bike touring resources:: staying safe in africa

The truth about safety in Africa

You want adventure and you know Africa’s the place to find it.  But when you switch on the news, the stuff coming out of Africa is hardly reassuring.--coups, famine, civil wars, violent street protests.  You’re thinking, “I won’t  last a day before my bike’s been nicked and my wallet’s gone missing.”

Many cyclists write to us about safety issues in Africa.  They’re worried, just like you.  Just like we were, before we set off on our cycling expedition.

We have rarely felt in danger while cycling in Africa. Having traveled through more than 100 countries, I have confidence in my instincts about what’s safe, and what’s not. 

Experience tells me that most of Africa is much safer than Latin America, although probably not as safe as most Asian countries.

The real danger in Africa

Big cities in Africa are dangerous.  Just like big cities are dangerous all over the world.  But you’re on a bike tour, so you’ll probably want to give most big cities a wide berth.  Sometimes, big cities can’t be avoided—you need a visa or you’ve got to stock up on supplies.  As long as you don’t bike at night or do something really foolish like cycle through a slum and start flashing around cash, you’re not likely to run into trouble.

Sometimes locals will tell you that a particular stretch of road is known to attract highway bandits.  Now if you run into a bunch of these scary guys on a lonely stretch of road, you’re in trouble.  Fortunately, bandits in Africa are not known to be particularly violent.  You hand over your cash and camera, end of story.

Mostly, staying safe is just a question of keeping your wits about you .  Don’t play the hero by biking through an area that is recovering from civil war or is known for unrest.

The African psyche

Africans in general are very honest.   You can leave your fully-loaded bike unlocked while you have lunch or do some shopping and nobody will snatch anything or pedal off into the wild blue yonder. Eric once left his handle bar bag containing his passport, credit cards, expensive camera and loads of cash in a small shop and then rode away. When he realized his mistake, we hurried back only to find that the shop assistant had already sent out a small boy with Eric's most cherished possessions to track us down. When we finally caught up with the boy, he returned the bag with nothing at all missing!

Extra vigilance required

Nigeria, DRC-Congo and South Africa are probably the most dangerous countries we traveled through. Nigerians were very friendly towards us, but we could feel tension in larger cities. It is definitely a violent place, and if you read the newspapers too much or any security warnings from the US State Department, you'll be put off from going there.

The DRC is also a country in which you're bound to run into problems if you spend much time there. While the average man on the street is friendly and welcoming, police and military are hyper-corrupt and there are a lot of former soldiers turned unemployed youths cum thugs. 

South Africa has got one of the highest murder rates in the world.   Most whites have barricaded themselves behind burglar bars, electric fences and intricate alarm systems.  In spite of this, it’s one of our favorite countries on the entire continent.   But you must be vigilant—this is not a country where you’ll want to be doing a lot of stealth camping.  Again, we avoided rough areas and spent three months in South Africa without encountering security problems.

The vast majority of individuals we have encountered around the world have been warm and welcoming.   As long as you use common sense, you’ll come home from your Africa cycling expedition with stories of kindness and hospitality, not tales of danger and violence.

If you enjoyed this post, you'll like these posts, too:

Staying Safe
Sizing up Security:
Smart Travel in Dangerous Places

 Staying Healthy
Healthcare in Africa: Vaccinations and Protecting yourself from the Sun

Touring Advice
Bike Touring Blunders:
6 Pitfalls to Avoid

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What are your experiences biking in so-called dangerous places?  Any tips for staying safe? 
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