You’ve probably heard a lot of negative things in the media about Africa, including famine, disease, and war, but it’s a large, diverse continent, with lots to offer, including spectacular exotic wildlife, which is why so many people include it on their ultimate travel bucket list. But is it safe? Africa is largely misunderstood, and while it is home to some of the world’s poorest countries, there are plenty of places for a solo traveler, male or female to travel safely, with risk easily managed by a little preparation and common sense.
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It’s easy to get around Botswana as nearly everyone speaks English, and it’s very safe. This country ranks as one of Africa’s top three destinations too, as few lodges are fenced, and most were built to exacting eco-sensitive standards as well. You’ll find incredibly varied terrain from savannas to desert and inland delta, along with extraordinary birding and wildlife. In fact, it offers some of the most reliable lion, elephant and wild dog sighting on the continent as well as a 30,000+ zebra migration during the Green Season (November through March) in the Kalahari. Its Okavango Delta is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa too.
Adjacent to Botswana, Namibia is also a safe destination for solo travelers thanks to its good governance. While there is petty crime in major cities, provided you take common sense measures like not leaving valuables in parked cars and keeping a watchful eye on your wallet or purse, you’re unlikely to be a victim. The atmosphere for Americans is welcoming and receptive. One of Africa’s most solo-traveler-friendly spots, Namibia is an authentic desert destination with an array of fascinating wildlife, intriguing cultural encounters and dramatic backdrops. Search for the desert adapted elephants in Damaraland, check out the dune sea of Sossusvlei with its garnet-hued sands and fossilized forest, visit a Himba village and spend a night at the Okaukuejo Waterhole to watch for the many animals that come and go, including black rhino.
Morocco is a country of contrasts – from the lively Djemaa el-Fna Square to the High Atlas Mountains deserts and the friendly Berber people. While other north African countries have become increasingly unstable and unsafe, this country, for the most part, has remained relatively stable and safe for travel. The “Blue City,” as Chefchaouen is known, may be one of Morocco’s most intriguing. Considered one of the pretties towns on Earth, it’s truly a blue dream, with its bright cerulean-hued architecture nestled within the hills of the northwestern region. Row after row of buildings in its center are covered in blue paint in shades ranging from baby blue to aquamarine. The unusual coloring was introduced by Jewish refugees who arrived during the 15th century Spanish Inquisition, they believed that the more one looks at anything blue, the more they think about heaven. No cars are allowed on its narrow streets, where vendors sell their wares in open, traditional markets. The high walls block out the intense rays of the sun to create cool, shady areas, and from just about anywhere in the Chefchaouen medina, you can look up to see the mountain peaks above.
Ethiopia endured horrible famines that tragically blighted the nation in the past, but today, it’s come a long way since. It’s relatively safe to travel here and has become one of the most food-secure countries on the continent. Plus, violence is practically non-existent and it’s extremely visitor-friendly – just watch out for predictable scams and the like in the big cities. This diverse country is filled with gorgeous scenery and some of Africa’s lesser-known wildlife as well as having a history that’s left its wide-ranging landscapes laden with historic treasures, ranging from 17th-century castles to ancient tombs and obelisks. You’ll discover scenery that varies from deep depressions, the vast expanse of Lake Tana and the arid plains of Omo Valley to the sprawling city of Addis Ababa and the craggy peaks and valleys of the Simien Mountains, as well as lots of interesting animals like the Gelada baboon, the mountain nyala, the Ethiopian wolf and the Walia ibex. This is also an exceptional spot for birdwatchers with some 850 bird species, many of which are endemic to this country.
Uganda is an untouched gem, especially when compared to its neighbors, Tanzania and Kenya. Due to its turbulent past, tourism here is still largely underdeveloped, meaning that everything costs less, and it is easier to connect with the people too. Over the past half-century or so, Uganda has had a number of psychopathic terrorists, like Idi Amin and Joseph Kony, but this “pearl of Africa,” as Winston Churchill called it, is relatively stable today, and there is little real danger to foreign visitors, particularly outside of the capital city, Kampala. In one of Africa’s most famous parks, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, set across roughly 128 square miles of steep mountain rainforest, there are an estimated 360 gorillas, with a total of 120 different mammal species, including 11 species of primates, African golden cats, the rare giant forest hog and nearly 400 bird species, including 23 of the 24 endemic to the Albertine Rift and several endangered species, like the African green broadbill. You can also step foot into both northern and southern hemispheres at the same time in Mpigi, and take home a t-shirt to commemorate the occasion.
Tanzania is considered one of East Africa’s safest countries. There are lots of popular coastal resorts and other tourist attractions where you’ll feel totally safe, and many people note that within the communities there’s an extra sense of kindness, with caring for your neighbor being a very strong concept here that would make anyone feel safe. You can enjoy spending time on magnificent beaches and taking a dip in the sea, as well as see many of the continents major animals. Ruaha National Park truly has it all, with the exception of rhino. This especially raw setting has the feel of Africa long ago, wild and untrammeled, setting it apart from other reserves. Its biggest claim to fame is its wild dog packs, as this is one of the few spots on the planet where they can be observed, but it’s also home to lions, buffalo, Grant’s gazelle and a large and diverse population of antelope, including rarer species like roan and sable.
If you’re seeking a safe, relaxing solo trip, the small town of Livingstonia, Malawi is ideal. This is known as one of Africa’s most peaceful areas, there are no large attractions like theme parks, but there are charming old stone buildings, lovely churches and farms. This up-and-coming African destination is considered one of the safest, and best, African countries to visit as the perfect spot to be if you want to enjoy a natural paradise without everybody else. Called the “Warm Heart of Africa,” in the native language, Malawi locals exude friendliness, and you’ll find children running up to you to say hello. Lake Malawi is stunning, and attracts a variety of bird species, as well as hippos, warthogs, baboons and occasionally, elephants.
Thanks to improved security, Kenya is now safer than ever for solo travelers. Just like any other place, it’s important to keep an eye on your valuables as petty crime is common, but you’ll find an incredible amount of kindness offered by the Kenyans while you’re here. Visit Lake Nakuru National Park, a bird lover’s paradise that’s home to as many as two million flamingos that linger around the edge of the lake, for one of the most unforgettable sights in the entire country. You’ll also have a chance to view many water-loving creatures like waterbucks and hippos as well as giraffes, impalas and white rhinos. Solo travelers can also take advantage of less-frequented parks like Meru National Park which takes up about 540 square miles of territory and is filled with a wide range of wildlife, including lions, elephants, hippos, pythons and over 400 species of birds.
Rwanda has such low terrorism and crime rates, it’s considered one of the safest on the entire continent. It’s also home to one of the biggest tropical forests in Africa, which can be explored for days. Volcanoes National Park offers the experience of a lifetime: tracking mountain gorillas In this small country on the highest African plateau in the heart of the continent, the undulating hills and mountains are enshrouded in mist every morning, hence the saying, “gorillas in the mist.” It is here in the forest that the famous park can be found, the home of two- thirds of surviving mountain gorillas whose population is estimated to be just 880. There are ten groups of gorillas accessible to tourists through various operators which run tours racking the silverbacks and their troupes through the dense forest.
Madagascar is famous for its wildlife, thanks to the animated movie of the same name, including lemurs, which were featured prominently. While the animals in the film were cute, it’s much better to see them in the wild, and this island nation is considered quite safe to visit due to its policies and good governance. While you’re here, consider hopping on the Manakara Express, a French colonial-era railway that lumbers up from Manakara on the south-east coast to Fianarantsoa in the highlands, offering the chance to explore one of the most biodiverse regions of the world.