South Africa Travel Tips

General Safety Tips

  • If you're on a guided tour, your chances of encountering problems are minimal - tour operators make it their business to know the areas they travel to so you are never at any undue risk.
  • If you're travelling alone, keep up-to-date with local news so you know about potential "hot spots".
  • Get a local perspective - ask someone where you're staying to give you a run-down on any unsafe areas, and codes of dress and behaviour.
  • As with anywhere in the world, when you're in a city err on the side of caution. Don't openly carry valuables. If you must carry your passport and money, keep them in a buttoned-down pocket or well-concealed on your person.
  • Driving in Africa can often be a pretty adventurous undertaking. In many countries, and particularly in rural areas, roads are often poorly maintained and it's not unusual to come across large domestic animals such as sheep and cattle. The best advice: stay alert, use your seatbelts and avoid travelling at night.
  • Avoid deserted areas, particularly at night. If you're in a car, try and park in well-lit populated areas; always keep it locked - even when you're in it; and don't leave valuables where they can be seen.
  • If you're thinking of hitchhiking, you'll need to understand the high risks involved. It is often exciting, always potentially dangerous - particularly in around urban centres or after dark - and isn't advised if safety is a priority.
  • The best advice for security when you travel: simply stay aware of what's going on around you. If you do this, you have a good chance of enjoying a problem-free holiday.

Safety on Safari

  • All reserves have a set of rules that you need to follow to ensure your safety. Many of the animals you'll come across, particularly lion, hippo, elephant and buffalo, are dangerous. Stay in your car and keep a reasonable distance - especially with elephant - in case you need to beat a hasty retreat!
  • Africa has its fair share of poisonous snakes - though they are rarely encountered and, when they are, will more often than not try to get away as quickly as possible. However, if you plan on doing any walking, take along boots, socks and long trousers as a precautionary measure (which also helps with ticks) - and always look where you're going.
  • Avoid swimming in rivers that have hippos and crocodiles.

Weather

Because the weather in Africa is often upredictable - the rains can sometimes be heavy one season, sometimes they can fail altogether - this information is a rough guideline only. You can find more detailed weather information on a particular country under Country Information.

  • Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe - summer rainfall from late October to early April; cool to warm dry sunny winter days from May to early October
  • Lesotho - summer from November to January and winter from May to July, with predominantly summer rainfall from September to April
  • Kenya - summer from December to March and winter from July to September, with long rains from March to May and short rains between November and December
  • Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia - summer from around December to March and winter in Malawi from June to July; in Tanzania from March to May; and in Zambia from April to August. All three countries have long rains from November to April
  • Moçambique - summer from October to March and winter from April to September, with high summer humidity and showers between September and April
  • South Africa - summer from September to April and winter from May to August, with summer rainfall in the north and winter rainfall in the south
  • Swaziland - summer from September to April and winter from May to August, with predominantly summer rainfall.

Health Precautions

Malaria

If you're travelling to a malaria area, you'll need to take the following precautions:

  • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin - recommended repellents contain 20%-35% DEET, and there are a number of brands on the market.
  • Wear long-sleeved clothing and long pants if you're outdoors at night.
  • Use a mosquito net if your tent or room isn't screened or air-conditioned; and spray insecticide or burn a mosquito coil before going to bed.
  • Take the malaria tablets recommended for the region you're travelling to, and keep taking them until the course is complete.
  • British Airways Travel Clinics provide a comprehensive malaria avoidance programme. You can contact them in Johannesburg at +27 11 807 3132, and in Cape Town at +27 21 419 3172.

If you come down with flu-like symptoms either during, or within four to six weeks after, your visit to a malaria area, seek a doctor's advice immediately.

  • Besides malaria, there are other insect-borne diseases such as dengue and sleeping sickness. However, these are less common and using the same precautions as you would against mosquito bites, namely long-sleeved clothes and trousers, repellents and mosquito nets, will help prevent them.
  • In countries where drinking water isn't properly regulated, stick to bottled or boiled water and avoid tap water, water fountains and ice cubes. Ask your travel consultant about the safety of drinking water in the areas you'll be visiting.
  • Use common sense when it comes to food and beverages. If you're unsure of their origin, don't touch them.
  • If you're walking, it's best to wear shoes at all times.
  • AIDS is rife throughout Africa, so if you're planning to have intimate contact with the locals always use condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Avoid handling strange animals, especially monkeys, dogs and cats.
  • Avoid swimming in stagnant water.
  • The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following vaccines. See your doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip to allow time for them to take effect:
  1. Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG)
  2. Hepatitis B if you might be exposed to blood (for example, health-care workers), have sexual contact with the local population, stay longer than 6 months, or be exposed through medical treatment
  3. Rabies, if you come into direct contact with wild or domestic animals
  4. Typhoid, particularly if you are visiting developing countries
  5. Booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria, measles and a one-time dose of polio vaccine for adults, as needed
  6. A yellow fever vaccination certificate may be required for entry into certain African countries, particularly if you are coming from a country in tropical South America or elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, there is no risk for of yellow fever in Southern Africa.

What to Bring

  • If you're going on safari, pack comfortable walking shoes and khaki, brown or beige casual clothes. Long-sleeved shirts and trousers will help protect you against the sun and insect bites. Take a warm jacket for game drives; and, if you're going in summer, make sure it's water-proof.
  • Smart-casual clothes for eveningwear, although a few up-market destinations will expect something more formal - check with your travel consultant if you're not sure.
  • Malaria tablets, insect repellent and (if necessary) a mosquito net (see Malaria above)
  • Sunblock, sunglasses, hat
  • Prescription medications: make sure you have enough to last during your trip, as well as a copy of the prescription(s)
  • Over-the-counter anti-diarrhoea medicine (just in case!) if you think you'll have trouble finding a pharmacy on your trip
  • Visa or MasterCard credit card and/or travellers cheques - Diners and American Express are not always accepted. Keep travel documents in a safe place - many airlines no longer resubmit lost tickets and require a police affidavit if you want to avoid paying the full fare for their replacement.