Is Africa Safe? Avoiding Crime, Disease, Injury, and Scams

by wheretheroadforks

After announcing to my friends and family that I was heading off to travel across Africa, many of them asked me: Is Africa Safe? In this article, I answer that question in a rational and honest way. I’ll also give some useful safety tips to help you avoid crime, disease, injury, and scams while traveling in Africa.

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 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 countries are safer, more developed, and more hospitable for tourists than others. This guide outlines the main dangers of travel in Africa including:

Table of Contents- Is Africa Safe?

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, assassinations, rapes, and robberies in Africa. The media loves to exaggerate and sensationalize these events because they make for exciting news. They make it sound like the continent is a war zone. Government travel advisories tell a similar story. They often have their own motives.

The reality is that, while these violent crimes do happen, they are pretty rare and localized. Overall, violent crimes against tourists are pretty rare. If you stick to countries that are at peace, you can nearly eliminate your chance of encountering any violent crime. 

Africa is massive and risks vary greatly by region. Security conditions can 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 accurate or reliable, but they are a good place to start. A few violent crimes to be aware of while traveling in Africa include: 

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 not unheard of. If you wish to visit Somalia, you’ll need to hire private security but even then it is not safe.

You can, however, safely 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 from One Step 4 Ward

Boko Haram and the Islamic State

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 Nigerian 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

I’m not sure whether tourists are targeted, but organ harvesting does happen in Africa. A few days after I visited Kibera slum in Nairobi my friend found 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

Kibera Slum, Nairobi

Kibera Slum, Nairobi

Robbery in Africa

Mugging and robbery is probably the biggest worry for travelers in terms of violent crime. There is some level of risk in every big city. Having said that, the risk isn’t any higher in Africa than it is in any large city around the world. 

South Africa is the only exception. For whatever reason, robbery is a major problem in the country. Whenever you are out and about, wherever you are, you should take the following precautions to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a robbery.

  • Avoid flashing valuables- Keep flashy jewelry or expensive electronics like phones and cameras concealed in a backpack or stored safely in your hotel.
  • 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- There is safety in numbers.
  • Stay in busy, well-lit areas- Try not to walk around alone or in dark, hidden areas.
  • Leave your important documents such as your passport somewhere safe- Have copies in case someone steals the original.
  • Don’t carry large sums of cash- If you must, divide it up among different pockets.
  • Don’t walk around drunk or intoxicated- It just makes you a target
  • 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.

For more tips, check out my guide: How to Avoid Getting Robbed While Traveling. 

Don't use this ATM

Don’t use this ATM

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. 

Sickness and Disease While Traveling in Africa

Your biggest safety consideration when traveling in Africa is your health. You need to take care of your body and pay extra close attention to your health. This is particularly true in Africa where healthcare is lacking or non-existent in many places.

The most deadly diseases that you could come into contact with as a traveler are:

  • Malaria
  • HIV/ AIDS
  • Ebola
  • Yellow Fever
  • Tropical Parasites

Common health problems that you may encounter when traveling in Africa include:

  • Food poisoning/ Travelers diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Minor cuts, scrapes, and infections
  • Common cold
  • Sunburn
  • 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 disease while traveling. Exactly which vaccines you need depends on several factors. For example, you must answer the following questions:

  • Where exactly are you going? The vaccines you need will vary by country, city, or region.
  • How long are you traveling for? In the case of anti-malaria medication, one tablet may be recommended over another based on the duration of your trip.
  • Will you be visiting any rural regions or are you staying in the cities? Some diseases are not present in cities.
  • During which season are you traveling? Some diseases are more common during the rainy season for example.
  • What kind of activities will you be participating in? For example, if you will be in contact with livestock on a farm you may require additional vaccines.

Commonly recommended vaccines for travel in Africa include:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid
  • Cholera
  • Yellow Fever
  • Rabies
  • Meningitis
  • Polio
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis)
  • Influenza

This looks like a long list but many of these you likely had as a child and already have lifelong immunity. Many are optional, and some are region-specific. 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.

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. 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.

Mosquito

Mosquito

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 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.

How to Prevent Malaria While Traveling in Africa

  • Take malaria prophylaxis- The three most popular malaria prevention medications are 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. I prefer doxycycline because it protects you against the 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 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- Generally, mosquitoes are out more in the evening. It’s best to wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks while you are out in the evening.
  • Sleep under a mosquito net- Even if you don’t see any mosquitoes, you should use a net just in case. I like the Dimples Excel Mosquito Net because you only need to hang it in the middle, not all four corners. This makes it much easier to use.

AIDS in Africa

Infection rates vary all over 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. When having sex in Africa, you will want to be sure to use protection.

One thing that I found interesting when traveling in Africa is that many border crossings have a dispenser filled with free condoms sitting around. Regular hotels that aren’t brothels may also leave a few in the room. Not something that you see anywhere but Africa.

Ebola

Even though it’s not in the news anymore, Ebola is still a problem in Africa. An outbreak recently began in the northeast DR Congo that is still being fought and continues to get worse. For more information on this newest outbreak, check out this Washington Post article

The epidemic in West Africa is under control but it not completely eliminated. Between 2013 and 2016, over 10,000 people died. Ebola has, on average, a 50 percent mortality rate for those infected. Ebola is not a major worry for tourists but there are some precautions that must be taken if you are traveling through a zone where the virus exists.

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. For example, Ebola was found in the semen of one patient one year after he had been cured. 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 disease that is transmitted 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 10 years. 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.

Tip for American Travelers: 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. Many airports 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.

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. The most common parasite that travelers encounter is Bilharzia or schistosomiasis.

This nasty parasite can be found in freshwater all over Africa including many popular tourist sites such as the Nile River in Jinja, Uganda as well as Lake Malawi. Bilharzia is commonly found in shallow waters near villages. Bilharzia can enter the body by eating its way directly through the skin.

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.

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

To reduce the risk of being infected with a parasite, you should:

  • Only drink bottled water while traveling in Africa- Before opening the bottle, check to make sure that the bottle was sealed and not just refilled.
  • Before swimming in a body of water, you’ll want to 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.
  • 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.

If you do go swimming in contaminated water, try to stay in the water for less than 5 minutes or shower after getting out to reduce the risk of infection.

A Couple 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.
  • 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 Cuts, Scrapes, and Infection While Traveling in Africa

In the tropics, a small cut can quickly get infected and turn into a major problem if left untreated. If you suffer from a small cut or scrape, be sure to:

  • 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 common cold

While traveling in Africa, you’ll be in such close contact with a lot of people. For example, a minibus could have over 20 people packed on top of each other. In situations like this, it’s easy to catch a cold. If you do get sick, make sure you take care of yourself so it doesn’t develop into something worse.

Sunburn

The sun is intense in Africa. Be sure to wear sunblock to protect your skin. A minor sunburn might not seem like a big deal during your trip but it can cause you problems later in life. Skin cancer is no joke.

I recommend you bring some good sunblock from home as it can be difficult to find in the store in many parts of Africa. 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.

Petty Theft and Pickpocketing in Africa

A more common crime that you may encounter in Africa is petty theft or other crimes of opportunity. To avoid being robbed, there are some precautions that you can take including:

  • Make sure that all of your belongings are secured and can’t easily be taken- For example, 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.
  • Wear your backpack on the front- I know it looks goofy but by doing this, it is less likely that someone will try to cut it and steal the contents.
  • Divide up your valuables into different pockets- This way, if you do get pickpocketed, you don’t lose everything.

To read about my experience with theft in Africa, read my story about how my phone was pickpocketed while I was riding in a minibus in Tanzania. 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.

Common Scams in Africa

I didn’t encounter any really sophisticated scams in Africa 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.
  • People helping or being friendly then demanding money- 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. I usually ignore them and walk away. It’s kind of rude but they’re rude for trying to rip me off. 
  • Selling unnecessary tours- For whatever reason, Africans love selling tours. The scam is that they will tell you that it is required that you be on a tour to visit a certain area. If you fall for it, they will proceed to overcharge you for everything.
  • General overcharging- Expect everyone to try to overcharge you for pretty much everything. This includes taxis, minibusses, restaurants, tours hotels, and roadside stands. You should negotiate pretty much every purchase.
  • General price changing- This annoying scam happens when someone tries to change the price on you after you have already agreed to another price. It is common with taxis and hotels.
  • Begging- I consider this a scam. Many people will be carrying on with their own business until they spot the foreigner. Only then will they approach to beg. 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.

For my full list of scams, check out my article: 19 Common Travel Scams, How they Work, and How to Avoid Them.

Transportation Safety in Africa: Your Biggest Concern

For most tourists, transportation is one of the most dangerous parts of traveling in Africa. Really, all I can say about this is that Africans drive far too fast for the road conditions. Potholes, washed out roads, and sand make the going tough. 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.

Bus from Moyale to Nairobi

Bus from Moyale to Nairobi

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, or driving in a dangerous manner, ask him to slow down– It never hurts to ask. Chances are, if you feel in danger, other passengers probably do too.
  • If your driver won’t slow down, just get out of the vehicle You can always find a safer alternative. Even if it means hitchhiking or 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.
  • 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.

Minibus station in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Minibus station in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A Few Transportation Horror Stories From My Trip

Minibus driver racing his friend

As our minibus pulled to a stop to pick up some passengers, the driver’s friend sped past. He honked and waved aggressively, suggesting a race. For the next hour, that’s what we did. The driver slammed on his brakes, hurried passengers on and off, then sped away to catch up with his friend who had inevitably passed us again.

This nonsense continued until I reached my destination. While entertaining, it was reckless and the driver was putting himself and his passengers in danger for no reason.

Riding in the bed of a truck loaded dangerously beyond capacity

While traveling across Zanzibar I rode in the back of a truck. Bench seating was built in for passengers covered by a sheet metal roof where people stored luggage and goods for transport.

Both the bed and roof of the truck were loaded up so ridiculously full that my friends and I began to feel panicky. Thousands of pounds of rice, beans, and banana trees were precariously stacked over our heads. Dozens of people crammed themselves into the bed of the truck.

I suffer from claustrophobia which was beginning to kick in. My friend, who works with metals, was concerned that the roof was going to collapse from the excessive weight. We ended up exiting the truck about ¾ way through the journey as it felt too dangerous to continue. To make it the rest of the way to our destination, we decided to hitchhike.

Motorcycle taxi driver weaving through traffic

I was late for a date with a girl I had just met in Nairobi. There was no time to call an Uber so I decided to hop on the nearest motorcycle taxi. I thought, with rush-hour traffic, that I would surely be late. I was wrong.

The motorcycle taxi driver weaved his way through the gridlocked streets with zero consideration for our safety. At one point I watched a car bumper pass within an inch of my knee. One thing I can say for this crazy guy was that he got me to my destination on time.

Food and Drink Safety in Africa

Be careful of what you eat and drink. Believe it or not, diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death on the continent. Mostly among children. Food cleanliness and preparation standards are probably lower than you’re used to.

Most likely, you will suffer some form of food poisoning or travelers’ diarrhea while visiting Africa. Travelers’ diarrhea is caused by bacteria that make its way into food and drinks.

How to reduce the risk of food poisoning in Africa

  • Eat a mostly vegetarian diet- You are more likely to get sick on bad or undercooked meat than veggies.
  • Make sure that foods are hot and cooked all the way through- Undercooked meats are particularly dangerous. They can also carry other nasty diseases.
  • Avoid foods that have been sitting out in the open- Sadly, 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. 
  • Eat fruits that must be peeled- Bananas and avocados for example.
  • 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- That way, you know it’s safe to eat.
Rolex in Uganda

Rolex in Uganda

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 off the food. Really, all you can do is to 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 sick
  • Drink some oral re-hydration salt These are salt packets that you mix with water. They help your body re-hydrate 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.
  • 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 some packaged or canned foods that I can eat if nothing else is available. For example, cans of tuna, cans of beans, packages of crackers or cookies 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.

Wild Animal Safety in Africa

Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus

Wild animals are really the least of your concerns. When imagining traveling in Africa, some people 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. With that being said, people do die from animal attacks every year. Some of the most dangerous species that may come across include:

  • Mosquito- This is the most dangerous creature you will encounter by far. They carry a multitude of deadly diseases including malaria and yellow fever. Malaria alone kills over 1 million people per year. Use bug repellent and take your malaria tablets. 
  • Hippopotamus- The hippo is the most deadly large animal in Africa. It is very aggressive and a surprisingly fast runner.
  • Black Mamba- One of the most venomous snakes on earth. It is native to Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Nile Crocodile- These guys live in pretty much every major river across the continent. Nile crocodiles eat multiple people every year.
  • Great White Shark- The greatest concentration of shark attacks happen in South Africa.
  • 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.

Nile Crocodile

Nile Crocodile

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. For example, the political situation could change while you are traveling, forcing you to change your plans. Travel insurance will cover this. You could also be catch malaria and end up spending a week in bed that you weren’t planning for. Travel insurance would also cover this.

I recommend World Nomads. I have purchased travel insurance from them for all of my trips and have had good experiences dealing with them. For more information and to get a quick, free quote, check out my travel insurance page.

Final Thoughts- Is Africa Safe?

Overall, Africa is a fairly safe place to travel. With that being said, it does require some additional research that may not be necessary while traveling in other parts of the world. For example, before travel, do your homework to check that you are not traveling to a zone with a disease epidemic or terrorism concern. Other than that, just use common sense to stay safe and protect your belongings from theft. 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.

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Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, including links from the Amazon Serivices LLC Associates Program. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. I only recommend products and services that I use and know. Thank you for reading!

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