Planning and Preparing for your trip to Africa
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This page covers the following topics:
VISA REQUIREMENTSVisas requirements vary for each African country. There are simply too many to cover these requirements in one shot on this web page. However, we do cover those that pertain to trips we've done, especially since it's probably going to set you back in US Dollars (or in European currencies as the dollar continues to weaken).
Requirements for visitation to Victoria Falls is on a separate page on this website. That page covers Visa requirements for both Zambia and Zimbabwe, which we won't reproduce here.
The rest of requirements are on a case-by-case basis, which are described below.
Tanzania: Generally, you can get your Visa as you arrive at the airport at the passport control/immigration kiosks. The kicker is that if you're a US Citizen, the single-entry Visa fee was $100 USD per person in cash only as of June 2008.
Uganda: Like Tanzania, you have to pay for a Visa as you arrive at passport control/immigration at the airport. This costed us $30 USD per person in cash only as of June 2008.
Kenya: Again, you have to pay for a Visa as you arrive at passport control/immigration at the airport. This costed us $50 USD per person in cash only as of June 2008. Fortunately, if you're connecting directly through Nairobi (i.e. not going through passport control to get to your next flight), then you won't be paying for additional Visas nor for multiple-entry Visas for this purpose.
Egypt: Unlike the East African and Southern African countries, we didn't have to pay for or apply for a Visa when we arrived in Cairo. We just filled out the standard immigration forms, waited in line, showed our passports, and we were on our way.
If you're doing any border crossings by car, I'm sure similar rates apply. I can easily see a road transit between Nairobi, Kenya and Arusha, Tanzania as being a pretty common example. But since we didn't do this during our trip, we can't really say anything more about it.
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VACCINATIONSBecause of the risk of malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, and other mosquito-born illnesses, some countries require you to show proof of vaccination. In some cases, they'll prick you on the spot (which may not be a desirable option considering HIV/AIDS remains a big problem here and you're not sure if the needles are clean). Sometimes if you're coming from these "high risk" areas, there is additional proof that you have to furnish or vaccinations that you have to undergo.
In our experience, we took care of our vaccinations at our own expense prior to traveling. We also brought malaria pills and tried to follow directions as much as possible. We saw postings that Tanzania checked for Yellow Fever Certificates, but they didn't ask us for it when we got there. Unexpectedly, it was Egypt that asked us to furnish the proof (probably since we came from Kenya; they even sprayed the main cabin of the airplane prior to flight!).
Since the vaccination requires change often, your best bet is to do a Google search on the country you're about to visit prior to your trip. It's beyond the scope of this website to delve any deeper into this issue outside our own experiences.
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WHAT TO BRINGIn order to ensure a relatively safe and hassle-free trip (especially considering Africa's tremendously diverse climate regions and plethora of outdoor activities), here are a few things you might want to consider packing for your trip in addition to your basic toiletries and clothes.
- Passport - everyone needs this so this is a no-brainer.
- Comfortable Shoes - the region's outdoor activities revolve range from tropics to mountains to deserts. This works for most situations, but hiking boots may be needed for more rugged pursuits in places such as Patagonia.
- Hat - don't take for granted the dangers of UV radiation especially since the southern parts of Latin America are close to Antarctica and thus the ozone hole. A hat will at least keep your scalp from getting severely burned or increasing the likelihood of developing cancers from radiation exposure. If you're wearing a broad-rimmed hiking hat, it could also help protect your neck, ears, and face.
- Sunscreen - again, given the sun's harmful UV rays, it's a good idea to protect other exposed parts of your skin from sunburn.
- Sunglasses - prevents cataracts or other harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays on your eyes. Better ones can also guard against dust blowing around and getting into your eyes.
- Bug Repellant - this can be controversial because the chemicals contained in these things can be harmful to the environment. However, getting eaten alive by mosquitos is not desirable either (especially if there's always that potential of getting some mosquito-born disease, which is certainly probable in the tropical north). In any case, the most effective repellants contain DEET, but they're smelly and toxic if used excessively. The better way to go environmentally, though not necessarily a comfortable one, is to cover your skin with long sleeves and pants. Probably more relevant in the subtropical north than Patagonian South.
- Layered Clothing - this means wearing multiple layers of jackets, sweats, or shirts and taking them off/on depending on the conditions. This is very important to be able to adapt to the variable weather and climate in the region. It can easily go from freezing cold to scorching hot and back in a day. This will at least protect you from exposure to hypothermia or even heat stroke.
- Rain Coat - this will keep you and your equipment dry for the most part (with a rain poncho covering the pack in addition to the body). Sudden downpours can occur through Latin America and this will at least keep you sane under such conditions (not to mention limit your exposure to hypothermia).
- First-Aid Kit - this often-overlooked necessity allows you to disinfect and close wounds or tape up a sprained ankle. You never know when Murphy's Law strikes and having this kit will at least put you in a situation to deal with the consequences rather than letting circumstances degenerate into something more life-threatening than it has to be.
Some other things worth bringing to enhance your experience include...
- Lots of Memory or Film or Portable Hard Drive - the first and third items are for digital photographers. In any case, you'll be taking heaps of photos and you'll want to make sure you can bring all your photos home
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SAFETYDepending on where you're at in Africa, crime, instability, and even the wildlife you came to see can be a problem. Many areas have high poverty, which increases the likelihood of pickpocketing, muggings, carjackings, and even rape. Do not leave your safari vehicle when in the wild unless you're escorted by an armed ranger. Other advice I can impart is to keep a low profile by not flaunting your expensive camera, showing your money, wearing jewelry, etc. Hotels can help you call a cab to get through the toughest spots (especially at night). If you're exploring on your own, make sure you know where the tourists are in numbers and try to stay away from slums or unfamiliar parts that look sketchy. A money pouch is good for concealing money as are TSA locks if you have to leave stuff in your accommodation while out during the day.
It's quite common to be approached by locals trying to sell you stuff. This can get annoying, but you have to understand the immense poverty afflicting many parts of the continent. Still, be vigilant about pickpockets and distractions knowing these circumstances.
Finally, nature is inherently dangerous and unforgiving, and since much of Africa's nature is dominated by wildlife in the reserves and parks (something we're not all that used to in more developed nations), you need to be cognizant of these dangers. Below is a list of things you need to be aware of to stay safe in the outdoors...
- Hypothermia - given the amount of high elevation adventures or desert extremes, the danger is very real. Always pay attention to the weather reports before undertaking any tramp that exposes you to the elements. Bring a rain coat to avoid getting wet and losing heat that way.
- Heat Exhaustion/Stroke - significant regions of Africa are desert, and the heat is something to contend with. Indeed, follow the locals advice about drinking hot tea (even when it's hot), staying in the shade, and limiting activities to the early morning and late afternoons. In the more humid regions, you might want to wear a long-sleeved shirt (to guard against sun burn and insects) with vents.
- Poisonous Wildlife - There are poisonous organisms like snakes in Africa (the black mambo is one of the most feared, but there are also vipers and cobras as well). You need not be paranoid of being in the same habitat as some of these creatures if you respect them and keep to the tracks with proper equipment (watch out if you've got sandals because you don't want to accidentally step on one with open-toe shoes).
- Big Game Wildlife - Never leave the safari vehicle in the wild unless you're accompanied by an armed guard. Also, don't antagonize or feed the wildlife because they're unpredictable and you don't stand a chance against them if you were to be charged or attacked. Common sense is key here in minimizing the likelihood of getting killed.
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CURRENCYAfrica encompasses numerous countries each with their own currency. Naturally, we'll confine these countries only to those we've visited for our waterfalling purposes.
While some of this information is already in existence for Victoria Falls, it bears repeating here.
One of the most surprising aspects of our visit to Africa is that the US Dollar was accepted almost everywhere we went except for the most rural parts of Zambia and Uganda. In fact, many businesses gave prices in US Dollars. Even with that said, you can't assume the dollar is accepted everywhere (especially if some parts are off the beaten path) so it helps to do some currency exchange into the local notes.
Zambia: The currency is the Kwacha. As of the end of May 2008, $1 USD buys around 3400 Kwachas. Even though the US Dollar had fallen quite a bit to this point, many services, food, and commodities were still quite reasonable. Similarly, accommodations are reasonably priced (maybe a bit cheaper) as well relative to what you can buy in the US, but don't expect the same amenities.
Tanzania: The currency is the Tanzanian Shilling (Tsh). As of the end of May 2008, $1 USD buys about 1300 Tsh. Generally, food and souvenirs are pretty reasonably priced compared to comparable purchases in the US, but there is some two-tiered pricing going on where tourists pay much more than the locals for the same thing. Changing money back and forth from Tsh to Dollars and back is generally not a problem (though you will lose in the exchange each time).
Uganda: The currency is the Ugandan Shilling (USh). As of the end of May 2008, $1 USD buys around 1500 Ush. Like Zambia, many services, food, and commodities were reasonably priced (except for the more built-up touristy businesses). Changing money back and forth from Ush to Dollars and back is generally not a problem (though you will lose in the exchange each time).
Kenya: The currency is the Kenyan Shilling (Ksh). As of the end of May 2008, $1 USD buys around 5.35 Ksh. I'd say food and curios cost a bit more here, but if you're on an organized safari, chances are you'll be eating at a Serena Lodge where it's mostly western food and the price is included in the overall cost of the safari. Changing money back and forth from Ksh to Dollars and back is generally not a problem (though you will lose in the exchange each time).
Egypt: The currency is the Egyptian Pound (L.E.). As of the end of June 2008, $1 USD buys around 5.35 L.E. Like Kenya, I'd say food and curios cost a bit more here than other African countries and are probably in line with what we'd expect to pay back home. Changing money back and forth from L.E. to Dollars and back is generally not a problem (though you will lose in the exchange each time).
Finally, we'll add more African countries with currencies as we go along and visit more waterfalls. But this page is by no means complete and will grow over time.
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LENGTH OF VISITHow much time should you spend in Africa?
The real question should be how much time should you spend in each country? Even that's a pretty vague question. So I've compiled a list below for length of stay of each leg of our time in Africa to give you an idea of what might be considered sufficient for your needs. Realize that we tend to be pretty ambitious in our natural endeavors while mixing in some culture and city scenery so the blogs we have and info we provide corresponding to the durations listed below are merely guidelines. You may want to go at a slower pace or you might think we didn't cram enough stuff into our own itineraries.
- Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe) - 4 days, 3 nights including the travel days and a half-day on the Zim side.
- Zambia - 10 days, 9 nights visiting the Luapula, Northern, and Central Provinces in search of waterfalls
- Tanzania - 8 days, 7 nights on a cookie-cutter safari focused on wildlife
- Uganda - 5 days, 4 nights on a whirlwind Murchison Falls and Sipi Falls custom itinerary
- Kenya - 8 days, 7 nights on a cookie-cutter safari focused on wildlife with one waterfall stop at Thomson's Falls
- Egypt - 8 days, 8 nights on two different organized tours (one for Cairo/Giza and the other for the Nile Valley from Luxor to Aswan)
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