Six common myths about travel in Africa that every savvy visitor should know to be false.
Let’s bust these persistent misconceptions and get to the facts about travelling in Africa!
1. Africa is one country
The myth: Africa is one large country. A ‘United States of Africa’ of sorts.
“Africa is a continent as dark as when you close your eyes…”
That was the start of a school war cry that we learned when we were little. As I have travelled, I have often longed to shout it out to the masses that presume Africa is one country and not a continent at all.
Sadly by presuming Africa is one country (albeit a very large one), and not a continent, so very much is lost.
Africa as a continent has deserts and rain forests, open savannahs, canyons and salt pans. We have warm oceans teeming with fish and coral reefs and colder oceans where majestic whales come to calve.
If Africa is seen as only one country you might assume that to see all of this in one visit would be impossible because the distances are too huge. But, what you’d be missing is that so many of the individual countries that make up the vast African continent have ALL of these habitats, in just one country.
South Africa is a prime example. We have the cold ocean of the Cape where whales come to play. Then we have the warm ocean of the east coast with its dive sites and incredible beaches where one can laze and explore the ocean and its rich marine life.
We have forests in Knysna with massive trees and elusive elephant as well as other forests with waterfalls and secret paths and canyons. Then there are the geological formations of Bourke’s Luck Potholes and God’s Window with its panoramic views that give the Panorama Route its name. We have snowy tops on the Drakensberg Mountains in winter and the semi-deserts of the Karoo. We have savannahs and bushveld in Kruger and wetlands in iSimangaliso. We have incredible stargazing in Sutherland and game parks with hippo, lion, giraffe, rhino and elephants galore.
All of this in ONE country!
And, Africa has 54 countries of which 6 are island nations! So many countries to explore and ALL of them have sights, sounds and vistas unique to their geography and SO much more to offer than one would expect.
2. Africa is Dangerous
The myth: the whole of Africa is unsafe.
Africa is a poverty-stricken place with massive unemployment and a high birth rate which will always result in high levels of petty theft and opportunistic crime. Africa has a reputation in the international media for being a place high in violent crime with rape and murder being just two that are often highlighted.
This is not true for all of Africa. It has elements of truth for certain parts of some countries in Africa. Much of the violent crime takes place in ‘No Go’ areas for tourists so the risk to international tourists is low.
To curb this risk, reputable travel companies and hotels provide meet and greet facilities at the airports. They’ll pick you up from the airport when you arrive and take you to a safe destination. This gives you a chance to acclimatise and become familiar with your destination.
Soon you’ll realise that Africa has cities similar to cities all over the world. And, in our big African cities, the same rules apply as elsewhere. Be aware. Watch your belongings and be mindful. Don’t go off with strangers, don’t leave your things unattended and don’t wander around an unknown city at night on your own.
Out in the rural areas, you will be pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome you receive. You will also feel safe and embraced by the Africa that we love. The warmth of the people is outstanding, despite their poverty. Here you will encounter the exact opposite of hostility, with people being honest almost to the extreme. In many rural villages, poverty is evident, but so is happiness. The rural landscapes are often dotted with people wearing big smiles and bright traditional-style clothes.
If you head out into the savannah and bush, the danger is from another source entirely.
Snakes and bugs and charging buffalo and elephant are just a few of the dangers out there. BUT this is where common sense and a good guide prevail. Once again, don’t wander off on your own and listen to the locals and your guides. They understand the animals and what is and what is not allowed. Follow the rules and the advice of your guide and you will be fine.
You will be in awe when you see standing before you the animals you have heard about throughout your life. They are so much more fabulous in real life than in a book or film. Even National Geographic cannot bring to you the smells and sounds that accompany seeing wild animals in the flesh. Even as I write this my senses come alive. I can imagine the chirrup of a cricket, the laugh of a hyena and the distant roar of a lion as I stand before an elephant at sunset and listen to the rumbling sound it makes to communicate contentment.
In moments such as these… all fear of danger disappears. And any fear you experienced is made worthwhile given the utter perfection of all that is before you.
3. Animals roaming freely in Africa
The myth: in Africa, there are wild animals everywhere.
Animals are so synonymous with Africa that many people believe that we have animals roaming freely everywhere… almost as if we have to make a mad dash in the early mornings from our doorways to the vehicles waiting with engines revving…. All to avoid the teeming wildlife that waits to grab us as we head out to school and work. This is untrue.
We do have large tracts of land set aside for wild animals to roam freely and these wildlife parks are indeed massive. The Kruger National Park, to mention one, is a wildlife area bigger than many small countries. It is entirely reserved for the preservation of wildlife so here you will see animals roaming freely. Yet, even in Kruger, the overnight camps are fenced off for safety.
Our cities are very first world and can be compared to many around the world. Johannesburg and Cape Town, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam are massive, thriving cities. We have numerous smaller cities and towns that are a little less first world, but they still have shopping centres and service stations, schools and hospitals.
The only animals you will find roaming here are the dogs and cats that are generally kept on leads once they have left their properties. And, in rural villages and towns, you may see a goat or chicken or other livestock wandering around but not wildlife. Smaller towns such as Victoria Falls do have the odd elephant roaming its streets, but this is hardly fair to mention, as Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is actually situated in a reserve.
I think you will be pleasantly surprised by just how modern our cities and towns are!
4. The weather in Africa is always hot
The myth: it is very hot everywhere in Africa, all the time.
Documentaries, advertisements and mindsets all point to an Africa with cloudless deep blue skies with the sound of Cicada beetles humming in the background. The animals are always congregating around the waterholes and, without a doubt, pack your bikini for those swims as the temperature climbs into the high twenties and thirties, occasionally hitting the forties (Celcius).
The good news is Africa is hot…. Our summers are long and balmy. Many places do have a summer rainfall though, so although your days are hot – there are also storm clouds that gather and build and usually by mid-afternoon you have an incredible cloudburst and the earth is drenched. Just thinking about it, I can feel the air cool and that smell….. there is NOTHING like a storm over the bushveld. The wondrous pungent grasses and rich earthy smell and crisp air, absolutely stunning. Everything seems more in focus after the cleansing rain.
East Africa has two rainy seasons which is also worth remembering. They (Kenya and Tanzania) have a season of long rains and a season of shorter rains…. Both absolutely necessary for the continuous cycle of one of the greatest spectacles on earth, the Wildebeest Migration (or Great Migration). The long rains are in March and April and the short rains from October through to December. Both bring reviving rains which seem to inject a growth hormone into the plains grasses that attract the wildebeest and zebra. The nourishing new grass brings forth new life too with so many births and predators too.
Winter in Southern Africa is short. It really only lasts for three months–June, July and August (with July and August being the coldest). These are the best game viewing months in Southern Africa. That’s because the bush in places such as Kruger Park is less dense and the animals gather at water sources making them easier to see.
Winter is also ideal for some of the beach destinations such as Mozambique with its incredible stretches of golden sands and indigo waters. Whale shark and green turtles, seahorses and the best seafood one can eat. What a perfect place to spend the winter. Zanzibar and Madagascar islands are also ideal winter destinations. Zanzibar with its spices and architecture, night markets and seaweed gatherers, Masai culture and massages and beach resorts. Madagascar with its lemurs and baobabs, beaches and forests and unspoilt vistas and the friendliest of people. Yet another destination to be explored and enjoyed.
If you are looking for SNOW, we have that too in Africa. Kilimanjaro and Drakensburg to name just two. Kili has wonderful hiking routes to choose from, like Machame, Marangu and Lemosho. Incredible hikes with world-class guides trained to get you to the Roof of Africa. The Drakensberg Mountains and Lesotho have snow and hikes and eagles and charming cottages with cosy log fires.
So rain or shine, we have the perfect playgrounds in Africa.
5. Travelling in Africa is expensive
The myth: travel in Africa is an expensive luxury reserved for the rich and famous.
Totally, untrue. Africa can be travelled on a shoestring. Backpackers, students and overlanders have been exploring Africa on low budgets for decades! There are heaps of budget tours and safaris across the continent which enable frugal travellers to enjoy all the same wild beauty and wildlife miracles of Africa that luxury travellers do.
Travelling Africa on a budget doesn’t equate to roughing it. You can even travel Africa on a budget without camping if that’s not your thing. There are plenty of affordable lodges, tented camps, game parks and other accommodation options! From Botswana and South Africa to Kenya and Tanzania, there are budget travel options aplenty.
To explore your options and find out more about travelling Africa on a budget, get in touch with our team of Africa travel experts.
6. You can ONLY do safaris in Africa
The myth: the only thing to do in Africa is to go on a safari. There isn’t much else for travellers to do and see in Africa.
Wrong! Although African travel is undoubtedly associated with wild animals. This is one continent where the very name conjures up images of elephant and lion and open savannah with herds of migrating wildebeest.
This is NOT all we have to offer though. There is so much more to travelling in Africa. We have countless rich traditions and histories, spaces, art and design. As well as cultural experiences, beaches, cities and mountains.
We have some of the most incredible wines in the world. The first bottle dates back to 1659, bottled by Jan van Riebeeck who landed in Cape Town in 1652. We have wine farms in Paarl, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Worcester and Constantia to name a few. There are wines from the Swartland and the Overberg and although the majority of vineyards are in the Western Cape, we also have branched out into KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape. We have won multiple awards worldwide.
We have excellent locations where the foodie can indulge in gastronomic delights. In South Africa, we have top restaurants such as Idiom, Salt, Overture, La Petite Colombe, Terrior and Majeke Kitchen. We have tours where you can learn to make some of our traditional meals. You can choose from the many influences we have, Cape Malay, Dutch and French who all bring something special to add to our local flavours and twist that only an African can add. We have some excellent foraging tours that you can join where you learn to gather all our local produce from our beaches and mountains and you also learn to make the meal from your gatherings.
We have art galleries and artists and some of the most incredible contemporary artists of the times. Kentridge, Smit, Siopis and Blessing Ngobeni from South Africa. Goncalo Mabunda from Mozambique, Kudzanai Chiurai from Zimbabwe and Alex Wainanina, Peterson Kamwathi and Arlene Wandera from Kenya. The artists are influenced by our diverse cultures and colourful people. Our great vistas and of course the wildlife. In South Africa, we have a troubled past dotted with all sorts of challenges and a future that is full of hope and ALL of these influence our artists.
For the Adrenalin junkies, Africa has every thrill you can imagine to keep your ticker beating at twice its normal speed.
Rivers abound and the rafting that goes with it. We have the Tugela, the Buffalo and the Orange as little ones to keep your spirits up, but the ones that will really challenge you and keep you coming back for more, the mighty Zambezi in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia and the White Nile in Uganda.
We have gorge swings and shark cage diving. We have treetop canopy tours and croc cage diving. We have scuba diving with ragged-tooth sharks and snorkelling with the gentle giant, the whale shark. Across Africa, there is canoeing and black water tubing, sky diving and parachuting to be had. Hot air balloon and microlight flights and a myriad of other airborne thrills.
There are dune buggies and sandboarding, quad biking and hiking in Namibia. There are golden beaches and dhow trips and fishing and sea horses in Mozambique.
Ethiopia has traditional tribes, mountains and rock-hewn churches. They have aromatic coffee and ancient coffee ceremonies and some of the most beautiful people in the world. They also have markets where you can find everything from a long silver fingernail cover for the discreet nose and ear ablutions to old coins from Biblical times. There is incense and frankincense and old men that feed hyenas outside the city gates of Harar.
Africa is a continent rich in so many wonderful things. The possibilities are endless.
There is something for everyone and we have only touched on what is available. So, come! Come and visit us on this vast continent. Speak, open up the channels of conversation (contact us) and let us know what it is you want to experience and see in Africa. We will find it for you and deliver more than you can imagine.
Come to Africa and explore our hidden histories and meet our people. Let their stories unfold and lighten your world.