Vacation to Africa – a travel guide for your first trip

Congratulations if you’re from the West and planning a vacation to Africa for the first time. If you’ve visited the Cradle of Humankind before, you can probably disregard everything, but if this is your first visit, the advice I’ve gathered below will prove very useful to you.

To begin with, you’re quite fortunate. Few people can afford to travel to Africa – it’s a long-haul journey in most situations, and plenty of locals are running in the opposite direction. Get ready for one of the memorable travel experiences you’ll ever live!

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Is it safe to vacation in Africa?

safe to vacation in africa

Although most countries in southern Africa are well-developed and safe for tourists – as long as you don’t go into townships or stroll about at night alone, certain countries in central and northern Africa are more problematic or politically unstable.

Sierra Leone and Liberia have historically had high crime rates, so visitors should exercise caution, particularly if traveling alone. Carjacking and muggings are also widespread even in South Africa.


How will you travel to Africa?

If you’re traveling alone and meeting someone there, make sure the person you’ll be seeing on the other end is real and someone you can trust. (But that’s the kind of safety advice you should follow no matter the destination, not just if you’re going on vacation to Africa!)

Have a backup plan in case you’ve run into trouble or if you’re just getting a bad vibe. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? Write down the address and phone number of your country’s embassy on your phone and on something you can use offline and keep on you at all times (such as a small travel journal, a notepad, a card, etc.). You might even want to have the embassy on speed dial and/or as an emergency contact.

Make sure you book all accommodation yourself. Many hotels accept reservations by email, but you can also telephone a hotel to make a reservation using low-cost international calls. If you stay at a Sheraton or Holiday Inn, though, you’ll be charged a lot, and those establishments can be harsh, especially if you bring a visitor to your room at any point in time.


visa african countries
Vacation to Africa: Check visa requirements for African countries

Getting a visa for your vacation to Africa

When visiting an African country, you will almost always need a visa. Thet can be purchased in advance at the relevant embassy or consulate in your own country. They are also frequently available at the border when you arrive, but long lines might be frustrating – especially if you have a connecting flight.

Visas can cost over $65 depending on where you go, and you can pay in US Dollars, Euros, and/or British Pounds in most cases. If you’re unsure, go with bucks. And to play it safe, get your visa ahead of time, especially if your nation’s relations with the country you’ll be visiting are a bit strained. Most visiting visas are valid for three months or the length of your stay, whichever comes first.


travel to africa vaccines
Vacation to Africa: Schedule your travel to Africa vaccines!

Health precautions in Africa

Make sure you’ve got all of the vaccinations for travel to Africa before leaving. Certain health concerns do exist, the most serious of which being Malaria and HIV/AIDS. Make an appointment with your travel clinic, general practitioner, or doctor to have the vaccines needed to travel to Africa.

Because it might take weeks to get the required vaccinations for travel to Africa, it’s advisable to plan ahead of time or seek out a private travel clinic. Even if you are of African descent, it’s advisable to be safe since viruses and other bugs evolve over time, and you may be immune to older strains but not to newer ones.

Malaria

Malaria is a deadly disease that should not be taken lightly when planning a vacation to Africa. Check to see whether you’ll be visiting a malaria-prone destination, then obtain and take the appropriate anti-malarial medicine from your doctor.

Learn about the signs of malaria so you can recognize it fast in case you do develop it. Headache, nausea, fever, vomiting, and flu-like symptoms are all common symptoms but they might vary depending on which variety you’ve caught.

Malaria can strike months after returning from an infected destination, so if you become unwell after returning, tell any doctor treating you that you’ve been to a malaria-infested area.


Sexual health

If you want to engage in sexual activity during your vacation to Africa, bring condoms with you. HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, and Gonorrhoea are all frequent diseases. While HIV/AIDS is treatable in the West, it is still one of Africa’s leading causes of death, so be cautious.


Travel insurance for your holiday in Africa

Just take it. On a vacation to South Africa, a fellow traveler got burned in a BBQ mishap and also robbed at gunpoint a week later in central Johannesburg — they grabbed everything, including their passport. And they were traveling with a Xhosa native who was always armed with a semi-automatic weapon.

So get travel insurance for your vacation to Africa. You’re worth it!

My personal favorite is the travel and medical insurance from SafetyWing.


most beautiful places in africa
Vacation to Africa: One of the most beautiful places in Africa

What’s the best country to visit in Africa?

Most industrialized countries will have comprehensive travel information available on the internet. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK and the US Department of State are two official websites that have extensive guides.

Your own country’s travel advisory does contain useful information and cautions. It’s a good idea to read them and become familiar with the contents, as well as the key points to remember, such as health information, visa requirements, and various do’s and don’ts for your vacation to Africa..

Read everything thoroughly and absorb the information, but take it with a grain of salt since they have the potential to terrify you and deter you from planning a vacation to Africa. Essentially, your government will be risk-averse and will want to avoid being sued for offering incorrect advice or making light of any potential risk.

Beyond that, there’s too much to see and do in Africa to tell you to visit one place for the full experience. It’s such a huge topic to approach that I’ll be writing a series of articles on the most beautiful places in Africa in the future.


african currency
Vacation to Africa: The Big 5 represented on African currency

Money during your trip to Africa

In general, the financial sector in Africa doesn’t offer as many services as one expects in a Western nation. Debit and credit cards are accepted in some countries, but not in others. And in countries where they accept cards, it might not be nationwide or at all establishments from a certain destination. It’s something you should look into. And, to save time, try asking your financial institution when you’re getting ready for your vacation to Africa.

Avoid using traveler’s checks. Many establishments will not take them since they are commonly used in fraudulent operations. It’s possible that you won’t be able to change your money into local currency before leaving on your vacation to Africa. (And if you do, it’s unlikely you’ll get a favorable exchange rate.)

It’s best to bring cash in the form of US Dollars, Euros, and even British Pounds on your vacation to Africa.

The most generally accepted currency is the US Dollar. Add 100 to 200 dollars to the amount you’ll need for contingencies. Many individuals in Africa will automatically convert their pricing to US Dollars for foreigners, and the dollar is especially beneficial if you’re traveling outside of large capital cities where the USD is the sole foreign currency accepted by banks. Even if you’re traveling with Euros or British Pounds on you, it’s a good idea to bring a few US Dollars just in case.

Another factor to consider is that certain nations received a large number of bogus US banknotes during the Iraq conflicts and may refuse to accept US bills dated before 1999. Just to be cautious: grab US bills from the year 2000 or later.

Tips to keep your money safe during your vacation to Africa:

  • Don’t leave your cash in your suitcase or all in the same spot.
  • Put some money in each pocket if you’re out and about. The locals prefer to shove it in their socks, so you may as well do the same.
  • Check to see whether your accommodation offers passport and money security, and use it if necessary. The rooms from larger hotels will normally contain a safe.

local kids in africa vacation
Bring a smile to local kids – visit an orphanage during your Africa vacation and help in any way you can

Cultural awareness

If you’re from the west or another wealthy nation, it’s practically unavoidable that locals will have preconceived notions about you. The most typical assumption is that you’re wealthy. It’s much worse if you’re white since people could presume you have a money tree in your yard.

Remember that many of the locals are poor, living in countries whose social security consists mostly of having orphanages. They’ve seen hundreds of westerners coming on vacation to Africa, wasting money on frivolous things and staying in expensive hotels. So, for them, you could be a millionaire. On the plus side, most individuals will just ask for a dollar.

Whatever you do, don’t be a jerk with a huge ego and treat the natives badly. There will be a lot you don’t understand, but that’s no reason to treat people with disrespect.

Another thing to keep in mind is that swearing is frowned upon in many African nations, so watch your mouth.

Beyond that, do some research about the customs and cultural background of all the places you’re planning to visit during your vacation to Africa. It will help you not only to be respectful towards the locals but also to discover various holidays you can take part in that can enrich your vacation to Africa.


A vacation to Africa can be risky to some more than others

Staying out of trouble on your trip to Africa

Here’s some Africa travel advice that you can use both before and after you get into trouble:

  • Provide information. Let your friends and family know where you’re going, how long you’re staying in each place, and when you’ll be back home. If you’re leaving on vacation to Africa for an extended period of time, notify your embassy or consulate when you arrive at your destination country.
  • Make copies of important papers and documents. Make two photocopies of your passport, including the identity page and, if necessary, any visas. If it’s stolen, a photocopy of your ID will usually suffice to obtain an emergency replacement. One copy should be left at your accommodaton, while the other should be taken with you at all time. If you have a driver’s license, bring that along as well, as it can be used as proof of identification in case your passport is lost or stolen.
  • Get your phone unlocked — that is, network unlocked – so that any SIM card from anywhere in the globe can function in it. When you arrive at your destination, purchase a local SIM card – these are normally pay as you go and cost around $10. Then, SMS your friends and family back home to let them know the new phone number that you’ll be using during your vacation to Africa.
  • Have a contingency plan. Western Union offices are available all over Africa. It’s a booming business. So, if you’re robbed or need money quickly, friends or family members cand send some to you from your home country. They can offer you the information via SMS to your local phone number, but you’ll need some form of identification to get it, and they may ask you to answer a security question.
  • Cooperating with the local authorities. Stay cool if you get into trouble with the cops. Unfortunately, many police officers are underpaid and eager to accept bribes. If you’ve committed a serious crime and you’re in serious trouble, insist on seeing your ambassador or consul. It will almost likely be easier to pay whatever is required to get the matter buried if it’s something minor or something you’ve just been accused of for the sake of being accused.
  • DON’T BREAK THE LAW WHEREVER YOU GO, AND BE AWARE OF DIFFERENT LAWS AT YOUR DESTINATION. Homosexuality, for example, is outlawed in several African countries. This type of vital information is available in the country reports we discussed above.

About the author

Mirela Letailleur The Travel Bunny

Mirela Letailleur is a Romanian travel blogger living in the South of France. She writes on The Travel Bunny travel blog about affordable travel in Europe, creator of unique free travel guides, local travel expert. Problem solver. Wannabe coffee guru.

Read more about Mirela Letailleur

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