Africa is a large and majestic continent, unlike any other destination in the world. Be well prepared and enjoy an incredible safari with Viber Tours & Safaris. It is fair to say that the amount of information available on safari travel advice is exhaustive.
With over many years of experience behind us, we are the experts in safari travel but this means more than just information about destinations and accommodation. Get our tried-and-tested tips on flights, getting around, what you should pack and what you should spend - it'll all come in handy when you're on your trip!
As safari experts, we have included below the most important information relevant to embarking on a safari holiday to Africa.
Flights & Getting Around
Africa is well served by international airlines and its gateway airports are Johannesburg, Cape Town, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Once you've arrived, we can easily arrange a group or private transfer that will take you directly to your city hotel or we'll show you how to connect with your ongoing flights.
Our top safari destinations are usually accessed via a scheduled flight to the nearest airport and then a pre-arranged transfer to the lodge; however, private charter flights can also be arranged which will take you to the nearest airstrip, often just minutes away from camp.
For the more independent-minded visitor, South Africa and Namibia are great self-drive destinations and suitable vehicles can be hired and dropped off at their major airports.
Health & Personal safety
A question often asked by first-time visitors to Africa is: "is it safe?". Well, our recommended African destinations are actually some of the safest in the world and many are ideal for families travelling with children. We have many child-friendly safari lodges to offer you, malaria-free, and beach resorts with professional kids clubs. Medical facilities in Africa's cities and major tourist destinations are fine and staff at safari lodges will brief you about camp safety on arrival.
Security issues are no worse in Africa than the rest of the world: it's simply a case of using your common sense and not exposing yourself to risk. Our African Safari Experts will give you all the advice you need, and it always pays to ask for local advice once you're in Africa.
One thing that you will need to take care of is any medication that's needed for your trip, whether it's malaria prophylactics or a yellow fever injection. Consult your doctor during your planning or simply check with your African Safari Expert.
Your personal safety and security is mostly a matter of common sense. So take the same precautions while travelling in Africa that you would in any major city at home:
- Do not carry large sums of cash (see below for more information on Cash, Credit Cards & ATM’s).
- Any cash money (together with your passport and other travel documents) is best carried in a money pouch under your shirt (not in a bum-bag or fanny-pack on your hip in plain view – all too visible and easily cut away) or stowed in your camera bag or daypack (which should remain in sight at all times).
- Keep a close watch on your personal bags (camera bag, daypack etc) when walking in crowded areas (airports, markets, restaurants and on the street).
- Avoid walking alone at night. In some of the major African cities it is not advisable to walk the streets at night (Nairobi and Johannesburg among others).
- Consider leaving your passport, airline tickets and cash in a safe place (the hotel/lodge safe) when venturing out.
- Keep tempting valuables (including phones, cameras, wallet pouches, handbags) out of sight, and certainly not on the back seat, in your hire car or tour bus/4×4 and especially not in your room at safari camps/lodges – lock them up in the room safe or hand them in to management (rather than as temptation for staff).
- Consider leaving your jewelry at home.
I would strongly recommend taking out travel insurance immediately you confirm your travel plans – even before paying a deposit. This way you are covered if anything untoward or unexpected occurs, especially for unanticipated events before you travel (illness or injury, family emergency etc). I also strongly advise that you select a policy that covers not just cancellation and medical (illness), but also includes emergency evacuation and associated hospital treatments.
IMPORTANT: Be sure to take your travel insurance emergency phone numbers and your policy number and details (or the Certificate of Insurance) with you.
Cash, Credit Cards & ATM’s
I would recommend that you carry a combination of cash (preferably US$ for most countries…and Rand for South Africa) and at least one credit card (preferably more than one).
You may find little use for local currency on safari, although it can be handy for road-side purchases and possibly tipping. Nearly all bills can be settled using your credit card and most items in camp/lodge gift shops are priced in US$. In the major towns, ATMs will allow you to draw additional funds (in local currency only – please note).
Travellers cheques (checks) have become less acceptable in Africa in recent times (Tanzania is no longer accepting them for example) and they may be refused outside of the banking system (or not accepted at all).
Whilst most major currencies (USD, Euros, Sterling, AUD & CAD) are welcome throughout Africa, United States dollars remains the most widely accepted, followed by the Euro and Sterling.
Whilst it is difficult to set a figure I would recommend taking at least US$150 to $250 per person per week in cash from home (excluding what you might need for entry visas and airport departure taxes). This cash is specifically for paying for small incidentals (including taxis, tips and souvenir purchases). Visas secured on arrival must be paid in cash and often the exact amount i.e. officials will ‘claim’ not to have change – so carry an assortment of US$5, US$10 and US$20’s (plus the required US$50 notes).
Be warned – some countries are not accepting US$ bills dated before the year 2000 due to suspicions of counterfeiting. Don’t be surprised if your US$ notes are run through a ‘counterfeit-checking’ device. Generally, large bills (US$50 and US$100) obtain better exchange rates than smaller denominations (US$5, 10 and US$20) if you need to exchange for local currency.
Be wary of street money-changers! They may offer a better rate but are not averse to using any number of underhand techniques to short change you. If you do use one, be sure to count each note separately to satisfy yourself that the whole amount is there BEFORE handing across any of your own cash. Once counted, be sure not to let the pile out of your sight – it is an old trick to switch bundles and for you to later discover that the new bundle is mostly newspaper. If the money traders are legitimate they will not be offended!
Credit & Debit cards
Most establishments will accept international credit cards and I recommend using credit cards as a method of payment wherever possible – as much for the convenience as the efficiency. It makes sense to carry more than one brand of credit card as not all types are accepted by all outlets/hotels. On the downside, credit card companies do not offer the best exchange rates going arou8nd and will often add a foreign transaction fee for good measure!
BE WARNED: credit cards in Africa will often attract a surcharge – up to 5% in some cases, and possibly more! Be sure to ask about any surcharges before you hand over your credit card.
WARNING: KEEP YOUR CREDIT CARD VISUAL AT ALL TIMES.
IMPORTANT: Most banks and credit card companies advocate that you advise them before you travel overseas so that their credit card monitoring systems do not suspend your card when they detect any unusual purchase sequences (paying for hotels, flights and rental cars in a foreign country) that occur on a holiday. Such purchases can sometimes trigger the suspension of your card and leave you with the embarrassing consequences. Secondly, be cautious of providing your credit card details when travelling. It is an unfortunate feature of credit cards that your card number can be obtained without your knowledge (at hotels desks, shops or rental companies). BE CAUTIOUS AND VIGILANT. Do not let your card out of your sight when paying your bill.
ATM machines in Africa are becoming more commonplace but are certainly not as ubiquitous as elsewhere in the world. They supply only LOCAL CURRENCY and you may need an international PIN code – be sure to check with your bank/credit card facility at home about how this should work. Not all ATMs in Africa will accept all credit card types. In my experience, VISA appears to have the best coverage in Africa. Try also to use an ATM at a bank – this way, if your card is retained for any reason, you can go in and get it back! Keep in mind that you may not even get the opportunity to locate an ATM as your itinerary will likely be designed to get you to your next destination – not to the next ATM. My advice – don’t rely on using ATMs as your main source of cash on safari!
Electricity in Africa is all 220 -240V/50Hz AC as is much of Europe, the UK, Australia and New Zealand and virtually all the Asian countries and India. Those of you from North America, where 110V/60Hz is the standard, will need both an adapter for the proper plug configuration and a converter to step down to the lower current required by your electrical equipment.
TYPE C (European) : Two-prong round (unearthed)
TYPE D (Old British plug) : Three-prong round (small)
TYPE F (Schuko plug) : Two-prong round (with 2 x earth contacts)
TYPE G (UK plug) : Three-prong rectangular
TYPE M (South African plug) : Three-prong round (large)
Three pronged round (both Type M, standard in South Africa and Type D, standard in Namibia) plug sockets and rectangular (square) three pronged (Type G, the UK standard) plug sockets are the dominant plug types in Africa although some countries do offer the two prong round (Type C & F) plug socket types (see Table below). A number of hotels have international wall sockets which will take an array of both two-prong and three-prong plugs. North America and Japan use Type A & B plugs, and Australia a Type I plug – all will require an adaptor plug!
Country : Plug type
Botswana : D & G
Rwanda : C
Kenya : G
South Africa : D & M
Malawi : G
Swaziland : M
Mozambique : C, F, & M
Tanzania : D & G
Namibia : D & M
Zambia : C, D, & G
Uganda : G
Zimbabwe : D & G
Not all safari camps and lodges will have an electrical outlet in the tents/rooms but they will always have a place where you can recharge your camera / video and phone / iPod batteries.
Some camps will only run a generator at certain times of the day – so be sure to check with the manager when you arrive.
A number of mobile safari operators have inverters in their vehicles (an inverter change 12 volt DC from a vehicle battery to 220/240 volt AC) and in this way you can charge your camera/video batteries on the move.
Mobile (cell) phone & internet access
Generally speaking, communications in Africa are not what you are accustomed to at home but mobile (cell) phone coverage (and even Wi-Fi) is certainly becoming more widespread throughout Africa – although not in some of the more remote safari destinations (thankfully).
A tip before you leave home: check with your service provider that your phone is registered for international roaming (and check that the phone you have is compatible with the networks in Africa – almost all of which operates GSM digital networks running at a frequency of 900 MHz (and some 3G networks too)). If your phone is a dual or tri-band GSM phone it is likely this will work just fine.
More and more we are seeing Wi-Fi being offered at safari camps/lodges – some as an extension of that countries communications grid, and some connected via satellite. Check with your Africa Travel Specialist before you leave home about which camps/lodges have WiFi as this can be a real boon for sending/receiving email whilst on safari (and accessing the internet if speeds allow), including Skype, rather than using your mobile phone to text and call at exorbitant international roaming charges!
Please note: Not all conventional communication options (phone, fax, internet and email) are available at the more remote safari camps (and mobile camps particularly). Communications may sometimes be via HF radio only.
Drink bottled water. You are always safe drinking the bottled water that is readily available at all the camps and lodges. Carry a bottle of water with you at all times – including on transfers between camps. Make it a practice to always have a bottle of water with you – period. If you are at all apprehensive about the quality of water where you are staying, check with the staff, and if the water is not treated or bottled then avoid ice in your drinks or cleaning your teeth with the tap water (use the bottled variety). Take water purification tablets for emergency use if you think bottled water will not be available (unlikely).
THE SAFRI INDUSTRY IS MAKING A CONCERTED EFFORT TO REDUCE THE USE OF PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES – TRY TO WORK WITH THEM.
A number of safari operators are making sterilized water bottles (mostly stainless steel) available for you to fill with purified water at their camps and lodges. This is an initiative that you should adopt wherever possible as this will have a significant and positive environmental impact. By doing away with the factory-filled (sealed) plastic water bottles you will not only save fuel in transporting these bottles to remote regions (by their thousands) but also solve the problem of the enormous pollution to roadsides and towns that these plastic bottles foster. Do your bit (please).
Caution: Dehydration is a real danger on safari and you should be careful to drink at regular intervals and have water at hand at all times.
In the winter months (June to October), the game reserves can be extremely dusty. Contact lens wearers should be sure to bring eye drops, or you may want to consider taking a pair of standard prescription glasses in case your eyes become extremely irritated and scratchy. Cameras and videos should be cleaned regularly and stored in a camera bag throughout.
Should we tip, and if so – how much?? This is a common dilemma for most visitors to any foreign country! In Africa, tipping is not expected but has become customary. The traditional gratuity to safari guides or camp staff is not included in the price of your tour and is completely discretionary.
Bear in mind that what may seem like an inconsequential amount to you may be significant to local African staff and will certainly be received with a display of gratitude that is genuinely humbling.
Most safari lodges will have a ‘tip box’ at reception for the staff – this covers all the ‘unseen’ services you have enjoyed during your stay, including the person who cleans your room and the many staff who work in the kitchen. However, you may wish to reward your guide or perhaps a particularly attentive waiter individually.
Guidelines: Tip moderately and in accordance with the level and quality of service provided – and only if you are satisfied with that service. The following can be used as a guide and is generally accepted practice, based on a per person basis (i.e. a couple travelling together should consider doubling these figures):
Driver/guide – US$10 and upwards per day.
Private safari guide – US$25 and upwards per day;
Camp staff – US$10 to $20 per day, as a pooled tip to be shared among the housekeepers, waiters, bartender, etc.
If you spend a great deal of time with a single guide, as is the case on a number of mobile safaris or private vehicle + driver/guide itineraries, you may want to increase the above amounts in accordance with the enthusiasm and effort displayed (or your overall satisfaction level)…and you might even consider leaving behind your binoculars or books on mammals/birds to show your appreciation i.e. something other than money that you have noticed the guide does not have (or could use in his job) – just a thought
Tips can generally be paid in US dollars or local currency.
Charity on safari
Many visitors to Africa feel a strong urge to help the less fortunate whom they encounter on safari, or when visiting a local village or school. People often ask what they can take, especially for the children – pens? books?
By and large it is probably better to keep a look out for an appropriate opportunity while you are traveling rather than carry along gifts from home. My suggestion would be to talk with your guide or with the management of the camps/lodges where you are staying. Many of the safari camps and lodges are actively involved in working with their local communities to sustain schools, clinics and other projects. Ask about this when you are there and visit the school, clinic or project if you can – making a donation to something you have seen on the ground will bring you more satisfaction (and directly help the neediest). Try to contribute in a way that helps a person (or community) help themselves – a donation towards a project that will enhance their way of life.
What I would ask is that you resist the temptation to offer ‘hand outs’ to kids on the side of the road. This only encourages dependency on such generosity and teaches these children that begging brings reward. There is no dignity in begging and the harassment it fosters will not endear you to the next group of tourists either!
A rather fun idea is to gift a football (soccer ball) – all of Africa loves soccer yet not all the children have a ball with which to play – for more information go to: www.footballs4fun.co.uk/ or merely buy a couple before you leave home. Or take a look at http://www.packforapurpose.org/ for more ideas.
Most African countries have stringent exchange control regulations and it is illegal to enter or leave the country with anything other than nominal amounts of local currency. To avoid problems, do not exchange too much money into local currency at any one time (although there is normally no restriction on the amount of foreign currency that may be imported).