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Commonly asked questions for first-time travel to Africa

Traveling to Africa is usually a difficult first step for many people. It’s a big continent, with so many diverse places and people; it’s almost overwhelming to know where to begin. Through the media, we also tend to read a lot about Africa and its problems, and this gives it a negative stereotype – and sometimes scares people into not traveling. While there are problems in Africa, a huge part of the more than 50 countries are wonderful, safe places to travel. You just need to take that first step.

Usually most travelers come to Africa to volunteer for an aid organization, a church or to go on safari in the bush. These are the typical traveler profiles, however, there are so many things happening in Africa that it’s hard to generalize.

We are going to provide you with the typical questions for a first-time traveler to Africa. This is not a bible, just a general guide. Of course, you should do your OWN research too. There are too many variables when it comes to traveling in Africa.

How do I get a visa?
In both the United States and Western Europe, you can find African embassies for a greater majority of the countries. Some of them are very easy to get visas, while others take a considerable amount of time and paperwork. It’s important to start early in the visa process. For those very small countries like say, Djibouti or Gabon, that sometimes don’t have embassies, usually you can contact other embassies in the country near them and they can give you details on how to process the visa.

Also, if you’re traveling overland, you can get visas at most of the borders. And, in many airports, you can get visas before you arrive. Just remember – do your research early.

Should I take malaria medication? How can I avoid getting sick in Africa?
You should consult your doctor about this first. In some areas, malaria is a major problem and shouldn’t be taken lightly, while other areas it isn’t a concern and is cheap to treat. If you’re on a short trip to Morocco, Egypt or South Africa and plan to be in the city, then usually malaria medication isn’t needed.

There is a growing resistance to chloroquine, the former treatment, so you should consider using some of the new drugs, like meflo-quine. These drugs affect people differently; some people have symptoms like psychedelic dreams and nervousness, while others don’t have any symptoms at all.

Where do most tourists go in Africa?
Tourists go all over the continent and in many remote places that you could never imagine. Some of the more popular destinations seem to be places that revolve around wildlife. In North Africa, Morocco and Egypt are favorite spots for those into history, archeology, architecture and cultur. For West Africa, which tends to attract more French, then Mali and Senegal are the hotspots, as well as Ghana, which is an English speaking country. Ghana is an excellent starting point for traveling around West Africa.

For East Africa, Tanzania is the number one tourist destination, with Kenya and Uganda following respectively. For Southern Africa, South Africa has a booming tourist scene. Botswana is slowly becoming a traveler’s favorite and tends to be off-the-beaten path. Namibia and its miles of sand dunes is a favorite haunt.

What countries are safe? What countries should we avoid?
Wherever you travel, there is always a potential for problem, even in the United States and Europe. It doesn’t matter where you live. While you can travel in a huge majority of the countries, there are a few areas that you should avoid. Although there have been recent peace accords from a long-lasting civil wars, parts of western Sudan remain volatile. The Democratic Republic of Congo is also in a decades-old civil war. Algeria is off limits. You should check the security situation before you go into Burundi. Zimbabwe has mixed reports, as does Sierra Leone and Liberia. These are just a few of the bigger problems; there are other countries that have major issues too.

Keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of tourist visit Africa every year. Except for a few hassles, they have great experience and go home with a smile.

What shots do I need?
There are a wide range of shots and medications you can take to reduce your risk of disease. Just because you’re going to Africa, doesn’t mean you’re going to get sick. If you take a few precautions, you can remain healthy and have a wonderful time.

Below are a list of the common diseases, all of which have shots or medications to reduce your risk.

Yellow Fever
Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia)
Meningococcal Meningitis

Where are the best places to go on safari?
There are thousands of great places to go on safari. Some of the more popular places are the Serengeti in Tanzania, the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Kruger National Park in South Africa. These are the major tourists hotspots and attract thousands of people per year.

Don’t forget that Africa is filled with wildlife and there are many regions and national parks that receive only a few vistors per year. If you want to get off the beaten path and not be surrounded by other people, check out some of the smaller wildlife parks that don’t receive a huge amount of attention.

What type of food is available?
Much of this depends upon if you’re in a westernized city, or out in the rural bush. For the big cities, like Cairo, Capetown, Lagos, Nairobi, there is food from all corners of the world, even sushi bars.

Elsewhere, like in much of Africa, there are loads of amazing fruits and vegetables that are by far better than anything you would find in the United States or Europe. Rice, beans and maize are a staple for much of sub-Saharan Africa. In some of the bigger cities, there is a growing number of stores that have quality products from South Africa.

If you’re paying for a safari, then there is no need to worry about it. They will feed you right!

What should I pack on safari? What should I wear?

Safari dress should be light, with durable cotton that is in layers. It should be clothes that can get dirty and can easily dry in the heat. Neutral earth tones colors are probably the best.

Light cotton shirts and trousers
Long-sleeved shirts
Insect repellent
Walking Shoes

Can I take pictures of people?
In Africa, you will have an overwhelming amount of opportunity to take quality pictures that look like a picture out of National Geographic. If you do take pictures of people, ask first. Quite often, if you’re in a tourist area, they will want money. How would you like rich people taking pictures of you all day?

Make sure to never take pictures of military people, police or government establishments. In some countries, it’s highly illegal.

How many countries are in Africa?
Although you can debate this, there are approximately 53 independent nations in Africa. There are some countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Ethiopia were citizens don’t recognize the country and are fighting to form another country.

What are the main languages in Africa?
There are more than 1,000 languages in Africa. From colonial influence, there are huge populations of people that speak English, French and Portuguese. Some of the larger languages are Arabic in the north, Swahili in East Africa, and Zulu in Southern Africa.

If you have any ideas for more questions, please submit them to Donovan at Bootsnall dot com.