Travel Information for Eastern & Southern Africa
The following is from our years of traveling in Africa, with input from our friends and clients. These notes should help simplify your packing, and give you information, which I hope will make your trip even more pleasurable. An African experience is the most exciting and memorable trip you will ever take.
WEATHER AND CLOTHING
East Africa is on the equator, and thus has no seasons. Its driest and warmest period is from December through March. Here you will be mainly at high altitude, (Nairobi is 5,500 feet above sea level), enjoying dry heat up to 80F during the days and crisp, under a blanket, cool nights. As you go further south in Africa, you encounter seasons – in the reverse of the Northern hemisphere. Southern Africa in the winter can be cold in the mornings and evenings – as low as the mid 30’s, then warming up nicely as the day goes on!
The best method of dress is layering. Early morning and evening game runs call for a sweater / fleece or windbreaker over a cotton long sleeved shirt over a T-shirt or short sleeved cotton shirt for midday. Hats are a must, for the sun, particularly at the equator, is hot and glaring. Cotton trousers, khakis or shorts, sneakers or comfortable “hiking” shoes are recommended. You will do quite a lot of walking, should you wish, so light weight hiking boots are advisable. Evenings are cool around the campfire, and casual, as is all bush dress. A fleece with a lightweight wool turtleneck and long khakis are perfect for the coolest of evenings. Safari style jackets are still acceptable. In the USA, stores such as Abercrombie and Fitch, Banana Republic stores, their catalogue, and Gap, have everything you can possibly want in the safari line. Their convertible pants and a vest with lots of pockets are useful. The Ex Officio line of clothing has recently become popular and is lightweight and easily washable. Be sure all clothing you take is washable; daily laundry is available everywhere you will go – but beware – it may well be hand washed, beaten on a rock, scrubbed and sun dried! Also check on how they may be ironed, as the modern parachute type fabrics don’t take kindly to charcoal irons!
On the coast (Lamu, Kiwayu, Zanzibar, Mozambique) or northern Kenya desert areas, and in Southern Africa during warmer months, you will need a bathing suit, sandals, cotton shorts, pants or culottes and T-shirts during the day. A “kanga” or “kikoi” (local pareos for ladies and wrap around skirts for the gentlemen) with an open neck shirt or crew neck sweater is de rigueur safari eveningwear.
For evenings in the major cities, unless you plan a formal evening out, (Rovos Rail) casual is also the name of the game. For the girls, a travel dress, and separates with a wrap / pashmina. Nan Rees says, “I carry two silk blouses, a light weight wool turtleneck, one pair of light weight wool black pants and a shawl; plus one cotton dress or skirt and blouse for “dressier” day wear. Otherwise, I am in my bush khakis, cotton shirts and sneakers”. You may prefer to be even more casual!
You will not need large quantities of clothes, as there is daily laundry service everywhere you have time. So, pack light!! One laundry tip: ladies must do their own “smalls” because men are the laundry people; and washing ladies underwear jeopardizes their dignity! Carry some Woolite, hang up clothes pins and perhaps a blow up hanger.
TIME, TIMINGS and COMMUNICATIONS
East African local time is G.M.T + 3, Southern African GMT + 2; that means 11 / 10 hours ahead of Pacific, and 8 / 7 hours ahead of East coast times. If you only have a short total time away from home, maximize your time in Africa. However, with a total of up to16 hours of flying to get there, we often recommend a couple of day’s stopover in Europe to catch up. Some airfares allow this at no extra cost.
The wildlife is at its most active in the early morning and evening, so expect some early starts! Much of the game rests during the heat of the day, you can do also! Midday reading in the quiet of your world is bliss.
About three weeks before you leave, we will send you a “departure letter” containing all your contact points, and how family, friends, and if necessary, secretaries can reach you! Some people rent satellite phones – but remember, we hope you are taking a holiday!! Once outside the cities, telephones are in short supply, but everywhere you stay has a radio link, so messages can reach you, and vice versa. Most camps have satellite phones for emergency use.
Bring two pairs of dark glasses (the extra in case of loss), and of course your prescription glasses if you need them. There is power in most camps these days..but sometimes not in the “mobile tents”; though even these will have the capacity to charge equipment.
Sunscreen, min 15 SPF, and moisturizer are a must in the African sunshine. Watch the face, neck, arms and the backs of your legs when in shorts!
Every person should have their own binoculars. You will not want to pass them back and forth when the action starts, or a special bird is sighted. Binoculars do not have to be expensive, but you will get more enjoyment from a better pair. Get a “light gathering” and a “wide field” type. I recommend something close to 10 x 40 – technology, size and weight is improving all the time, as prices come down. I use Steiner 12 x 30.
A flashlight or headlamp is good to have for locating anything on your night table in a tent after you have put out your lights. At the homes and lodges, power is normally supplied by a generator, which is switched off at around 11 pm. – or whenever the party finishes! We suggest the mini Magna flashlight (small with a high beam). Most tents now have bathroom facilities built into the back of them.
Electric appliances can be used in most African hotels, lodges and private homes, with the correct transformer and plug adapters (220 AC, 50 cycle). These travel adapters can be easily found at most airports or you can tryhttp://www.powercords.co.uk/home.htm. Kenya Uganda and Tanzania all use the British standard. Purchasing these adapters will allow you to run most applicances, and video and camera battery charging.
Hair dryers – Always ask before using yours.. some generators cannot bear the load! There is a battery operated hair dryer available at Hammacher Schlemmer in New York, but most use “sun power”!
Other small items to consider: Moisturizer, small packets of Kleenex and Wet Ones, lip balm, insect repellent, face soap, shaving stuff, large zip lock plastic bags to keep cameras dust free on the game runs, hard candy for “dry mouth” syndrome, plus a dust mask for those with allergies or the unwanted head cold. Leave your jewelry at home. A plastic watch is all you really need!
Please travel as lightly as possible – there is laundry available everywhere you have time. Use soft duffel bags since the planes are small, and suitcases do not fit easily. The problem is often volume as much as weight. The nylon duffel is light and sturdy. (Eddie Bauer / LL Bean Medium Size) You wont need wheels – as there are people to carry your stuff everywhere but should you want them. A good rule of thumb is a bag no larger than 11″H x 23″W x 11″D.
Have a look at a bag that will fit – Rolling Adventure Duffle.
The weight limit is 15kg / 30lbs max per person. With some forward planning, even the girls should be able to make that, especially since you won’t be needing the tiara!! Please note: Youmay have to pay for a larger plane if your bags don’t fit! These photos should speak for themselves!
A camera case with enough pockets will become attached to you – some people use a daypack. Choose one that carries EVERYTHING you need in the Land Rover for your day activities.
In some cases, where severe weight limits exist; we can arrange storage for items not needed on certain legs of your trip. However, please remember that often the logistics of your safari do not make that easy, and you may have to pay to have it catch up with you.
GENERAL LIST OF CLOTHING
- 2 pairs of khaki shorts.
- 2 pairs of khaki pants – convertibles work well.
- 1 khaki safari jacket. (Camouflage is not allowed)
- 1 bathing suit.
- 1 warm sweater or sweatshirt.
- 1 long sleeved fleece or waterproof wind breaker.
- 1 light wool turtleneck sweater.
- 3 long sleeved shirts.
- 3 short sleeved shirts or T shirts.
- 3 sets of underwear.
- 3 pairs of socks.
- 1 pair of sneakers or running /hiking shoes.
- 1 pair of tevas / sandals or rubber flip flops (for streams and showers)
- 2 cotton hats or visors. A bandana.
- 2 kikois or kangas (can often be bought locally)
- Ladies may like to take a sports bra, the roads can be bumpy!
- A water bottle belt is an idea if you plan to walk a lot!
- Toilet kit with moisturizer
You should have at least a 300-millimeter lens with a lens shade for animal shots. An 80 – 300 mm zoom is widely available and recommended, as is a 35 – 90 mm zoom for people and camp shots. Your totally automatic ” point and push” cameras are super for the camp / lodge action, but you may be disappointed with their game photos. Camera buffs will enjoy a motor drive for fast animal action, and a 400mm lens for birds etc. Don’t forget spare camera batteries, storage memory cards, some of them use special ones, and lens cleaners, and possibly a monopod.
The majority of cameras these days are digital. If you are buying a new camera especially for the trip, dont forget to have several practice sessions with it so that you are ready when the game action arrives! Click here for more information. For those of you still using film, Kodak Ektachrome E 100G or S or Velvia 100 give the best color in slide reproductions, while 200 ASA is best for prints. 400 ASA may be necessary for early morning and late evening shots, and these days even higher speed film gives excellent quality. A neutral density or polarizing filter is helpful in the glare of the African sun, both for your still and video cameras. Bring plenty of film. It is expensive in Africa and the type you want is not always available. As for airport x ray machines, hand carry your film, and ask to have it inspected.
Use a camera bag for all accessories and ease in the Land Rover. If you are unfamiliar with cameras and how much good photographs can enhance the memories of such a unique trip, you might like to take advantage of a few hours of tuition from a professional photographer – it is worth its weight in gold! On the East coast contact http://www.alisonjonesphoto.com
Be careful not to fall into the trap of seeing your whole trip through a camera lens – step back occasionally, and soak up the vastness and majesty of Africa!
IMMUNIZATIONS ANDMEDICAL KIT
We cannot advise you on this – please consult your own health practitioner. Also you can get advice at your hometown Health Department, (Here in Salt Lake 610S 200E – tel 801 468 2750, (cheaper), or the University of Utah travel center). The very latest current information on immunization and malaria prevention is available straight from the CDC in Atlanta; Another excellent website to look up overseas health matters ishttp://www.masta.org/ but please refer all your concerns to your adviser.
Contrary to what most people imagine, you will find very few bugs and mosquitoes in most areas, and the quality and cleanliness of the places you will stay at, and eat at, is excellent!
Apart from frightening you half to death, these are some of the things you will hear! :
- Cholera is unnecessary, as the vaccine is ineffective.
- Yellow fever is required in a few countries. One shot at least ten days before you go. Valid for 10 years.
- Immune globulin is a good idea, but not required, against hepatitis. Haverix – long-term protection – is readily available.
- A Tetanus and diphtheria booster is a good idea, if you have not had one in ten years.
- One shot of Menomune (Connaught labs) for meningitis is a good idea, but not required.
- Malaria – Malarone, a relatively new non-toxic drug, rather expensive, was approved by the F.D.A. in 2000. This only needs to be taken for the duration of the trip. Some doctors are still recommending Lariam – 250 Mg (Mefloquin) – once a week for the two weeks before you go, and for 4 weeks after return. Many people have experienced various, generally harmless, side effects to this drug, so I strongly recommend you challenge them about this. In the U.S.A. you need a prescription for these drugs.
Malaria exists throughout Africa, although inland you will probably see very few mosquitoes, perfume attracts them after dark. Probably the best method of protection is to cover up after dark and use a repellent. It is a serious business, so if you get what seems to be flu, even up to three months after your return, you must tell your doctor that you have been in a malarial area. Regular travelers keep their yellow fever and smallpox vaccinations up to date as a wise precaution, and a guarantee of “no hassle” entry to any third world country, and also maintain tetanus and typhoid shots.
Insect repellent. Contrary to ones preconceptions, you will actually experience very few bugs in Africa. Much has been written on Deet(diethylemetalolumaide). The general feeling amongst outdoor enthusiasts is that the best shield remains an application of a Deet- based repellent on the skin. For broader protection, a secondary step can be treatment of clothing with a permethrin-based spray. Deet presents some possible, albeit very low health risk in itself, but it remains the most effective repellent chemical since it was developed a half century ago. Public health authorities recommend repellents with no more than a 30% concentration of Deet for adults.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently has changed its recommendations to support the use of 30 % Deet products on children older than two months. Younger infants should not be treated with any Deet repellents. Deet in heavier concentrations doesn’t repel bugs better, but rather does it longer. Recent tests – by the New England Journal of Medicine – found that a repellent with 23.8 % Deet held off mosquitoes for more than five hours, while a 20 % Deet blend was good for a little less than four hours. By contrast, a 6.65 % Deet mix repelled for less than two hours, and a 4.75 % concentration worked only a little less than an hour and a half. Non-Deet repellents generally fell short of these.
Permethrin compounds, sold as tick repellents, effectively kill ticks and bugs on contact where they have been used to treat clothing. The sprays aren’t for use on skin, but rather they should be sprayed on clothing and allowed to dry. The resulting protection bonded to the clothing fibers is good for up to three weeks, even lasting through a couple of launderings. A one-two punch of Deet on exposed skin and permethrin on clothing is the outdoors enthusiast’s best bet to knock out the annoyance and risk of blood-feeding pestilence.
Other items to include in your medical kit: A tube of steroid cream for those allergic to insect bites, an anti histamine, Lomotil, Tetracycline, and an anti biotic such as Bactrim or Septra. If you are prone to jet lag, you may need help to acclimate you to the 6,000 feet of Kenya for the first couple of nights. Melatonin works well for me. Do not worry about medical emergencies, since you are never out of reach of the Flying Doctors of East Africa, or similar in Southern Africa. South Africa, as many of you may know, hosts some of the best medical facilities in the world. Blood, surprisingly, is very well screened in Africa.
Evidence exists to suggest that it is NOT a good idea to have all your shots at once. Again, consult your doctor.
CURRENCY, SHOPPING AND DINING
The cities have plenty to buy, and your Visa and MasterCard are readily accepted in all the better shops and restaurants. Also many of the remote lodges and homes have their own small shops. In Kenya, all animal skin or bone articles are forbidden unless proven to be antique. Elsewhere you can obtain these things, but it is illegal to bring these back into the USA. Beware of plastic ivory and elephant hair bracelets sold by street vendors. Many good African artifacts are available and modern “cottage” industry basketry, soapstone and jewelry are not only interesting, but some are also very good quality and value. There are several excellent artists and sculptors that we can introduce you to. Bring some travelers checks – in small denominations – to change into the local currency, for small items and tips. Also bring a couple of hundred dollars in small bills to exchange. Dollars are accepted in most places these days, though in remote Southern Ethiopia for example, they see it as monopoly money! Exchange rates vary, as in all third world countries! Bartering for jeans, tee shirts etc. is not generally encouraged. The people need the money. Your guides and drivers will all speak English, and the local dialects.
Your hosts and guides all will have ideas for shopping should you wish, and have time before your departure from the cities. For example, suggested Stores and Galleries in Nairobi: African Heritage (excellent artifacts), Spinners Web, Watatu Galleries (Paintings and sculptures), Abdul Bin Abdullah (Fabrics, kikois, and kangas). Nairobi’s open markets. (A Colorful and marvelous selection of carvings, beadwork and the inexpensive “kikapu” basket totebags that sell for three times the price back in the USA.
For more upmarket items, there are bronze galleries, located in Langata, not far from Giraffe Manor and Karen Blixen’s museum, and Africa Adorned in Karen. For something truly unique in apparel, Anna Trzebinski’s boutique is a must. For those with little time scheduled in the cities, artifacts can be bought at very reasonable prices at small towns and villages, and most camps have a small shop.
The food is excellent everywhere, and almost too much of it, it is hard to watch your weight! On safari you will enjoy largely European cuisine. The water is safe to drink in most places, but many people prefer to drink bottled water, which is readily available.
Dining out: There are many excellent restaurants in all the major cities:
In Nairobi: The Carnivore is a great favorite with visitors. Others are Tamarind – seafood, Misono – Japanese, Haandi – Indian, Salumaria – Italian and in Karen the Talisman – various.
In the Cape Town area we recommend, on the V&A Waterfront, Docks, One Waterfront in the Cape Grace Hotel, Bihia and Green Dolphin, which features jazz with dinner. In Camp Bay, Blues and Villamoura. Cape Colony in the Mount Nelson Hotel, and Blue Danube on Old Table Mountain Road.
In Johannesburg: Moyo’s (African) in Melrose arch, Villamora – Sandton Sun, Montego Bay, Butcher Shop and Grille in Sandton Square (now called Mandela Square) and Blues Room for Jazz with dinner.
You will, of course, need a current passport, but it is also essential that you have at least one empty page per country you are visiting on your trip and a validity of at least 6 months after the date of travel.
Please plan this well in advance, as the passport offices can be slow!
U.S. passport holders require visas for many countries in Africa – currently Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zaire and Zambia, but not Botswana, Malawi or South Africa. Nowadays it is possible to get most African countries visas upon arrival at their airports, and in all cases now the system seems to be working well. Please advise us if you plan to do this, as this sometimes causes a delay on arrival, and we will advise the driver who is meeting you.
It is Safari Experts company policy to insist that clients take out a basic Travel Insurance. Please visit our FAQs for more information on insurance.
This basic coverage takes care of emergency evacuation and many eventualities i.e. if a flight is late or delayed due to African variances! – it may cost a bit to catch up! You may wish to supplement the coverage they offer with trip cancellation cover as well, which, though expensive, can be very valuable if, at the last minute, your or a relative gets sick, and you cannot travel.
I can send you details of two excellent policies that are widely used by African travel operators from the U.S.A. Please deal with them direct – they both have 800 numbers, with a personal contact, so you can discuss with them eactly what YOU need. (If you have downloaded this information, please call us, and we will mail them to you.) They understand Africa, and do pay!
Safari Njema – If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to call us in Utah – (435) 649-4655 and don’t worry – no question is too silly!
(Last updated January 2010)