Africa is the second-largest continent in the world, where 54 countries call home. This diverse region has much to offer any tourist, from the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali to the migration of wildebeest in the Serengeti in Tanzania, there is so much to experience and enjoy throughout the continent. Visiting Africa can sometimes be a culture shock, so we’ve put together our top ten tips to help you.
Plan and prepare
Before you embark on your trip plan and prepare as much as necessary, exploring the continent of Africa is not something you can just wing. There are many things to be aware of such as visa requirements, high and low tourist seasons, weather seasons such as the wet and the dry season, how to get money exchanged, how to travel to your accommodation, will you need to book tours in advance etc. It will not always be possible to rely on booking things when you get there, accommodation options may vary, and availability will depend on the season.
This is non-negotiable. Get your shots. Unfortunately, malaria is still prevalent in many countries in Africa, do not risk it. Before travelling, visit your doctor and get as much information as possible. Some countries will also require you to have evidence of your Yellow Fever and other vaccinations before allowing you to enter, this is why your research is so important.
Get comprehensive travel insurance
You never know what might happen on holiday, when travelling to Africa make sure to take out comprehensive travel insurance that provides you with plenty of medical cover. If you are planning on going on a safari, take this into account also, and make sure your insurance covers this.
You will often hear this phrase throughout Africa. Time works in a different way, there is less urgency or rush than we experience in the west. This means that not everything will run on time, you might be surprised when your bus doesn’t leave the station until it’s full. You’ll also often hear the phrase ‘TIA,’ meaning this is Africa. Go with the flow as the locals do.
Cash is key
It’s important to not rely on there being ATMs available in your destination. This all depends on the country you are visiting, for instance, this won’t be an issue in South Africa, but it might be a problem in Mozambique. Do not expect to always be able to pay via card and always have some cash available. If you are worried about carrying cash invest in a money belt and only take as much money with you as you will need for the day, leaving the rest in your hotel safe, if there is one available.
Be aware of local customs
Each country has its own unique customs and traditions. It’s important to read up on this before travelling to your destination. It’s also important to learn about the religion of the country you are visiting as this will play a role. If you are visiting Zanzibar you might expect to spend all your time on the beach in a bikini, but this island is Muslim so this would not be respecting the local culture if you were to do this on a public beach. You can, of course, dress however you wish on a hotel beach. Remember to take time researching the local customs and dress attire to not create any offence or conduct any cultural faux pas.
Don’t expect to find your favourite brands when you travel. Depending on the country you visit, it can be hard to find your shampoo or shower gel in another country. Sanitary care also differs throughout the world and tampons are hard to find in some areas of Africa, so stock up prior if you think you may have your period during your trip. Sun cream is another hard item to get hold of, so bring enough to last your trip. Basic medicines can also be costly in some countries or hard to access in rural areas, always bring enough medication with you for your trip, from paracetamol to rehydration sachets, tummy medicine and diarrhoea relief. Don’t take anything for granted and invest in packets of tissues and hand sanitizer as not all toilets will have toilet roll or hand washing facilities.
Did you know that there are between 1,500-2,000 languages spoken in Africa? But don’t let that scare or overwhelm you. English is the official language of ten countries in Africa, with French and German being an official language for many more. You don’t have to worry about being lost in translation, however, it is polite to learn a few phrases of the local language and it will be appreciated!
Scams to watch out for
Unfortunately, scams are a part of every holiday, no matter the destination, so it is good to make yourself aware of any beforehand so you can make sure that you don’t fall victim. Being a tourist, you will stand out and will, unfortunately, become the target of touts or scam artists throughout your trip. Just remember that when dealing with touts a firm no thank you is more than adequate. We’ve outlined some common scams below.
Nothing is free
No matter what the person says or promises nothing will be for free, no matter how friendly they may seem. A free guided tour around a tourist site might lead you to family members shop or a demand for a donation at the end of the tour. If someone offers to carry your bags at the airport or bus station, they will expect a tip or payment for this service. Just remember that when you are offered a ‘free’ thing there is almost always a catch. There is no point having to pay the price, a firm no thank you is all that is needed.
Your hotel is no longer open, it is full or is a dangerous location
This is something to be aware of if you are travelling by yourself and not on an arranged tour. When you arrive at an airport your taxi driver will tell you that your hotel has closed, is booked up or is in a very dangerous location. They will then, of course, recommend another hotel, that they will earn a commission for taking you to. The best way to work around this is by reserving a room in advance. If your taxi driver pretends to not know the hotel’s location then go with another driver, there will be plenty and it’s amazing how fast their memory will return.
Do not exchange money on a street
You may meet people who will try to convince you to exchange money with them on the street and that they will give you a better deal. Don’t fall into this trap, not only is it illegal, it is not safe to show a stranger all your money. You also risk having your money exchanged into fraudulent notes. Just steer clear of this scam, it is not worth putting yourself through the hassle all to save a few bucks.
A time old classic for tourists the world over, before getting into a taxi or a minibus always agrees on a price first. You don’t want to be hit with an unexpected, overinflated price once you reach your destination.
If you are independently passing through borders this is something to be aware of. Often you may be asked to pay a fee by a border guard for a health assessment or another fake document. Also, ensure you have researched all the relevant criteria for entry to the country and make sure you have the correct visa.
Although this is not a scam parse, you will encounter begging throughout your travels. It is wise to resist giving money, especially if they are children as they will rarely receive any of that money and are often exploited by trafficking gangs. Read up on how you can donate to a reputable charity or local government initiative instead that will help empower and enrich the lives of the whole community.
Prepare for the friendliest people you’ll ever meet!
Many countries in Africa get a bad rap in the press. However, there are many countries throughout the continent that are stable democracies and have low crime rates. You might be surprised to know that Rwanda’s government is the only one in the world that has 61% election positions filled by women. That’s better than any governments in Europe, with the UK only have 31%.
Expect to leave any preconceptions behind when you get off the plane, you will encounter many friendly, smiling people who are only too happy to see someone else enjoy their country. Expect to be greeted with a big smile and a warm hello. Many people will be keen to know your name, where you are from and why you are visiting their country. If you treat people with kindness, warmth and respect (remember to respect local cultural and religious traditions), then you will receive it in return and will be made to feel very welcome.
Written by Sarah McCann, Blog Editor at luggage delivery specialists MyBaggage.com and lover of all things Africa.