentions theft. In Africa, this can be difficult because many properties don’t have an online presence.
It can also help to lock your luggage. It’s unlikely for someone to take your whole bag or break the lock or cut the bag. This type of theft is mostly a crime of opportunity. If your bag is open, someone could go through it.
Sickness and Disease While Traveling in Africa
Possibly one of the biggest risks of traveling to Africa is sickness and disease. There are a number of serious diseases that you could encounter in Africa. In many parts of the continent, the healthcare infrastructure is often lacking. In rural areas, you could be a day away from the nearest hospital.
A few potentially deadly diseases that you could come into contact with as a traveler in Africa include:
- HIV/ AIDS
- Yellow Fever
- Tropical Parasites
Some common health problems that you may encounter when traveling in Africa include:
- Food poisoning/Travelers’ diarrhea
- Minor cuts, scrapes, and infections
- Common cold
- Various parasites
Travel Vaccines for Africa
Before you leave home, it is a good idea to get all the recommended travel vaccines. By doing this, you greatly reduce your risk of contracting a deadly disease while traveling. Exactly which vaccines you need depends on several factors including:
- Where you’re going: The vaccines you need will vary by country or region.
- How long you’re staying: In the case of anti-malaria medication, one drug may be recommended over another based on the duration of your trip.
- Whether you’re visiting rural regions or staying in cities: Some diseases have been eradicated in diseases but still exist in rural areas.
- The season you’re traveling in: Some diseases are more common during the rainy season for example.
- The kinds of activities you plan to participate in: For example, if you will be in contact with livestock on a farm you may require additional vaccines. If you’re doing volunteer work in a slum, you may need additional vaccines.
Commonly recommended vaccines for travel in Africa include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow Fever
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis)
This looks like a long list but many of these you likely had as a child and already have lifelong immunity. Some are region-specific. Many are optional.
For example, West Africa will have different vaccine recommendations than North Africa. Be sure to research vaccine recommendations of the exact regions where you plan to travel and get all the proper shots before you leave.
Before your trip to Africa, it’s a good idea to visit a travel vaccine clinic for a consultation. The doctor there can tell you which vaccines you need and which you don’t. They can also help you determine whether or not you need to take malaria prophylaxis and help you choose the proper one for your trip.
Malaria in Africa
While researching malaria before traveling to Africa I read an interesting statistic. It is believed that half of all the people who have ever lived died of malaria. I read this statistic in several articles, but none of them had a reliable scientific source. It’s a shocking statistic if it’s true.
As far as disease goes, malaria is your biggest worry when traveling in Africa. Malaria is a disease that is caused by a parasite that is transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected mosquito. Malaria can be deadly if left untreated.
Malaria is a common disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Most locals get it regularly. If you spend enough time traveling in this part of the world, chances are, you will get it. You can reduce the risk but you can’t completely avoid it.
Where is Malaria a Risk in Africa?
Whether or not you need to worry about malaria depends on where on the continent you are traveling. In general, your risk of contracting malaria is the highest in warm, tropical and subtropical regions. The risk is lower in elevations above 1400 meters (about 4500 feet). Desert areas also don’t have malaria.
In Africa, malaria is a risk in all areas south of the Sahara with some exceptions. For example, some higher-elevation parts of East Africa, as well as parts of Southern Africa that are outside of the tropics, don’t have malaria. The Sahara and the Horn of Africa are also malaria-free as they are deserts.
If you’re traveling to a malaria zone, you need to take some precautions to reduce your risk.
How to Prevent Malaria While Traveling in Africa
- Take malaria prophylaxis- The best way to reduce your risk of contracting malaria while traveling in Africa is to take malaria pills. The three most popular malaria prevention medications include doxycycline, Atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone), and Mefloquine (Lariam). They each have their pros and cons. One might be better than the others for your circumstances. For a complete breakdown of each of these medications, check out my malaria guide here. Some people suffer from serious side effects from taking antimalarials. Malarone tends to have the fewest side effects. On my trips, I have taken doxycycline because it protects you against most types of malaria, is commonly available, and is lower cost than the other two. Doxycycline is effective everywhere in Africa.
- Use a good bug spray- I recommend something with a high concentration of DEET. I like Repel 100 Insect Repellent. I hate putting chemicals on my skin but it is better than the alternative. This stuff contains 98.11% DEET and remains effective for up to 10 hours.
- Cover up during the most high-risk times of day- According to this interesting article, you are most likely to catch malaria during the evening. It is believed that this has to do with the way the parasite matures. There are also more mosquitoes out in the evening. To prevent bites, it’s best to wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks while you are out during this time of day. If you feel yourself getting bitten, cover up.
- Sleep under a mosquito net- When you sleep, mosquitoes can sit there and feast on you. You can’t slap them away. Even if you don’t see any mosquitoes, you should use a net just in case. In Africa, most hotels have a mosquito net. It’s a good idea to bring your own travel mosquito net as well. Occasionally, you may stay in a hotel that doesn’t have a mosquito net. Sometimes the hotel’s mosquito net has tears in it. In these cases, it’s nice to have your own. I like the 4Monster Camping Insect Net because you only need to hang it in the middle, not all four corners. This makes it much easier to use. A bug bivy is also a good option. This Outdoor Research Breathable Lightweight Protective Bug Bivy would work well.
For more information on the deadly disease, check out my article: The Travelers Guide to Malaria Prevention, Treatment, and Tablets in Africa. The guide contains everything you need to know including recommendations for malaria tablets, tips to prevent the disease, and how to seek treatment.
HIV/AIDS in Africa
Infection rates vary across the continent. Generally, southern Africa has the highest rates and Northern Africa has the lowest. East Africa has higher rates than West Africa. AIDS has absolutely devastated large chunks of the continent. Some of the highest HIV rates are found in Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.
When having sex in Africa, you will want to be sure to use protection. There are also clinics in every city that can test you and your partner in just a few minutes for just a few dollars.
Ebola is a deadly disease caused by a virus. It has around a 50% fatality rate, on average.
Ebola isn’t common but it does exist in Africa. Just last year, there was an ebola outbreak in Uganda. I happened to be traveling there at the time and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to leave if there was a lockdown. The government did a good job of getting it under control. They acted quickly and locked down a couple of towns to stop the spread.
A few years ago, there was another outbreak in the northeast DR Congo. The epidemic in West Africa is under control but it was not completely eliminated. Between 2013 and 2016, over 10,000 people died.
Ebola is not a major worry for those traveling in Africa but it is a good idea to keep an eye on the news. if there is an outbreak, it’s best to avoid that region until it’s under control.
Here is a bit of information about how the disease is spread:
- The Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids from both humans and animals that were infected with the disease.
- It is believed to be possible for the disease to spread through the air as saliva is one of the bodily fluids that carries the disease.
- After an individual has been cured, it is still possible for them to spread the disease. The virus can still be found in the victim’s bodily fluids for many months. It is unknown for exactly how long the virus can remain in a person’s body.
- Healthcare professionals are at the greatest risk of becoming infected.
Because Ebola is so deadly, it’s best to avoid any regions where the disease is spreading. Before traveling to Africa, you should do a quick search to make sure that Ebola isn’t affecting the areas where you plan to travel. While traveling through an Ebola zone, you could be quarantined or simply refused entry.
Yellow Fever in Africa
Yellow Fever is another deadly viral disease that is transmitted to humans by the bite of a mosquito. It is found mostly in warm, tropical climates mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Amazon region of South America. In areas where the disease is present, the transmission is usually seasonal with the risk being highest during the rainy season.
Luckily, a vaccination is available which can protect you from the disease. The vaccination requires a single shot, is widely available, and lasts for life. The vaccine is very effective. For more information and a map of regions where a yellow fever vaccination is recommended and required, consult the CDC website here.
Yellow Fever Vaccine Requirements in Africa
Countries where Yellow Fever is found will generally require that you have a yellow fever vaccine certificate in order to enter. The vaccination certificate will usually be checked at the airport or border as an entry requirement.
If you have been traveling in a region where yellow fever is present anytime in the previous ten days, most countries will require that you show your yellow fever certificate in order to enter. For example, I flew from Nairobi to Bangkok and was required to fill out an additional form and show my yellow fever certificate to the immigration official upon arrival.
When to get the Yellow Fever Vaccine
Ideally, you would get the vaccine at least 10 days before you plan to enter a region where the virus is present. The reason is that it takes time for the vaccine to take effect.
Money saving tip: One vaccine that you will almost certainly require when traveling to Africa is Yellow Fever. Unfortunately, the shot is very expensive in the US and insurance generally won’t cover it. I called a travel clinic and was quoted about $200 for the vaccine. A trick you can use is to wait and get the shot abroad. Some airports and land border crossings have a small clinic where they can administer the vaccine for $5-$20. I did this at Lima Airport in Peru.
Before leaving on your trip without the vaccine, you will want to do your research to ensure that it is available at your destination. You will also want to be sure that you will be allowed into the country without the vaccine as it is an entry requirement for many African countries. If you’re flying in to a country where the Yellow fever vaccine is required, you’ll need to get it at least 10 days before your trip.
Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis) and Other Parasites in Africa
Africa is home to a multitude of dangerous parasites. Usually, these parasites are picked up by drinking or swimming in contaminated water. One of the more common diseases that travelers encounter is Bilharzia or schistosomiasis.
This disease is caused by a parasitic worm. It is usually found in freshwater lakes and streams. You can contract the disease from swimming in infected water. Bilharzia can enter the body by eating its way directly through the skin. You can also contract Bilharzia by drinking infected water.
This nasty parasite can be found in freshwater all over Africa. It is found in many popular tourist sites such as the Nile River, Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, the Omo River, the Dogon Region in Mali, the Volta Region of Ghana, and more. Bilharzia is commonly found in shallow waters near villages.
If you are infected with Bilharzia, common symptoms include cough, fever, stomach pain, and itchy skin. It can take as long as 6 weeks to start feeling symptoms after the parasites enter the body. If left untreated, Bilharzia can cause liver and kidney damage.
Luckily, Bilharzia can be treated fairly easily with the drugs praziquantel or oxamniquine. Unfortunately, diagnosis can be tricky. A stool or blood sample can be used to test for the presence of the parasite. If you start feeling symptoms, it’s a good idea to get tested.
For more in-depth info, check out this guide to Bilharzia from the CDC.
To reduce the risk of being infected with a parasite while traveling in Africa, you should:
- Only drink bottled water or filtered water while traveling in Africa- Before opening the bottle, check to make sure that the bottle was sealed. You can also bring a water filter and filter your own water. I like the Sawyer Mini. You can also boil water to kill parasites.
- Before swimming in a body of water, research if the water is safe- Some parasites enter the body when water is accidentally swallowed while swimming. Some can enter the body by digging through your skin.
- Avoid wading through stagnant water- Again, some parasites can enter your body through the skin. Avoid walking through puddles of sitting water. Don’t wade in rivers, lakes, or streams, unless you know that the water is clean and safe.
- Be careful of the water you bathe in- Some places just pump water from a pond, river, or lake into a tank to be used for bathing. This water could be contaminated. Ask where the water came from. If it is untreated, consider boiling it first then taking a sponge bath.
- Don’t stay in the water too long and shower off after swimming- If you do decide to go swimming in potentially contaminated water, try to stay in the water for less than 5 minutes and shower off with clean water after getting out to reduce the risk of infection.
More Diseases to Look Out For in Africa
- Meningitis and Tuberculosis- Most children receive vaccines for these diseases during childhood. Before heading to Africa, you should check your vaccine records. Make sure that you received all of the recommended shots and boosters during childhood.
- Typhoid- Typhoid is also present in many African countries. Typhoid fever is a severe and potentially life-threatening bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi. It is usually contracted through the consumption of contaminated food or water. Typhoid is particularly prevalent in areas where sanitation and hygiene are compromised. For those planning a trip to Africa, taking the typhoid vaccine is a good way to reduce the risk of infection.
- Influenza- Before traveling to Africa, you should consider getting a flu shot if you will be traveling during the flu season. Catching the flu could put you out of commission for a week or more. It is one less thing to worry about.
Minor Injuries and Infection While Traveling in Africa
In the tropics, a small cut, scrape, or burn can quickly get infected and turn into a major problem if left untreated. If you suffer from a small injury:
- Wash the wound out with clean water right away. Bottled water is best.
- Use peroxide, iodine, alcohol, or whatever you have available to help clean the wound and kill any bacteria that may have gotten in.
- Wrap it in bandages or gauze so nothing can enter the wound and infect it.
- Clean it and re-bandage it daily until it is healed up.
- Depending on the severity or if it doesn’t begin to heal, you may want to consider visiting a clinic to have it properly cleaned and to get some antibiotics.
It is very important to clean and care for every cut, no matter how small it is. I cut my fingers while traveling in Peru a few years back. The cuts were minor and I thought nothing of them. A few days later, three of my fingers were infected. Over the course of a few weeks, the nails fell off. It was painful and gross but luckily the nails grew back after a few months. This could have been prevented if I had just cleaned and taken care of the cuts for a couple of days.
The sun is intense in Africa. Be sure to wear sunblock to protect your skin. It’s easy to get a severe sunburn in just a couple of hours while you’re out on a safari or on the beach.
I recommend you bring some good sunblock from home. It can be difficult to find sunscreen in many parts of Africa. Most locals don’t use it so stores don’t stock it. You’ll have to go to a bigger city or a touristy area to find decent sunblock. Also, consider bringing an umbrella to use for shade.
For more health info, check out my guide to staying healthy while traveling or living abroad.
Common Scams in Africa
Scams are common in Africa. I haven’t encountered any really sophisticated scams but there are a lot of ways people will try to part you with your money. Some of the scams you may encounter in Africa include:
- Fake bus ticket scam- This is the one that I fell for. It’s kind of embarrassing for me. Basically, a scammer with a fake ticket book and uniform sold me a counterfeit bus ticket for about $10 in Southern Ethiopia. When I turned up to catch the bus, the attendant told me that the ticket was fake. I bought a new one for about $3 and took the bus.
- Overcharging- People will try to try to overcharge you for pretty much everything. Taxi drivers almost always do this. They like to jack up the price for foreigners. It can also happen with minibusses, restaurants, tours, hotels, and roadside stands. If you’re unsure how much something should cost, ask a local. You should also negotiate pretty much every purchase.
- Counterfeit bills- You may see a currency exchange booth offering a rate that’s better than the official rate. Sometimes there are guys on the border carrying around a large stack of local cash offering currency exchange. These places may try to pass off counterfeit bills. They can also try to shortchange you. If you need to exchange cash, go to an official currency exchange. Better yet, use an ATM.
- Selling unnecessary tours- Someone will tell you that it is required that you be on a tour to visit a certain area. They might tell you that it’s illegal to be there alone and that you will be arrested. This happened to me at Sipi Falls. If you fall for it, they will proceed to sell you an overpriced tour and overcharge you for everything. The tour will be of low quality. There are some cases where it is required for you to be on a tour. This is common in national parks. You should do your research first.
- Price changing- Sometimes someone will try to change the price on you after you have already agreed to another price. It is common with taxis and hotels. I booked a hotel on Booking.com. When I went to check out, they tried to charge me a much higher rate, even though I had the confirmation with the price in my email. This happened on a couple of occasions. I have also had taxi drivers try to charge extra after a ride because they claimed that it was further than they expected or that traffic was bad. It’s a scam.
- Begging- I consider this a scam. People will regularly approach you and ask you for money. Sometimes they will follow you for blocks continually asking for money or your belongings. I don’t know who taught them this behavior but it is incredibly rude and irritating. I, personally, never give money to beggars. It is just a policy of mine.
- People acting friendly then demanding a tip- I’ve experienced this one all over the world. Basically, someone approaches and offers to help you out or show you around then demands money for their time. Sometimes they will tell you a sob story and ask for a handout.
For my full list of scams, check out my article: 25 Common Travel Scams, How They Work, and How to Avoid Them.
Transportation Safety in Africa
For most tourists, transportation is one of the most dangerous parts of traveling in Africa. Africans drive far too fast. The road conditions are often poor. Potholes, washed out roads, sand, and other obstacles make the roads dangerous.
Buses and vans are also overloaded with people and cargo. It’s not uncommon to spot a minibus packed with 20+ people and hundreds of pounds of stuff tied to the top. Overloaded vehicles are difficult to maneuver.
Many vehicles are also poorly maintained. If the tires, brakes, and suspension are worn out, the vehicle won’t be able to stop and steer as it should. This is dangerous.
I have never seen as many overturned vehicles on the side of the road as I did in Africa. According to this UN News article, 650 people die in auto accidents each day in Africa. According to this list of countries by traffic accidents from Wikipedia, Africa has the most road fatalities per 100,000 by a significant margin at 26.6. Physically traveling around Africa by road is probably the most dangerous part of traveling here.
The most affordable and convenient way to get around Africa is by bus and minibus. A few tips to help you stay safe while traveling by bus in Africa include:
- Choose your seat strategically- If you are involved in an accident, you’ll want to be sitting on an aisle seat in the middle of the bus. Your seat should be on the opposite side of oncoming traffic. This way, if the bus is hit, you have the greatest chance of avoiding injury.
- If you feel that your driver is going too fast, ask him to slow down– It never hurts to ask. Chances are, if you feel in danger, other passengers probably do too.
- If you feel in danger, get out of the vehicle– If the driver won’t slow down, if the vehicle is in unsafe condition, or if the vehicle is overloaded, get out at the next stop. You can always find a safer alternative. Even if it means paying for another bus.
- When traveling by bus, go with the biggest most reputable company– They generally have higher safety standards and hire better-trained drivers.
- If you have a choice of buses, choose the newest- Newer buses have safety features that older buses don’t have. They are probably in better mechanical condition as well.
- Book buses that have a schedule– They have less incentive to speed if they have to stay on schedule anyway.
- Ride in Coaches rather than Minibuses- If you are involved in an accident, you’ll be much safer in a coach.
Feeling unsafe, I chose to exit the vehicle on a couple of occasions and I’m glad I did. Sure, it was a hassle to find alternative transport. I also paid a couple of dollars more than I would have otherwise. There is just no need to risk your life to save a couple of bucks.
Are Africa Overland Tours Safe?
Probably one of the safest ways to travel in Africa is to take an overland tour. Taking a tour is safer than traveling independently. There are a number of reasons for this.
During the tour, you will be accompanied by a professional guide. The guide has been trained to deal with various situations that you could encounter. They know where is safe and where is not safe.
The overland vehicle you ride in will be driven by a professional driver. It will be well maintained and insured. It won’t be overloaded. You don’t have to worry as much about road safety.
Overland tour operators also carry plenty of safety equipment including first aid gear, a satellite phone, extra food and water, camping gear, etc. They are prepared.
The tour company will also stay on top of the security situation. They will do the research and take precautions to keep you safe. They won’t take unnecessary risks. They don’t want travelers getting harmed on their tours.
If you’re concerned about safety, consider traveling on an overland tour.
For more info, check out my guide to independent travel vs. overland tours in Africa.
Food and Drink Safety in Africa
While traveling in Africa, you need to be careful about what you eat and drink. Food hygiene standards are probably lower than you’re used to. Your gut also isn’t used to the local bacteria. Travelers’ diarrhea is caused by bacteria that make its way into food and drinks.
Most likely, you will suffer some form of food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea while visiting Africa. It’s unavoidable. If you take some basic precautions, you can greatly reduce your likelihood of getting sick.
How to reduce the risk of food poisoning in Africa
- Make sure that foods are hot and cooked all the way through- Avoid raw or rare meats. Undercooked meats can carry nasty diseases. In Ethiopia, there are a couple of raw meat dishes that are popular. These include tere siga and kifto. I skipped these because I was worried about getting sick.
- Avoid foods that have been sitting out in the open- This means that street food should be avoided most of the time. You’ll have to use your best judgment. Africa has some excellent street food that shouldn’t be missed. For example, the Ugandan dish, rolex is one of my favorite street food meals.
- Avoid undercooked eggs- Order your eggs hard boiled or fried all the way through. Don’t eat runny yolks. They can carry bacteria that can make you sick.
- Eat fruits that must be peeled- Bananas and avocados are safe to eat because the peel keeps harmful bacteria out of the fruit.
- Make sure your fruits and vegetables are washed- You can catch diseases such as E. coli from unwashed produce. It’s also a good idea to avoid salads if you’re unsure about cleanliness.
- Drink bottled water instead of tap water- When opening a new bottle, check that the seal hasn’t already been broken. It is not unheard of for someone to refill old bottles with tap water and sell them as new.
- Avoid ice in your drinks- It may be made with unfiltered tap water that could be contaminated.
- Prepare your own food- If you’re having trouble finding something clean and healthy to eat, go to a grocery store, buy some food, and prepare it yourself. That way, you know it’s safe to eat.
- Eat a mostly vegetarian diet- You are more likely to get sick on bad or undercooked meat than veggies.
What to do if you get food poisoning in Africa
As I said earlier, at some point in your travels in Africa, you will get sick from the food. Really, all you can do is use your best judgment when it comes to picking what you eat.
If you do get sick:
- Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated- Diarrhea dehydrates the body. This can, in turn, make you weaker and more susceptible to getting other diseases.
- Drink some oral rehydration salt- These are salt packets that you mix with water. They help your body rehydrate while you have diarrhea. You can buy the salt packets at most pharmacies. It is a good idea to carry a few in your bag so you are prepared.
- Take some anti-diarrhea medication like Imodium- You can purchase Imodium over the counter at most pharmacies.
- Go on the BRAT diet- BRAT stands for banana, rice, applesauce, and toast. These are bland foods that are easy on the stomach. All of these foods are readily available in Africa.
- If your symptoms don’t begin to improve after a few days, you may want to consider taking some antibiotics– These can be purchased at most pharmacies but may require a prescription depending on where you are. If you need a prescription, you’ll have to visit a clinic first.
Tip: It is a good idea to carry a water filter along with you so you always have access to potable water. I like the Sawyer Mini. You can use it to filter tap water or water from a stream, lake, or river and it will be safe to drink. For more info, check out my Sawyer Mini review.
I also always carry like to some packaged or canned foods that I can eat if nothing else is available. For example, cans of tuna, cans of beans, crackers, cookies, chips, and bread are all safe to eat and can be prepared anywhere.
Sometimes while on a long bus journey, the only option for food is dodgy-looking bush meat that has been baking in the sun covered in flies. I love street food but this doesn’t appeal to me. I’d much rather pop open a can of tuna, which I know is clean and safe to eat, and not risk sickness.
For most travelers, wild animals aren’t a major concern. When imagining traveling in Africa, you may expect to see lions and elephants walking by the side of the road but this is pretty rare. The truth is that these large species live mostly in the national parks. Outside of the parks, they are pretty rare. Once in a while, you may see a zebra or giraffe from the road but not often. When you’re in the game parks, you’ll usually be in a vehicle. You’ll also have a guide with you that can keep you safe.
With that being said, people do die from animal attacks every year. If you’re overlanding in Africa with your own truck, motorcycle, or bicycle, then you may have to consider the risk of wild animal encounters.
Some of the most dangerous species that may come across include:
- Mosquito- This is the most dangerous creature you will encounter by far. Mosquitoes carry a multitude of deadly diseases including malaria and yellow fever. Malaria alone kills over 1 million people per year. Use bug repellent, take your malaria tablets, and sleep under a mosquito net to stay safe.
- Hippopotamus- Statistically, the hippo is the most deadly large animal in Africa. They are very aggressive and are surprisingly fast runners. Hippos kill around 500 people per year.
- Black Mamba- This is one of the most venomous snakes on earth. It is native to Sub-Saharan Africa. Black mambas kill around 20 people per year.
- Nile Crocodile- These guys live in pretty much every major river across the continent. Nile crocodiles eat multiple people every year. It is estimated that around 200 people are killed by Nile Crocodiles per year.
- Great White Shark- The greatest concentration of shark attacks happens in South Africa. Be cautious if you’re surfing or swimming in areas where shark attacks are known to occur.
- Elephant- Another fast and aggressive species. Most deaths from elephants occur due to trampling. Elephants are rare outside of national parks because of poaching.
For more info on dangerous animals in Africa, check out this interesting article from the BBC.
Is Africa Safe for Female Travelers?
Yes. Africa can be safe for female travelers. While traveling the continent, I have met quite a few solo female travelers.
Of course, like any travel destination, there are risks involved. Women can face different dangers that men don’t have to worry as much about. The risks of certain crimes can be higher for women as well. Understanding these challenges and taking the right precautions can reduce the risk of falling victim to a crime.
I’m not a female so I can’t speak from experience but I can share a few dangers that women may face.
Dangers Female Travelers Might Face in Africa include:
- Harassment: In some regions, women might face unwanted attention or catcalling.
- Sex crimes: In certain regions, there may be higher risks of rape or sexual assault.
- Petty Theft: Female tourists may be targeted for pickpocketing or bag-snatching.
- Scams: Women traveling alone can sometimes be more susceptible to scams or being overcharged.
How to Reduce the Risk?
- Dress Modestly: Adhering to local dress codes can help reduce unwanted attention. It’s always beneficial to research what’s considered appropriate attire in the region you’re visiting. In much of Africa, it isn’t acceptable for women to wear revealing clothing.
- Stay Aware: Always be aware of your surroundings, especially during nighttime. If something feels off or if someone is acting strange, get out of there. Trust your gut.
- Secure Valuables: Use anti-theft bags, wear a money belt, and avoid displaying expensive items to reduce the risk of theft or mugging.
- Hire a guide or take a tour: If you’re traveling in a high-risk area, consider hiring a guide or going with a tour group.
- Research: Before traveling, consult government travel advisories and forums to understand region-specific challenges. Read blogs from female travelers.
Travel Insurance for Traveling in Africa
Because travel in Africa is so unpredictable, it is a good idea to purchase travel insurance for your trip. Travel insurance will cover your medical expenses if you get sick or injured unexpectedly. I recommend SafetyWing travel insurance. I have used them for all of my recent trips.
Final Thoughts About Staying Safe in Africa
Africa can be a perfectly safe place to travel. You shouldn’t skip it out of fear. With that being said, it does require some additional research that may not be necessary while traveling in other parts of the world.
Before traveling to Africa, do your homework to check that you are not traveling to a zone with a disease epidemic or terrorism concern. Use common sense to stay safe and protect yourself and your belongings Most importantly, enjoy your time in Africa. It’s really a special place.
Have you had any security scares while traveling in Africa? Is Africa Safe? Share your experience in the comments below.
More Africa Guides from Where The Road Forks
- How to Plan a Cairo to Cape Town Trip
- Living in Uganda as an Expat: Pros and Cons
- Scams in Ethiopia: My Afternoon With a Con Man
- The African Visa Guide
- Africa Overland Tour Vs. Independent Travel: My Pros and Cons List
- The Ultimate African Bus Guide
- Traveling Africa on a Budget
- 15 Great Rift Valley Lakes to Visit in East Africa