When people ask “Is the water safe?”, they’re usually thinking is it safe to drink.
It’s a basic travel concern. Can you drink the tap water? Should you brush your teeth with it? Do you need to drink and brush with bottled water? That’s important to find out in order to stay healthy, but there are other considerations you should pay attention to.
You should know enough by now if you’ve been following us that if you need to drink bottled water, you should also avoid using ice cubes in drinks.
Some people will even tell you to drink beer and soft drinks from the bottle or can in case the glasses were washed in contaminated water We think that’s a bit extreme, unless they look dirty of course. I guess that kind of goes along with the possibility of salads being washed in contaminated water. It never hurts to use the “peel it, boil it, or avoid it” mantra. Use your judgement on that depending on where you are.
Beyond all that, sometimes you need to ask is the water safe in rivers and lakes? Should you swim in that inviting lake or river? Or are there dangers large and small lurking there?
You need to know what endemic problems there are in areas you plan to visit. Are there parasites in the rivers or lakes? This doesn’t necessarily apply only to developing countries. Back country streams in the U.S. can have parasites such as Giardia. In less developed areas, infectious disease risks include typhoid and cholera.
In Africa, South America, and other tropical areas watch out for standing water in some places and moving water in others. If Bilharzia or River Blindness is a problem for the local population, you don’t need to ask if the water is safe. Just stay out!
Is the water safe when wildlife is present? If you’re on safari, you can see predators like lions at the waterhole, but there may be territorial hippos underwater or even hungry crocs. Watch for crocodiles in some coastal areas of Australia too. We were disappointed not to see Anacondas in South America, but you wouldn’t want to be taken by surprise by one.
If you’re a diver or snorkeler, you probably know that you have more to worry about from stinging jellies and sea wasps than from sharks. Stinging fish and fire corals can be hazardous. The water is safe if you’re aware of your surroundings.
Is the water polluted? Rivers and lakes can be polluted and, where they empty into the oceans or bays, the marine environment can be contaminated with bacteria and foreign bodies too. If there are warnings up about pollution, heed them.
Heed local weather forecasts too. Is the water safe to play in? Not if there are thunderstorms and lightning.
In most places, and most of the time, the water will be safe for drinking and eating and playing in, but it’s just smart travel to be thinking about it and asking yourself: is the water safe?
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