When someone says the word “Africa”, you probably envision vast wild plains, animals running free and barely any human contact apart from wild men and women living in huts, draped in hunters’ skins and brandishing spears.
And while those places indeed exist, there is a whole lot more that encompasses Africa; roaring waterfalls by 5-star hotels, the finest beaches in the world, homely wooden lodges surrounded by wild ferns and wilder animals, cities pulsating with nightlife, and places of worship beautiful enough to bring you to your knees.
Africa has enough to offer for ten lifetimes, but she is a fickle friend, and when planning your trip to bask in her wonders, it would be in your best interest to always keep a few things in mind that require research and planning before you can travel.
In South Africa alone there are 11 official languages.
In the Congo, there are an estimated 242.
Luckily, most people in larger towns and cities in Africa will be able to hold a conversation in English. In rural villages, however, you might run into a few minor communication difficulties. It is recommended that you find the most popular language of the region you plan to visit and download an offline translation app – I preferably use the Google app
This will allow you to effectively communicate even when there is no Wi-Fi or reception available.
Here are a few basic phrases to learn that will always elicit a smile, a look of appreciation or even the coveted grasping of hands from one of the locals.
Common Phrases for Congo:
- Yes – Ee
- No – Te
- Maybe – Mbala mosusu
- Hello – Mbote.
- How is it going? – Ndenge nini?
- (It’s going) well. – Malamu.
Common Phrases for South Africa:
- Thank you – Dankie – pronounced dunkey
- Thank you very much – Baie dankie – pronounced “Buy a Dunkey”
- Please – Asseblief – pronounced asser-bleef
- Goodbye – Totsiens – pronounced tot-seens
- Hamba Kahle – go well, goodbye; see you ( Kahle is pronounced “kashle”)
- Sawubona – Hello
- Ukudla – food
- Isiphuzo – drink
- Thenga – buy
- Siyabonga – thank you
Common Phrases for the North African Arabic-speaking countries
- Saalam Alekum – General greeting
- Alekum Saalam – response to first greeting
- Shukran – Thank you
- Inshallah – “If God is willing” – a common phrase used when hoping something good will happen in the future
Common Phrases for Swahili (most spoken language in Africa)
- Habari – Hello
- Afya! – cheers! (when toasting during drinks)
- Samahani – Excuse me
The locals are a different kind of magic
You will be stared at, quite a lot, especially if you are an obvious foreigner and it won’t be intended in a disrespectful or malevolent way. The people in African countries are super friendly and insatiably curious, particularly within the rural areas where they don’t experience many foreigners. Any skin other than dark black will be ogled by children and adults alike.
This is also a land where neighbours invite each other over to dinner on a regular basis, where office workers will chat to you like an old friend and where everyone is your brother, sister, uncle or aunt, regardless of your race or heritage. A good piece of advice would be to go with the flow and readily accept your newfound friends and family. Mama Africa’s bosom accepts all!
Most of the countries do not have a set and reliable public travel transport system. Train stations and taxis do exist, but proper research will be needed to ensure you use the safest method to travel from point A to B in a timely fashion.
Make sure you check with the government officials of the country you are heading to going on holiday with regards to reputable travel companies.
Most taxis and informal methods of transportation are negotiable, and haggling is almost expected. Don’t be constantly paying the “foreigner tax” wherever you go!
Try to plan your trips during the day, mainly so you can fully appreciate the wonders of the African countryside, whether it’s the Archipelagos of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania or the Garden route of Cape Town in South Africa… but also for peace of mind in regards to your safety.
Medications and vaccines required
Certain parts of Africa hold a great many wonders for the brave traveller to discover and explore. Unfortunately, there are also risks of sickness in certain regions due to the shifting climates and pathogen-carrying mosquitoes.
In any Mid-African country, you will need to make sure your vaccines are up to date, and that you carry the proper medication on you at all times. The malaria mosquito is no laughing matter, and while most lodges and places to stay for tourists have plenty of amenities to ensure your safety (Bug repellent, mosquito netting for beds etc. etc.) you can never be too careful.
The government websites on these countries will always carry a great deal of information on what to pack, what to bring and what medical precautions should be set in place before your travels. Make sure to go over them carefully.
Travel insurance and valid documents
You might think that Africa is a free-for-all country, where borders don’t truly matter and western ideas like visas and embassy appointments are a silly western concept.
Regrettably, just the opposite is true. Africa has some of the strictest and most thorough border patrol officers in the world. And unfortunately, in some cases, the most corrupt as well.
To circumvent these problems, always make sure you have at least two pages available in your passport, along with a minimum of six months validity and all the proper visas in place.
Some tips to get your sorted out and on your way fast:
- Be well informed and in possession of any and all legal documents required when travelling. You can cross-check what you’ll need via Project Visa which will hold all the info you need.
- Be sure to carry around extra Dollars, Euros and Pounds so you can make exchanges in case something goes wrong with your card (fair warning now; a lot of places don’t accept American Express).
- Approach the entire border-check adventure with a smile and a positive attitude. This helps speed along the process in your mind and will make the guards more likely to want to help you. They can be the difference between and quick and painless process or a stubbornly long wait. And believe me when I say there is no customer complaints office around these parts so don’t try pulling the “Let-me-speak-to-your-manager” card. This will just add to your pile of problems.
Some countries are third-world and it shows
Electricity, running water, Starbucks…these are all the things we take for granted every day. And depending on where you visit in Africa, these can turn into more of a privilege than a right. Learn to take the good with the bad.
Instead of cell phone screens at night, enjoy an array of stars splashed brightly above your head against an inky black canvas. No Wi-Fi? Go chat to the locals or walk around with a tour guide who can tell you more interesting stories of the land than any Wikipedia page.
This is a holiday where you will get to see and experience magical moments like nowhere else on the planet. Creature comforts will always be waiting for you back home – but this is where real adventure awaits you.
In a world made up of artificial lights and busy people, enjoy the moments where you can relax and connect again with the land and the heavens.
The Food – Ranges between delicious and “interesting”
Where you head to in Africa will determine what you will be mostly consuming throughout the day. In Tunisia, it will be hundreds of different types of bread. in Kenya its Ugali and Pilau. And in South Africa its copious amounts of smoked meat and fine wine.
Many places focus primarily on grains and pap, which might not be to everyone’s liking. But there is a myriad of different dishes to try, and your tongue will be going on its own holiday experience that will leave its tiny head whirling.
Meat is quite a staple food in most countries in Africa but there are many vegetarian dishes as well if you know where to look. If you are Vegan then make sure to be very clear about this as many rural villages might not know the difference between that and vegetarian.
Don’t worry about any sudden surprises – most of the dishes are pretty self-explanatory with regards to what is in them – and If you’ve visited Asia then you’re enough of a veteran foodie to dig in without fear.
This is the main reason many choose to visit the majestic Mama Africa.
To go back in time and experience pure survival in a raw and natural setting, with no cages or man-made constraints to separate you from the Earth’s largest creatures and most apex predators.
Enjoy Safaris from all over in the landscapes of the Serengeti, Botswana, and Namibia as you experience (from a safe distance) the wonder of a travelling herd of elephants rumbling through forests, hordes of Wildebeest during their annual migration, slinking Leopards stalking through the thorny underbrush and even shark cage diving where you get to see eye-to-eye with blood-chilling Great White Sharks that roam the coastal waters.
Once you’ve experienced Africa’s wild pets without their leashes on your travels, regular zoos’ will be quite the dull affair.
The environment and weather patterns
Africa is a fickle mistress even when she’s in a good mood. She’s prone to spectacular temper tantrums; gale force winds, savanna fires, and flash floods are just a few tricks in her repertoire to let those on holiday know she’s not happy and therefore you aren’t going to be happy. Usually, it’s best to research before you travel what the recommended holiday period is, which varies from region to region.
On the other hand… there are few sights more mesmerizing than a bulging thunder cloud gliding over dead-still desert dunes, bloated with lightning and ready to strike the dry and quivering veld below.
It is here that Mother Nature likes to show off her power, and Mama Africa is more than happy to accommodate.
Being in a place where you are the strange entity
You are delving into a world where you are the alien, the visitor, the “Mzungu”.
Enjoy this part of your trip where you are a novelty while being surrounded by wonders and surreal glamour’s beyond your most intense fever dreams.
Africa is a land of wonders and mystery and even those who have lived within her all their lives would not be able to divulge every single one of her secrets.
But there is quite an adventure waiting for you if you care to try.