Congratulations! You finally decided to take the plunge and go to Africa for the first time. You probably have questions and maybe some confusion about where to go, what to do, what the dangers and risks are, and what to expect in terms of culture, customs and language. So here are the answers to some common concerns, plus some general advice and tips.
Where should I go?
You probably have a type of trip or a preferred activity in mind already, whether it be a safari, urban exploration, an adrenaline adventure, or a beach holiday. If so, it’s best to consult a travel agent who specializes in Africa (or read through the articles on this website) to research the best spots for your activity. There will likely be many places on the continent to do what you have in mind. Your preferred style of travel will also determine where you should go. For example, if you are prone to culture shock and prefer a more “Western,” first-world experience, places like South Africa and Namibia are a good bet. If you want “gentle” exposure to traditional African culture, try Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, or Rwanda: all are safe, relatively free of bureaucracy and hassles, and easy to travel in. In fact Accra, the capital of Ghana, feels more like an American beach town than a big African capital in many ways. If you want a “combination” holiday that includes golf, wine tasting, beaches, wildlife and city exploration, try South Africa. Kenya is great for safaris, beaches, and native cultural exploration. Namibia is known for windsurfing and dune buggying. And on and on.
How do I get there?
Isn’t Africa a long, long way from anywhere? Depends where you are coming from. If you are coming from the U.S., it will take at least a day to get there. For example, non-stop flights from Atlanta to Johannesburg take about 15 hours, but then you have to factor in flight time getting to Atlanta from your home city, and from Jo’burg to your onward destination. So you’re probably looking at at least a day of travel, unless your transatlantic flight begins near your home city and ends near your destination city. If you are coming from the UK, North Africa is the easiest region to get to, with flights to Marrakesh or Tunis taking only three hours or so; flights to eastern and southern Africa take 10 to 12 hours. Hub cities are Heathrow (UK), Nairobi, Dubai, Paris and Johannesburg. (See this article on airlines and flight routes for more information on the quickest and easiest ways to get to Africa from your home base.)
Will I be able to communicate?
If you are English-speaking you will have a pretty easy time getting around. South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria, Kenya, and Botswana are probably the most fluent in English, but people in most larger African cities have at least some grasp of English, even if it’s not one of the official languages there. In Mozambique and Angola the lingua franca is Portuguese, in large parts of west Africa it’s French, and in north Africa it’s a combination of Arabic and French. But even in these countries, if you are going on a tour or safari booked through an English-speaking company, the guides will know English. And if you encounter a person who doesn’t speak English at all, a combination of smiles and gestures will usually get your point across.