Safe/dangerous African countries?
December 10, 2006 8:38 AM   Subscribe

What are the safest African countries for a white, English-speaking visitor? What are the most dangerous? Why?
posted by stammer to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've spent a lot of time in Africa.

Most of Northern Africa - countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, for example - are fine.

Sudan, Yemen, almost all of Eastern Africa is really, really bad. But you'd have to try hard to end up there.

South Africa, Ghana, fine. Parts of Nigeria are fine as well, but other parts - the Niger Delta - pretty dangerous.

What is the purpose of your trip? Maybe we can offer some advise that's a little more specific.
posted by Mutant at 8:55 AM on December 10, 2006

Definitely leave Sudan, Congo, Chad, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Ivory Coast off your "to do" list. Even visiting Egypt might not be the best idea right now. Nigeria was good a few years ago, but there has been so nasty fighting between Muslims and Christians, so I'd leave it off my list, as well. Liberia is settling down after a major civil war, and it might be OK to visit, but I'd be careful. Countries that I would feel safe visiting are Morocco (although I'd watch my back), Malawi (where Madonna adopted a little boy), and Namibia (if it's good enough for Brad and Angelina, it's good enough for me!)

South Africa, obviously, is a good place for a white, English-speaking to visit.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:57 AM on December 10, 2006

I agree with Mutant. Tunisia is a great place to visit. Very safe.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:58 AM on December 10, 2006

South Africa and Namibia are good. Just don't travel about the cities alone... tourists of any kind are going to be targets for criminals.

They're the only ones I'm informed enough to comment on.
posted by twistedonion at 9:02 AM on December 10, 2006

Response by poster: Mutant: Just a potential tourist!
posted by stammer at 9:02 AM on December 10, 2006

Response by poster: More specifically, a potential tourist who likes wandering around and saying hello to people, rather than going on guided tours of gazelle hideouts and things like that. I've never been to Africa.

Are places that have avoided major European colonial interference generally safer?
posted by stammer at 9:05 AM on December 10, 2006

News flash: Yemen is not in Africa.

Botswana is okay, Zambia seemed a bit scary to me (I was in Livingstone). English is widely spoken in both countries. I've heard Namibia is nice to see. South Africa isn't exactly safe, but you can drive around in that country pretty easily. The crime rate is really high there. Stay away from Johannesburg unless you're with a local tour or something. But, as always, read up a lot on how to travel there. Try not to go during tourist season. I was in South Africa during their winter and it's less crowded during that time. I felt pretty safe in tourist areas but, yes, do watch your back.
posted by Lockjaw at 9:10 AM on December 10, 2006

Senegal is very nice and safe and you can get there direct from America now.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:14 AM on December 10, 2006

"Just a potential tourist!"

Hmmm...I'd suggest Northern Africa then. I agree that Egypt might be a little dicey these days, Tunsia would probably be fine. Lots to see and the locals are fairly friendly. If you're dead set on heading south, Accra, Ghana is probably the safest in that region - the comments about JoTown are spot on. Capetown would be ok as well.

Sorry about the mislead on Yemen; every time I've been down that way I've was bouncing around countries and it's easy to get confused where you are sometimes.
posted by Mutant at 9:20 AM on December 10, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, does anyone have any idea how Rwanda is?
posted by stammer at 9:20 AM on December 10, 2006

Rwanda isn't bad, anymore. In fact, much of the sectarian violence has radiated outward, so some of the surrounding countries are now unstable, but Rwanda is relatively calm.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:34 AM on December 10, 2006

As already mentioned, Ghana is very safe. I spent 3 weeks traveling pretty much all around the country earlier in the year and felt safe pretty much wherever I went. The most hassle I received was catcalls of 'obruni' (white person) absolutely everywhere because tourism is still quite new and we tended to venture away from the tourist spots. Having said that, I had a small amount of money stolen from me on the beach when I got smothered by 8 kids. But they did redeem themselves the following day when I questioned them on it and I became their new best friend.

I met a couple of people that work in Nigeria and they said that they don't travel anywhere without an armed driver. Enough said.

Nairobi in Kenya is nicknamed Nairobbery for a reason.
posted by floanna at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2006

Not to be another hijacker on this thread, but... does anybody have any opinions on Ethiopia? I know the conflict with Somalia is starting to become serious, but is Addis Ababa safe to visit?
posted by deeparch at 9:56 AM on December 10, 2006

Consider Gabon for something different, although its tourist facilities aren't quite up to the standard of some of the eastern or southern African countries just yet.

Namibia's also a good destination, while the country I felt safest in was Libya. Beautiful architecture, stunning scenery and friendly people, but you need to be 'invited' in. Easiest way is to go on an organised tour.

Really depends on why you're going to Africa though, and what you're looking for from the trip.
posted by Nugget at 10:22 AM on December 10, 2006

Ghana is great. In my (purely anecdotal) experience, there's a lot more petty theft than franophone west africa, but that can be easily avoided. The people are a joy - incredibly friendly. And it's easy to get around, as West Africa goes.

(If you go there, go to Big Milly's Backyard, aka Wendy's Place in Kokrobite which is not too far from Accra. Phenomenal. The link gushes about it as I could do here.)

I actually don't think Senegal is that easy for ppl that don't speak French. But if you're game for that, than Burkina Faso and Mali are also fine. I've heard good things about Niger, but haven't been. Egypt's fine. I thought Uganda was ok, but I spent the whole time I was there in Kampala, so I can't speak for the rest of the country.
posted by Amizu at 10:30 AM on December 10, 2006

I've been to Sudan, and it was fine...not much there, but safer than Sheboygan. Not a tourism destination, unless you really want bilharzia. The people were very friendly, though.
posted by atchafalaya at 10:32 AM on December 10, 2006

Stammer, Rwanda is amazing - its one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya are all safe and have amazing things to see/do. Malawi is safe and gorgeous, but is fairly difficult to travel independently if you're not up for 'roughing it'. As mentioned above, Nairobi (the capital of Kenya) is indeed pretty dangerous, but there's a whole big country that isn't, so don't let that be a reason to eliminate a whole country.
posted by Kololo at 10:38 AM on December 10, 2006

I've spent a while drifting around eastern and southern Africa. Almost as a rule, the big cities are not places I want to spend time. And for the most part rural areas are fine. (there are exceptions, so research in advance).

Rwanda is very interesting, and reasonably safe. but, in my experience at least, the tone of interactions with foreigners is substantially different than in say Uganda.

It sounds like you want to go to a place like Malawi. wonderful people. safe. travel is easy. accom. is cheap. and the people are really really wonderful.

"Are places that have avoided major European colonial interference generally safer?"


That said I find South Africa to be not that nice. the crime there is more sophisticated. in many other areas of Africa it is largely opportunistic. , ie the dangers in SA are less easy to mitigate - I find it more constrictive.

Namibia has come up a few times. It is a nice country but it is hard to get around if you are on a budget.
posted by nazca at 11:13 AM on December 10, 2006

Not to be another hijacker on this thread, but... does anybody have any opinions on Ethiopia? I know the conflict with Somalia is starting to become serious, but is Addis Ababa safe to visit?

A colleague of mine just returned early from an archaeological expedition in the Afar region of Ethiopia; the feeling they got from the government (who asked them to leave) was "we want to fight here, but we can't do it until you leave, so please go." No idea about Addis, but it's probably a stretch at best in terms of safety.

As for the rest of Africa, Egypt is great. I've never met friendlier people, honestly. Any danger is going to be random, not systematic, just like anywhere else in the world. I would definitely it.
posted by The Michael The at 11:23 AM on December 10, 2006

. . . definitely *recommend* it.
posted by The Michael The at 11:24 AM on December 10, 2006

I have to second Malawi. Hire a driver (should be absurdly cheap) and you can get around...the country is really very safe/peaceful. It's often overlooked, which is a shame, because it is astounding in its beauty. Also, Malawi Gin is some of the best I have ever had, and my English gin-snob friends concur. Cheap too.
posted by duffell at 12:31 PM on December 10, 2006

I've heard Eritrea is safe and interesting, and that it has some excellent Italian food (a holdover from its time as an Italian possession).

Libya is safe, but boring.
posted by Brian James at 1:14 PM on December 10, 2006

I was in Namibia a couple of months ago doing a DIY driving tour, and it was a good experience (we were 2 English speaking white women). It’s a huge country with a population of less that 2 million, and most of those are based towards the north, near the Angolan border so go there if you want to meet the locals. Much of the rest of the country is comprised of vast open spaces, with very few people. Unless you’re part of an organised tour you’ll need your own transport, and note that most of the roads are gravel surfaced.
South Africa is a good bet as well, with a lot more people, and with English being widely spoken. Echoing the comments of others, J’burg is probably best avoided.
posted by shoeless2 at 1:56 PM on December 10, 2006

Rwanda is relatively calm.

Define "relatively." Relative to ... Detroit? Relative to ... Mogadishu?

I highly recommend reading through the various country warnings and assorted information provided by the U.S. Department of State.
posted by frogan at 2:21 PM on December 10, 2006

I would avoid Nigeria since from family experience, you're expected to bribe your way through town or get a local expediter (someone who will administer bribes in an orderly fashion). It's supposed to be OK except for this kind of constant scamming but that really bothers me and would make me feel insecrure. Seriously from the time you land at the Lagos Airport people will try to scam you.

Also electricity blackouts, teachers and students going on strikes at the college level are common everyday occurences. Check yahoo destinations for reviews on various places.
posted by Freecola at 6:14 PM on December 10, 2006

Try the Thorn Tree Forum, hosted by Lonely Planet.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:21 PM on December 10, 2006

South Africa: The only African country I can speak on, since I currently live here. I've driven over much of the country. I live in the area called Eastern Cape. It's a very laid-back part of the country. There is crime, but it's mostly petty, non-violent.

Johannesburg (Jo-burg) sucks. If the crime doesn't get you the traffic will. I've made a couple trips there and enjoyed myself, but that's the most I can say. There isn't much point to going there, except to fly in/out.

Cape Town: One of the more beautiful cities on the planet. Very pleasant, but winter isn't the nicest. We go mostly for the shopping, because shopping sucks in our small city, and for a little city life. Around Cape Town is incredible scenery, and also the wine country, if you're in to that sort of thing.

Garden Route: The coastal route that extends between Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay (which is east of Cape Town). Some beautiful places. Folks are friendly. I never felt unsafe anywhere there.

HOWEVER: If you want a seaside experience, the Wild Coast is the coast north of East London going most of the way to Durban. It's not the safest place in the interior, but the coastal towns tend to be okay. The beaches are wild, very minimaly built-up, and spectacular. Kind of like how I imagine California was in the 1930's.

South Africans are friendly folks. English is common but where I live, plenty of the blacks (mostly Xhosa) speak little of it. Some may speak Afrikaans.

The worst crime issue is vehicle hijacking. Stop lights can be dangerous places! You have to be alert and keep your distance, don't allow yourself to be boxed in between cars. Don't keep your window down, the latest thing is walking up and spraying people in the face with swimming pool acid.

Zimbabwe: For all the bad things said of the place, I hear that it is fine to go there to visit Victoria Falls. My problem: I'm gay, have a life partner, and that fact is written in my passport. South Africa puts the reasons for my visa on the visa. Zimbabwe has a very bad gay-hate thing. I don't feel safe showing my passport to those folks. This SUCKS, I wan to see the falls. Most gays don't have it in their passport.

Botswana: My in-laws went, found it beautiful. I see lots of photos from there from a travel magazine my partner subscribes.

Namibia: No big deal, beautiful desert. In-laws went, got spectacular photos.
posted by Goofyy at 11:55 PM on December 10, 2006

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