Skip to Content

7 Ways To Stay Safe In Africa

Bus Crash In Sudan

Bus Crash In Sudan

[T]here is no adventure like an African Adventure.

It is as raw and demanding as travel can get. In many places, little has changed since David Livingston embarked to discover the source of the Nile.

The roads if any are treacherous, there is a lack of the rule of law, there is a high potential for disease, and tribes, gangs and militias are abundant.

Needless to say there are plenty of ways you can die in Africa. So if you’re thinking about backpacking through Africa, be sure to avoid the following.

1. Car Accidents and Bus Crashes

With poor roads, few police, defective cars and drivers who think their in a F1 race, car accidents are incredibly common in much of Africa.

In a two-week period I had the pleasure of experiencing not one but two bus crashes. Fortunately I had a premonition each time and was able to brace myself properly before impact.

The only way to avoid being in an African accident completely is to fly and even then, accidents do occur.

Ethiopian Farmer With A Rifle

Ethiopian farmer with a rifle

2. Gun Wielding Farmers

Like American farmers, African farmers also carry guns. The only difference is there aren't many authorities around to dissuade them from using them.

During my time in Ethiopia I heard countless stories of backpackers being murdered for merely the clothes on their backs. I myself was even hunted while hitchhiking.

The best was to keep from getting killed or robbed is to refrain from hitchhiking and stick to the cities.

3. Malaria

Malaria is the biggest killer in Africa. It is known as a vector born disease, which means it is transmitted through mosquitos. As a result it is very hard to avoid.

I have met countless travelers who, if it weren’t for their malaria pills, could have potentially died. Therefore it is definitely a good idea to stock up on pills before your trip.

4. Plane Crashes

There are multiple small and relatively unknown airlines in Africa. Due to their poor track record, the UN classifies such airlines as dangerous.

Despite this, I decided to fly Marsland Airlines to Sudan.  Although nothing happened, the aged and faded fuselage of the plane was definitely a point of concern.

Though it costs more, if you want to improve your survival, fly big western airlines.

5. Being Kidnapped

Kidnapping for ransom and human trafficking in Africa is big business. Not only does it happen to Africans but also to backpackers and tourists.

Though fortunately I haven’t had any experience with this, I have heard of some who have.

The best way to avoid this is to travel in cities and with guides.

Egypt Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution

6. Revolutions and Mass Protests

Few events are as exciting and dangerous as a big African protest.

During my time at the Egyptian Revolution, I narrowly avoided suffocating from tear gas, being hit by both rubber and real bullets and being trampled in a stampede.

Although I was lucky, many Egyptians were not.

Protests and death go hand in hand, so if you want to improve your chances of survival, it's best to stay in your hostel.

7. Drinking The Water

Another big killer in Africa especially among children is diarrhea from polluted water. The worst diarrhea I ever had resulted from drinking the local water in Sudan.

As a veteran of travelers diarrhea I can tell you that this was something new. The pain was so unbearable that I ended up passing out on the pot. Although you could die from diarrhea, there is a good chance you won’t.

Never the less, it is a good idea to stick to bottled water or bring purification tablets.


Although traveling in Africa can increase your chances of death, if you take advantage of my former misadventures and misfortunes you can greatly increase you chance of survival.

The truth is that there are plenty of places in Africa that really aren’t all that dangerous. And since people are people wherever you go, they would much rather help you than harm you.

Yes Africa can be dangerous, but that’s what makes it so exciting. It shouldn’t prevent you from experiencing Africa for yourself.


About the Author:

The Runaway GuideWhen Leif was 16 he ran away from home and explored much of Europe and the Middle East without a dime. He is currently working on a book about this adventure as he continues to make new ones traveling the world.

Through his experiences, advice and adventures, he hopes to prepare, empower, and inspire others to travel. Follow him on Facebook or visit him

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Bill Cairns

Wednesday 16th of October 2013

What a poor article! Anyone who lumps all of Africa into a homogenous whole and makes these sorts of generalisations has either been remarkably limited in his travels or incredibly unobservant. The rules for staying safe in Africa are the same as for staying safe anywhere: be aware, be street wise, take health precauions, be friendly.


Tuesday 13th of August 2013

Hey Dave, Just saw this linked from your newsletter and wanted to check it out. Really disappointed by this piece. Agree that there are many dangers faced by travelers in Africa, but it's important to offer a little more nuance.

The author offers few specifics - referencing just Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt - yet talks about the continent as a whole, which is unfortunate as It's an enormous continent and crime and disease rates are not uniform across the board.

Saying that Africa in its entirety has "a lack of the rule of law" is ridiculous. I spend most of the year living in West Africa and while road safety and malaria are serious concerns, I do not worry about "tribes, gangs and militias."

What is a "big African protest?" What does that mean?

I think saying things like "Needless to say there are plenty of ways you can die in Africa" serves to widen the already enormous perception-reality gap that exists with respect to Africa and ultimately discourages people from traveling the continent or it suggests they should only travel there if they love danger.

I spend most of my time in West Africa and I'm about as far from an adrenaline junky as can be. A lot of travel writing treats Africa as a monolith and this needs to change.

Love your blog, Dave, but not a fan of this guest post.


Tuesday 13th of August 2013

Hi Phil,

Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

In re-reading the post, I agree the author's tone is sensationalistic, and perhaps he played into a few too many stereotypes, trading entertainment value for more nuanced advice that might encourage more people to view Africa differently.

I still hope to spend more time there in the coming years. So much to see!

David Mackenzie

Thursday 7th of March 2013

Enjoyed reading the article and the pictures tell the story themselves as well. Africa has many different cultures it still has tribal cultures and this leads some extreme violence which is unfortunate. However it also leads to a more caring and sharing culture, I can tell you that after living in South Africa for most of my life! I would recommend travelling to SA however be aware that you need to be alert and it's best to pre plan adventures or travel with guides. Its safe until you make yourself an easy target like walking down a backstreet alleyway at night. Cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town can be compared to other major cities in the world and are great to visit but the wildlife such as the Kruger National Park is my favourite. Cape Town is the best for beaches and wine, JHB for history, shopping and partying.


Thursday 7th of March 2013

Hi David,

I spent two months traveling overland on my own in South Africa back in 2008, and I was more on edge in that country than any other I've ever visited, including Colombia and Ecuador.

After more than a week in Cape Town, I was almost robbed by an aggressive tout, in broad daylight on a busy street (not a backstreet alleyway).

Partly as a result, I was even more concerned by the time I reached Johannesburg. I stayed at a hostel in the suburbs, and only felt comfortable touring the city with a private guide.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my time there, and recommend everyone visit South Africa, but the country, and especially Cape Town and Jo'burg, have got some of the highest crime rates in the world. According to recent stats, South Africa has 31.8 murders per 100,000 people. That's on par with the Congo and Colombia (the latter being where I happen to live).

While I think violent crime against foreigners in any country is less likely than against the local population, I do think it's gives a general indication for the potential of thread of street crime, such as robberies.

Prince Bhatia

Sunday 3rd of March 2013

Africa is a beautiful continent which is full of surprises ranging from good to bad. The best thing about is Africa its different colorful cultures and customs. I know Africa is unsafe but I am wondering whether South Africa is also unsafe like other countries of Africa or not!!

Kevin Post

Friday 1st of March 2013

I'm up for the challenge. The African continent makes up 20% of all the Earth's land and has so much richness to offer her travelers. It would be a shame for world travelers to miss out where we all came from.

Comments are closed.