Expected budget for experienced lone budget traveler in West Africa?
September 27, 2012 5:15 PM   Subscribe

How safe are the following (mostly) West African countries, and what can I expect my budget to be?

(I'm looking for personal experience in West Africa and I am well aware of travel.state.gov!)

Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco (inc Western Sahara), Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, GhanaTogo, Benin, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome & Principe, Gabon, Congo, DR Congo

This question is very very long, but will give you a very good idea of my experience, along with numbers I have already found.

I. My experience in Africa w/ partial list
II. List of probable destinations with possible budgets.
III. tl;dr / questions repeated


I. My experience in Africa

I am looking for travel budget information along with general safety experience from individuals. I am well aware of the US travel.state.gov site and general travel warnings. I also read and occasionally post to the Lonely planet Thorntree. Guidebooks, websites and magazines do not always have budget information that works for me. In the list below I have included the daily suggested budgets for some of African countries I have been to, in addition to what I actually spent. I've also traveled extensively outside of Africa, including many 'dangerous' places with no problems.

Ideally, it would be amazing to find someone who has done the kind of trip I have in Africa, but on another coast. I move slowly and often end up staying with people. I only rarely do expensive activities like caving or elephant rides. I eat local food or self-cater.

In part of a larger trip, I was there overlanding by bus/train/ferry/etc for a year in Africa 2009-2010 (Cape to Cairo)- here are a few of the countries from that trip with perceived danger or large budget discrepancies. The 'Daily budget needed' numbers come from 1. Lonely Planet 2007 Africa 2. Lonely Planet 2010 Africa 3. Roam the world (website)

**South Africa

Safety: I had absolutely no trouble here, but felt a little worried at times because of multiple warnings by select South Africans. Time was spent in 'dangerous' Johannesburg and in some slums.
Daily budget needed (according to various sources): 25-50, 35-70, 100
Actual daily budget: $33.60


Safety: Very rural, no issues.
Daily budget needed (according to various sources): 25-45, 30-60, 99
Actual daily budget: $10.70


Safety: No problems, but mild police hassling trying to cross water border while hitchhiking.
Daily budget needed (according to various sources): 25-100, 30-150, 102
Actual daily budget: $18.67


Safety: No issues in big cities, islands or rural areas.
Daily budget needed (according to various sources): 50-75, 60-100, 75
Actual daily budget: $18.88


Safety: No problems, even staying in heart of downtown Nairobi.
Daily budget needed (according to various sources): 75, 50+, 67
Actual daily budget: $18.95


Safety: Perfect, despite travel warnings (Northern Sudan)
Daily budget needed (according to various sources): 20-30, 25-150+, 15
Actual daily budget: $22.74


Safety: Was worried because of what people said beforehand, though everything was beyond great. Some hassles led to needing the police, but no danger felt.
Daily budget needed (according to various sources): 30-50+, 50, 45
Actual daily budget: $20.29

I know well that budgets depend on the mode and speed of travel, and also depend on excursions, purchases, etc. I do not try to save money traveling, but I naturally travel cheaply with few needs.


II. List of probable destinations with possible budgets. (US Dollar)

Where I might go (roughly sorted North to South) 2012-2013 with listed daily budgets from 1. Lonely Planet 2007 Africa 2. Lonely Planet 2010 Africa 3. Roam the world (website)

1. Tunisia - 30, 42, 46
2. Algeria - ? , 35-75, 57
3. Morocco (inc Western Sahara)- 15-25, 25-60, 57
4. Mauritania - 25, 30, 47
5. Senegal - 40-60, 60-80, 82
6. The Gambia - 20-40, 40-80, 61
7. Mali - 25, 30-50, 37
8. Guinea-Bissau - 30+, 50-80, 62
9. Guinea - 10-20, 30-60, 16
10. Sierra Leone - 15-25, 15, 42
11. Liberia - 50+, 50+, 103
12. Ivory Coast - 15-20/40 in capital, 30-60/70-100, 44
13. Burkina Faso - 15-25, 20-50, 34
14. Ghana - 30-50, 30-50 or 50-70 in Accra, 62
15. Togo - ?, 30-50, 45
16. Benin - ?, 30-50, 42
17. Nigeria - 25-50, 40-70, 116
18. Niger - 15-100, 15-70, 34
19. Cameroon - 40, 40-60, 52
20. Central African Republic - 15-50, 25+, 44
21. Chad - 20-30/40 capital, 25-50/50+, 40
22. Equatorial Guinea - 40-90, 30-60/90 Malabo, 78
23. Sao Tome & Principe - 85, 70 Euro, 100
24. Gabon - 60/100 (interior/Libreville), 50-200/100, 60
25. Congo - 30-60, 20+, 44
26. DR Congo - 80-100, 30-40+, 57


III. tl;dr

In your experience:

A. How safe are the above 28 places for a very well-traveled female anthropologist who will not drink alcohol and go very far to respect local customs and be careful?

B. How do those budgets (sources above the list) stack up to your experience as a cheap-y, simple, slow traveler?

Thank you so much.
posted by maya to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I can only speak to Cote d'Ivoire of your list of places. I'd compare my feelings in Abidjan to my feelings in Nairobi summer of 2008. I could tell that bad shit had happened recently, but I did not feel unsafe. I will say that the general reception I got as a white lady (if you are white) in Abidjan was very frosty unless I spoke to people and they realized that I was not French (because my French accent is terrible).

I was only in Abidjan for a few days, but was staying at a very nice research center for around $12/day, plus two or three dollars for food. I was in Yopougon and, though I didn't go out much in Abidjan (just to a market a few times), the most harassment I got was from people trying to convince me to go to church with them. Taxis from the airport were very expensive, but were arranged for me by the research center. I'm sure one could haggle them down easily. I don't have a good sense of costs in Abidjan in general, but I got fresh fruits and baguettes from the market in Yopougon for maybe $0.50 every morning.

I spent most of my time working in the Tai Forest in the southwest, maybe 15 km from the Liberian border. In Tai, the biggest town near where I was doing research, I could get by very nicely for food on maybe $10/week; the "fuck hotels" were about a dollar a night and nicer ones were two or three. Some of the time, there was electricity via generators. Tai felt very safe and friendly to me in terms of my interactions with people; there's also a strong UN contingent.

However, there were incursions across the border from Liberia from Gbagbo supporters hiding out in refugee camps that resulted in people being killed in villages pretty close, and also attacks on the UN peacekeepers. There's still a lot of tension politically speaking because the FRCI, who supported President Ouattara (the current president), are extracting bribes and generally intimidating the population - a lot of them are also mercinaries from adjacent countries. In addition to the FRCI's presence, there are the dozo, "traditional hunters" of various ethnic groups from the North who militarized and swept Southeast in support Ouattara. They're heavily armed and are also doing a lot of intimidation, as well as recruiting from ethnic minorities living in the west (Burkinabes in particular).

In addition, the next round of elections are slated for 2015 and I'd imagine things are only going to get more tense. I loved my time in Cote d'Ivoire and I'm currently writing grants to get back to do more research. I'm a primatologist, but the political stuff going on, and all the ways political conflict is being acted out across Ivorian society (for example, football games got INTENSE and I can tell you a lot about the ethnicities and political leanings of all the national footballers, and how they were dissected by the folks I was working with), was enough to make me want to be a cultural anthropologist! And your trip plans make me jealous.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:41 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

(sorry, the Dozo swept southwest)
posted by ChuraChura at 5:41 PM on September 27, 2012

You're asking a lot, I don't think you're going to get the detailed answers you are looking for here. That said, I live in Nairobi and have worked in almost every country in southern and eastern Africa, as well as a good deal of western. I wouldn't begin to pretend I remember what things cost in any of those countries, I'm generally on my pittance of a per diem so I have the relative luxury of not needing to budget. Here's my general thoughts, though, on safety:

1) Morocco's fine because its touristy, although there's a general culture of trying to screw you over there that I found particularly distasteful.
2) Western Sahara I have not been to but my people in Senegal strongly advised against my plans to drive through there north to Morocco, so I ended up skipping that and flying.
3) They said Mauritania is fine, but I've never been that far north. I would guess its a lot like Senegal, what with being one of the francophone countries and such.
4) Senegal is fairly safe, based on your experiences in Sudan, etc., I'm assuming you know how to handle yourself as a woman in the more Muslim parts, so you should be OK. There are parts of Dakar that can be a bit sketchy at night, but that applies to pretty much any of the major city centers of the countries on your list.
5) Mali you need to remember is just coming back from a military coup, that closed down the airport for a few weeks - people with orgs that were evacuating had to go overland cross-border, and it wasn't particularly safe. That said, it sounds like things have settled back down, and when its peaceful, its plenty safe.
6) Liberia I've also not been, but was just talking with a buddy who lives there (white guy) this past weekend, it sounded pretty rough and tumble to me. I can put you in touch on email with him (memail me) if you want more info on that.
7) Cote d'Ivoire you already have pretty good feedback on from ChuraChura.
8) Ghana is plenty safe, everywhere I went pretty much, even in Accra, but Accra can be a bit on the expensive side.
9) Niger is relatively expensive as well, at least in Niamey, where I was. It was also not very stable or safe, at least not a year and a half ago - our offices had cars caught up in riots, rocks thrown at them, etc. - I very nearly drove into some bad situations myself a couple of times.
10) Chad, I was in last week, a couple more times earlier this year, and will be back next week. I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would want to go here other than the oil industry guys or USAID people who get to stay in the nice hotel, which my NGO certainly can't afford. N'djamena is considered the 2nd most expensive city in the world to live in, and it is a shithole. You can probably get by on a smaller budget going the local route, but I can't even get a decent/clean hotel room in that town for $150. I'm travelling to the field next week and am decidedly unexcited about it. Chad is relatively secure right now, but stay away from the east / north borders.
11) DR Congo is one of the sketchiest countries on your list, by my experience. I've had fairly tame experiences there, only in the south and east, which I got the impression were not at all the norm. Of course, its a huge country, but I'd be particularly careful trying to travel around there. I say this having worked this year in places like Pakistan and Somalia, as a point of reference - both of which I consider generally safer than DRC on any given day.

Bon voyage, safari njema.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:06 AM on September 28, 2012

Senegal's estimate sounds about right- maybe a little high (80USD) but that depends on the accommodation you get. If you were interested, and depending on how long your staying (and if you speak French) you may consider contacting ACI Boabab in Dakar who could set you up with a host family to live with. They are an awesome group and coordinate a lot of study abroad programs. Your daily costs would probably be a lot lower that way.

I didn't find Senegal to be dangerous ever. I drank and went home drunk by myself or with female friends frequently and never had problems. That being said, dress appropriately.

I would reconsider Mali, but you seem pretty set on visiting theses destinations, so maybe that will fall on deaf ears. Note that even all the Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated with past year.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:22 AM on September 28, 2012

Mali you need to remember is just coming back from a military coup, that closed down the airport for a few weeks - people with orgs that were evacuating had to go overland cross-border, and it wasn't particularly safe. That said, it sounds like things have settled back down, and when its peaceful, its plenty safe.

There were two uprisings, one a coup in Bamako, the other a revolt of Tuaregs and Islamist fundamentalists in the north. Bamako is pretty safe right now, but look for that to change. This last Sunday Traoré signed an agreement with ECOWAS to start bringing troops in, and he is petitioning the UN General Assembly right now to approve military operations to retake the north. His government is already on less than solid footing, and even if he maintains popular support through what's coming, the influx of refugees is going to be very destabilizing.

I live in neighboring Burkina Faso, have for over four years (two as a Peace Corps Volunteer), so I feel pretty confident telling you that it's very safe overall, with some caveats. There are some neighborhoods in Ouaga that walking around with a bag, even during the day but especially at night, is a good way to get that bag stolen. And road crime has seriously increased since the gendarme/police mutinies last year, enough so that I'd recommend avoiding cross-country night travel even on the major roads. But in both cases, the chances of you being seriously injured are very small (though that's another reason not to travel at night - your chances of being injured in a traffic accident at night, especially on the Ouaga-Bobo road, are not small at all). Rural areas are even safer, though as you're probably aware, anything north of the Djibo-Dori road is considered unsafe as far as the Embassy is concerned, because of AQIM threats and the Malian conflict.

Budgeting is about right. You can rent a small room with a fan for around ten to fifteen bucks a night at the smaller places in Ouaga outside the central area; food could be around fifty cents per meal if you're eating street food, about two bucks for a meal in a nice restaurant that caters to locals, and up to around ten dollars if you're eating ex-pat food (there are lots of good Lebanese places). Taxis are less than a dollar if you flag one down and stay on the main routes, around two to four dollars if you want to go door-to-door.

Respecting culture is super cool, but you aren't going to invite any serious problems by not doing so here; Burkinabé are really chill about that sort of thing for the most part, more so than folks in the rest of the region (they're also more forgiving of bad French, if that matters to you).

I agree with allkindsoftime that Ghana is pretty safe, though I've not been to Accra; we wandered about Kumasi at all hours with no problems though. In the interests of full disclosure, a group of my friends were on a bus around Bolgatenga that got robbed by guys with AKs, and when the police came there was a bit of a shootout. No passengers were injured, and that's not the norm, but it is something that happened. Rooms were maybe a bit cheaper there than here. Togo is very safe outside of Lomé, but in Lomé I was told in no uncertain terms not to be anywhere near the beach come nightfall, and probably not even at dusk. Apparently muggings are very frequent there, usually at knifepoint. Rooms in Lomé were a bit more expensive, maybe twenty bucks a night, and that was for a pretty crummy place, but up in Kpalime (a good base for exploring the mountain region) it was cheaper than that. Benin has such a big problem with road banditry in the northern part of the country that the bigger buses usually have an armed security escort. We only went to Grand Popo for New Years, so I don't know what prices outside of resort-land are.

The one time I went to Dakar, I spent the whole week certain I was going to get mugged, or taken by a shady taxi driver to a distant part of town and get robbed, or something like that, because I've heard *so many* stories of that sort of thing happening to people. Didn't happen to me, though. Can't tell you as much about costs there - I was on a work trip, so most of that stuff was paid for.
posted by solotoro at 8:20 AM on September 28, 2012

I should have remembered to add - Ghana's the one place I was actually mugged - on the beach just west of Accra, middle of the day. I still consider it fairly safe, but the lesson is that this stuff can happen anytime, anywhere. You're a target by color.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:34 AM on September 29, 2012

In my limited West African experience I can tell you Ghana is very safe, have never had problems walking around - even in Accra - even @ night. Was there last year and it has gotten *much* more expensive than the first time I was there. I think the oil exploration etc., has heated up the economy. Have a soft spot for Ghana because it was the first African country I went to and I think Ghanaian people are a blast!

Burkina Faso was safe mostly. When I was there (work trip staying in nice hotel in Ouaga) there was a shootout between cops and the army, but that was relatively minor - did hide in a stairwell with some of the employees. But apparently it was pretty minor because when I mentioned it, the local people were blase.

Senegal relatively safe, mostly purse snatchings and pickpockets and phony cops.

I am told Morocco is safe as it is very touristy.

Togo - not safe (only been to Lome). Lome has the skeeviest airport I have ever been to.

My company no longer allows people to travel to Nigeria FWIW. I was going to go there.

Of course even in Ghana the usual precautions you'd take in say, most American cities are a must.
posted by xetere at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2012

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