Africa Travel Safety Tips

For many, just the thought of travelling to Africa is enough to send them scurrying under their bed with fear.

We’ve all heard the horror stories. Africa is a daunting and challenging place to travel to.

But, it is one of the most rewarding travel experiences you will ever have.

There is no place on earth like Africa, and if you can tame those monsters that hide in your shadows then it is so worth you investing time and money travelling on this unique and vast continent.

Africa travel
Victoria Falls – Africa is so worth it!

I was a little scared when we decided we were going to travel Africa independently.

The tours sounded safe and comfortable, but we really wanted more of an authentic experience.

With this came a certain amount of fear. But my fears were alleviated as soon as we touched ground.

After almost five months of catching local transport, camping, and spending a lot of time with the locals, we had no dangerous or horror stories to speak of – only challenging journeys, warm friendships made, and one out of the ordinary case of tick bite fever.

Africa Travel Safety Tips

Behaviour / Appearance Safety Tips

Africa travel safety tios
Caz in Malawi, Africa
  • As with any place you visit, act confidently and always be friendly. You don’t want to invite trouble your way. Africans are really friendly, there is no reason you can’t return their beaming smiles and chat with them.
  • Do not wear any flashy jewellery. Look like a budget traveller. Never talk to Africans about money and how much you have. Try not to carry a lot of money on you and keep it well hidden.
  •  Ladies – there will be many local men that will want to chat you up, these are really young, cool, good looking men. It is so easy to be charmed by them. Just be careful. We all know that Africa and AIDS, unfortunately, go hand in hand with each other. That’s all I’m saying.
  • We found the locals really aggressive in Tanzania. They will crowd you and pull at you in order to get you to buy from them etc. Just be really firm and confident with them from the word go. Avoid conversation and eye contact. Just a curt nod of the head and move on.

Destination Safety Tips

  • Choose your destination wisely. Always check your government’s advisory warnings. Know your own comfort level and be prepared for any dangers you may encounter. I personally would not go to places that are currently involved in acts of war or aggression. For me, it is just not worth it.
  • Try to avoid walking around at night. Unless you are in big cities and with people. I would just stick to the campsites/hostels/hotels, or if you do, don’t be rolling drunk or by yourself.
  • Know the area you are in. Just in case there are wild animals, you don’t want to be unknowingly walking around in their home at night time (or day for that matter). We stayed at St Lucia, one of my favorite South African towns, but a place where hippos freely wandered the streets at night.
Africa travel safety tips
Crocs on the banks of the streets in St Lucia
  • The only place I was really scared was Johannesburg, but that was because I had heard a lot of horror stories. Nothing happened to us. Make sure you are aware of where it is safe to go and where it is not.The second time I went there I had my brother, who lived there for awhile, to look out for me and take me to the safe areas. If you can spend time with local people you know and trust who know the area like this then hang out with them. It will ease your mind and allow you to see the good side of the destination. Or if you are that concerned then perhaps join a tour of these certain areas.

Driving in Africa Safety Tips

  • Hiring a car is a fantastic way to see certain parts of Africa, especially the Game Parks. Make sure you understand the road rules and take care.
  • You will have plenty of cars, trucks and other vehicles overtaking at any moment, blind corners or not. I always honk my horn several times when approaching a blind corner to warn anyone coming opposite to stay on their side of the road until I pass.
  • When in the game parks keep your windows rolled up when you get close to the wild animals. Yes, they could jump in there. Only get out of your car at the designated rest areas and still keep your five senses heightened.
car hire In Africa
Are you quick with a gear shift?
  • If you come face to face with an elephant and he starts flapping his ears, that is your cue to reverse a bit and give him his space. And if he charges then let’s hope you can drive like Michael Schumaker.
  • If you have to catch public transport i.e mini-vans, pick ups, never sit in the front seat/cabin. It is commonly known as the Death Seat. Take the squashy back options – it is safer.
Tips for Couples Travel
It’s safer in the pick up tray

Health In Africa Safety Tips:

  • Make sure that you get the recommended vaccinations before you arrive in Africa. You will need Yellow Fever and may not be allowed to enter your own country upon return if you have not had it.
  • Carry your vaccination booklet with you as you will need a lot of vaccinations and won’t remember when you had it or when you need a booster. You’ll need to show it to prove you have had your yellow fever vaccination as well.
  • Do you have malaria pills? Probably something you should have. Although they generally just mask the symptoms rather than prevent them. My brother still got malaria even while taking them and was holed up in a small, dusty cabin on Lake Malawi for three months. He was happy enough, as the World Cup Soccer was on so he could watch all the matches.
  • Some have ugly side effects so choose wisely. We didn’t have any problems with Doxycycline, although it can make you more sensitive to the sun. They came in handy for me when I contracted Tick Bite Fever. They are an antibiotic so they helped clear it up.
travel makes you stronger getting sick
The beginnings of Tick Bite Fever
  • Watch out when swimming in stagnant water (particularly in Malawi) where you can get Bilharzia. Check with the locals they will tell you if it is okay to swim or not.
  • Don’t go hiking mountains in the heat of a Malawian 40 degree day. You will feel like you are about to die from heat stroke – really stupid move.
  • We ate plenty of food from local vendors and street food and never got sick. Go for it! Choose places that are well frequented by locals.
African food
Cheap fish with rice and tomato cooked on the beach fire

Our travel story in Podcast

  1. Episode 1: Solo Travel and Working Abroad before we met
  2. Episode 2: Our 5 year honeymoon living and traveling the world (our Africa travels)
  3. Episode 3: The Dark times and Birth of the girls and travel blog
  4. Episode 4: Embracing Family Travel and our 18 month Australian road trip
  5. Episode 5: Getting a green card and traveling the US (our dream realized)

48 thoughts on “Africa Travel Safety Tips”

  1. Stephanie MacGregor

    Great list!

    I would add that in towns and regions that are mostly Muslim, that women, out of respect for the culture, would cover their shoulders and chest and to not wear shorts or skirts above the knee. E.g. Zanzibar, Lamu, Mombasa, etc.

  2. Well, I don’t have any travel tips to add for Africa, but you have really eased my mind about travelling there. It really seems like many other places around the world in regards to travel and safety. be smart and safe and you’ll have a good trip!

  3. Hey guys,
    Some good solid tips in here.
    I would push back a bit on this comment: “We all know that Africa and AIDS, unfortunately, go hand in hand with each other.” HIV/AIDS rates are going down in most African countries, but more importantly, it is crucial to differentiate between different countries and regions. The HIV/AIDS rate in Mali, for example, is 1.7%. In the last US city I was living, Washington, DC, the rate is 3%. HIV/AIDS has mainly been a problem for a number of countries in eastern and southern Africa. It was never a continent wide epidemic as many people suspect.

    I would add to the travel health bits that cipro is a good idea for an antibiotic nuclear bomb that will take care of severe intestinal bacteria issues. Also, I would definitely buy coartem at the first pharmacy you see and just have it on hand. As you mentioned, even with prophylactics, you can get malaria. I’ve had it twice, once on prophylactics, once off, and each time I used coartem to treat it. It is a dual action (artemether and lumefantrine) drug that is very powerful and is great for an emergency stand by.

    1. I was really hesitant about putting that one in. I debated over it as I knew how generalized it sounded. At the end I thought to myself, “Okay, if it was a guide book, say Lonely Planet, would they put it in there.” And the answer was yes. so I thought that giving tips about Africa, meant I had to present what can be a very stark reality, (sadly) and even though many countries, as you say, aren’t that widely affected, many are and since it was a broad African tips I decided to go with it.

      I totally understand what you are saying and thank you for raising it in the comments so our readers can get more information about it.
      Thanks so much for the extra health tips as well. I have not heard of them but will be packing them on my next trip to Africa.

  4. Great article! Ok I have to confess – I am completely and illogically afraid of travelling in Africa. I went to Morocco once and although it was completely fine and nothing (overly) bad happened to us, I still felt completely and utterly intimidated by all the agressive men. I was travelling there with another female friend and we were constantly harassed by men no matter how modest we dressed and even when we covered our hair.

    However, my boyfriend James, LOVES Africa. He did a volunteer program in Zimbabwe and had an amazing time. He really wants to travel around Africa with me and whenever he brings it up I usually just cringe and quickly change the subject…to something less scary…like south America. πŸ˜› But this post has started to make me feel more comfortable with the idea…. So thanks for that!

    Jade Johnston | http://www.ouroyster.com

    1. Funny, because for some illogical reason I find South America daunting!! I think you should listen to James and go. It really is a wonderful place and nowhere near as scary as your mind would like you to belive. As I said, we had no problems at all. I don’t even think we were ripped off once. I’m so glad this post has helped you feel more comfortable with the idea. You will love it!

  5. Wow. This was a good read, and with what I think is helpful advice. I’ve never traveled to Africa. But, your tips kind of ease my mind a little bit. Part of me feels like I must go to at least one African country, but another part of me thinks it’s going to be a complete pain in the ass. Africans (the one’s I know) are aggressive, touchy and grabby, and that makes me want to sock people in the face, so I’m already coming in at a lower level of tolerance. LOL Also, I hate the idea of having to be vaccinated. So…I’m letting the whole idea of going to Africa marinate.

    1. I’m so glad these tips helped ease your mind about going there. I know a lot of people won’t go because it is so daunting. It took me a while to decide to be brave enough to do it independently rather than on a guided tour. so glad I did because I discovered the most amazing continent that really wasn’t that scary after all and the people weren’t really in your face that much. No worse than Asia, probably even less.

  6. These are excellent tips–really logical and useful! I’ve been to South Africa and did well there but also felt the edge in Johannesburg (was just there briefly). There is a lot of crime there, but if you take some basic precautions, all should go well. I’d love to go back–and to see other countries in Africa. If I do, I’ll keep your advice in mind!

    1. Thanks. I wish I could have been more relaxed in J’burg. But having a lot of South African friends meant I heard a lot of horror stories. My mind just couldn’t get over that. My brother loved it though. South Africa is a great start to get your feet wet in Africa.

  7. You wrote this post for me didn’t you?! After all the ‘damsel in distress’ emails I’ve been sending you =D Perfect timing…3 weeks to go and I will definitely be writing these down to take with me…can’t wait!!! =D

    1. I did!! After you emailed me the question I thought I might as well do a post on it. So thank you for the inspiration! I’m sure you can add to them very soon. I’m so jealous

  8. I have had the chance to visit Africa a few times, and common sense has kept me safe thus far. But there are certainly things I haven’t thought about, like getting crushed by an elephant. On a positive note, because of my African travels, I no longer fear bugs in the states!

    1. I think common sense is the name of the game. Still baffles me when I hear of people getting out of their car to get that perfect shot of a passing lion in Africa. C’mon people!!
      Getting crushed by an elephant used to worry me a lot πŸ™‚ Maybe a past life interference

  9. This is a great article. I now feel prepared to take on Africa if I ever go. The pictures are fantastic! I love the one where you are taunting the crocodile on the sign or at least that’s what I think you are doing in the picture. I swear though that if I was driving and there was an elephant in the road, I don’t know how I would react. I would bet I would end up doing something crazy without thinking like honking at it or rolling down the window to try and touch it. Overall, this is very informative.

    1. Thanks Bob! We were pretty nervous when we encountered the elephant. My brother was all ready to reverse! Certainly makes your heart race

  10. Hey Guys! Thanks for the tips. I’m in the planning stages of my ‘Great Adventure’ and my first stop is South Africa and then north so this was really helpful πŸ™‚

  11. Thank you for your useful safety tips! Many of them are relevant not only for Africa but also for other continents. The most important thing is to understand that traveler should prepare for travel before travel. Doing so is increasing chances of travelers to have a safe trip. Prepare for your travels and be in safety everywhere in the world!

    1. Absolutely! Most of it is common sense and then awareness. There is no reason for anyone not to travel because they fear for their safety. It is just like being at home, you take precautions and you remain present.

  12. Hi Caz,

    This is fabulous, I am Zimbabwean born and I have traveled a few countries in Africa namely Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Zambia, Egypt and South Africa. Unfortunately most were for business and not pleasure. It is good to see someone non-african promoting african travel and advising on this. I have just started up my Travel Africa Blog and would love you to write up on my topic ‘Traveling Africa; brave and beautiful or risky and reckless?’ and if you do not mind I would love to link this page on my blog if possible

    1. Hi Tanya!
      We love promoting Africa, it is such a beautiful continent and one of our faves. Can’t wait to get back.
      Can I ask you to contact me in about a months time in regards to the guest post. We have just had a baby and Craig is going to New Zealand for 2 weeks so I am really having to cut my work load down a lot. I won’t be writing any guest posts for awhile, but should be able to once again in October. I’ll just need you to remind me.

    1. It is such a special place and a shame more people don’t travel there- surprising actually, it was always high on our list. Hopefully we can help others to see that it really is not that scary and the rewards are so worth it.

  13. As a travel agent that deals with travel we like the travel tips you have given here though some vary as per the country one is in but great job. Thanks and we welcome back anytime. Have you done the Gorrila Treks?

  14. There are some great tips there Caz.
    I have travelled extensively in Europe, Asia and Latin America but for some reason Africa has always been mentally out of bounds for me. I have read about a lot of travellers having amazing experiences there but I have always been too scared to go.
    Then my friend went to Morocco last year and has now convinced me to look at Kilimanjaro trips together. I guess that the key is in trusting the people. In my other trips I have always felt 100% comfortable as soon as my plane touched down, asd I hope that this is the case in Africa too.

  15. Hi Caz,
    I just stumbled upon your site and it looks great! I operate a travel site as well called http://www.thisboundlessworld.com. So I wanted to see if you would be interested in writing a guest post on our site? We love articles from experienced travelers!

    Let me know if we can work something out πŸ™‚

    Thanks!
    Dan

    1. Hi Dan,
      Thank you for wanting us to write for your site. At the moment we are not contributing to any other sites. Thank you anyway

  16. As an American who lived in Africa, I cannot stress enough the importance of women/girls wearing clothing that covers the knees, preferably skirts. You are inviting trouble when you don’t. There are high rape rates across the contintent (specifically central Africa) and though it is completely innocent on our behalf, many men there often use “revealing” (quotations, because all we reveal is our knees, lol) as an invitation. I’d say it is a top safety precaution.

  17. These are great tips. It’s important to use common sense when traveling anywhere. I just returned from a trip to Africa and I must admit everyone had me a little nervous before hand, but I was surprised at how safe and welcome I felt most places there.

  18. Hi Caz,
    Great post. We are on our way to South Africa by land from Thailand and I know I will be taking your advice. My boyfriend is a bit more adventurous than me but I am the cautious one, but letting my hair down slowly. Thank you for your advice.

  19. What service did you use to rent a vehicle? Were you happy with it? Any advice in general about making that decision?

    1. Oh I can’t remember – it was a long time ago and before we were blogging, so I never kept any records. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help

  20. I really like the tip “act confidently and always be friendly.” That definitely seems like a great way to let people know that you happy to be there. My husband and I have been thinking about traveling to Africa for a while now so we might try to find some great restaurants here in town. We will have to keep these tips in mind.

  21. Thank you for listing down the safety tips for us. I would be visiting Africa next week and would be staying there for a month. These points would prove handy to me.

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