Safari travel in Africa is exciting, awe-inspiring, beautiful and WILD! With this in mind, it is important to know the facts surrounding your safety while travelling. Here, we give you a brief overview of what to expect, how to prepare, what to look out for, and how to behave in both the bush and urban areas in Africa.
Before You Leave
Many of the health and safety concerns of travellers to Africa can be allayed by good pre-trip planning. Being prepared will leave you free to enjoy a carefree, happy holiday under the vast and beautiful African sky.
Many parts of Africa are malarial. Speak to your local travel clinic to find out if the areas you’ll be visiting are malarial. Malaria is a serious (and potentially fatal, if not treated quickly) disease, so malaria pills are recommended in high risk areas. Doxycycline, mefloquine or Malanil® are effective for most malaria areas in Africa. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist to establish which is most suitable for you.
The main way of preventing malaria is to not get bitten by mosquitoes. Non-drug measures such as sleeping under mosquito nets, wearing long sleeves and long pants between dusk and dawn and using insect repellent are essential.
Depending on the areas you’ll be travelling to, some vaccines, such as Yellow Fever and hepatitis vaccines may be compulsory or recommended. Again, consult a travel clinic about what you need and be sure to have the certificates (and copies) with you.
HIV and AIDS are rife in Africa. Please be aware of this. Condoms are freely available at shops and pharmacies, but bring your own too.
Medical Travel Insurance
Each traveller is responsible for obtaining their own Medical Travel Insurance. This should have the option of medical evacuation (by air) as many regions visited are far from reliable medical facilities.
First Aid Kit/Medications
While most safari vehicles and accommodations have their own basic First Aid Kit, it is advisable for you to bring your own, with any medications you take chronically (with prescription). Medicine supply in some parts of Africa may not be all that reliable. Ask your local travel clinic for advice on what the kit should contain.
Game Viewing Safety in the Bush
People often forget, when watching African wildlife in their natural habitat, looking all serene and lovely, that these animals are wild. While many of them have become used to the presence of safari vehicles, they are not used to humans and still see us as a potential threat.
Following a few, simple, rules of the bush will keep you and the animals safe and ensure a fantastic experience while on safari. Please remember that your guide is experienced and knowledgeable. Obey his or her instructions at ALL times.
Rules On A Game Drive
- Quiet! While the animals have become accustomed to the sound of the vehicle, human noise will disturb them, either making them run away, or get angry. If you need to communicate at all, do so in a whisper.
- In most reserves, animals have become habituated to the vehicles used – and their shape. Do not stand up or dangle arms or legs out of the vehicle, as this will frighten the animals and may result in them retreating or attacking.
- Watch out for low-hanging branches or those that are close to the sides of the vehicle. Trees in Africa tend to be thorny! Again, a good reason not to dangle arms or legs over the sides of the vehicle.
- Never try to interfere – in any way – with the animals you encounter. This includes trying to change their behaviour or position for a good photo shot and feeding them. The feeding of wild animals is absolutely prohibited for both yours and the animals' safety.
- No smoking on the safari vehicle. It is a fire hazard in the dry African bush and may affect the animals.
- Drink only water and preferably don’t eat while on a game drive. Sweet drinks lure stinging insects to the vehicle and snacks come with packaging. Litter is a no-no.
- Be prepared. The African climate is known for its extremes and fickleness. When going on a game drive in an open vehicle, take hats, sunscreen and a warm top, to ensure your comfort, regardless of weather conditions.
Walking Safari Safety
- Never go on a walking safari without a guide. The guides are trained and knowledgeable on the do’s and don’ts of the bush. They will not only ensure that you get the most out of your safari, but also keep you safe. Obey any instructions they give at all times.
- Avoid bright colours. Khaki, greens and browns are the best colours to wear so that you remain camouflaged.
- Walk in single file, an arm’s length away from each other.
- Never, ever, run. An animal that sees a creature running will presume that you are prey, or are dangerous, and may try to attack you.
- Never underestimate the speed at which wild animals can run. While hippos and crocs look sedately lazy, they can attack at high speed.
- Quiet! Human noise will disturb the animals, either making them run away, or get angry. If you need to communicate at all, do so in a whisper.
- Do not smoke, eat or drink anything other than water.
- Never try to interfere – in any way – with the animals you encounter. This includes trying to change their behaviour or position for a good photo shot and feeding them. The feeding of wild animals is absolutely prohibited for both yours and the animal’s safety.
- Do not pick any flowers or plants.
While many of Africa’s larger cities are infamous for high crime levels, following a few, simple, rules will ensure that your trip is happy and incident-free!
- On arrival, do not be harassed by taxi drivers/tour sellers/guides as you leave the airport building. Keep your luggage close to you. Registered taxis will be obvious.
- Keep valuables hidden, always. Avoid flashing expensive jewellery, cash or cameras.
- If there is a safe in your room where you’re staying, leave valuables such as passports and extra cash safely locked up there. If you have to carry them on you, carry them in a pouch, close to your skin, under your clothes.
- Do not walk in unsafe areas at night and never alone. Speak to the staff at your hotel/guesthouse/B&B about which areas are unsafe. If you’re unsure, don’t take the risk. Taxis and hotel transport are available in all urban areas.
- Do not walk alone (or in groups) in deserted areas such as the CBD at night, city parks or desolate beaches.
- Always look like you know where you’re going. ‘Lost tourists’ tend to be a target for petty criminals. If you are lost, go into a shop to ask directions. Africa is filled with happy, friendly people who are more-than-willing to point you in the right direction.
- When in a car, always lock all doors and keep valuables out of sight or, even better, locked in the boot.
- Do not accept help from anybody when making withdrawals at an ATM or when doing anything to do with foreign exchange or money.
- When paying by credit card, do not let your card out of your sight. Credit card fraud is becoming more common.
Safety In East Africa
Travel to the spectacular landscapes of East Africa is extremely popular and the points listed above apply to safety in the urban areas of East Africa equally.
Political turmoil may also be a concern, especially in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, some parts of Western Tanzania and northern Kenya. Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents are difficult to foresee, so our advice is always to discuss these issues with your booking agent or operator before booking and again before embarking on a trip, to assess the current political situation.
Our clients’ safety is foremost and should any dangerous situation arise while on a trip, every precaution and action possible will be taken to protect you and get us away from potential danger.
Should you have booked a trip and the potential for danger arises in any of the destinations, the itinerary will be altered or the trip cancelled, whichever is the safest.
Driving and road conditions differ broadly depending on the country you’re driving in. South African road conditions (on major routes) are relatively good and well maintained, but conditions deteriorate as you move into the countries further up Africa.
Carefully consider choosing the self-drive option as it may add extra, unnecessary stress to your African holiday. Find out about road conditions in the area you’re visiting before choosing your vehicle. Some areas may require a 4X4.
Some points to make your self-drive safari pleasant:
- Familiarise yourself with the local rules of the road before starting out on your journey. Most importantly – we drive on the left-hand side of the road in Africa i.e. keep left, pass right.
- Always travel with a map and a working mobile phone.
- Be prepared. Distances between towns, and petrol stations, can be vast, so check your map and fill your car up regularly!
- Try to avoid driving at night. Many of the vehicles on African roads are in disrepair and may have only one headlight (or none)! Also, animals often cross the roads.
- Be aware of children, pedestrians and animals crossing the roads. In many areas cattle, sheep and goats roam free and cross the roads at will.
- Potholes are a big issue in Africa, especially further north. Driving slowly is essential.
- Always lock all your doors (most South African cars automatically lock as you drive off) and keep valuables out of sight, preferably locked in the boot.
- Do not stop for hitchhikers or stop to help people on the side of the road. Criminals have been known to pretend to need help.
- Stop and rest often. Distances are long and fatigue is a major cause of accidents.
- Be aware of the fact that many of the drivers on Africa’s roads do not necessarily follow the road rules, so drive cautiously, always.
Most importantly, enjoy your trip! Give yourself plenty of time to stop and enjoy the spectacular vistas of Africa! Many of the small towns are filled with interesting people and places.