Travel Information

Travel-advisory

Where to start

A safari in Africa is the ultimate holiday.

The wilderness is healing, energising, inspiring and liberating all at the same time. Remember when choosing your destination that it is your safari – and prompt your agent/tour operator to take into account your interests, level of luxury required or love of rustic experiences.

Start by picking a country – get advice about the destinations that offer the experience you want within your budget and time limits. Then carefully research the reserve that you want to visit, and lastly the style of accommodation to facilitate your stay. Africa Geographic has saved you the trouble of researching accommodation – we have hand-picked the special places in each area. Our years of travelling in Africa and researching environmental projects in numerous reserves means we know the continent well.

A typical safari day

The exact make-up of your day will depend on what activities are on offer, but most safari days look something like this:

  • Early morning wake up with tea/coffee and biscuits, or a light continental breakfast.
  • Morning game drive – usually for about 3 to 4 hours.
  • Late morning breakfast (brunch) or early lunch
  • Siesta (some people choose this time for bush walks or excursions to nearby villages)
  • Mid-afternoon tea and cake
  • Late afternoon game drive with sundowners and snacks, often ending up as a night drive (with spot lights) – usually about 3 to 4 hours
  • Dinner and fireside drinks
  • This routine can of course change if you bump into something really interesting during your game drive and stay out for the day or if that elusive leopard walks through camp during lunch and you decide to follow him by vehicle.
  • For some, skipping a game drive or two and doing some reading, writing, sketching or bird-watching around camp makes the safari truly relaxing

Best time to travel

When is the best time to view game?

Game is best viewed during dry seasons when there is less vegetation to hinder your view. In addition there will be less standing water and food, forcing animals to congregate in certain areas. So animals are easier to find and easier to see. The dry months are generally more popular with safari goers, although this is partly because it coincides with the long summer year break taken by the northern hemisphere countries. Prime game-viewing months tend to be May to October.

On the other hand, most animals have their babies during the wet seasons, when there is more to eat and drink. Babies are cute and great to watch and predators hunt very successfully at this time because the young animals are easy to catch. In addition bird watching is generally better during the wet summer months, when many birds are breeding and very vocal and visible and when the migratory birds are present.

Certain wildlife areas are very seasonal – in other words certain animals move in and out depending on the availability of water and food – while others have more sedentary animal populations (sometimes because they are fenced in).

Photography is arguably better during the wet months because the air is clear (no dust) and the colours more vibrant. Resign yourself to the fact that your camera equipment will get wet in the wet season and in the dry season it will become covered in dust.

You decide.

Weather

Africa is a huge continent, with climate that varies from Mediterranean to equatorial. Expect low-lying areas to be hotter and more humid and high-lying areas cooler. Geographical features such as mountains and lakes can affect weather patterns by bringing more rain and wind.

  • East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda and far northern Zambia)
    This area is close to the equator and so seasonal fluctuations in temperature are largely insignificant. Expect generally warm weather, although temperatures can drop significantly during and after rainy weather, and at night. Temperatures will vary between 20 to 40 degrees Celsius.The main rainy season is from April to May, with a lighter second rainy season from mid October to December. Neither rainy season should influence your travel plans although you should pack rain gear during those times.
    Coastal areas are hot and humid throughout the year with December to March being uncomfortably so.
  • Southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa excluding the Western Cape)
    Expect hot & wet summers (November to March) and cool & dry winters (April to October). Rainfall tends to be in short thunder storms in the late afternoon. Temperatures will vary between 20 to 40 degrees Celsius in summer and 10 to 25 degrees in winter (with close to freezing at times, especially in higher lying areas). November can be especially hot and humid, with relief when the rains arrive.
  • South Africa’s Western Cape
    Mediterranean climate. Expect hot & dry summers (November to March) and cold & wet winters (April to October). Temperatures will vary between 15 to 32 degrees Celsius in summer (with up to 40 degrees every now and then) and 6 to 20 degrees in winter (snow in high-lying areas).This is the southern tip of Africa and so expect the odd freak weather system in summer, bringing rain and lower temperatures.

Choosing Accommodation

The selection of accommodation options is vast, ranging from straw huts to ultra-luxury hotels and lodges, and your choice will be influenced mainly by your needs and budget.

Here’s a guideline to accommodation types that you will encounter:

  • City Hotel/Guesthouse/B&B - situated in or near main cities or airports, is often used for overnight stays or as a base for day excursions. Size generally ranges from 10 rooms to 300 rooms. Air conditioning or ceiling fans usually provided, as are pools and recreation areas.
  • Country Hotel/Lodge, situated in rural areas, is often located on large properties or farms. They generally offer five to 20 rooms. Air conditioning or ceiling fans usually provided, as are pools and recreation areas.
  • Game Lodge – situated in or near game reserves or remote wild areas. Game lodges usually offer five to 20 rooms, and are either of solid or canvas-tented construction. Air conditioning or ceiling fans usually provided, as are pools and recreation areas.
  • Bush Camp/Fly Camp - these small camps are often situated in very remote areas and sometimes associated with a Game Lodge. Ranging in size from three to six rooms, bush or fly camps are often set up in areas that are inaccessible during the rainy season, resulting in the camp being totally broken down and rebuilt each year. The camps are either tented or made of local building material such as grass and wooden poles. Bucket showers and pit toilets (with the usual toilet seat) are the norm, although some camps have running water for both facilities. Water for showers is heated over the fire and all food is made on the fire and in clay or metal ovens. There is usually no pool, recreational area, air conditioning or ceiling fans.
  • Mobile Camps are erected for a limited period, after which they are broken down. They are generally erected in game reserves for specific wildlife encounters (such as the migrations on the Mara in Kenya) or as part of an overland or walking expedition. Tents are used and camp sizes vary according to client needs, but generally three to 10 tents. Luxury levels vary according to client requests, from basic comfort to ultra luxury. Toilets, showers and food preparation are as per the Bush Camps. There is usually no pool, recreational area, air conditioning or ceiling fans.

Comfort levels

Most accommodation options offered by us provide good service and have en-suite and private bathrooms/toilets, hot water, clean bedding, good food and well-stocked bars with ice. Don’t expect television and a bar fridge in your room, although certain establishments may provide them. Expect the following broad comfort levels:

  • Rustic – This is no-frills accommodation and usually in very remote areas. Large tents or reed/pole huts are the norm, as are pit toilets and bucket showers. Water is often heated over a fire. Furnishing is basic but caters for all your needs.
  • Comfortable – Comfortable furnishings, running hot and cold water, flush toilets.
  • Luxury – Comparable to 4- and 5-star hotel standards.
  • Deluxe – A clear rung above Luxury. Furnishings and attention to detail tend to be noticeably superior. Staff members often outnumber the guests.

Packing List

  • - Good quality sunglasses – preferably polarized.
  • - Light scarf – for hot and cold weather
  • - Sun hat
  • - Golf-shirts, T-shirts and long-sleeved cotton shirts
  • - Shorts/skirts
  • - Long trousers/slacks
  • - More formal attire for your stay at prestigious city hotels or on one of the luxury trains.
  • - Underwear (sports bra recommended on game drives as the roads can be bumpy and uneven) and socks
  • - Good walking shoes (running/tennis shoes are fine)
  • - Sandals
  • - Swimming costume
  • - Warm Anorak or Parka, scarf & gloves (it can get cold at night and early morning)
  • - Light rain gear for the rainy months
  • - Camera and video equipment and plenty of film and spare batteries
  • - If you wear contact lenses, we recommend that you bring along a pair of glasses in case your eyes get irritated by the dust
  • - Binoculars (Night vision binoculars are not essential but highly recommended if your safari includes night activities)
  • - Relevant bird book if you are a keen birder
  • - Personal toiletries
  • - Malaria tablets (if applicable)
  • - Moisturising cream & suntan lotion
  • - Insect repellent e.g. Tabard, Peaceful Sleep, Rid, Jungle Juice, etc
  • - Basic medical kit (aspirins, plasters, Imodium, antiseptic cream and Anti-histamine cream etc)
  • - Tissues/”Wet Wipes”
  • - Visas, tickets, passports, money and important documents
  • - Waterproof/dust proof bags/cover for your cameras.
  • - A good torch and spare batteries.
  • - Padlocks for your luggage during international and regional flights
  • - Please note that bright colours and white are NOT advised whilst on safari. We advise that you wear neutral coloured clothes – brown, tan, khaki, green etc

Paperwork

Money

Pay for accommodation and casual purchases by credit card if possible, and bring cash for the rest (tips, purchases at informal markets and roadside shops). We find that US$ 300 per person for these odds and ends is ample on a 10-day safari. Exchange about half of this for the local currency when you arrive at the airport or soon thereafter and ask your guide/driver for the best place to do so.

Check with your lodge or agent if you can settle accommodation accounts by credit card (VISA and Mastercard are most widely accepted). If you need to carry large amounts of money then bring a money belt and travellers cheques (smaller denominations), but remember that often only the larger cities have ATMs and travellers cheque exchange facilities. We find that hard cash is best with US$ and Euro being accepted in most places, and most vendors either charge in those currencies or can work out exchange rates (even the curio stalls and street sellers!). If you need to buy local currency those dealers can be quite sleight of hand and mind, so check everything.

Tipping

Tipping is often a sensitive issue – for you and the recipient! Our tried and tested strategy is to ask the lodge manager or guide for assistance. Usually we end up tipping about USD5 per day to our guide/tracker and about the same for general staff (porters, cooks, cleaners, fire makers, waiters, watchmen etc). So USD10 per day usually covers one tourist for tips. Some lodges have an anonymous tipping box for all staff. On our group expeditions we often end up pooling tips and making a presentation at the end of the safari – great fun for all. Some people prefer to tip directly and that’s also fine. An important point is that this is entirely at your discretion. One golden rule: never tell your guide/tracker that his tip is dependant on his finding certain animals – this is unfair on him and may force him to bend the rules in his efforts to please you. This could cause damage to the environment and wildlife.

Insurance

Travel insurance is vital for travel anywhere in the world. Make sure your insurance package includes cancellation or curtailment of the safari, emergency evacuation expenses, medical expenses, repatriation expenses, damage/theft/loss of personal baggage, money and goods.

Passports, visas & paperwork

International visitors require a passport that is valid for at least six months, together with onward travel documents. Passports should have a minimum of 2 clean pages per country visited, for visas and entry/exit stamps (some visas take up a full page).

All passport holders should verify with their travel agent or relevant consulate concerning visa entry requirements. If you are extending your journey to other countries, please establish entry requirements for those countries as well. Please ensure that you have all the necessary visas prior to departure (unless available on entry).

If you intend to drive a vehicle in Africa please make sure you have a valid international driving license and vehicle ownership papers.

Make sure you have a vaccination certificate for yellow fever.

Keep copies of your documents and vital information as well as a few passport photos in your luggage, and leave a few with friends at home (passport, insurance docs, bank and credit card details, travellers cheque numbers, 24 hour emergency contact number, contact details of relatives or friends).

Airport departure taxes

Most African airports charge departure taxes, most often payable in US$ (cash). The amounts vary from US$3 to US$50 per person. Ask your agent for details.

General

Food

Quality (and quantity!) of food will impress you. Every lodge has its own style, ranging from sophisticated Euro-cuisine to indigenous African fare. Expect attention to detail, even with fireside snacks and hors d’oeuvres. Even the most rustic bush camps and mobile camps will put extra effort into making those tin ovens produce the most appetising meals. Expect to put on a bit of weight during your safari.

Children and age limits

Ask the lodge or agent if there are age restrictions at the lodge. Generally well-behaved children over 8 are permitted although some lodges draw the line at 12. Please be considerate of your fellow guests.

There is no upper age limit on safaris.

Power and battery charging

Some larger lodges have mains power supply (220-240 volts) but smaller remote lodges often make do with solar power or generators linked to 12 volt battery power. Generators are run during the day when guests are on game drives. Some of the bush camps have no power at all (battery charging is via the game drive vehicle, if at all, and lighting is via paraffin lamps).

Ask your lodge or agent about battery charging facilities and make sure you bring the necessary converters and adaptors (and spare batteries). Three prong square or round plugs are most commonly used in Africa.

Laundry

All hotels, lodges and some bush camps and mobile camps provide a daily laundry service. A few rules:
Don’t expect them to wash your underwear – do that yourself.
Don’t hand in delicate or expensive clothing – the laundry process is often rather rudimentary and could cause damage to your clothes.

Plan on a 24 hour turn-around for your washing (but rain delays do occur).

Luggage limits

Ask your lodge or agent for luggage weight limits, and treat those limits seriously. Many lodges are accessed via air and weight restrictions on these small aeroplanes are 12kg to 15kg for all luggage, including camera equipment. Let your lodge/agent know if you have excess luggage weight or if you personally weigh above 100kg – you may need to pay a premium. Keep clothing to a minimum as the style is casual and there is most often a daily laundry service. Use soft luggage so that it can be stowed easily in the luggage hold of small aeroplanes.

Customs & etiquette

You need to be sensitive to local customs where-ever you go and a bit of research beforehand will stand you in good stead. Almost any dress code goes in hotels and lodges but on certain city streets, beaches and rural communities you should dress and behave more conservatively. This is especially so in Islamic parts of East Africa.

Always treat people in other parts of the world with respect. Their cultures and reactions to things may be different to yours.

Communications

Communication with the outside world is possible in some form from most lodges, although mobile camps and bush camps are often completely cut off from the outside world, with only emergencies catered for via two-way radio between the camp and the nearest larger lodge.

Most people go on holiday to escape from things, but if you anticipate having to be in constant contact with the outside world make sure that your lodge has facilities such as email or satellite phone.
Telecommunications in urban areas are easily accessible but please note that the safari lodges and camps you may be visiting could be located in very remote parts of Africa and often do not have telephones or mobile phone reception.

For those guests that bring satellite phones on safari, and in areas where mobile phone reception is available, keep in mind the following:

Please ensure the ring tone is kept at a low volume to avoid disturbing other guests.
Please use your phone in the privacy of your room and not in any of the common areas or on any of the vehicles or on game drives.

Remember that most people come on safari to “get away from it all”.

Photography

The choice of the correct camera equipment and film will determine the quality of your photographs. A good SLR camera with telephoto lens is necessary for good photography of birds and animals. A zoom lens can be extremely useful on safari and the minimum recommended size is 200mm. Most of your photos will probably be taken on an 80-200mm lens. Consideration should be given before travelling with any lens bigger than 400 mm as most interesting shots are taken using hand-held equipment. A tripod and beanbag are essential. Bring spare film and batteries. Some lodges do stock these items but don’t rely on it. Always ask about camera-charging facilities at lodges.

Special Interests

When arranging your safari, ensure your agent knows your particular interests. There is nothing worse than being lumped with folk who don’t share your passion for bird watching or photography or trees, insects, local cultures etc. We run groups trips with set departure dates for specific themes like birding, primates, predators, photography etc.

Bird watching

Africa has over 2,100 species of birds and you will need to come prepared if you want to make the most of your trip. Go to a specialist book retailer such as Amazon.com and buy a good field guide before you arrive. Most lodges stock guide books in their libraries but they are for general guest use. Take the time beforehand to peruse the guide book and to get to know the birds in the area. Take a good pair of binoculars and a note book. Some lodges supply a bird list with space for you to tick your sightings. Most importantly, if you are a birder remember that your fellow travellers may not share your enthusism. If you are not on an organised birding expedition please be considerate when on game drives and ask your lodge manager to group you with other birders.

Staying safe

Crime and safety

Are you unsettled by the bad news you see on TV regarding Africa? Remember two things. Firstly remember that bad news sells and that is why you see so much of it. Secondly remember that Africa is huge. There are trouble spots in Africa, but the areas in which you will spend time are probably as far away from those trouble spots as the Middle East is from London!

Africa is no different to the rest of the world. If you plan to spend time in a city, take precautions as you would in your home country. Petty theft is common in cities, but physical attacks on tourists are very rare.

Safety tips for cities:

  • Don’t wander around the streets after dark.
  • Ask your hotel about unsafe areas and avoid them.
  • Leave expensive jewellery at home and wear a cheap plastic watch.
  • Don’t carry cameras and video cameras.
  • Keep your money and passport in a money belt and out of site or in a safe at your hotel.
  • Dress like a local or at least dress casually.
  • Use your cell phone discreetly, and not while driving.
  • Our final comment regarding crime and safety: You will spend most of your African holiday in a relatively remote and wild area where crime of any sort is extremely rare, if not non-existent.

Dangerous wildlife

A few things to remember about wild animals:

  • They are wild! These are not tame zoo or theme park animals. Even a small doe-eyed antelope can and will attack you if it is threatened.
  • Most safari camps are unfenced and dangerous animals can (and do!) wander through the camps, particularly at night.
  • Please listen to the camp staff and guides. The safety precautions need to be taken seriously, and strictly adhered to.
  • Don’t go wandering off on your own without a guide – even to your rooms. Don’t leave your rooms at night and don’t walk along river banks (crocodiles and hippos kill many people every year).
  • Observe animals silently and with a minimum of disturbance to their natural activities. Loud talking and standing up on game drives can frighten the animals away.
  • Never attempt to attract an animal’s attention. Don’t imitate animal sounds, clap your hands, pound the vehicle or throw objects. Please respect your driver-guide’s judgment about proximity to predators. A vehicle driven too close can hinder a hunt or cause animals to abandon a hard-earned meal. It can also trigger a charge.
  • Litter tossed on the ground, in addition to being unsightly, can choke or poison animals and birds.
  • Never attempt to feed or approach any wild animal on foot. This is especially important near lodges or in campsites where animals may have become accustomed to human visitors.
  • Refrain from smoking on game drives. The dry African bush ignites very easily, and a flash fire can kill animals and destroy vast areas of grazing.
  • Noisy children can attract predators like leopards, as their noises are much like distress calls from their typical prey species. For this reason many lodges do not take children on game drives.

Africa Geographic
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