I have visited Africa three separate times. I think it is safe to say that I am hooked on the continent. My first visit was for almost three months from June to August 1998. On that trip, I visited Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. Aside from many traditional safaris in the game parks, I did a canoe safari and white water rafting on the Zambezi River and I also attempted (unsuccessfully) to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
On my third trip, I spent a month in South Africa and Namibia. This visit included (among many other fascinating experiences) the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, where I had a chance to visit the Himba and Herero peoples, and an opportunity to dive (in a cage) with South Africa's great white sharks.
Credit Cards: Except in large establishments in the large cities (such as hotels in Nairobi or Cape Town), I found that the American Express card was not very widely accepted. Many more places accepted VISA (I didn't use a MasterCard, so I can't offer any guidance there). Many of the camps out in the bush, however, prefer cash or, at best, travelers checks. Also, the guides naturally prefer to receive tips in cash. Many places in Africa are a long way from the nearest bank so cash is preferred. U.S. dollars are usually acceptable.
Travelers Checks: Carrying a good portion of your funds in travelers checks is always a good idea. American Express travelers checks were widely accepted. While in Africa I also saw quite a few Barclay's Banks, so I would imagine their travelers checks are accepted in most places as well (but I had no personal experience with them).
Clothing: Laundry service in most of the camps was excellent and very quick (laundry left in the morning was usually ready that evening). It is not necessary to take a lot of extra clothes. On safari, neutral colors are best (tans and olive greens – you know, regular safari colors). Blacks and whites are discouraged. These colors stand out prominently in most animals' vision so you are more likely to be spotted and perhaps spook the animal. Mornings during June through September (the southern winter) can be quite cold (in the 30s Fahrenheit; near zero Celsius). Once the sun is up, the day warms up very quickly and a T-shirt was usually enough.
Copies of Important Documents: It is a good idea to keep photocopies of important items, such as your passport's main page, any visas, airline tickets, travelers check receipts, travel vouchers and addresses of hotels and local travel contacts (the people in Africa that are actually responsible for you). These copies should be kept somewhere separate from the originals. Such copies can be very useful in the event the originals are lost or stolen.
Crime: I had no problems with crime during the entire eleven weeks I was in Africa. The only incident I heard about was that a fellow in one of the groups had a gold chain snatched from his neck while walking the streets in Nairobi. I never experienced or heard about any thefts in any of the camps, even though many people had rather expensive photographic equipment, binoculars and other items. Nevertheless, it is never wise to tempt fate. Many parts of Africa are very poor and a relatively modest SLR camera could exceed a year's pay for many people. It is a good idea to check with local people (a guide or hotel personnel) before venturing out into a city, especially at night (in Nairobi, for example, the hotel insisted that we take a taxi to a restaurant that was only a few blocks away).
Binoculars: Don't leave home without them! In fact, each member of your party should have their own pair – you will miss too much of the action if you have to pass one pair of binoculars around.
All three of my trips to Africa (except for two weeks of the 1998 trip) were organized by Mark W. Nolting and The Africa Adventure Company. Mark, and the other people at his company, are extremely knowledgeable and a joy to work with. They have always been very conscientious about doing what they said they were going to do and getting back to me when they promised. Mark and others in his firm have been to Africa many times and are able to offer advice based on firsthand experience. Mark has also written a book – listed below – that I found to be especially helpful in my planning. Mark and his company get my highest recommendation and when it comes time for my next trip to Africa, they will be the first ones I call.
The address and contact information are:
The Africa Adventure Company
5353 North Federal Highway; Suite 300
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308 USA
Telephone:(800) 882-9453 or (954) 491-8877
State Department Warnings: It is a good idea to check with the U.S. State Department to see if there are any travel advisories relating to the area you plan to visit. This is particularly true if you are planning to visit Zimbabwe, which has experienced a great deal of turmoil lately.
Center for Disease Control: The CDC offers a lot of information about recommended (and mandatory) vaccines, various diseases that are prevalent in certain areas and other useful medical information. A visit to their web site is highly recommended.
Currency Conversion: It is not really necessary to change currency before leaving for Africa. In addition, once you are there, change currency in small batches only as you need to. Once you leave a country, you may not be able to change that currency back into dollars or even into the currency of the new country (in Kenya, for example, I could not change Zimbabwe dollars into Kenyan schillings or into U.S. dollars). You can check the latest exchange rates at OANDA 164 Currencies Converter.
Passport/Visas: As of my visit in 1998, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia required Americans to have a valid visa as well as a passport. Botswana and Zimbabwe only required a valid passport (many countries require that the passport be valid for at least six months from the date of entry into the country). The visas ranged in price from $25 to $45. If you don't live near a consulate or embassy, you might want to use a service to obtain the visas for you (I don't like the idea of sending my passport through the mail to various embassies, plus it is a very slow process if you need more than one visa). I was very satisfied with Zierer Visa Service. I sent my passport to them by Federal Express and they hand carried it to each of the necessary consulates in New York. Their fee as of April 2000 is $38 for each tourist visa (on top of the country's charge, plus the Federal Express cost). If you need several visas, it is not a trivial expense. Also, make sure you leave enough time to get the necessary visas. Some consulates are slower than others.