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We have been planning an African trip for a long time, but then Covid came, and since we wanted to visit many different countries on our trip, it was easier and less risky to wait until all restrictions had already been removed, and the probability of going to the hospital/doctor was also much lower.
So after Christmas 2022, we grabbed our backpacks and set off for the Great Unknown. Many people have asked if we are not afraid to go on such a complex trip in Africa, don't we think it is too dangerous?
So let's see what you need to know before traveling to Africa.
What you need to know before traveling to Africa
We read a lot about the safety topic and decided not to be swayed by the "Africa is very dangerous" stereotype.
Of course, I am not saying that there are no dangerous countries and places in Africa, because of course there are, unfortunately, but obviously those places were not our main destinations.
Furthermore there are very significant differences within the country, for example in Cape Town there are huge ghettos (townships) just a few kilometers from the luxury of the city center, just like in all other cities... The sense of security is completely different in Cape Town and in Johannesburg though. (In Johannesburg, even during the day, our host waited with us on the street until our Uber arrived, so that we would be safe.)
Unfortunately, buildings and hotels are surrounded by electric fences in many places, and you don't have to be afraid if you meet guards and policemen with machine guns.
Although, it is worth noting that in the evening, after dark (~after 10 p.m.), it is not recommended to leave the accommodation, not even by Uber. We complied with this and of course we were careful even during the day: we didn't wear any valuable, we didn't go to the ghetto area, thus we didn't get into any dangerous situation.
Unfortunately the poverty is huge in South Africa. There are rich and luxury parts as well, but on the other hand there are many townships as well. And the enormous contrast and gap between the poor and the rich is clearly visible.
For tourists there are almost western prices in hotels, restaurants, and also for entrance fees and souvenir shops.
As a result, it is very sad and eye-opening that tourists are accommodated in beautiful places, and a few hundred meters away, the locals live in small dark holes built from mud and bricks, which btw they burn by themselves. (Obviously in rural areas, not in major cities).
Also, it is quite unpleasant that the amount of food served at the accommodation is so huge that you can hardly eat it, and I dare to bet that a few hundred meters away, in many local families, the whole family will have as much food on the table altogether as they serve just for you in the restaurant.
When we observe the villages, the lifestyle, and clothing of the Maasai tribes (local ancient tribe), we might believe that we have went back in time a few hundred or even a thousand years.
So that's why I say the contrast is really huge. But people try to find the good, try to be cheerful and brighten up their everyday life and their work with singing and dancing.
Even small 4-5-year-old children go to pick tea leaves with a large machete in their hands, they crush stones with a small hammers, and I could go on and on. Books could be written about this, but one word is enough: There are very contrasting and very significant differences between the different social strata. The gap is huge!
Our biggest fear during the whole trip was whether we would reach the flight connections and whether our package would arrive. (Although the Rwanda-Uganda border crossing in the middle of the night wasn't our favorite part either... :) )
Fortunately, everything went well with the transfers, but our backpacks didn't arrive with us to Capetown right away, because they didn't have time to put it on the overseas flight during the one-hour transfer in Frankfurt.
By the way, the best offer for us was from Vienna with Ethiopian Airlines: (Vienna --> Frankfurt --> Addis Ababa --> Cape Town) We read bad reviews about Ethiopian Airlines, but all the negatives were refuted by reality. It is a very professional airline and is also a Star Alliance member. In fact, our bags weren’t delayed because of them, but because they couldn't handle it in one hour in Frankfurt. Ethiopian Airlines is one of the largest African airlines and operates many overseas and intra-African flights as well. It's transit base is in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. For example, we changed there 3 times during the entire trip.
What really was a cherry on top that in case of an overnight transfer (arrival in the evening, departure the next morning), free hotel, airport transfer, breakfast and dinner are provided by Ethiopian Airlines. For this, they will give you a voucher when you check in on your flight. I knew it would happen because I researched it, although even if someone doesn't know, about this, they will automatically give you the printed papers at the checkin before the flight, and all you have to do is go to the Ethiopian Airlines transit desk when you arrive in Addis Ababa and they will direct you to the next place. They really take care of everything in a professional way.
What is important is that before the flight at the check-in counter it is worth asking for the luggage to be sent to your final destination, so that you don't even have to deal with it in Addis Ababa.
We first received a voucher for a B&B Hotel 15 minutes from the airport, but Ethiopian Airlines has its own 5-star airport hotel (three minutes from the airport) and since it was not full, they upgraded us there. All this absolutely for free.
We were very surprised that we were stopped at the screening before exiting the airport, they didn’t allow us taking our binoculars out of the airport in Ethiopia. We put the binoculars on purpose in our carryon backpack, so that if our big backpacks get lost or delayed again, this way we could still have the binoculars with us on the next safari. We had to leave them at their luggage storage and could only pick them up in the morning before departure.
The insurance caused a little extra work for me. Because with almost all insurance companies, a disqualifying factor for the validity of the insurance is if someone travels to a country which is not recommended for travel by the Consular Service. We had a few of these among our destinations: Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia...
In the end, the only one I found, which confirmed that it was valid, was Aegon's World Traveler insurance.
If you only read one sentence from this section, it should be this: The most important and indispensable accessory for the great memories is that everyone should have their own binoculars!
Don't save on space in your suitcase with this. Better bring fewer T-shirts, or sacrifice something else, but one pair of binoculars per person is a must have. Don't plan to share and take turns watching the animals, because the animals don't wait until you switch, and don't save on this 30 EUR if you've already paid thousands for the trip. Binoculars and sunscreen are the two most important accessories for a safari!
Although it is possible to rent a 4WD safari jeep privately and visit the national parks on your own, this is very fiddly and expensive, especially if it is your first safari experience.
I found the companies with whom we finally booked the trips on www.safaribookings.com.
There are many, many safari providers, and it is worth asking for offers from more than one, because you can still bargain from the price displayed on the website. Also, if you want to change the itinerary compared to what you see on the website, you can also do this by exchanging a few emails (in the case of a private tour).
Well, let's start at the beginning..
What you need to know about safaris in general:
1, Self-organized safaris
I mentioned before that you can organize the whole thing by yourself, but in the case of two people, especially if the available time is limited, I really do not recommend this. It is not worth it for two people, because the daily rental of a safari jeep is around 200 dollars. Also, if you are the driver, you cannot enjoy the safari as much because you have to concentrate on driving, not to mention that you have no experience in spotting wild animals, you cannot keep in touch with the other tour guides on the radio, and of course You also have to take care of all meals and accommodation by yourself…
2, Organized, group vs. private safaris
Group safaris are usually a few hundred dollars cheaper per person, but here the experience depends a lot on what kind of people are in your group. It will be really great if your daily rhythm and your willingness for an early start is similar –> then it's great, but it's also possible that you will have people in your group with completely different attitudes, then it's definitely not the best experience.
That's why I recommend that if someone can afford the extra cost, then do it, you won't regret it, because the tour guide will surely take care of all your wishes and will be completely flexible with the schedule of the day.
3, Organized tours with accommodation in different price categories
If you have already decided whether you are going on a self-organized or a tour operator-organized safari, and whether you are going on a group or private safari, then you have to decide how many days you want to spend in which national park (in the case of private safaris, the entire itinerary can be completely customized) and then you only have to decide , which price range of accommodation you want.
The cheapest solution is camping. For a tented safari, the company provides the tent, the sleeping bag, and one or two chefs, who take care of breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the trip. Depending on the number of days of the safari, there may be several campsites in the itinerary, in which case you will have to set up the tent, take down the tent, and even pack a week's worth of food every day.
But if your lucky the chef sometimes sets the tent by the time you get back from the game drive. But I will write more details about this and the camping/tenting conditions in the following posts.
More expensive lodge accommodations:
This is clearly less close to nature, but definitely a more comfortable option.
There is a toilet and hot shower here, and you don't have to worry about setting up your tent. Also, there is no chef accompanying you here, because the lodge has breakfast, dinner, and provides a small lunch box as well.
These accommodations are obviously more expensive than the camping version, but there is also a large variance among these. There are also relatively cheap ones, but the sky is the limit.
Of course, the safari experience can be further enhanced if for example in Tanzania, where there are long distances between the national parks, you fly to the Serengeti by small plane, instead of choosing the bumpy dirt roads. But again, this comes at a hefty price.
We managed to get really great tour guides everywhere. We booked with the following companies and I can only recommend them. (this is not a paid advertisement)
Botswana + Zimbabwe:
4 days in the Chobe River National Park + 2 days in Zimbabwe at the Victoria Falls --> we booked through Indigo Safaris, but in reality we only met Kalahari Tours in Botswana and Love Africa on the Zimbabwean side.
6 days: Tarangire, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Materuni with Pofu Holidays
Uganda + Rwanda:
5 days Uganda: Gorilla and chimpanzee trekking + 1 day Rwanda with Pamoja Safaris
Republic of South Africa:
We didn't go on a safari here, instead we visited Cape Town and did a road trip along the southern coast, the so-called Garden Route. You can read the details of which in the next post.
From a Hungarian point of view, safaris are quite expensive, even if we choose the cheapest option, although everything is included in the price (accommodation, travel, tour guide, meals, park entrance fees), except for one thing: the tip of the tour guide (and the chef). This is highlighted at the time of booking, that the recommended tip for the tour guide is a minimum of $10 per person per day. And of course they don't force you to pay it, but as you know that they don't get much from the basic price, and they really put their heart and soul into making your vacation the best, and you also see during the trip that living is not as cheap as you might have thought, you will obviously want to reward and tip the tour guide. So when organizing the trip, it is definitely advisable to calculate the extra tips on top of the base price of the tour.
Why do people go on safari? - To see as many animals as possible and to feel a bit like they have been dropped into The Lion King.
If you read up anywhere, you will definitely come across two terms that you might not have known before.
1, Game drive: this is basically animal viewing from the safari jeep, when you drive on designated roads in the national park in search of wild animals.
2, Big Five: These are the African Big Five, the five animal species which you want to see and tick off your bucket list. If you talk to someone (who has been on a safari before), the question definitely arises, did you see the Big 5?
And the Big 5 includes the following animals: lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo. Many people get confused and thinks that the giraffe, or the hippopotamus, or perhaps the cheetah is part of the Big 5. But the Big 5 weren't named for their size. The origin of the name is sadder, it is because these five animal species were the most hunted ones for their fur or tusks or horns, which are sold as trophies or furs for enormous amounts of money. Unfortunately, this is not just a historical issue. Unfortunately even today, poaching is a very big problem and danger, and many animal species, such as the rhinoceros, are threatened with extinction because of this.
Vaccination, Malaria medicine:
If someone travels to Africa, vaccination against yellow fever is mandatory in most countries, but it was not checked for us, for example.
Also, there are a few other countries where proof of Covid vaccination was still required in the beginning of 2023, and in the absence of that, a Covid test must have been done.
In addition, there were no other mandatory vaccinations (in the countries we went to), but there are still recommended ones, e.g. Hepatitis. But I recommend everyone to check the country-specific vaccination requirements before traveling to see which vaccinations are mandatory and which are recommended - for this I recommend the official website of the Consular Service or the Vaccination Center. However, if someone has traveled to exotic places before, they most likely already have the necessary vaccinations, but it is highly recommended to check and be aware of the expiry date!
And, of course, make sure to pack your vaccination book with your documents for the trip.
However, vaccination does not provide protection for everything, because there is no vaccine for malaria infection, only medicine can be obtained.
We thought a lot about whether to take it, because it is quite a strong drug. But in the end we decided to do it, because in Uganda and Rwanda the infection rate is very high, and the gorilla and chimpanzee tours take place in the dense rainforest. It is emphasized everywhere that prevention is the most important thing, because medicine does not provide 100% protection either, so it is very important to use mosquito repellent and to wear long-sleeved clothing plus closed shoes and socks.
Of course, when you are there, you will see if there is really a "mosquito invasion" at all , but it is better to arrive prepared.
Actually we hardly encountered any mosquitoes. So it is not certain that I would take the medicine in advance if we would go again, but I would definitely take it with me, because in principle, it also helps if you take it after being bitten, of course in that case you need to take it in a higher dose.
If you want to start in advance then you have to start taking the pills 1-2 days before you arrive in the infected area, and you have to take it for another week after you get home (because the incubation period for the disease is one week). Once a day 1 pill, always about the same time, preferably together with a meal.
However, if someone does not take it as a prevention, then it can be taken in a higher dose even after the sting, in principle it still works to some extent.
The most common malaria drug is Malarone, there are 12 pills in a box and it costs about 45 EUR (2022) and requires a prescription! It's not worth leaving it to the last minute, because it has to be prescribed, and most pharmacies don't have it in stock (because it's so rarely requested), so you have to order it from the pharmacy center, which can take up to 2 days to process.
Many African countries require a visa. But of course everyone should check this before traveling on the website of the Consular Service. Most visas can be requested upon arrival at the airport, but there are countries where you can easily apply online in advance.
A tourist visa to most African countries costs an average of 50 dollars.
Out of the countries we visited:
South Africa and Botswana did not require a visa at all for Hungarians
Applying on arrival in Zimbabwe was very quick and easy
To Tanzania, we tried to request it online in advance, because in principle it is simple and fast, but for me my card payment was denied even though the money was deducted. I then transferred the amount, but I didn't get a response either, so my visa status was still pending upon arrival. Then when I showed them both receipts at the airport, they said sorry, but they didn't receive the money, so I should pay for the 3rd time now with cash. And by the way, the visa is granted very quickly upon arrival, so based on my own experience, I do not recommend that you arrange the visa for Tanzania in advance. It might be fast and smooth 99% of the time, but I just fell into that unfortunate 1%, and if I had opted for the visa on arrival in the first place, it would have been much cheaper, faster and less stressful. (By the way, after 3 months, the price of the 2 unsuccessful visas was credited to my account, but only after I filed a complaint with the bank.)
You also need a visa for Rwanda and Uganda, which again costs 50 dollars each, but there is a visa called East Africa Visa, which costs 100 dollars, in our case it didn't matter financially because normally it is 50 dollar per country, and we visited 2 countries out of the East Africa Visa Alliance, but if someone is going to Kenya as well, it is advisable to get this East Africa Visa, because Kenya is also included and thus at the end it is cheaper (100 dollars instead of 150). Although the price was the same for us for the East African Visa and the 2 separate visas, it was still good for us to arrange this East African one, because we arrived in Rwanda by plane and crossed the Ugandan border by car at night, so we didn't have to worry about the visa at the border, because it was already granted for us with the East African Visa when we landed at the airport, and therefore we were automatically allowed to proceed (of course we had to go through all other regular checks and queuing).
So, "briefly", that's all about the most important tips and general good-to-know information that you should definitely be aware of before traveling to Africa.
Now let's deep dive in the countries that we visited: Republic of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. :)
Karibu Sana, in other words: thank you very much for for reading my posts!