Despite living in the 21st Century, there are many myths and misconceptions that remain about travel in Africa. Ranging from the absolutely silly (everyone has a pet lion in their backyard) to the downright bizarre (Africa is an entire country), these myths can create some confusion when those who believe them finally set foot on the continent. In an effort to better prepare you for your future travels to beautiful, mesmerizing Africa, we’re taking a look at 10 of the weirdest myths and misconceptions that people have.
1. Africa is a Country
As anyone who has ever seen a map of the world will testify, Africa is a continent and not a country. In fact, it’s a continent into which 54 independent countries fit. Each of the countries located in Africa has its own currency, flag, anthem, history, culture and cuisine, meaning that the more than 1-billion people who live here fall into over 3000 distinct ethnic groups and speak one or more of the over 2000 languages that are spoken here. As if you needed further convincing of Africa’s existence as a continent and not a country, imagine this – if you combined the USA, India, China, Japan AND Europe together, they would all fit in to Africa, with room to spare.
2. Africa is Dangerous
With news of wars, pirates, child soldiers and revolutions regularly flashing across your television screen, you’d be excused if you believed that Africa was a violent place and a danger to all who venture within it. Of course, the fact is that bad news is news that sells, which is why people abroad rarely hear anything good about the continent and its peoples. As a potential visitor to Africa, the truth is there are certain countries you will want to avoid – a beach in Somalia, for example, is hardly the ideal honeymoon destination. However, there are also countries and cities that you could visit in a perfectly peaceful and pleasant manner. Violent crimes against tourists in Africa are actually quite rare and often many tourists have reported feeling safer walking around in certain places here, than in the European city of Amsterdam. Don’t let the negative news stories turn you off from what could arguably become one of the most amazing travel experiences you’ll ever experience.
3. African People are Disease-Ridden
When it comes to traveling in Africa, the chances are that poverty will be apparent in many of the countries you visit. Because of this belief in the continent’s extreme levels of poverty, many also believe that the continent is disease-ridden as a result of its lack of access to healthcare or medication. While disease does indeed take millions of lives every year, this is often the direct result of poor access to childhood immunization programs. This means that as long as you’re on top of your vaccines as a visitor to Africa, you are very unlikely to catch anything more than a sun burn. You can also easily avoid diseases like malaria by taking prophylactics and investing in mosquito repellant. Either way, wherever you intend to travel, with a little homework and some medical advice, you’ll easily avoid catching any disease, while still being able to immerse yourself in the cultures of the people who live there.
NOTE: With much of the world’s press currently preoccupied with new stories focusing on Ebola, it’s important to do your research and get the facts straight. Fortunately, the disease is not as easy to catch or as threatening as some people might say. Luckily, the fact of the matter is that Southern and East Africa still have no incidents of Ebola, which is in part the result of the very serious procedures that have been put in place to help prevent the spread of the disease to these regions.
4. Africa has No History
Often people struggle to expect more from Africa than just stories about people who have to fight to survive on a daily basis. When it comes down to it though, many countries in Africa have a rich history that make a visit to them more than worthwhile. The ancient Egyptian monuments, for example, or the rock churches of Ethiopia, all exemplify a rich culture and heritage that has withstood the test of time. Wherever you choose to travel, you will no doubt find amazing remnants that offer an unforgettable insight into the history of the area and its people.
5. Africa is Filled with Animals Roaming Freely
While it is true that crocodiles add a little more danger to the water hazards of certain golf courses in South Africa, most of the continent’s wildlife is confined to national parks and game reserves. Indeed, while your travel may see you drive past a troop of baboons on the side of the road, you will probably never encounter a lion, elephant or giraffe roaming through the cities or suburbs. Throughout Africa, it’s important to keep wildlife safe, which means that the reserves and national parks play an important role in keeping the people and animals of Africa safe from one another. If you do want to witness the wonder of Africa’s wildlife, then a safari will certainly satisfy your animal spotting desires.
6. Africa is Technologically Stunted
When it comes to technical innovation, Africa is up there with the rest of the world. In fact, Africa even adds its own flair when it comes down to it. In Ghana, entire cars are rebuilt from scrap metal by “fitters” who work without a degree to their name. In Zambia, children race around the playground with a toy car that can steer that they built themselves at home. While certain areas of Africa may lack access to education and other resources, innovation – particularly in the realm of technology – is in full supply. No matter where you go in Africa, you will undoubtedly also see everyone from cattle farmers in the field to metropolitan business gurus in the city, chatting away on their cell phones, which are used to exchange valuable information from cattle prices to immunization developments.
7. The Weather is Always Hot
Anyone who has ever been to West Africa, would probably be right when stating that the weather is always hot in Africa. However, few people know that in Africa, the weather fluctuates with some regions even enjoying some snow in the cold of winter. With a diverse range of terrains – from mountains to plateaus, cold and warm oceans, rainy and dry seasons – there are definitely individual weather patterns in each of the individual countries found in Africa. It’s advised to do your research when it comes to the weather at your African travel destination and pack accordingly.
8. The Water isn’t Safe to Drink
While we can’t vouch for every country or city on the continent, there are definitely areas where the water is safe to drink. South Africa, for example, boasts “world class water” with the tap water in urban areas proving absolutely safe to drink. When not in an urban area, we recommend you do practice caution – particularly if you find yourself beside a stream that may be downhill from an informal settlement. Take time to check the Blue Drop Certification System that tests every city in South Africa’s water so that you’re aware of whether you need to invest in bottled water.
9. There are Hundreds of Insects and Snakes
Indeed, Africa is home to an amazing selection of creatures in all shapes and sizes, but it’s no more so than most other places. In urban areas and major cities, you have more chance of being involved in a car accident than you do of ever encountering a snake. Most of these creatures are actually quite shy and tend to hide away from humans, rather than hunt them down with ill intentions. So while you may need to be a bit more careful when visiting the bushveld or hotter climates, you can probably get by with a bit of sense, some insect repellant and a mosquito net at night.
10. Africa’s Politicians are Corrupt
As with the myth about Africa being a dangerous place, the news stories that surround Africa’s leaders are often related corruption or crime in all its ugly shapes and forms. Despite this, the continent has a variety of leaders who has showed the world that African leaders can be a cut above the rest. Nelson Mandela, for example, was a leader in Africa who was admired by people around the world who grew to love his manner and leadership. In Liberia as well, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf received the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside two other women. While Africa may have countries whose politicians are the very essence of greed and corruption, there are individuals of which we can all be proud, who set a good example for the world at large.