Can You Drink the Water in…

Cold Water in India

But is it potable?

We don’t travel with guide books. They add too much weight, take up precious space and buying a new one for each country we visit would cost too much. Sometimes we read the ones left behind in guesthouses, but mostly we look to the Internet for a few important answers. Before arriving in a new country, we always look up the following information:

1) the local currency and exchange rate
2) what the tipping etiquette is
3) any local customs or important cultural differences
And, super important:
4) can you drink tap water without getting sick?

This last question has become very important to us. Being in constant travel mode between very foreign places has caused us to miss certain things, and ice on a very hot day is one of them. Sometimes, if you can’t drink the local water, you can’t have ice, a smoothie or diluted juice. But other times, like in Malaysia, ice is made in factories and purchased by local establishments. Thank you, Malaysia! But we wish you the best if you attempt to drink ice water in India.

Obviously this is very important information to be prepared with. Here’s a breakdown of countries we spent significant time in during our trip and whether you can drink from the tap.* Some of them may surprise you:

Iceland: High-quality delicious tap water. One of the best in the world.

Finland: Same as Iceland. Drink until your heart is content.

Walking with Water Bottle

Water bottle in hand.

Russia: Don’t consume tap water. If you’re going to be in Russia for a few days, stick to bottled water when brushing your teeth. But if you’re visiting for more than a week, it might be worth it to get accustomed to the water for teeth brushing purposes. Mike and I stopped using bottled water to brush our teeth after the first couple days (we never got sick). But you still shouldn’t drink from the tap.

Turkey: No drinky drinky. We used it to brush our teeth since we were there for three weeks. However, that may have caused a couple instances of traveler’s diarrhea.

Croatia: Think you can drink the water? You can! We were surprised when our Couchsurfing host Tanja told us we could, and a little skeptical. But it tasted great and we never got sick.

Portugal: Before arriving, we read conflicting reviews of the water. So we took a chance and drank from the tap only to experience the same gift that Turkey’s water gave us. In the end, we still used it to brush our teeth. And with delicious wine and port being as cheap as water, fermented grape juice kept us hydrated too.

Morocco: Like Portugal, we read conflicting opinions. This time we didn’t test the water and right away gave our loyalty to bottled water.

Egypt: Don’t do it! We were only there 10 days and didn’t want to tempt fate by brushing our teeth with it either.

South Africa: What do you think? Thanks to reforms in the 1990s, you can drink from the tap.

Camp sites in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania: Many taps are connected to bore wells with clean drinking water. It differs from campsite to campsite, so always ask.

India: Locals only! Not potable. Depending on where we were in the south, we used it to brush our teeth. I, Tara, got terribly ill for the first time on our trip after drinking from an airport water fountain advertising “clean drinking water.” I was later told by our Indian tour guide that it’s only potable for locals who grew up drinking it — not foreigners. You also have to be suspicious of water bottles (mostly in the north) because sometimes they are refilled with tap water, recapped and sold by street vendors (you’ll rarely find a grocery store in India). Sometimes fresh juice is watered down or has ice thrown in. Be careful!

Edible Ice Truck

It’s safe!

Singapore: After two months of suspect bottled water in India, we were singing in the streets after arriving in Singapore. The tap water and ice are completely safe.

Malaysia: Back to bottles. The thing about Malaysia is that it’s hit or miss. Newer buildings have clean pipes and therefore, some say, potable water. However, locals have told us it’s generally not potable. We use it to brush our teeth and have not experienced any negative side effects. And like I mentioned above, ice-making companies can be seen delivering to local establishments. We’ve had iced beverages plenty of times and have felt fine.

*Before leaving, we purchased two Vapur “anti-bottles” and a Steripen so we wouldn’t have to buy water. The bottles tore where the carabiner attaches and the Steripen broke just a few months in. Pointless. In Africa, we learned about the Life Straw and wish we could’ve gotten one for our trip. We hate constantly buying plastic bottles, but without a mailing address there’s nothing we can do about it now.

Have you had similar experiences in these countries or insight about others? Share in the comments!

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7 responses to “Can You Drink the Water in…

  1. Interesting post! After 63 countries, I will say we generally brush our teeth with the tap water every where we go (although we have yet to be in India or most of Africa). We were told great tap water in places like Bulgaria, but I got sick there – not sure if it was from the water or food. We also generally eat ice, get smoothies, etc. I too love ice in my drink. Once in awhile we look at a particular stand and say no to ice, but generally we have not had a problem.

    I also hate using plastic water bottles and disposing of them. Sometimes when we have access to a tea kettle we will boil water, fill a plastic bottle, and put it in the fridge (after the water has cooled, otherwise it melts the bottle). Anytime we have access to free flow of water, at a homestay or rental with filtered water, we go hog wild! Thought about the steripen but did not make the investment…. seems like that was a wise move.

    Thanks guys!

    • Thanks! I hate not knowing whether I got sick from the water or food. Or it could even be utensils. In Portugal, I thought “No, it can’t be the water,” but we were cooking our own food in a clean environment so it was pretty obvious what it was.

  2. Super helpful post, guys! This is one of the things we try to determine early on when touching down in a new place too and generally stick to bottled water until we have found out the low down on the drinking water situation. We learned that lesson after landing in Taiwan where we figured we would be ok boiling the tap water for a couple of minutes before drinking… BIG MISTAKE! Taiwan’s pipes often result in heavy-metal contaminated water, so the only way to drink it is using a filter… not even our steripen could have helped us there!

    (Oh, and btw, we obviously have a steripen too, but it goes through batteries like a beast. It’s such a pain to get the replacements every month or so (seriously!) that we have pretty much stopped using it and stick to bottled water for everything.)

    • While buying a Steripen seems like a good idea, it probably is more of a hassle than it’s worth. We spent a ton on 8 rechargeable batteries that will never get used now. Argh! Glad that things like the Life Straw are out there though. Just wish we had heard about it sooner.

  3. I’m just now catching up on your blog after my trip. The water in Croatia is not only drinkable, it’s good. It comes from the Balkans and is of course treated. Of all places, you can also drink the water in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, I managed to get the travelers upon returning home, not from Sri Lanka, but from Doha, of all places, the country with the world’s highest per capita GDP. It may have been from lunch at an Iraqi restaurant, so I’ll call it Saddam’s revenge. I had some leftover antibiotics that took care of that quickly.

    • Just saw everyone posting here, but everyone should look into get a geigerrig hydration pack. It’s like a camelback but it’s pressurized and you can by inline filters that well filter coccidia and giardia out of the water. Worked great while in Turkey and Jordan

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