Safety in Africa
Anyone should be able to visit anywhere in the world without having to worry about safety precautions. Anyone should, but unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way, and visiting certain areas requires a bit more in the way of pre-planning in order to make sure that visitors don’t end up in less-than-savory situations. There are certainly people who made a seat-of-the-pants visit to an African nation and didn’t follow any safety recommendations, but still came out fine. There are also people who visited an African nation and drank the local water without any boiling or treatment and didn’t get diarrhea. Everyone has their own threshold for risk.
The African continent is high on the list of places which need that extra planning attention, although the extra work is more than worth it in the end. Many of the most popular African countries have issues with crime and driving in most of them is something best left to people familiar with the roads, people, and evasive maneuvers. It’s also a relief when someone else has to deal with insurance procedures.
This has all on been blamed on crime, but depending on where and why people are visiting, the wildlife is a bit of a driving issue as well. Elephants in the wild are majestic, incredible creatures. They are also huge. Very huge. Bigger than cars. And sometimes they get angry. They also sometimes get drunk. It’s best to leave that to the experts, really.
The easiest and safest way to visit Africa is to have an expert plan the trip. It definitely makes a difference when someone completely familiar with a place can steer visitors toward the best and safest hotels in their chosen price range. Often there are out-of-the-way little places that can be hard to find unless someone already knows they are there. In addition, area experts know which tours to take, when a tour isn’t needed, where to eat, and even side activities that might not be in any popular guide book.
If concierge service is not an option, there are still ways to be mindful of safety and possibly see a drunk elephant without participating in an elephant battle royale during a game drive.
First – unless a visitor is familiar with the place they are visiting, it really is best to schedule a driver. This can be done through the hotel, or through a reputable service through a booking agency. Cabs are certainly available in any city, but reputable cabs are not. You are not likely to find a meter in the rickety Toyota Corolla that a random guy in dirty pants and flip flops is driving (gas tank below the E) from Kenneth Kaunda Airport in Lusaka, Zambia. There are technically set prices, but that’s like the rough guidelines improv comic troops are given before they start their performance set. Expect to bargain, expect to have the cab driver change their mind about how much to charge you when you get to your destination, expect other cab drivers to come over and argue with you as well; and if you can’t multitask arguing and watching, your luggage might also disappear. If you’re lucky, a very family oriented Indian lady will come over and start arguing on your behalf with the cab drivers, and they might pretend to listen to her until you get in the cab, and then the argument starts again.
There is about an 60% chance of this scenario happening, and about a 10% chance it will be worse. Lusaka is generally physically safe, most of the time. The airport cab arguments in South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria, or Mozambique include the risk of physical danger as well. The extra charge for a pre-booked service is like buying bottled water instead of drinking from the tap – there is a chance you’ll be just fine.
Trip Advisor is a good place to start with hotel research, and the hotel websites are absolutely essential. Look specifically for the security descriptions. It’s also a good idea to find out ahead of time if there is a generator and water tank onsite. If a hotel does not offer airport pick-up, they are probably skimping in security areas and it might be best to choose another.
Most hotels on the African continent will send clients security suggestions on their booking form form as well. They want repeat customers, and so keeping clients safe is in their best interest. If a hotel is not responsive to questions about security, they are probably not paying close attention and may not be a good option.
Clothing in Africa matters. Several nations are quite conservative, and visitors do best to cover up just a bit. As well, the sun can be quite overpowering, the bugs can be quite hungry, and the temperatures can drop suddenly. By all means, if on a resort in Mauritius, spend the entire holiday in a bathing suit and accessorize with a Cuba Libre. Sensitivity to time and place is always a good sixth sense to practice, though.
And finally, the safest people who visit Africa have the most vaccinations. There are areas that are not considered Yellow Fever endemic, but locals still make sure they are up to date on their jabs, and visitors should be as well. Plan ahead and make sure to have a vaccine card ready, with yellow fever updated front and center. And certainly make sure all the scheduled vaccines are up-to-date as well. No one wants tetanus as a souvenir.