First Time to Africa?
To walk in the African bush, and to rest a while in the shade of a tree and feel the wilderness breathing all around is a beautiful, heart warming experience. To do this is to know you are alive.
However, I am sure this is not the very first impression that comes to mind if you have never been to Africa. I would hazard a guess that gun violence, theft and murder make an early appearance. Well this is what the media would have us hear and see of every country. This is what sells newspapers and airtime.
Let me encourage you to put these thoughts to one side and with an open mind try and find the real heartbeat of Africa. Starting with the geographic size:
Africa is larger than the USA, China and Western Europe combined! It is about 8000km (5000 miles) top to toe as the crow flies. North Africa is about 10 miles from Spain. So when you think of Africa, you’ll need a very wide open mind!
If you speak of Africa you can choose one of about 2000 spoken languages. (Depending on whom you ask). In South Africa way down at the south there are 11 languages. They are: Afrikaans, English, IsiNdebele, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, SiSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.
If you are departing from the USA, UK or Europe it is probably best to stick to English at first, and work your way through the other 1999 over time!
Africa has seen many Europeans so you will discover some familiar names. The Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz rounded the Cape in 1487. In 1652 the Dutch established a supply station at what would become Cape Town. In 1685 French Huguenots fled religious persecution in Europe. The British arrived in 1795.
The point of the brief history lesson above is that Europeans have been mingling with Africans and Asians on the African continent for centuries. The same awe inspiring sights still await the lucky traveller.
Well you no longer have to take several months on a small wooden boat, or two weeks on a larger steel one (as my father did in 1956) but there are still choices. Depending on how much time you have to play with there are also overland options down the length of Africa from Europe to Cape Town. If you have the time this will really get you beneath the skin of this vast continent. Most of us don’t have the luxury of so much time, so a return flight is more likely to be the most suitable mode of transport.
Cape Town is a 13 hour flight away, Johannesburg is 11, Nairobi is about 9 hours away. There is no jet lag problem as it is basically a North/South flight from virtually all of Europe.
Decide what you need: if it is beaches and sun, then anywhere from Cape Town to Kenya will do.
For wilderness and wildlife: anywhere in Africa!
Broadly speaking, The North is dry and hot, the middle is equatorial jungle, the south is a mix. The South West coast is influenced by the cold Benguela ocean current moving north. This is a dry coastal area. The South East is influenced by the warm Aghullas ocean current moving southwards and so the east coast is warm and humid.
Food and Drink
The cities in Africa, particularly South Africa, are very “1st world” and tap water and food is as safe as any other global city. International brands are everywhere, but you should go local! The cultural blend and consequently the variety of food in Africa is exciting: plenty to satisfy your adventurous side!
Africans by nature are welcoming, happy and helpful so doing it on your own should not be difficult. Africa knows the value of tourism and Africans will go out of their way to help a foreigner if you engage with them. Do some research, talk to people and keep an open mind.
Behave as you would in any unfamiliar country or territory. Ask the locals for advice. Travel by day and keep your wits about you.
Don’t be ostentatious. There is a large wealth divide in all so-called 2nd or 3rd world countries. Flaunting your wealth will only get it “re-distributed”!
Bugs and biting things: Don’t forget millions of people live safely and raise families in Africa year after year – so it can’t be that life threatening! Read up and talk to your GP or Healthcare Provider as they may be termed. There are dozens of ways of avoiding the biting mosquitoes or venomous snakes and insects – and not travelling isn’t an option! The dry winter season in south/central Africa is mostly insect free and most creepy-crawlies have a healthy wariness of humans anyway, so will leave you well alone. Summer can be hot and humid but the farther up in altitude and inland you go the more comfortable you will generally be.
Heat and Humidity
Plan your trip to suit your tastes in weather. Summer in Africa is usually a warm and wet time. Wet in the sense that the rain can be heavy, but usually of the sharp and short lived thunderstorm variety. Beautiful to watch! Adapt your behaviour (copy the locals), take appropriate clothing and nothing will trouble you. The sun can be fierce in Africa: so take a hat. The warmest part of the day is midday and just after: rest in the shade, drink fluids, get up early, stay up late and listen to the sounds of Africa. The continent is as alive at night as it is in the day: just different.
The dry winter months are the dustiest. (Except the Cape which is wet and windy like the Mediterranean). This is also the best time for game viewing because there is little water about and the wildlife is attracted to the water sources that remain, such as waterholes and stream beds, lakes and dams.
The deserts and arid parts of Africa can get very cold in winter. Clear skies allow heat to radiate back into the atmosphere and sub-zero temperatures are common. Some of the higher mountains in Africa will also see snow. As will some of the foothills at irregular intervals. Swimming off the South West coast can be chilly!