An African safari is high on many traveler’s bucket lists, offering an opportunity to encounter wildlife and interact with people from ancient tribal cultures. We’ve been helping people plan their perfect safari for nearly 30 years and have compiled this list of frequently asked questions to help you navigate the ins and outs of travel in Africa.
1. Is Africa safe for tourists?
Most African countries are safe for tourists to visit, especially when traveling in a group. For instance, Zegrahm Expeditions closely monitors health and safety advisories to all the countries we visit. However, it is always best to follow basic travel precautions anytime you visit a large city, such as not carrying a purse, leaving expensive jewelry at home, using your in-room safe, not walking alone at night, and being aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times.
While out on safari, it is possible to encounter wildlife right outside your tent. To ensure your safety, many safari camps have guards to escort you in the presence of wildlife, and some camps are fenced. All camps will also offer safety tips to follow while at camp and out searching for wildlife.
2. There are so many countries; which one is best for me?
Each African country has its own unique blend of wildlife, landscapes, and culture, so the easiest way to pick the country you want to visit is by learning what each country has to offer. Here are some brief highlights:
- Botswana offers some of the highest concentrations of wildlife, including the Big Five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo.
Best time to visit: the dry season, May through September.
- Ethiopia offers ancient archaeological sites and endemic species such as Ethiopian wolf, mountain nyala, giant mole-rat, gelada baboon, and Bale monkey.
Best time to visit: the dry season, October through February.
- Kenya & Tanzania offer a classic safari experience and exceptional viewing of the Great Migration—millions of wildebeest journeying from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara.
Best time to visit: year-round, but the best wildlife viewing is during the dry season—June through October—when the wildebeest migration is at its height.
- Madagascar offers a unique array of endemic wildlife including colorful chameleons, unique birdlife, and its world-famous lemurs.
Best time to visit: to avoid the wet season and enjoy the country’s best weather, visit during the cool, dry season—anytime from April through October.
- Namibia offers the undulating Namib Desert, the storied Skeleton Coast, and diverse wildlife including a large cheetah population.
Best time to visit: during the dry season, June through October.
- The Republic of the Congo offers the opportunity to see lowland gorillas in their natural rainforest habitat, as well as chimpanzees and a number of other primate species.
Best time to visit: May through September for cooler days.
- South Africa offers beaches, craggy coastlines, vineyards, big game, and white rhinos.
Best time to visit: a great destination year-round.
- Zimbabwe offers the majestic Victoria Falls—one of the Seven Wonders of the World— and Hwange National Park, one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in all of Africa.
Best time to visit: enjoy the best game viewing opportunities May through October.
3. What kind of accommodations can I expect?
Visiting Johannesburg and Cape Town is like visiting any other large metropolitan city and you can expect to find these cities westernized with modern conveniences. While on safari, know that camps are located in the bush; you may need a shower after a long day searching for wild animals, but accommodations are clean and comfortable and oftentimes very luxurious. Some camps even offer spa services like massages right out on your deck.
“All the camps were amazing, but I was blown away when I walked into the bath area of my enormous tent to find a pristine claw foot tub and double outdoor showers.” – Jennifer
4. What vaccinations do I need to visit Africa?
Some African countries require a yellow fever vaccination, which needs to be administered at least 10 days prior to entry. Anti-malarial medication is also recommended for most of sub-Saharan Africa, but it is not required.
5. What are the entry requirements? Do I need a Visa?
- Botswana: A visa is not required of U.S. citizens for entry into Botswana.
- Ethiopia: A tourist visa is required of all U.S. citizens for entry into Ethiopia and must be obtained prior to travel. An eVisa is available online at: https://www.evisa.gov.et/#/home.
- Kenya: A tourist visa is required of all U.S. citizens for entry into Kenya; single-entry visas are available upon arrival at Kenyan airports, but multiple entry visas must be obtained prior to traveling to Kenya. Apply for an eVisa online at: http://evisa.go.ke/evisa.html.
- Tanzania: A tourist visa is required of all U.S. citizens for entry into Tanzania and can be obtained at the airport upon arrival in Tanzania or prior to travel. Apply for a visa online at: http://tanzaniaembassy-us.org/?page_id=76.
- Madagascar: A 30-day tourist visa is required of all U.S. citizens for entry into Madagascar. Visas may be obtained upon arrival when clearing Customs & Immigration for a fee of approximately $35.00 USD. Each guest must have a return flight ticket, two passport photos, and a valid passport in order to obtain a visa.
- Namibia: Avisa is required of U.S. citizens for entry into Namibia. You will be issued a visa, also known as a Visitor’s Entry Permit (VEP), at the airport upon arrival.
- Republic of the Congo: A tourist visa is required of U.S. citizens for entry into the Republic of the Congo and is available upon arrival at the airport. You will need $50 USD (exact cash printed after 2006 is required) and a letter of invitation in order to receive your visa.
- South Africa: A tourist visa is not required of U.S. citizens for entry into South Africa if visiting less than 90 days.
- Zimbabwe: A tourist visa is required of U.S. citizens for entry into Zimbabwe and is available upon arrival at the airport in Zimbabwe. Visas cost approximately $30.00 USD for a 30-day/single-entry visa or $60.00 USD for a 60-day/multiple entry visa. You will also need your passport, return ticket, and adequate funds to cover your intended stay in order to enter Zimbabwe.
6. How do I pack for a safari?
Less is more—do not overpack. Many safari camps also offer laundry service, so you can cut down on the clothes you pack. Bring four to five comfortable, practical outfits. Pack light, breathable fabrics that will allow you to feel comfortable in Africa’s warm climate. Bring long-sleeved shirts and long pants to wear during dusk and dawn when biting insects appear and temperatures can be chilly (something you might not expect).
“Visiting Africa during its dry season—June, July and August—is actually pretty cold in the mornings and evenings! Bring a fleece jacket and a warm hat—it was in the 40°s (F) when I visited in June.” – Jennifer T.
Also, avoid brightly colored clothing, which will scare wildlife away, and white clothing that will get dirty quickly. Try to blend into the landscape with animal-friendly greens and khakis, and never dress in camouflage clothing, which is associated with the military. Black and dark blue clothing should also be avoided, as both colors are known to attract tsetse flies.
Please note, you will need to bring a duffle bag as most charter flights between camps don’t allow rigid suitcases with wheels.
Click HERE for our safari guide packing list:
7. How do you get to Africa, and how long is the flight?
The major airline hub for Southern Africa is the O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg, South Africa, and many major airlines offer direct flights to JNB from JFK in New York, Washington Dulles airport in DC, and Hatsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, Georgia. If your destination is beyond Johannesburg, there are also many domestic airlines that offer flights from Johannesburg to smaller airports closer to your safari camp.
The main hub for East and Central Africa safaris (Kenya & Tanzania) is the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya; the main airport for Ethiopia journeys is the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport; and the main airport for the Republic of the Congo is the Maya-Maya Airport in Brazzaville via Paris.
Please note that flights to Africa are rather long, so we suggest flying in a day or two prior to your safari so you can relax and embark on your adventure well rested. Flights from New York City to Johannesburg are usually around 16 hours; flights from the west coast of the U.S. are usually around 25 hours, which includes a layover.
8. What kind of food will be available?
Johannesburg and Cape Town offer a rich food scene with many trendy bars, restaurants, and cafes that offer traditional African and world cuisine.
While on safari, enjoy delicious full-bodied meals freshly-prepared by professional cooks and chefs. Depending on what type of safari you choose—more rustic or luxurious—you can expect everything from buffet-style to fine dining with a variety of options. However, if you are vegetarian, it’s best to notify Zegrahm Expeditions in advance as traditional African food incorporates a variety of meat, including game meat such as crocodile, impala, and warthog. Traditional cuisine also includes starches and vegetables unique to the region, as well as fresh fruit. You can also expect tea time in the afternoon and drinks at the bar at night.
9. Anything else I should know?
- Make sure you bring cash as most safari camps do not accept debit or credit cards. We recommend obtaining cash at the airport upon arrival, as you will not have access to a bank or ATM while out on safari.
- When visiting Kenya, please note the country has instituted a plastic bag ban and disposable plastic bags will not be allowed into the country, so it’s best not to pack any in your checked luggage or carry-on bag.
- Also, read about your destination before you go! Knowing the country’s history and culture prior to visiting will enhance your experience.
- And, it never hurts to learn a few simple phrases or words of greeting in the native language of your destination.
We hope this information will help get you on your way to experience an African safari for yourself!