A trip to Africa is settled high up on many a bucket list. For so many of us in the Western world, the continent appears not only majestic but also mysterious, while simultaneously being filled with dangers and representing somewhat unchartered waters.
Plenty of what we do know about the continent is what we’ve witnessed in the media. It’s a land of lions, of rhinoceros, hippos, and giraffes, blended together with war and poverty.
But still, most wish to experience the wonders of Africa for themselves, eager to travel and explore, to see the wildlife, the wilderness, the beauty, and experience the culture. And most also have so many questions. Anything and everything from when to go, where to stay, and what to pack.
Here, we present to you a list of 10 of the most frequently asked questions about going on safari in Africa, in a hope that we may be able to address the needs of travellers and present the true essence of nation in an instructive manner.
When is the best time to begin planning for an African voyage?
Ideally, as far in advance as is possible. Meaning, at minimum, several months, in order to ensure a wide selection of camp availability. It’s even more important when planning to visit during the high season of the Southern African safari, during the months of July to mid-November, or thereabouts.
What’s the approximate price tag going to be?
That depends, but for the customized safaris that are fully tailored to visitors’ needs, the rates will then be dependent on whether it’s in the high season (July to mid-November) or the low season (November through June).
Is it safe to travel to Africa?
The main enemy that Africa has is in fact the media. They tend to represent all 46 African nations in the form of a single entity, as opposed to individually unique countries, each of which of course has its very own set of characteristics.
It would likely come as some surprise to learn that there are numerous areas that are worse off in many respects in developed countries than in the so-called “dangerous” African countries. There are no countries that will lay claim to being entirely safe, and when travelling to an unknown destination, it goes without saying that some basic security precautions should be taken.
When voyaging to Africa, the visitor should take the same form of precautions as they would for any other destination that they are not familiar with. Watch your wallet, your purse, money, passports, cameras, particularly so when venturing into a crowd.
And it’s wise to avoid taking a stroll in a city at night, all the more so in deserted streets. Select a knowledgeable tour operator and that is likely the best form of precaution you can take.
Furthermore, whilst staying at tented camps and African safari lodges, typically, you’ll be far removed from the crime that is found in human settlements, and that form of behaviour is extremely seldom to be found in a camp, if indeed it ever is.
Where should I go in Africa? What will I be able to see there?
Firstly, it’s worth making a definition about the regions. With respect to wildlife safaris, East Africa includes Tanzania and Kenya. Southern Africa takes into account South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, and Botswana. Central Africa takes in Burundi, Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda. All of the Central African destinations are popular affairs when it comes to gorilla tracking safaris. Zambia and Malawi are occasionally regarded as Central Africa.
With respect to attractions and landscapes, these regions can be realigned.
In East Africa, you’ll be able to witness the likes of the Serengeti Plains/ Maasai Mara, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Mount Kilimanjaro. Southern Africa takes account of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and Namib Desert, Okavango Delta wetland in Botswana, together with the Kalahari Desert in northern South Africa and Botswana, and the Victoria Falls of the lower Zambezi River, which lies on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
In general, the type of wildlife to be found in these areas is essentially the same. The majority of the plains game and predatory life may be witnessed in any region and there are merely a few mammals, bird species, and reptiles that are distinct.
In East Africa, there are herds of wildebeest and zebras by the hundreds of thousands. This, an annual spectacle, is one not to be missed, as the herds make their annual migration between the northern Maasai Mara and the Serengeti in Tanzania to the south.
Nevertheless, Zimbabwe and Botswana are home to some 80 percent of the 300,000 strong elephant populace in Southern Africa, and magnificent herds are commonplace along the northern borders of these countries.
Really, what it comes down to in terms of the major differences between the safaris in Southern Africa and East Africa is with respect to the density of tourists, the accommodation, and the vehicles used for getting around the parks.
East Africa, generally speaking, has a reputation for high tourist density, most of whom have a preference for hotel-styled lodgings.
Again, with respect to East Africa, the most commonly utilized safari vehicles are mini-vans with typical pop-up roofing. Thereby, passengers can easily take photos whilst peering out through the rooftop.
Quite conversely, Southern Africa has developed a reputation for camps suffused with luxury tented accommodation. Further, it hosts extremely sizable tracts of areas of wilderness, whereby tourist density is very low, which in turn makes it more of a private safari experience. The vehicles used are open-air, modified Land Rovers, which again, serves to add to the levels of intimacy.
Notwithstanding, there are ever-increasing numbers of lodges of a luxurious nature cropping up in East Africa, more so in Tanzania than anywhere else. Fortuitously, these lodges afford a far more exclusive affair than the larger safari-type lodges that have typified Tanzania and Kenya over recent years.
Southern Africa, at least for the most part, is now dominated by massive land concessions, that have either been leased or are owned by camp operators. The concessions have been made for the sole use of the camp and its guests. The average camp size is suited to a mere 10-16 guests, and there are perhaps a couple of vehicles, this being for the entire concession. Thus, you can drive the entire day and encounter nothing but the beautiful wildlife and surrounding wilderness.
And the entry requirements?
Everyone who travels to the region of Southern Africa requires, as you’d expect, a passport, with a minimum of six months’ validity beyond their stay. Holders of most Western Passports, U.K., U.S., and Canada among those, require no visa for Namibia, Botswana, or South Africa. However, that is not the case for Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, where a visa is a requirement.
Nevertheless, for all countries with the exception to Kenya, a visa may be purchased at port/ point of entry, and it will cost a nominal fee. Do, though, check with an embassy or consulate of the country that your intended visit is to, given that these requirements can and occasionally do change at a moment’s notice.
Over recent years, countries in Southern Africa have become particularly strict with respect to passport control requirements. Due to non-compliance, there have been a number of instances where visitors have been deported.
Besides the minimum six months’ validity of a passport from date of exit, to enter South Africa, there is a requirement for at least two blank pages. If traveling on from South Africa, then obviously, for each individual country, there must be a separate page within your passport.
Are any medical precautions necessary prior to arriving in Africa?
Vaccination requirements do change, at least occasionally. Thus, the best policy is to check with your health department or your doctor with respect to the most recent health precautions. In Southern Africa, the main health consideration is with regard to malaria. In this case, the recommendation – a strong recommendation at that – is to take prophylactics, or, in other words, oral tablets.
Unless you are travelling from an area where yellow fever is problematic, there is no legal requirement for any vaccinations.
Is traveller’s insurance recommended?
It is, yes. And it should include coverage for either the cancellation or the curtailment of your trip to Africa, for expenses to cover emergency evacuation, general medical expenses, for repatriation expenses, and for coverage with respect to theft/ damage/ personal baggage loss.
Is it still possible to communicate with the rest of the world whilst partaking in an African safari?
The vast majority of people who are looking to visit the remoter aspects of Southern and Eastern Africa, do so, in part, to get away from normal civilities. Or, to put that another way, they have little intention of making regular use of a mobile phone, or any other communicative device for that matter.
And, as it happens, when on camp or out on safari, the use of communication devices such as phone, fax, internet, is simply not going to happen.
Every camp does, however, offer communication by radio, but only so far as the local town or city offices, and that’s in case of an emergency. Nevertheless, for the most part, the lodges in South Africa have fully capable telephonic and internet services.
What sort of weather is to be expected while on safari in Africa?
Dry season temperatures in Southern Africa are on par with those you’d find in the Mediterranean region, though without the accompanying humidity. In the daytime, you can expect averages of 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit (21-27 degrees C), though it can become far hotter than this, particularly so during the months of October and November. Fortunately, the cooling rains arrive just after this hot period.
Over the winter months, between June and August, in some vicinities, overnight temperatures may drop to around freezing or somewhat below. The early morning game drives that take place over the winter months will regularly start out rather chilly. So, with this in mind, it’s certainly worth bringing along some cold-weather clothing.
All the same, usually by mid-morning, the heat will have descended and all that cold weather gear will be a thing of the past. From November through to March, the rains occur, while the dry season stretches from April through to October.
What sort of food can be expected on an African safari?
In the lodges, camps, the hotels, and the restaurants, you can certainly get your fill of excellent quality British and European cuisines, together with a number of local dishes, too. Needless to say, most visitors are impressed by both the quantity and the quality of the food on offer.
A number of the up-market camps supply cuisines that are able to rival that of a top-flight five-star hotel in terms of quality, presentation, and also service. And frequently, you’ll be able to sit out under thatch or perhaps in a boma, with the most elegantly laid table top before you. There is absolutely no opportunity to go hungry while on a safari in Africa.