Safety in Africa

Written by Emily, Modified On 30 Jul 2014


From a recent survey, we discovered that many travellers are concerned about visiting Africa, due to fears about safety. These fears range from fear of political unrest, concerns about crime, fear of disease, worry about poor access to health services or clean drinking water, to fear of animals. It is easy to take what we hear on the news, about kidnappings in Nigeria or piracy off the coast of Somalia, and generalise to an assumption that ‘Africa’ is dangerous. But Africa is made up of many countries, many political climates, and many cultures. Wherever your fears come from, it’s important to get clear and accurate information, and then make an informed decision about whether any risks are worth it to you. Find out whether your fears are well-founded!

A great way to get clear and up-to-date information is to look at your own country’s travel advisory. They will provide clear and up-to-date information about crime, disease, political climate and other safety concerns, and will help guide you as to whether the decision to travel to a country is wise for you. To help you decide whether a visit to southern Africa is worth it to you, we address some main concerns below:

1. Road Safety. Across southern Africa it is wise to avoid travelling at night. In many places the roads are in poor repair, as are the vehicles that travel them (particularly hazardous are large trucks and lorries. Some vehicles may have no lights other than indicators, or may break down in the road with no shoulder to pull over on). If you decide to travel by hire car, it is probably worth hiring a driver to guide you. Your driver will know the quickest and safest routes, know how to manage checkpoints and deal with officials and will provide you with a wonderful source of conversation, giving you the chance to learn a lot about local culture.

You can book transfers between destinations with us here  (click on 'Book a Transfer' button). We will find safe, efficient and comfortable travel for you at a cost you approve of with a local travel guide.

2. Political Safety. People often have fears that they will be caught up in the political climate of the country that they visit, and with some places this is a real risk. Botswana has had a stable political climate since their independence, and is considered one of the safest African countries in terms of political and economic stability. Both the government and the main opposition in Zimbabwe are committed to promoting tourism, and it is rare for tourists to be dragged into the political scene, particularly when they avoid political rallies and charged situations. For added safety, however, it is prudent to NEVER discuss politics with the locals or even people within your own travel party until after your trip is complete. If you’d like to discuss politics with the locals, you may be met with suspicion, and it may make future interactions more strained.  

3. Crime. Violent crime is not terribly common in Botswana or Zimbabwe. As with any travel destination, it is important to be aware of petty theft and pick-pockets. Your travel advisory may suggest avoiding certain areas, such as high-density suburbs and slums. People in these areas tend to be poorer, and more desperate. If you are interested in meeting people from every stratum of society, and are therefore keen to travel to these areas, we can arrange a local guide for you, who will know the safest way to achieve this, and will help you to navigate potentially challenging cultural clashes. You may be advised to travel with your passport everywhere you go. If you do so, ensure that it is tucked away somewhere safe and hidden, like in a money belt (though not all money belts will fit a passport). Make sure you wear your money belt when you go out in risky areas (when you are on safari the risk is miniscule). Make sure you have copies of your passport and all other important documents in a separate place. Ensure that you travel with a just enough cash for your day. If you need more, you should be able to find an ATM; VISA is the most widely accepted card. Keep the money you plan to use during the day in at least two different secure locations on your person; try not to whip out your money belt unless absolutely necessary. Your money belt should be kept concealed. If you choose to travel to high risk areas, leave valuables behind; don't wear flashy jewellery, or carry expensive phones, ipods, cameras etc.

4. Disease, Illness, Accidents and Injury. Disease and illness is a risk when travelling to any country where your body may need to adjust to new bugs. See a travel doctor before you travel, and they will be able to advise you as to how to best protect yourself. This may include getting certain vaccinations, or taking prophylactics to protect against Malaria during your stay. HIV/AIDS is a real challenge in Southern Africa. It can be sexually transmitted, so while enjoying your travels, keep this in mind. Don’t travel without comprehensive medical insurance that includes cover for air evacuation. Private hospitals tend to be well equipped and well-staffed, but could end up costing you a fortune if you are unfortunate enough to need one. Know the terms and conditions of your medical insurance, and ensure they will cover any high-risk adventure activities you plan to engage in. Ensure that you drink only boiled, treated or bottled water during your stay to avoid any nasty little bugs from the water supply. This includes avoiding salads that may have been washed with untreated water. Don’t swim in any still or stagnant water. If the Bilharzia (a common parasite near shorelines) doesn’t get you, the crocodiles might!

5. Wild Animals. From hippos and crocs waiting in the water, to lions and hyenas on land, buffalo, elephant, snakes and rhino, Africa has no shortage of animals that can do some serious damage when they are not treated respectfully (and occasionally even when they are!). When you go on safari, follow your guide’s instructions at all times. Don’t go on walking safaris unless your guide has a high-powered rifle (our guide said that in 20 years he’d never needed to use it, and the only time he’d seen one used was when another guide got too close to the wildlife and provoked an attack). When at all possible, avoid long distance driving at dawn, dusk or night time as game is often active at this at this time. Local travel guides will know the routes and the animal trails. Our drivers don't do long distance at night as a rule of thumb. Take care, but don’t let fear stop you from seeing some amazing creatures up close (just not too close!).