Is it Safe to Travel to Africa as a Solo Woman?

Recently, Amanda from A Dangerous Business posted a survey on solo female travel. As a woman who happens to travel by herself from time to time, I decided to take part and the results were published a few days back.

The survey said that of all the places women did not want to travel solo – the Middle East was number 1. Africa number 2.

My Africa? So unloved? Whilst I wasn’t completely shocked by this… it did make me a little sad.

Africa is a big place and the survey had the entire continent written off.

Those who read my blog will know that whilst I’ve been travelled a fair bit, the African countries I’ve visited are at the top of my favourites list. I’ve not been everywhere in Africa, but I’ve travelled throughout much of the Eastern and Southern parts of the continent – Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, often alone, but I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly brave or risky traveller.

Why Africa?

When I tell people that I like to go to Africa on my own, I usually get a confused (and occasionally horrified) look and the question “Why?”

Telling your parents you’re going for the first time is even better. Especially when you’ve never travelled that much before and never anywhere by yourself!

Went down a treat like a lead balloon. But my desire to go was stronger than anything anyone could say to convince me otherwise and within five minutes of landing in Zambia, I knew I’d made the right decision to start my trip in Africa.

Africa is an assault on the senses – the smells (some good, some really not so good), the heat and bustle of the local market, where music pumps out of the sound system of the record shop and you can buy anything and everything, hearing drums on the beach at night in Malawi, seeing the great migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti, the anticipation of meeting a gorilla as you trek through mountains in Rwanda, the warm smiles of the people, the real life picture postcard of big, red African sun setting in front of an Acacia tree, the crystal clear waters of Zanzibar, women wearing brightly coloured chitenge carrying babies on their backs and heavy bundles on their heads, kids playing happily with toys made from an old coat hanger, a tyre and stick, or newspaper and tape made into a football – I could go on and on forever…

Is it safe to travel to Africa as a Solo Woman?

There are so many things on the news about Africa. Very rarely do you hear anything positive through the mainstream media – famine, disease, war… as Paul Theroux said in his book, Dark Star Safari “All news out of Africa is bad.”

He was right… but he also added “It made me want to go there.” Me too.

Africa fascinated me. Even now, after spending a year getting to know a little bit of this enigmatic and diverse content, it’s still a mystery to me and I have a lot to learn. However, I strongly believe Africa is still largely misunderstood, ignored because of assumptions, misconceptions and massive generalisations.

There are places I don’t think are safe right now, so I don’t go. After all, Africa houses many of the poorest countries in the world and there are dangers that you wouldn’t find elsewhere else I mean, you won’t get eaten by a lion in France will you?

My opinion? Africa is HUGE and there are tons of places for a woman (or man) to travel safely and many of the risks are easily managed with a bit of preparation and common sense.

Through Helen in Wonderlust, my aim is to show you how it can be done. How I did it. How you can do it to!

And if you don’t want to travel completely solo all the time, you could join an overland tour like I did for a time. Built in transport, accommodation and friends!

Solo Woman in Africa http://www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk/

If you have any questions or concerns about travelling in Africa, or you share my enthusiasm, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

For further info, read my practical Top Africa Travel Tips.

Would you travel to Africa as a solo woman?

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68 Comments

  • Reply
    Woaba Blog
    July 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I’ve been to Africa twice and I have to say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, but at the same time I would disagree slightly with your comment, “if you take the same precautions you would elsewhere, Africa is no more dangerous than anywhere else.”

    When it comes to safety, when visiting Africa it’s more important to do your research before you go (and also while you’re there) than for anywhere else in the world (for both men and women). That’s not to say you shouldn’t go – just that there are dangers so be sensible about where you go and what you do while you’re there (more so than anywhere else in the world), so I would agree with the precautions you mention.

    The second time I went I was there for three months but I have to admit that for most of it I was on a tour. Having a tour guide and also the ‘safety in numbers’ aspect made me feel more comfortable and relaxed about enjoying my trip. I caught malaria and amoebic dysentry while I was there which weren’t much fun, but being on the tour meant that the tour guide was able to get me to hospital, so it highlights that even if you’re careful and sensible then there are still more dangers in Africa than you experience in regular everyday life. That’s something you have to consider when deciding whether Africa is the place for you.

    Another example is on a safari I remember that some of us put our tents up in the path of the route which elephants walked, but luckily a local told us to move our tents otherwise we might have been trampled on during the night. I also had a local policeman pull a gun on me trying to get me to pay for a fictitious ‘local visa’ which I alledgedly needed, so my own experience was that there are definitely more risks in Africa than anywhere else.

    But as everyone can tell by the enthusiasm in your article, Africa is an absolutely amazing place. So as long as you realise the importance of being prepared, and realise that no matter how prepared you are there’s still the possibility that you might face dangerous experiences that you won’t come across in the UK, then a trip to Africa can be one of the best experiences of your life. Like yourself I also met lots of honest friendly people while I was in Africa and that’s what you remember years later.

    Some of my memories are of spectacular natural wonders like Victoria Falls and the Ngorongoro Crater, but also little things stand out like one time when we stopped in a remote village and one of the local ladies sold a few packets of peanuts to us (for 2p per packet) and her face was absolutley beaming with happiness at having made a few sales. Things like that ladies smile keep you humble and help you to remember how lucky and spoilt we are in the rest of the world.

    Another amazing night was in Malawi when a group of locals put on a concert of traditional singing (Ladysmith Black Mambazo style) down at the beach. I also remember our tour guide jokily haggling with the immigration officials in Tanzania over the length of our visas (something which would never happen in the UK!) and the sense of humour in general of many Africans was also another excellent memory.
    Woaba Blog recently posted…Comics: The Li’l Depressed BoyMy Profile

  • Reply
    Helen
    July 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Hi Charles Fudgemuffin,

    You raise some good points and I definitely agree with you about the animals so I have added that in – elephant trampling or being snapped in two by a hippo are a danger. I also shouldn’t have said “if you take the same precautions you would elsewhere, Africa is no more dangerous than anywhere else.” – that should have been “no more dangerous than any other developing countries.” so I have changed that 🙂 I guess my main point is that Africa DOES have risks. It definitely does. But those risks are not necessarily made worse by being a woman on your own if you take the right precautions. Getting trampled by an elephant or getting malaria are risky with or without companions. You can get robbed anywhere in the world. Nairobi and Johannesburg are particularly bad, but then so is Rio. The only place I’ve ever been mugged personally is Spain. Look at those two poor British guys who got killed in Florida. So let’s take those out of the equation. Being in a road traffic accident – can happen anywhere too – Africa’s seatbelts may be somewhat lacking, so that’s risky – but not more so as a solo woman. So let’s take that out too. So then there’s the lady on her own in a strange land bit. I probably wouldn’t travel on my own near Johannesburg. I just wouldn’t take the risk. But elsewhere I would. As you’ve said as well, Africans are generally very lovely and I’ve never had a problem travelling in most places – even on th 15 or so overland border crossings I’ve done. Things I wouldn’t do: walk round the streets at night by myself, go into areas I know to be dodgy, go into a township alone or flash my expensive stuff around in places I shouldn’t. I stay in good hostels where there are usually a good few other tourists.The risk of violence or rape to a South African woman (or man) living in a township is very very real and it makes me sick to my stomach to think about it. But for women tourists this risk is very low if people don’t put themseleves in dangerous situations. There’s always a risk when you are self driving anywhere in Africa, mainly if you travel at night. But that risk is the same if you had a man in the car with you. I’d be interested to know what the statistics on risks to women from other male tourists is, say compared to Thailand where there is a massive drinking culture, v’s Africa where it isn’t so ‘wild’ – relatively speaking as I assume Thailand has more tourists per year than Zambia. Or the statistics of tourists injured by motorbike accidents or drinking related injuries in Vietnam or Spain compared to an Africa country? I don’t know, maybe I’m a bit more of a risk taker than I thought, but to me, I’ve been careful and Africa travel has always felt very safe and I love it.
    H

    • Reply
      Joy Smith
      April 18, 2014 at 7:04 am

      Dear Helen,

      THANK YOU FOR STICKING UP FOR AFRICA AND THOSE OF US WHO LIVE HERE. A FEW YEARS AGO I DROVE MY YOUNG CHILDREN ON A 5000 KM ADVENTURE THROUGH SOUTH AFRICA AND NEVER ONCE DID I FEEL SCARED, NOT EVEN IN JOHANNESBURG WHICH HAS VERY SOPHISTICATED ASPECTS – AND I WAS JUST A MOM WITH MY TWO YOUNG BOYS. IN A LITTLE TOYOTA. AND THINGS ARE MUCH BETTER NOW WITH MILLIONS OF TOURISTS FLOCKING TO DISCOVER OUR WONDERFUL LAND. OBVIOUSLY, AS ANYONE WHO TRAVELS KNOWS, KEEPING SAFE IS MOSTLY ABOUT USING ONE’S COMMON SENSE. EVERY DAY WHEN I WAKE UP AND LOOK OUT I THINK HOW FORTUNATE I AM TO BE A CHILD OF AFRICA.

      JOY

  • Reply
    nicole
    July 12, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    I’d have to agree with the above: if you’re in a tour group, you’re not really going solo in your travels. I mean, on the plane there, you’re solo (which I guess means I traveled solo, too!). Maybe in your hotel room, you’re solo, but actually on the tour, you’re not solo.

    This article is encouraging for people who want to take that leap, though. For women who really want to get out and travel, I hope they find this article to be a bit inspiring for them.
    nicole recently posted…Don’t Forget your Culture, Visit a Museum in SingaporeMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      July 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Hi Nicole,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I really hope to encourage more women to go!

      Yeah, when you are on a group tour, you might be own your own, as in you went alone, but you are not on your own. It’s a great intro to the country. Being on a group tour is kind of like SE Asia travel, but you don’t have to keep booking it as you go! It’s all done! Everyone pitches in so it’s a real bonding experience.

      I guess wherever you travel, there are very few times you’re actually alone. You always meet friends don’t you?? I turned up in Thailand alone, but within a few hours I’d made friends at my hostel who I spent a few days with, went to Chiang Mai alone, met some folk, one of whom then changed her plan to go to the islands and headed into Laos with me.

      When I’ve travelled completely independently in Africa, it’s not really felt much different to travelling independently anywhere else. Except there are less tourists and more Africans.

      x

  • Reply
    Toni
    July 12, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    I literally don’t know what to say to this accept: Amen lady!! 🙂 A-freaking-men!! 😀

    • Reply
      Helen
      July 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      Thank you Toni! I’ve added a few more pics in, just to really hammer home the message! x

  • Reply
    Greta
    July 14, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Helen, this article speaks to me a great deal. Africa was such a wonderful place to travel and I didn’t feel that going out there on my own took away from the trip one bit.  On the contrary, it opened me up to experiences I might not otherwise have had!  Of course, as other comments have noted, often whilst travelling on my own as a woman I will put myself in group situations – overland tours, volunteer projects and so on – and so long as you pick these carefully I think it is a wonderful way to meet people from all over the world, and really cherry-pick the very best bits from the places you visit.  My experience is that if you pick a good organisation, you can find yourself far more integrated in local culture and with the local people than if you are just a random strange tourist (“behind the safety of a lens”) without the links to the community they can provide.  By thinking about the situations I put myself in, and not doing anything I wouldn’t do at home – even though sometimes it seems more natural to – I found that I have very rarely ever felt uncomfortable travelling as a single (white blonde) female.  In fact, I felt particularly safe in southern Africa; there is a wonderful sense of freedom which makes it so beautiful.  And you’re absolutely right – you might be propositioned, but the intention is not to intimidate or harass; it’s generally much more lighthearted than that.  Your advice is practical and chimes with what I found.  Of course there are risks and some people are going to find themselves in very difficult situations despite doing everything right, but the same can be said of anywhere and whilst worth preparing for shouldn’t put you off… if you take sensible precautions and minimise the risk, Africa is likely to be an incredibly formative and enchanting experience. 

    This article really speaks to me in terms of your experiences; you’ve captured what I suppose you might (on a pretentious day) call the “essence” of travelling in Africa!  It’s so raw and full of wonder – and some of the most wonderful moments can be found in the depths of frustration!  

    I recently spent some time travelling on my own in India and Nepal, and my experience there was quite different.  Both north India and southern Africa are beautiful, but it is a very different sort of beauty.  Also, although there is widespread poverty in both India and Africa, which of course does often lead to corruption and social problems, I always sensed such a strong sense of hope in Africa (whereas sometimes I felt a sense of desperation in India).  I loved every second of India – but it also made part of me long for Africa. x

    • Reply
      Helen
      July 14, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      Thank you for that lovely comment Greta! Beautifully said!Ilove this “there is a wonderful sense of freedom which makes it so beautiful.”

      I hope more ladies will be inspired to go to Africa!

      I need to hear more about your trips to India and Nepal please! xx

  • Reply
    Arianwen
    July 16, 2013 at 6:20 am

    I’m glad that you’ve had such great experiences. I visited Tanzania alone, but once I was there, I stayed in the same place and volunteered. I’d love to travel around Africa, but have never been sure if it was safe, so thanks for sharing your experiences.
    Arianwen recently posted…Rafting and Sledging with Kaitiaki AdventuresMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      July 16, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Hi Arianwen,

      You should definitely go, I reckon you would LOVE it! And, the adrenaline sports are fab! I see you like rafting! 🙂 No place better than the Zambezi! x

  • Reply
    Colleen
    August 6, 2013 at 2:05 am

    Thank you so much for this post! Glad I found your blog. I’m a fellow 30-something going round the world now and itching to set foot solo in Africa, doing similar to your trip, mixing up an overland tour with time on my own. Looking forward to reading up!

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 6, 2013 at 6:31 pm

      Hi Colleen,

      Thanks so much for your comment! Sounds like you have an exciting trip planned! You should definitely go to Africa! Of course there are places you should avoid, but that’s just like anywhere else. Let me know if you have any questions, or want recommendations! Look forward to reading about your trips there!!! x

  • Reply
    Mui
    August 14, 2013 at 5:29 am

    This is an encouraging article. Thanks for the article!

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 14, 2013 at 7:45 am

      Thank you, I’ so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  • Reply
    Kay Dougherty
    November 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    I have only been (so far!) to South Africa with my sister. We traveled on our own in a rental car from Cape Town down along the Garden Route then flew to Sabi Sands for a safari. It was one of the best trips of our lives. We only had one day in Jo-burg and we hired a man to take us to the couple sites we wanted to see. We wouldn’t have set foot there on our own. We also paid a premium to stay at the Intercontinental Hotel at the airport there because of horror stories about other so-called airport hotels and what happened to people and their credit cards. We didn’t want to risk ending our trip on a bad note.

    When we go the next time I’m going to try harder not to get in patting distance of cheetahs and other wild animals even if they appear to be fine with it. There have been too many stories in the last year or so of them suddenly mauling or killing people. I don’t blame the animals for their reactions but don’t want to be any lion’s tasty treat!

    We too found the people to be lovely and welcoming. But having said all of this I don’t think I would literally go on my own. For one thing I’d miss my sister too much – we always travel together! But also because I’m older and, even though it isn’t true, probably look like someone who might have some money and would be a more likely target than a young woman with, say, a backpack on her own.

    One last thing is that we always register where we’re going with the U.S. State Department’s STEP program just in case of a natural disaster or political upheaval. Now that we know they’re spying on us all the time it may be an unnecessary step, but it can’t hurt!
    Kay Dougherty recently posted…Our favorite destinations for snorkeling (so far)My Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      November 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      Hey Kay!

      I only spent one night in Jo’Burg, I felt ok there, but haven’t spent enough time there to judge it properly! But I enjoyed the rest of South Africa immensely, but I preferred the rest of East and Southern Africa a bit more! But it’s totally personal preference! 🙂

      I went on my own as I didn’t have anyone to go with and loved it, but if you love travelling with your sister then that is amazing! 🙂

      I’d love to hear about when you visit the rest of Africa! I recommend Zambia and Uganda as amazing places to start that feel very safe.

      x

      • Reply
        Tumeka
        May 7, 2014 at 2:05 pm

        Hey ther,
        We Africans are grateful that you understa how big Africa is and that there are safe places and equally unsafe places. I’m so encouraged by the overall concerversation.
        I am South African born and bread, reside in johannesburg, it’s passionate city, laid back and a bit hippy, this of course has a more to do with preference and Personality.

        You must come definetely, check out Mandela bridge in JHB CBD, go to maboneng prescent, lots of food, art, crowd mostly integrated and tourist spot, Soweto olando towers for bungee jumping, whilst in Soweto go on a bycicle tour and get a tour guide to tell you the origins of Soweto, go. Vilakazi st Soweto- local cuisine, meet locals n other tourists, Mandela’ house, and other museums. There is so much to do in johannesburg I would end up writing a lot of pages.
        I am not saying it’s overall safe but I live here and I feel safe and free to move about.
        That being said there is corruption ensure you use a reputable agency. If you walk the streets, embrace JHB, walk with confidence, own your space, do not look lost and be amongst people and crowded areas. Hope this helps…

        Much love

  • Reply
    raj
    November 21, 2013 at 9:22 am

    africa is the place to be i just love this.

    • Reply
      Helen
      November 21, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      Hey Raj,

      Glad you like it! I agree! It is the place to be! 🙂

  • Reply
    Jennifer
    December 2, 2013 at 2:31 am

    So happy to read articles like this, there should be more out there to convince people solo travel isn’t that bad. I try and try, but not having been to “terrible far away places like Africa” (just kiddin!) solo, I can’t get enough leg room to convince people! 😉
    Jennifer recently posted…Wimdu : une option d’hébergement testée Moi, mes souliersMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 2, 2013 at 8:53 am

      Thanks Jennifer! I agree!!! If enough of us keep telling people, eventually we’ll have an impact! 🙂 Some people will disagree with me I’m sure, but I don’t consider my self to be overly brave, just sensible. I enjoyed travelling there more than anywhere so hopefully others will too. Africa gets a bad rep in general, which is unfair considering the size of it and the number of VERY different countries it contains. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • Reply
    Lauren
    December 8, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    I’ve recently returned from my first solo trip ever which was to South Africa – I absolutely fell in love with the people, the way of life, the tranquility and the laid back atmosphere of the country. Despite being on my own (im 21 and had never even been on a plane before my trip) I felt so welcome and at ease in this beautiful place.
    I loved it so much I booked to go back within 2 weeks of being home – another solo trip as I think I’ve caught the solo travel bug!

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 8, 2013 at 11:10 pm

      Lauren that is awesome! I’m so glad you had an amazing time!!! I’d never been on a plane on my own before my first trip to Africa too… and only on a plane a few times before that! Really brave of you doing that on your first trip, I love it!!!

      Ha ha, the solo travel bug is very infectious… there’s no known cure yet! 🙂 But to be honest, I’m happy to stay ‘sick’!

      I can’t wait to go back to Africa next year too!! Are you going back to South Africa or heading elsewhere?

      • Reply
        Lauren
        December 9, 2013 at 8:14 am

        I’m heading back to SA again 🙂 but I’m planning on doing more traveling (in Cape Town then to Hoedspruit), I am also hoping to visit Zambia to see the falls – it looks smaxing and I’ve heard that Zambia is extremely friendly and safe – have you been? 

        • Reply
          Helen
          December 9, 2013 at 10:31 am

          Hi Lauren!

          Wow that will be amazing! Love Cape Town. I was a tour guide in Zambia for a little while, and have spent quite a bit of time in Livingstone and a few other places so I know Zambia well! It’s my FAVOURITE Africa country so far. Victoria Falls is amazing! You’ll love it. There’s so much to do around Livingstone too. Zambia is a lovely country and the people are just beautiful! 🙂

  • Reply
    Jenn
    December 16, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Hi there, I have always wanted to go to Africa but have always worried about the safety aspect of it for a solo girl going in her 20s. I think an overland tour would be the best thing to start with but which one would you recommend to be the best? I really enjoyed your article and it has given me that extra boost to actually start planning something.
    Thanks, Jenn

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Jenn,

      Oh that’s lovely, thank you!!!

      I did mine with Absolute Africa and I really enjoyed it and found them to be a great company to go with. 🙂 We saw lots of other companies on the road and they’re all quite similar. But in terms of the price, the trucks and the staff, I think I chose the right one! Had THE most brilliant time and they were really good from per-booking onwards. Have a look around, but Absolute are my recommendation! But I haven’t been with any others! Other companies I know of… Dragoman, Africa Travel Co, Acacia ( I know someone who went with them and enjoyed it), Tucan Travel, Oasis, Drifters, Kumuka. They’re all different and some with provide you with a cook, some won’t etc… I personally liked mucking in, cooking for our group (there were 28 of us at one point) and doing the shopping etc. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever made on that trip and even though we all live on opposite sides of the planet, we’re as close now as we were back then. You won’t regret it! Give me a shout if you want any advice for anything else!

      Helen

  • Reply
    Ash
    December 18, 2013 at 10:57 am

    As a female South Africa, I am so excited to see more and more bloggers writing positive posts about Africa! It seems as though people are opening up to the idea that this continant isn’t as bad as it seems from the news! Thanks Helen for writing such a great post 🙂 As with all places, there is both good and bad. As well as dangers unique to the eviroment! Yay for exploring Africa!

    P.S. It wouldn’t be right if a didn’t defend my home town just a little bit: In all my years in JHB, I have never even been mugged once! Not saying we don’t have our issues, but don’t write Johannesburg off just yet!
    Ash recently posted…Gulliver is Back!My Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 18, 2013 at 11:34 am

      Hi Ash,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I love Africa and will always speak up for it! 🙂

      I have been to Johannesburg, alone. I wasn’t mugged either so perhaps I was being a bit judgemental there and I actually probably would travel there by myself. 🙂 Having only spent one night there it was hard to judge but I felt safe where I was. I certainly wouldn’t write it off for the future and would love to spend more time exploring. I might not walk the streets alone at night (but then I wouldn’t do that at home), but I would definitely still go. I’ve wondered round Nairobi on my own, and didn’t feel unsafe there either. I quite often get public transport around, but have been warned off it around Johannesburg, by a few people (some locals included), which is probably what influenced my thoughts – what are your experiences of public transport around the city?

  • Reply
    The Roaming Coconuts
    January 3, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    I’m so glad I came across this blog! My friend and I bought tickets to go to Africa for 3 months this March (flying into Ethiopia but after that no plans), anyways, long story short she decided the trip wasn’t for her so now I’m going alone. I’ve been to Africa once before but I’ve kinddddd of been freaking out about going alone and reading this made me feel a lot better! Thanks!
    The Roaming Coconuts recently posted…Myanmar: The Land of Lephet Thoke, Longyis and Betel Nut Colored SmilesMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 5, 2014 at 12:56 am

      Hey! Ah, you definitely won’t regret it! Africa is great! I love travelling in Africa alone! I always keep my wits about me and an open friendly heart and it’s served me well! Give me a shout if you need anything. I’ve never been to Ethiopia but am well travelled elsewhere in East Africa. Happy to help!

  • Reply
    Annastacia
    February 13, 2014 at 3:44 am

    Hi!!!! I feel the EXACT same way. But I hear soooo many different stories about how dangerous it is I have to say sometimes it confuses me and questions my choice to go. I’m thinking of going in May 2014 for one month. There are so many things I want too see but I obviously can’t see them all…

    Please please please respond to me via email. :))

    Thankyou so much!! Any help would be so great!!!

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 13, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Hi Annastacia,

      That’s the problem, too muchh to see and do!

      I’ll email you! 🙂

  • Reply
    Rachel
    February 13, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Hello!

    Great article 🙂 I was wondering if you could give me some advice? I’m planning on doing a CELTA course and travelling in Africa (alone) in a year or so, and hopefully supporting myself by teaching English. I can actually take the CELTA course in Cape Town, which I really like the sound of – do you think it’s somewhere where someone could enjoy living for 3 months?

    After this, I plan on traveling and teaching – my top choices are currently Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, Uganda and Rwanda. Other places I would consider would be Kenya (which sounds awesome but I’m worried about safety???) and Tanzania (but I’d prefer not to be in such a conservative environment???). Do you feel that my worries are valid for these countries?

    I also really wanted to learn a language to help me get by, do you think Swahili would be the best choice, even if I don’t go to Kenya or Tanzania?

    Sorry for all the questions! It’s really hard trying to find this information 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 13, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Rachel!

      Thanks for reading!! Cape Town would be a great place to spend a few months! There’s o much to do there! Plus, the Garden Route is so accessible so you can make the most of your weekends too. Or perhaps a cheeky trip to Stellenbosch to do some wine tasting! 🙂

      It’s natural to be worried… it’s a big step. But do not fear!

      I love Zambia, so I’d always recommend there, closely followed by Uganda – but I think you’d be ok in any of the countries you mention! Does the CELTA course help you find a teaching placement after? Can you tell me a little more about CELTA so I can understand how you’ll travel etc.

      I think you’d be ok in Kenya or Tanzania! But Kenya has had quite a lot of problems in recent years with the elections and then the terrorist attacks on the mall. I would still go, in fact I am going in September, but it as had more problems than the other countries in recent times. The likelihood of you being caught up in anything is slim. But if you are worried, perhaps go somewhere else. You’ll have as good a time in the other countries as you would in Kenya. And if you are thinking of safari, Zambia, Uganda, Botswana and Tanzania are great. Rwanda has gorillas (as does Uganda) and Mozambique has safari and amazing diving and the ocean!

      Swahili is only really spoken in Tanzania and Kenya. Knowing a bit of Swahili was great there, and greetings in a local languages go a lot in your favour! But English is really common in Kenya, I found slightly more so than in Tanzania. Swahili is spoken in some parts of Uganda, but I remember being told by some of the kids that only soldiers speak Swahili… so I stopped that pretty quick. Where I stayed in Jinja, everyone spoke English or Lungandan. In Zambia, there are 72 (or maybe 73) languages so most people speak English. In Rwanda you’d be better with Kinyarwanda or French. In Mozambique, Portuguese. In Botswana it’s English and Tswana. Depending on where you go, I’d definitely learn some local phrases, but I wouldn’t worry too much unless you really want to learn a language, then that’s great! 🙂

      I lived in Tanzania for a little while, and it can be quite conservative, but it’s not too bad. Southern Africa is a lot less conservative than in East in general. Although Mozambique is still quite conservative. Basically, the nearer to the East Coast you are, the more conservative it is.

      Hope that helps (and hasn’t made you more confused)! Let me know about the CELTA course and then let’s chat some more!

  • Reply
    Patricia
    February 16, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Hi there, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog as it turned up while I was doing some research about Africa. I’m going in about a week and wanted to get as much info as I could about places to go. I’m headed to Cape Town and debating on whether to go to Tanzania or to Mozambique as well. I’d love to go to both but unfortunately can only do one of them this time around. I wanted to find some time to hang out on a nice beach and possibly do some water activities/tours etc but I’m concerned about just how conservative both places can be. Any recommendations?

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 16, 2014 at 7:46 pm

      Hi Patricia,

      I’ve never been to Mozambique, but Tanzania is great. Depending on where you go, it’s not overly conservative. As long as you have your knees covered you’ll be ok. My suggestion would either be to go to Zanzibar – perhaps go to the northern beaches – Nungwe or Kendwa. It’s more conservative in Stone Town, but it’s not anything to be concerned about. Mozambique – I’ve heard Pemba is a great place to visit or a friend of mine went to Ilha de Moçambique/Island of Mozambique. You can dive with whale sharks in Mozambique too, I hear the Bazaruto Archipelago is a great place to do it between October and April. But then you could also go to Botswana and do a safari in Chobe or the Delta. Then there’s also Namibia… sand boarding and adventure in Swakopmund, safari at Etosha… so many options! But for beaches… I’d say Zanzibar! Hope that helps! 🙂

  • Reply
    The Best Female Travel Blogs for 2014 | Travel Junkette
    February 26, 2014 at 11:02 am

    […] Post you’ll love: Is it Safe to Travel to Africa as a Solo Woman? […]

  • Reply
    Sheila
    February 26, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    I have been travelling alone now for the past 4 years. I love it. You meet so manyincredible people. You can set plans and get together enjoy whats around you. My dream trip has always been Italy and Africa. Italy I did in 2012 now Im saving for the trip of my life. People all around me are saying Im crazing for going alone… little nervous yes I am I would be lying if I said I wasnt. I will however eventually hook up with a safari. I enjoyed reading your story and it has made me have more faith in myself to go. I always believe you go but your “gut” feeling. Its taken me the right direction every time. Cheers!

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 27, 2014 at 9:10 am

      Hi Sheila,

      Thank you for such a lovely comment and so glad that I’ve given you a little bit more faith! 🙂 You will have an amazing time I’m sure! When are you going? Where are you going to go? So excited for you!

      • Reply
        Sheila
        February 27, 2014 at 8:22 pm

        Hi Helen, I wont be able to go till next year…. something to look forward too. Probably late April.
        I will be flying from Vancouver BC to Nairobi and meet up with a group called GAdventures to see some incredible sites Im sure. Planning to stay a few days at a really nice hotel and treat myself after camping for 10 days. Already Im sad to come home. lol
        Thank you for your quick response. So as for yourself where is your next destination?
        Cheers
        Sheila

        • Reply
          Helen
          February 28, 2014 at 4:43 pm

          Ah, well next year will come quickly!! G Adventures are a good company I’ve heard but I haven’t used them myself! You will have such a great time!

          Where do you end up after your 10 day tour? Is it a round trip back to Nairobi?

          I’m going back to Kenya and Tanzania in October to see some friends. Especially can’t wait to hang out in the Masai Mara for a few days. I can already taste the beer and BBQ! 🙂

          Ooh, and you’re from BC? My friend Murissa writes a great blog called The Wanderfull Traveler about BC! 🙂

          • Sheila
            March 6, 2014 at 4:19 pm

            Hi Yes I will be heading back to Nairobi. I have been reading some not to many good things about travelling there at this time anyways. I did know about everything going on but thought it was calmed down.. I believe it was Aug/Sept last year. What are your thoughts? Good for you going back. I too am looking forward to meeting some new friends. The beer and BBQ sounds devine!! I will check out Murissa’s blog. How wonderful.
            Cheers!

          • Helen
            March 6, 2014 at 11:46 pm

            Nairobi is not as bad as people think. Sure there’s crime, but if you are sensible it can be a great city to visit and there’s lots to do around it. Just don’t walk alone at night, don’t flash expensive stuff… the usual safety tips and it will be fine. The shooting in the mall was a very isolated incident and the chances of being caught up in something like that is very small. I mean, think of the London bombings in 2007… terrorist attacks can happen anywhere. But it’s always good to keep an eye on the political situation, and I’d say avoid election time as a rule, as that’s when things tend to get heated.

            I can’t wait to go back and experience more of Kenya!

  • Reply
    Sheila
    March 7, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    See you have already made me feel better. It is our media in anything that makes us crazy. I as I have said before I do travel solo and have always gone by my gut feeling. Truthfully it isnt any different than home. We have our areas also that a man or woman should not venture too.
    Thank you for all your input . . . .
    Sheila

    • Reply
      Helen
      March 7, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      No worries! I mean what the media shows is completely real, and there are dangers, but stuff like that is rare. And, in the grand tradition of news – they only show the bad stuff – more interesting I guess? But depressing as hell! But Nairobi has great points too!

      And exactly, it’s easy to travel safely if you’re sensible about it. You’ll be absolutely fine! Give me a shout if you want any recommendations of things to see! If there’s something I don’t know, I just call on my African friends for advice!

  • Reply
    Kara Jade
    April 13, 2014 at 3:03 am

    Hi Helen!
    I am going to be going to Rwanda this June for three weeks with a group of other students from my university to study development. We will mostly be staying in Kigali but also going to a few other villages. But afterwards I am hoping to stay for a few weeks to a month. I have friends in Kisumu, Kenya (on lake Victoria) who I would love to visit, and also have some connections in Nairobi who I might want to visit for a couple of days. The plan as of now is to fly into Kigali with the group, but then after the “class” is over, stay in Rwanda. I figured the best way to get to Kenya would be by bus through Kampala, but I have never done an overland border crossing other than in North America and Eastern Europe, neither of which are very difficult, and I assume nothing like an african border crossing. I think I would probably just fly home from Nairobi. This is my first time in Africa, but I have travelled alone in China, and felt comfortable.
    I was wondering what the overland border crossings are like, or if I am better off just flying from Kigali to Nairobi.
    Also, how are busses/trains in east Africa? I have read that they are unreliable, to say the least, but have you found them to be safe? I am having a hard time finding information about booking tickets in advance.
    Finally, about how much should I expect to spend each day that I am there? I don’t need much in terms of housing or anything, but to figure out how long I can stay I need to figure out about how much to save.
    Let me know what you think!

    • Reply
      Helen
      April 13, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      Hi Kara! Wow, what a great trip you have planned!!! You will really enjoy working in Rwanda I’m sure! I’ve done around 15 overland border crossings in Africa and I’ve never had a problem. If you were fine in China, you’ll be fine here! I think people have more problems when they are self-driving, as the police can fine you for all kinds on the car. As long as you have the right money in dollars to pay for your visas, you should be ok! They are really not as scary as you might think! And everyone speaks English, so If you book at bus when you are in Kigali, you should be absolutely fine. Perhaps take the bus Kigali to Kampala, then Kampa to Nairobi. There will be lots of bus companies that do this trip. If you can, perhaps try and spend a few days in Jinja, which is only an hour or 2 from Kampala (Kampala traffic can be a nightmare – just to be warned)!

      You could fly, but I love travelling overland in Africa so I’d say go for that. I’ve done it a lot on my own too, and I still haven’t had trouble. I did one a couple of years back on local busses between Zambia and Malawi, the only annoying thing is that in Malawi they have loads of road blocks, and they kepy getting me to get off and look at my bags, but I think that was more surprise as not many foreigners do that route by public transport. But Malawi is the worst for that!

      The busses aren’t that unreliable, you can always get to where you need to be. They are often late though. Booking tickets from home in advance is difficult, but really easy once you are there so I would just ask the advice of the people you are staying with and I’m sure they’ll be able to point you in the direction of the local bus depot!

      In terms of budget a lot will depend on where you are staying – will there be cooking facilities or will you have to eat out? As a guide… if you are eating really local food, ie) rice and beans/chapati etc from a local style restaurant or if you are cooking for yourselves in your house/accomodation, around $6/7 will do it. That is how much I spent per day to cover 3 meals per day, cooking as a group and or going to a local, unfancy restaurant or street food. But, if you are eating western styale food that you buy I’d say around $15 per day. Kigali restaurants will be cheaper than home, but not super cheap. Drink… water is pretty cheap if you buy big bottles from the supermarket, you can get 5 litres for a few dollars. Sodas by the bottle are usually around $1 (they are all in glass bottles and taste sooo good), beers around $2/2.50 or so. Other alcohol is harder to come by.

      I’m not sure how much the bus from Kigali to Nairobi will cost, but I would budget up to $100… but it will really depend on whether you use local mini busses, or a bigger bus. The latter will be at the higher end!

      You will also need money for your visas… and any activities you want to do… like visit the gorillas or the genocide museum. Plus, any safaris you want to go on. And if you go to Jinja, white water rafting.

      Let me know, what you know already about where you’re staying and we can discuss more! 🙂

  • Reply
    Michael
    May 7, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    After reading your blog I feel confident in my own plans to solo backpack east Africa this September. It sounds like you had a fantastic time. I plan on myself going to Kenya (from Toronto), and than to Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, and finish off in Zambia. I’m very new to travelling so I’m kind of just winging it, so my question is, is it possible to go there and just make plans as I go along? I plan on taking public transportation and booking hotels as I go along, and also obtaining visas at the borders upon arrival. Also Booking activities as they present themselves. So second question, am I being to careless?

    • Reply
      Helen
      June 8, 2014 at 10:01 pm

      Hey Michael!

      I had an amazing time and I know you will too! 🙂 Sounds like you have a fab trip planned! It is definitely possible to make plans as you go.

      However, there are a few things you do need to plan for: vaccinations, insurance, malaria medication.

      Anything else can be booked there. I would say, just have your first night or two booked whilst you get your bearings!

      I don’t think you are being careless. I travel locally a lot. You can obtain visas at most borders no problem. If you are using the usual routes, in the order of the countries you mention, you should have no problems. The only one I’m not sure of, if direct from Uganda to Tanzania. I have gone via Kenya. I don’t know what that border crossing is like.

      I’ve travelled by public transport between all of these countries and it’s fine. If you are worried, you could join an overland truck for the first part. Maybe the Kenya/Uganda part. Ease you in? But I think you’d be fine on your own. Maybe fly into Naiobi, spend a night there, then head to your next destination. You can get on private shuttle busses which are a little more comfortable that a matatu/dala dala mini bus. My friend own a great camp in the Masai Mara and if you were to go there, I can ask him to help you arrange the transport? Let me know if you have more questions!

      Helen

  • Reply
    Claire
    June 29, 2014 at 5:48 am

    Hey Helen,

    Wonderful article, I am so thankful that I have found this. I’m going to Africa in February, and I too am going solo. I’m going for two months and will be on an overland safari the whole time. I’m starting in Nairobi and finishing in Cape Town. I’m 19 years old but could probably pass as a 15 year old so I’m a little nervous. What are you thoughts on Nairobi? Do you have any more photos I could have a look at?

    Claire

    • Reply
      Helen
      June 29, 2014 at 11:16 am

      Thanks Claire, glad you liked it!!!

      Sounds like you are doing a trip pretty similar to mine! Nairobi is ok. My advice, if you go out at night, go in a group and take taxi to where you need to go. Don’t go anywhere none public.

      I ahve lots of photos in my posts, so have a look through. I’ve just created a new overlanding section at the top, so hopefully that will make things easier to find! I also have an overlanding packing list too.

      Have a great time on your trip and let me know if you have any questions!

  • Reply
    Jay
    July 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Hiiiiiiii Helen i really like the advice u gave on your survey and thats how i was directed back to your website. ive been asking around without much luck (other than one of my readers who graciously gave me a little advice which was so appreciated:) i havent heard back from anyone else ive asked yet.

    i have Just thought of travelling around africa, should be leaving in september and just realised there’s this thing with visas. i want to go around most of africa other then th east, and im not sure where to start how to apply…ect….im nervous.

    any advice at all? thanks either way 🙂

    • Reply
      Helen
      July 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Jay, Where are you from originally? Most visas can be bought at the borders, but depending where you are from and what borders you are crossing, you may have to apply for some in adveance. Where are you going?

  • Reply
    Laura
    May 21, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Hi Helen,

    I’ve recently come across your blog and love reading through your travels and advice!

    I am leaving Glasgow in August and travelling solo to Kampala for 3 months to work with a charity. I have been before through a UK charity organised by my local church but only stayed for 10 days as part of a group. This is by far one of the biggest adventures of my life so far and i’m more than ready for it.

    I totally agree with the majority of your comments – whenever i mention going to Africa even as part of a group i get the ‘Are you crazy?’ look 🙂 I do think a lot of dangers could be found in any place you visit and a lot of this is down to common sense and perhaps luck when it comes to medical issues. Even taking all the necessary medication won’t eradicate the chance of you contracting something but knowledge of what to do or where to go for treatment is essential.

    I literally chuckled as i read the part about telling your parents for the first time – my mum and step-dads face when i told them was priceless haha. Telling them about my newest adventure was hard – mainly because i am buzzing for it but knew i had to play it down slightly to let my mum take it in 🙂 I am still explaining that most cities in Africa have internet so i will be able to get in touch with them….again i put a lot of this down to people’s misconceptions about one of the most beautiful places i have ever been. My biggest obstacle was explaining to family and friends that good things do happen as well – all they ever hear is the bad stuff from the news.

    Reading your post has re-affirmed my belief that there is no reason for me to fear my adventure but embrace it fully and make the most of what could potentially be some of the best times of my life so far. If you have any tips or words of wisdom that i could carry with me they would be greatly appreciated.

    Hope you are enjoying your current travels. Bring it on…..yah!!!

    Lx

  • Reply
    Top 10 Travel Safety Tips For Women - PassportsOnline.org
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    TOP TRAVEL BLOGS: #SEETHEWORLD CREATION CURATION – PART VI
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  • Reply
    Tallie
    March 8, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    I would like to visit Africa this summer as a solo female traveler. I’m not sure what area to go to, but your blog is very helpful in capturing my interests.

    • Reply
      Helen
      March 9, 2016 at 10:50 pm

      Thanks Tallie! Glad to have been of service! 🙂

  • Reply
    Gaēlle
    March 16, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Hi! Rrally nice to find a website which gather so much information on Africa! I’m thinking about going to Uganda on my own but don’t know anyone who has been there before. Do you know how safe it is for a solo female traveller?
    I spent 6 months in South Africa and travelled around Namibia and Botswana, so i already had a good introduction to Africa! But i read controversial information about Uganda so i’m looking for someone who actually went there! Would be really nice to have you opinion on Uganda 🙂

    • Reply
      Helen
      March 18, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      Hi Gaēlle,

      Uganda is one of my favourite countries. I’ve travelled there solo and had no problems. There are some unstable parts of the country that you might be best to avoid, the FCO website goes into some detail https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/uganda/safety-and-security

      I travelled around Jinja, Entebbe, Kampala and Bwindi NP and it was absolutely fine. If you stay away from the areas mentioned on the FCO website, you should be fine!

      Have a great time!!

      Helen

  • Reply
    Jane
    April 29, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    Helen, thank you so much for your blog, so helpful and I love your passion for Africa! I am planning on travelling solo by bus (greyhound, intercape etc.) & train from Johannesburg to Bulawayo then through Vic Falls/Livingstone and then onwards to Dar es Salaam before heading to Nairobi. I have friends in Johannesburg and Nairobi but plan to travel that route solo, stretched out over my time in Africa. I have been research other travellers comments and advice on travelling solo and was feeling pretty confident that I could make the trip as a solo female traveller. I have lots of experience travelling in South and SE Asia. Of course as I began telling people my plans I got lots of comments about safety and now I am second guessing myself. Have you done this journey or can you speak to if it is relatively safe for a solo traveller. I love long road trips and really want to see this part of Africa from the land rather than flying and I have enough time to stretch out the trip making stops. Any advice or feedback in terms of safety etc. Am I as crazy as my friends think I am?

    • Reply
      Helen
      May 2, 2016 at 9:36 pm

      Hi Jane,

      Thanks for reading!! I travel around Africa alone when I go and I haven’t had any issues! Travelling by day is probably my biggest piece of advice and just keeping your wits about you at all times. A lot of my travel tips can be found in these posts http://www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk/category/travel-tips/ – check out my ‘Top Africa Travel Tips’ and ‘Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking East and Southern Africa’ – I have quite a few safety tips in there!

      Helen

  • Reply
    Rosey
    May 10, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    hi, I am currently enjoying your blog. Thank you!! I have a question, which might come across as a little odd, but it is really on my mind! I have a 6-weeks holiday (July and August) and would love to go to Africa for the first time, but am clueless about which country to pick. I am not interested in beaches, but more in culture, history, people and nature. I am a single white woman, planning on going backpacking.

    • Reply
      Helen
      May 21, 2016 at 10:07 pm

      Hey Rosey, to be honest, any country could be good! But maybe try Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia or South Africa to start. All of these countries have what you are looking for! 🙂

  • Reply
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