With Dr Felicity Nicholson. For up-to-date information on health issues across Africa, click here.
Before the inevitable terror inspired by reading the health section sets in, it should be made quite clear that healthcare options in Ivory Coast are among the best in West Africa. There are certain health issues inherent to tropical climates, but with reasonable precautions – ie: malaria prophylaxis – your chances of a serious incident are minimal. The cast of African bogeymen so often trotted out by jittery family and friends to dissuade you from your trip (or at least question your logic) are on the whole irrelevant in Ivory Coast, if not entirely fictitious. During the West African Ebola epidemic of 2014, the Ivorian government acted fast to close borders and initiate an effective health awareness campaign. To date, there has been no reported case of the virus in the country. As in much of Africa, road travel presents the greatest risk to life and limb. Medical care in regional capitals is adequate, but for anything serious Abidjan is very much the place to be. As with everything in Ivory Coast, French is the operating language, but given the education required of doctors, it’s not unusual to find one who has studied some English as well. Doctor’s visits, lab fees and malaria tests are all cheap – don’t hesitate to get checked out if you need to.
Since the cessation of hostilities in 2011, Ivory Coast has generally been a safe travel destination, certainly where crime and associated issues are concerned, however, there are still safety concerns relating to the Abidjan, Grand-Bassam and Man areas. Indeed, the biggest concerns for most travellers should be malaria and road accidents associated with public transport. Levels of hassle are low, too, and tolerance for the quirks of outsiders is high, though it should be pointed out that, as is the case almost anywhere in the world, breaking the law – in particular the usage of illegal drugs – could land you in big trouble.
Women travelling alone have little to fear on a gender-specific level, and will often find themselves the subject of great kindness from strangers who want to see that they are safe. The most hassle you are likely to face is heightened levels of flirtatiousness from many Ivorian men, with the odd direct proposition and a million marriage proposals thrown in. They can be persistent, but barring the marriage part, it’s nothing that you wouldn’t expect in any Western country, or – probably with a far greater degree of persistence – from many male travellers.
Unusually for an African nation, consensual sex in private between members of the same gender is legal in Ivory Coast. However, such an act committed in public is punishable by law with up to two years’ imprisonment and a 500,000F fine. Moreover, there is no legislation in place to prevent harassment or discrimination towards LGBT people. Legalities aside, the vast majority of Ivorians regard any homosexual act or relationship, whether between male or female, or local or foreigner, as profoundly unnatural and sinful.
None of which means that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Ivory Coast, only that out of necessity it is somewhat clandestine. At risk of stating the blindingly obvious, Ivory Coast clearly isn’t a destination suited to single travellers in search of anything approximating a gay scene, while homosexual couples who do visit the country should exercise maximum discretion. That being said, in our experience, mhotelkeepers will not normally prohibit two members of the same sex sharing a room, as the assumption will be made that you’re a pair of friends rather than a romantic couple.