Tam’s Travel Tips for Africa

Marcel and I

In Mozambique

I went to Africa for many reasons last summer, to challenge myself, to experience another culture, for safari, to volunteer ….and I have some thoughts to share regarding travelling in Africa, or any developing nation. The developing countries are truly a different world for the western traveler. Know what to expect when you go. 

1. Expect all services to be S L O W. Customer service has never been considered or taught in these countries. You will feel as though you are inconveniencing them at times just to ask a question or order a drink! 

2. Plumbing, buildings, streets, etc will not be similar to conditions in the west. Be prepared. I still haven’t figured out the women’s bathrooms where one stall has a seat in the ground…I mean, what am I supposed to do? Not sure I even want an answer. 

Inhambane Mercado

Inhambane Mercado

3. They have no social “space”, they will be right in your bubble. It can be disconcerting having someone so close to you, but they will stuff 30 people in one van (chappa or taxi) so standing 2 inches from you is not unusual. 

4. Be prepared when you go to shop: they do not wait for you to look or browse, they start in “selling” you the moment you are within 10 feet. I have been told that unless I buy something their mother, family, child or infant will starve. This can be very upsetting. They will follow you to make the sale. I had two guys follow me from the market in Tofo to Fatima’s, a restaurant way down the beach. They are persistent. Keep walking and don’t answer questions. The minute you start talking, you are in trouble. ALL WESTERNERS ARE RICH IN COMPARISON to them, and are considered “fair game”.

Market day.

Market day.

 5. Don’t expect the same cleanliness standards. Many people in developing nations have no access to drinking water let alone water to shower in or to wash clothing in. Tiny villages have no water, often the women have to walk for miles to get it. 

6. Social customs and mores are very different. I’ve had people bump into me or accidently hit me with something but they do not usually acknowledge it in any way. Also, many tribes and villages in developing Africa consist of one man and his wives. Each wife has her purpose: fetching water, firewood, gardening, cooking, watching the children. I had real difficulty with this one….

Travels with Tam
Casa Barry entertains children from the orphanage

A Maasai Warrior told me that in his village’s tradition it costs ten cows for a wife. Also, the higher one can jump, the more desirable they are. Yes, the higher you can jump, straight up, the more desirable you are.  Shake your head on that one!  What you think is a small village may be one family for each wife has her own “boma” (hut). Often, children all live in the same boma. 

7. You will see things that anger you, sadden you, horrify you, impress you and make you happy. But you will see cruelty and despair here as well.  Just re-read my blog An African Owl. There are many lovely aspects of traveling the developing world, you just have to accept that you will not be getting Western style living, eating, hygiene, or social graces. 

Masai guide

Maasai guide

These are the bewares. I happen to love Africa, and have now traveled in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya (Nairobi), and Tanzania. They are all different while having similarity as well….the poverty exists everywhere, some places are worse than others, but poverty is a constant state of being in these countries. Here are some of my favorite things about Africa: 

1. The animals! Under the sea and on land, Africa’s animal diversity is exceptional. I have already written about my disappointment in the marine life in Tofo so I won’t go into it further. But the Serengeti! Lake Manyara! The Ngorogoro Crater! Wondrous. I have safari’d in many countries, but Tanzania is the very best. The crater and the Serengeti are unmatched in my opinion. (I have not done a safari in Kenya, so I can’t judge that, and my Nairobi fiasco was not a good introduction to the country.) The Savannah is vast, it goes on forever, there are herds of thousands of animals: instead of seeing 6 or 7 zebras together, you see a thousand or more together during the migration. Truly spectacular. 

2. The terrain and natural beauty. Africa is stunningly beautiful, with mountains and lush gardens, oceans and forests of palms. There is so much to see and do, you cannot do it in a short period of time. 

Wildebeest and flamingo in the crater

Wildebeest and flamingo in the crater

3. The guides and many of the English speaking staffs are informative and friendly. Our guide, Samson, taught us much about Tanzania, its poverty, the government corruption, the poverty, the beauty, the wildlife, its history and its people. It is all fascinating. 

4. Service in the game lodges is excellent. Once you are in a lodge or camp you are treated very well. They make you feel very welcome, and have been trained as excellent staff and ambassadors. If you are staying in a good lodge or better, you’ll be well taken care of as far as service goes. Again, the physical environment (baths, showers, restrooms) take some getting used to. 

Randy and Tam

Randy and Tam

5. One walks almost everywhere. The vast majority of people do not own cars, so they walk. The walking did me a world of good….I feel better physically than I have in many years. 

6. The fresh fruits and vegetables! If you can find places not dependent on canned vegetables you are in for a treat, the produce is excellent. The pineapples are the best I’ve ever had, and the watermelon just melts on your tongue. I have eaten more fruit and veggies than I ever have (and I am a vegetarian!). Almost every meal here has rice or pasta….I won’t need to eat those things again for a very long time. 

Beautiful young male.

Beautiful young male.

Africa is worth the trip. It is easiest to go to South Africa, of course. For safari, the private reserves at Kruger are excellent, you will almost certainly see the “big five” (lion, leopard, rhino, cape buffalo, elephant). Travel is much easier in South Africa,and I certainly recommend a nice long visit there. To get off the beaten path, it becomes more difficult, but I think the rewards are worth it. Kruger and Serengeti are the two best safari parks in Africa, and here is a major difference: Kruger gets over a million visitors a year, the Serengeti gets 60,000. Why? Convenience. From my perspective, the Serengeti and Ngorogoro are worth the extra effort and expense. The majesty of the Savannah is breathtaking, and can be very exciting! I have experienced many wonderful events, and as many saddening or horrifying events. My trip to Africa did not unfold as expected, but the journey was well worth it. I am a richer and better person for having experienced it, and a more confident woman than I was before.  I love midlife!

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About the Author ()

I am an avid scuba diver, underwater photographer, amateur historian; interested in all people and cultures. For me, the unexpected is usually the norm! My motto? I am an Empty Nester who likes to Renew, Revamp, and Reinvent Life! Contact me at travelswithtam@gmail.com

Comments (25)

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  1. Susie Krominga says:

    Tam, great reading! Your passion & love for this continent are evident. This piece inspires me to seriously consider going on an African safari. So much to see and experience. Thank you.

  2. Tam Warner says:

    I’m glad. I think Africa is a place everyone should experience….:-), yes, passionate about wildlife, always.

  3. Tam, this is a really informative overview of Africa. Thanks very much. I’ll be referring back to your post in the future. Jane

  4. Great blog! I’m heading to Africa in March on a solo adventure and I’ve been feeling pretty nervous about it lately, but reading this post just got me excited again!

  5. Patti says:

    Africa, is not on our travel radar, at least not in the near future, so I always enjoyed reading about it through the travels of other bloggers. The photo of the lion in the tree is priceless! He’s king alright!

  6. Thanks for your valuable comments about visiting Africa. I’ve never been, but it is high on my bucket list and I am busy gathering information for my first visit. This is helpful.

  7. This post is so helpful! Your descriptions and incredible photos paint a very clear idea of what it is like! A trip to Africa is on our list and I will use your blog as a reference tool. Thank you for taking the time to offer so much insight as well as amazing details!

  8. Michelle says:

    I was in Tanzania last summer for a humanitarian trip and safari. I got very sick from the dusty roads we were on everyday because I’m allergic – which I had no idea until I was in Africa! I didn’t shower or have wifi for 10 days, I was totally unprepared for the experience. I want to return to Africa, but I want a shower and wifi 🙂

  9. We were in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa last summer, and it was probably the most special trip we’ve taken. Africa is so different, and your tips are really good ones. I hope to go back one day soon. I think of the animals we saw there all the time, and am still amazed by what we saw.

  10. Wow, your photos are excellent! I really appreciate you breaking down the pros and cons, so to speak. Great article!

  11. A trip to Africa is on my bucket list, but it is very helpful to read tips such as yours to know what to expect. I specialize in equestrian travel. It is my hope that I am able to experience a safari on horseback one day. Now that would be quite a trip!

  12. Our friends fell in love with Africa and have gone back half dozen times. We haven’t been yet but it is on our list. Great post, I tweeted it!

  13. I spent 3 days in Egypt, but I have not visited any other African country. Thank you for taking the time to share so many detailed observations. I have a friend whose son is living in Ghana doing missionary work. It’s been tough on him because of culture shock–unfamiliar foods, unreliable electricity, different customs, etc. (He’s only 18.) I’m not in a position to travel right now, so I enjoy traveling vicariously through blogs. Thanks again!

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