If you’ve traveled to Africa, you know how lifechanging the experience can be. But for those who haven’t been, it can be hard to understand what a trip is really like thanks to the many misconceptions about Africa. Our partners at Africa Inscribed have been designing itineraries for our clients for years, and they know the ins and outs of Africa travel. Below they dispel nine of the common myths about traveling to Africa.
Myth 1: Africa is one big country. If you’ve been once, you’ve seen it all.
People often refer to Africa as a single country when it is in fact made up of 54 different countries. Each of these countries is distinct in culture, customs, language, natural environment, politics, history, and size as well as has their own currency, flag, national anthem, food and identity.
There are some 1500 – 2000 languages spoken throughout Africa and many of those languages have varying dialects. Often the country’s official language in not the language spoken by most of its citizens or the country has multiple official languages. For example, South Africa has 11 official languages and Kenya and Tanzania have two (English & Swahili). There are also over 3000 ethnic groups (people described by the cultural heritage and customs, not their race) who practice a variety of religions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and traditional religions specific to their community.
Africa and her people are diverse, beautiful, talented, and complex. By referring to Africa as a country, we fall into the trap of perpetuating the narrative and the “single story” the world is shown by the media. There is so much more to this continent.
Myth 2: The food is mostly “tribal” or basic.
Africa is filled with an array of diverse foods, which makes it a heaven for foodies! Each culture offers traditional dishes that are distinct to the region and some incorporate flavors from Bantu, Dutch, Malay/Indonesian, Indian, and European influences.
Southern Africa has evolved with the rest of the world offering high quality restaurants that you may need to book months in advance. You will also find amazing street food, hip spots that feature traditionally menus with a modern twist, chain restaurants, and fast food. South Africa truly has it all: fine dining, a braai/chisa nyama (barbeque done South African style), eating in a local township on a tour, food festivals, farmers markets, and more. You can find high quality food all over, even at the lodges and camps where accessibility is difficult. The food scene in South Africa is only rivaled by their world-class wines! A visit to the country simply isn’t complete without a trip to the Winelands.
Myth 3: Africa is unsafe.
One of the most common myths about traveling to Africa is that it is not safe. Tourism in Africa has been thriving, and 2018 marked the highest growth in global tourism since 2010. In 2018 there were 10 million tourists to South Africa, 2 million to Zimbabwe, and 2 million to Kenya.
As with many destinations, there are areas that should be avoided and situations where you should take precaution (check the State Department website for travel advisories around the world so you can make educated decisions about travel). However, these instances should not stop you from visiting all the other incredible countries that Africa has to offer. And no matter where you travel in the world, you should always be aware of your surroundings, use your common sense, be vigilant with your belongings and valuables, and take local advice on any areas to avoid.
Myth 4: It’s always hot!
Southern and East Africa typically boast superb weather. Like any country, there are generally four seasons and weather fluctuations across a range of terrains. In Southern Africa, you will experience a hot/warm summer, a cool and temperate autumn and spring, and a cooler winter in June, July and August. Snow falls in some of the mountainous regions, like Drakensburg, Lesotho, regions of Western Cape. And while the mornings and evenings can get cold (think 0°C or 32°F, sometimes colder), the days are beautiful and warm up to the late teens and even early 20’s (or mid 60s to low 70s in Fahrenheit).
Closer to the equator, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania experience less extreme seasons. June, July and August (their winter months) can still be chilly in the morning and at night, especially at high altitudes. Otherwise, you can expect warm to hot weather and a rainy season.
No matter what time of year your travel to Africa, we always recommended wearing layers so you are ready for a potentially cool or chilly morning or evening. We also always suggest packing sunscreen and a hat. Before you travel, research the weather and climate for the area you are travelling to as there can be variations within seasons. (See our Must Haves for an African Safari list here.)
Myth 5: What about Wi-Fi? Isn’t Africa technologically backwards?
Africa is going through a technological revolution, leapfrogging computers for internet connections through mobile devices. There are communities without running water but with smartphones and tablets. Farmers are using apps and drones to assist their farming production. They have extensive fiber networks, mobile connectivity, 4G (soon to have 5G), and Wi-Fi connectivity in rural and remote areas. It’s not uncommon to be driving along a rural road to find someone chatting on their mobile, miles from the nearest town. Extensive connectivity has spurred on techpreneurs and remarkable advancements by innovative young Africans.
We have some of the most luxurious lodges, camps, hotels and resorts in the world, and you will be able to connect almost all of the time. However, we hope you disconnect (even for just a little while!) and immerse yourself in your travel experience.
- Did you know that there are 90 million mobile connections in South Africa (just shy of double the population) and 20 – 22 million smart phone users?
- Did you know that Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is seen as the Silicon Valley of Africa leading the African continent in technological advancements?
Myth 6: Wild Animals Roam Free
While many people envision The Lion King when they think of Africa, there are not actually wild animals roaming free all over the continent. Most wildlife is restricted to and enclosed in National Parks or private game reserves. This is not to say that the national parks or game reserves are like zoos. They are expansive and pristine wilderness areas, often larger than some European countries.
All parks in South Africa are fenced, but some areas in other Southern and Eastern Africa countries do not have fenced parks. However, the wildlife tends to stick to protected wildlife areas.
Myth 7: Animals will jump into my open game viewing vehicle.
There is not better way to experience your surroundings on safari – and snap a some killer photos – than while riding on an open game viewing vehicle. However, it is a little daunting when a lion saunters right by you and there are no windows or sides. So what is stopping them from jumping into the vehicle?
When you go on safari, your guides will explain the rules for game viewing and how to conduct yourself in an open game viewing vehicle to ensure your safety. As a general rule, game perceives the vehicle as one large animal, not the single entities of the people in the vehicle. The vehicle is too large to be prey and many of the animals have become habituated to the vehicles and don’t see them as a threat.
The primary purpose of viewing game is to see the animal in its most natural state. Standing up, stepping out of the vehicle, making loud noises, trying to feed the animals, and drawing attention to yourself or the vehicle are strictly prohibited. If you abide by these simple rules (like the thousands of other travelers on game drives every day), you will be safe.
Myth 8: You can’t drink the water.
This is both true and false. In almost all cities and towns in South Africa the water is safe to drink. In the rest of Southern and East Africa, it is probably not advisable to drink the tap water unless otherwise stated.
However – and this is a biggie! – most of the camps and lodges you visit when on safari have introduced reverse osmosis to ensure guests can drink the water and do not need to buy bottled water. Bring a water bottle and fill it up where you can.
Myth 9: All Africa has to offer is safari.
Southern and East Africa have far more to offer than just our incredible wildlife, beaches and mountains.
These countries are developing fast with excellent road networks, flight connections, and business development. All have fascinating political histories that you can explore in museums (Apartheids Museum, Robben Island, Kigali Genocide Memorial), talented artists (think epic street art, wood carvings, bead work, sculptures), Africa’s first art museum dedicated to modern African art (The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa), modern architecture, and so much more.
Africa’s history didn’t start with colonization; rather Africa’s history dates back thousands of years. Ethiopia has Aksum, a city in northern Ethiopia known for its tall, carved obelisks, relics of the ancient Kingdom of Aksum. Zimbabwe has the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, which was the Iron Age Capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe and is UNESCO World Heritage Site. Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe have rock art that dates back 2,000 – 6,000 years with some dating back as far as 25,000 years.
Africa is far more than a safari! Don’t just scratch the surface; dig deep and discover the cultures, history, and people that make Africa such an incredible destination.