Top Tips for Travel in Africa
The Best Ways to Get Around Africa
By Kent St. John
Big and full of mystery and diversity, Africa is the second-largest continent, yet has only 10% of the world’s population.
Over 1,000 different languages have been identified and countless tribes recognized. Africa is complex, yet simple, comfortable, yet peculiar, unique and a challenge to any traveler. Here are some tips to help you prepare for an unforgettable African adventure.
HEALTHY, IF NOT WEALTHY
Being prepared for basic health concerns will greatly steel a traveler with preventative armor. Use travel health-related websites such as cdg.gov to pinpoint problem areas and preventive remedies. The English also have some great health sites such as fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk that are very helpful.
For a complete run-down on health issues in Africa contact The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) or in the US call 716-754-4883. The IAMAT is a non-profit organization and can provide you with a list of English-speaking doctors worldwide. Membership is free, but donations are welcome.
Malaria and Dengue Fever
Spread by female mosquitoes, Malaria and Dengue Fever are perhaps the most feared and prevalent diseases in Africa. It is inadvisable to travel in sub-Saharan Africa without appropriate prophylaxis. The choice of antimalarials such as Fansidar or Malarone is dependent upon where you are traveling and your own health. Some additional simple precautions can help avoid a dreaded bite.
Dress with long-sleeved shirts and long pants after dark.
Sleep in screened-in areas. Use mosquito netting to cover your bedding.
Use smoke coils in your living area.
Use a bug repellent with DEET. Rubbed into cotton (i.e. your clothes) it is a very effective repellent.
Mosquito-repellent ankle and wristbands are great for local protection.
Some symptoms of malaria and dengue fever are fever, nausea, headaches and joint and muscle aches. If you have any of these symptoms get immediate medical attention.
Immunizations: While it is your choice of which immunizations to take, be aware that a certificate proving yellow fever immunization is required for entry into many sub-Saharan African nations, and may be required if you plan to travel elsewhere from Africa (i.e. home!). Check with your local physician or travel medical clinic at least two months before departure.
First Aid Kit: An African adventure first aid kit needs to be a bit more advanced than a regular one. In addition to all the standard health care items, make sure to bring a course of antibiotics that will help with stomach ailments, extra anti-malarial medication, sterile latex gloves, a sterile syringe and needle, and condoms. Remember that AIDS is spreading throughout Africa like wildfire. Don’t take chances with your health.
Help Please: What if you do fall ill in Africa? Receiving medical help early can greatly prevent lifelong health problems such as recurrent malaria or hepatitis. The following are some better local African contacts for medical attention.
- Algeria: Hospital Mustapha, Place du 1 Mai, Algiers Tel: 67-33-33
- Burundi: Hospital Prince Regent Charles, Tel: 226-166
- Cameroon: Centre Medico-Social-Cooperation Francaise, Yaounde, Tel: 230-139
- Central African Republic: Hospital de l’ Amitie, Ave de l’Independence, Bangui, Tel: 615-700
- Congo: Centre Hospitalier et Universitaire de Brazzaville, BP 32 Brazzaville, Tel: 82-88-10
- Egypt: Anglo-American Hospital, Sharia Hadayek al-Zuhreya Gerzira, Cairo, Tel: 340-6162
- Ethiopia: Black Lion Hospital, Addis Ababa, Tel: 511-211
- Ghana: North Ridge Hospital, Castle Road, Accra, Tel: 227-328
- Kenya: Aga Khan Hospital, Vanga Road, Mombasa, Tel: 226-182 | Nairobi Hospital, Valley Road, Nairobi. Tel: 722-160
- Mali: French Medical Center, Bamako, Tel: 225-0720
- Mauritius: Jetoo Hospital, Volcy Pougnet St., Port Louis, Tel: 212-3201
- Morocco: CHU Averroes, Ave. du Medecin General Braun, Casablanca, Tel: 22-41-09
- Namibia: Rhino Park Health Center, Rhino Park, Horsea Kutako Drive, Windhoek, Tel: 225-434
- Nigeria: Al Hasan Hospital, Ibrahim Babangida Way, Wuse, Zone 4, Lagos, Tel: 523-5502
- Senegal: Hospital Principal, Ave. Senghor, Dakar, Tel: 823-27-41
- Swaziland: Raleigh Fitkin Hospital, Manzini, Tel: 52211
- South Africa and Zimbabwe have excellent health facilities in comparison to the rest of Africa.
- South Africa: Groote Schuur Hospital, Capetown, Tel: 404-9111
- Zimbabwe: Parirenyatwa Hospital, Causeway, Harare, Tel: 794-411
The best carry along book on travel health in Africa is Lonely Planet’s Healthy Travel, Africa. Its small size and comprehensive chapters cover just about any situations that may arise.
Near every major trekking and safari area in Africa, you are bound to run into touts promising top-notch excursions. Never book with the first seller that approaches you. Take the time to look around for other deals. Disreputable touts are known to target budget lodgings looking for those needing budget trips.
If it sounds like a ridiculously low price, beware. Those pre-paid huts may well turn out to be unusable tents, food may run short, and entrance fees may not be included.
Some rules to follow:
Never pay on the spot. Go to an office. If they do not have one, book elsewhere.
Ask to see confirmed reservation forms for both entrance and reserve fees. The best bet is to take a day and ask other travelers about their experiences. What about those guides that provide great service and a memorable trip?
Bottom line: if the service has been good a 10% tip is due. In Africa, you are considered wealthy, even if you are a poor student. Help support a family or donate to a school. Be aware that any gear left behind is not considered a tip but a gift.
Because of the relative poverty of much of Africa, it is wise to consider yourself wealthy even if you aren’t. With that in mind, recognize that your relative wealth makes you a target for petty theft, which is common in some parts of the continent, especially in big cities.
Here are some tips to avoid losing what little you might be carrying.
Wear a money belt, neck purse, or leg safe at all times. Keep your passport and the majority of your money hidden in the belt, and just place what you need for the day in your accessible pockets. Avoid opening your money belt or safe in public.
Budget accommodations in Africa rarely have locked doors, so keep valuables with you at all times, sleep with your money belt on or place valuables in a safe that you are certain is secure.
When traveling on public transport, never pack valuables in a pack or bag that may end up on a rooftop. Keep your valuables in a daypack and keep it wrapped around your wrist, leg or body. It’s a good idea to invest in a few padlocks for your luggage.
While hitchhiking is a common form of transport throughout Africa, NEVER hitch alone.
Do not walk alone through a city at night. If you have any doubts about the safety of an area, ask the locals, the local police, or your embassy/consulate.
If you find yourself in a troubled area or if where you suddenly erupt into crisis, locate and get to your embassy or consulate as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to register with your embassy or consulate if you are traveling in an unpredictable place.
Buy travel insurance. If there is any place where it could come in real handy, it’s Africa. Make sure your insurance covers any “adventure” sports you plan to do, and provides for emergency evacuation if needed. Long-term and multi-trip policies are a good, inexpensive way to keep you covered for the duration of your trip. If you are going on a tour or safari with a company from home, check with them for travel insurance.
Pack light. Distances are great in Africa and clothes and other essentials are cheap. If you don’t think you really need it, don’t bring it.
Bring sunscreen. The African sun is notoriously strong. Don’t underestimate its power.
Bring something to donate. Medical supplies, school supplies and yes, money, are all useful. Don’t bring candy to give to children. If you can, volunteer and donate your time. Even an afternoon of playing soccer with village children or tutoring math will enhance your experience and theirs. Pencils, pens and erasers are also great gifts, very appreciated.
If you’ve been putting off buying a zoom camera or telephoto lens, do so before going on safari in Africa. Most experts agree that a lens of 200mm is the minimum you should have for close shots. Binoculars will also greatly add to your safari experience. You can always give them as a gift when you leave.
Also, if you plan to bring a video camera, remember that you should be careful not to zoom in to “get closer” to the animals you see, particularly if either you or the animals are moving. If you do zoom in, you may get a quick close-up shot of the elephant wading into the river, but you may also get nauseous watching it. Stay in a wide-angle and everyone will enjoy your African adventure video more.