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General Information | Tips

Africa Safari - Useful Information

Planning a safari adventure into Africa is exciting. There are many tour companies that offer a wide range of packages to visit this beautiful country. Contrary to popular belief, Africa is generally safe to visit for a holiday and is not any more or less dangerous than many other places in the world. To make the best of your holiday, there are some things that you may want to consider.

Where to go?
The first decision that you need to make is where to go. Traditionally the idea of an African safari implied a journey to eastern Africa. Pictures of herds of zebra and wildebeest trekking across golden plains under an azure sky with mighty purple mountains in the distance usually refer to Kenya or Tanzania. Times have changed, though, and there is more than eastern Africa to see these days.

Since 1990, southern Africa has been entering the safari market in a a few short years developed their infrastructure to become serious competitors in the African safari market. The average person will probably ask the obvious question: What's the difference? Africa is Africa, right?

The answer is yes and no. While you can expect to see mostly the same kinds of animals whether you go to eastern or southern Africa, each region does differ from each other in quite a few aspects.

First of all, it may be important to know what the difference is between eastern and southern Africa. Eastern Africa is generally considered to refer to Kenya, Tanzania and, sometimes, Uganda. Southern Africa refers to the countries of Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The countries of Burundi and Rwanda, however, fall into what is called 'central Africa' – as far as safaris and tourism is concerned.

The most important consideration for most people will be what is the difference in the game that they are likely to see. For the most part, the two regions have a very similar distribution of game. The major difference is the amount of certain species that you will see in a specific area. Eastern Africa is known for the massive herds of zebra and wildebeest that migrate annually between the national parks. On the other hand, Southern Africa is the place to go if you want to see herds of elephant. Over 80% of Africa's elephant population live in Southern Africa, especially in Botswana.

The scenery is rather different between the two regions, however. Southern Africa boasts a greater diversity of habitats from the Namib and Kalahari deserts to the Okavango Delta. Eastern Africa, on the other hand, is mostly made up of savannah with a few highland areas near the mountainous regions.

Animals aside, weather is also an important consideration since it can play a large role in when you are going to go on holiday. Eastern Africa is equatorial with virtually no seasons. Days are warm and nights can be quite cool. An important consideration is that many of the parks close during the long rainy season from December to April since the roads become virtually unusable.

Southern Africa is more temperate though the hot African sun still bleaches the land. The seasons here vary from hot summers to cold winters. The rainy season comes between November and March, the African summer. The better infrastructure means that parks tend to stay open the whole year round. The advantage of visiting in the dry season is that the chances of seeing animal is much greater. The rainy season makes finding animals harder in the long grass, but visitors will be treated to lush landscapes and may even be lucky enough to see baby animals.

Both regions are geared to cater to tourists, but there is some difference in what they have to offer. Eastern Africa was the traditional destination for African tourists for a long time. Since 1990, however, the changes in Southern Africa have made it a very attractive destination that often sports more modern comforts.

Eastern Africa is known for hotel-style lodges that border or are built inside the national parks. Game drives take place in converted mini vans with open roofs that allow visitors to stand up to take a look at the surroundings.

Southern Africa has a tendency to more private camps or lodges that rarely have more than 16 people staying at a time. These lodges border national parks, though there are some private concessions that span vast tracts of land. Game drives take place in converted open land rovers that allow a more intimate and organic experience.

Exceptions to the rule exist in both regions, however. The safari operator will more likely be able to find what you desire in either region.

Africa has a reputation as a dangerous continent. Its history of political turmoil, refugees, poaching, war and the media are to blame. Things are often not as bad as the media would make it appear and they only focus on the negative. The truth is that, generally speaking, Africa is about as dangerous as any developed country.

Many visitors to Africa, its parks and its cities, will usually not be in great danger. The lodges and camps are usually isolated from the rest of civilisation and are quite safe. Like most reputable holiday spots, these areas also have their own security to ensure that their visitors can enjoy their time with them without having to worry about their safety.

That being said, it is important to remember to act responsibly while on holiday. The usual things apply just as if you were visiting any other foreign location. Keep an eye on your valuables and, if possible, have them stored in a safe place. Most lodges and hotels have an safe on site where you can store valuable items. Do not go out on your own, when you can help it, and do not stray out after dark in an area that you are not familiar with.

By just acting responsibly you will have nothing to worry about. If you have any doubts or questions, call the operator or the place where you will be staying to find out what sort of security options they have available. Do not let unnecessary concerns over security ruin your holiday.

Most African countries have very relaxed regulations as far as foreign visitors are concerned. To ensure that you have all the necessary documentation, it is always a good idea to contact the country's local embassy to find out if there are any special restrictions that you need to be aware of. The operator you are organising your trip through should also be able to give you this information.

A general guideline that is safe to follow is to ensure that your passport is valid up to six months after the date of departure. Many African countries will not allow you inside their borders if this criteria is not met. Also ensure that you have enough empty pages in your passport for the places that you are planning to visit.

Airport tax is not always included on tickets to and from African countries. Ensure that you have some cash available to pay for this expenditure. In the same vein, ensure that you have some cash available to buy a visa at the airport. While it is not necessary to procure a visa before entering the country, some countries, like Kenya, require that you purchase a visa upon arrival.

Another regulation that you need to keep in mind when travelling in Africa is your Yellow Card. When travelling into or from a country where yellow fever can be contracted, you need to have been vaccinated and display the certificate of vaccination when asked for it. This is a precautionary measure that protects you, the traveller, as well as the people of the country from possible infection.

Make sure that you check with your operator to find out about any other regulations that you may need to be aware of. 


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