Africa is home to around 50 countries (the number varies, as not all self-described countries have international recognition as independent states) and a number of island groups, making it one of the most varied environments in the world. With both well-developed areas and countries battling civil war and violence, Africa is a continent that is constantly changing and can sometimes be volatile or downright dangerous. Safety in Africa is a tricky issue, and travelers should do their homework before going.

Violence and Crime

Crime and violence are widespread throughout Africa. Historically, Sierra Leone and Liberia have had high crime rates, and travelers should be cautious, especially if traveling alone. South Africa has also earned a reputation as dangerous, with carjackings and muggings common. Throughout the continent, pickpocketing and theft are prevalent. As a common-sense precaution, always carry your money and passport in an inside pocket or a small bag around your neck or waist, rather than in a pocket or a shoulder bag.

Health Safety

Before traveling to Africa, get or update vaccines against diseases that are common throughout the continent. Depending on your destination, these may include Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, yellow fever and rabies. Protecting yourself against malaria requires preventive action and you will probably need to begin taking medication a few weeks in advance of your trip.

Safety should also be a consideration when choosing food and drinks. Buying from roadside vendors can be risky; your safest bet is to buy foods that have been thoroughly cooked. Drink only bottled water in most countries other than South Africa, where tap water is potable. Avoiding ice in your drinks (unless you can confirm it has been made from distilled or bottled water) will help keep you safe from parasitic infections, cholera, dysentery and typhoid.

Places That Are Not Safe to Visit

Historically, Algeria and Mauritania have been especially dangerous for Western travelers, having been frequent targets of Islamic fundamentalists and kidnappers. The southeast of Chad has also been dangerous throughout the years because of rebel activity, but generally the rest of the country is safe for travel.

War, rebel activity and social conflicts can make travel unwise to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. Somalia has long been considered one of the most dangerous regions in Africa because of piracy, frequent kidnappings and warlord operations.

Security concerns in Africa, as in other parts of the world, may change rapidly. It's a good idea to check the U.S. Department of State website before you plan your trip.

Safety Tips for Safaris

Whether you are on a guided safari or driving yourself, follow certain safety rules when out in the field. Aside from the obvious dangers of getting too close to large animals such as lions and hippos, be aware of snakes; if you'll be walking at all in your safari, wearing boots and long pants will help you stay safe. These precautions will also help keep you safe from ticks, as well as mosquitoes and the illnesses they transmit, such as malaria. Finally, avoid swimming in lakes and rivers, as parasites may be present, and you could get sick just from being in contact with the water.

Women Travelers

In predominantly Muslim countries such as Libya, Somalia and Egypt, women may be the target of violence if they don't obey certain social conventions, like avoiding sleeveless shirts or short skirts. Women should cover their heads if they are planning on visiting mosques or other religious destinations.