Planning a trip to Africa? Here are the must-know Africa travel tips for first-time visitors including all the do’s and don’ts to know before you go.
You’re planning your very first trip to Africa, Yay- it’s absolutely an amazing experience and a great step that some travelers are still skeptical to take.
But at the same time, it can be daunting for a first-time visitor to Africa since you have no idea what to expect on a continent as big as Africa.
If you’re not yet sure where to go first check out my post about the best African countries to visit.
With this post, I’ve got you covered with the best Africa travel tips for first-time visitors.
Africa Travel essential.
– Before you go to Africa, I recommend buying this Lonely Planet travel guide book to learn more about Africa and its diverse culture.
– Before heading out to Africa, it’s paramount that you have proper travel insurance. I recommend buying World Nomads insurance as it covers a variety of activities and can be used in a number of countries.
– To get the best of Africa, book all your tours with Getyourguide to be able to enjoy Africa like a local as you get guided by the most professional tour guides on the continent.
What to know and do before a trip to Africa as a first time visitor
1. Check the visa requirements for each country
There is nothing like an “African visa” that guarantees you free entry to each African country because you have it.
Each country has different visa requirements that you should meet before going there.
Check with the nearest embassies of the countries you plan to travel to and find out all the requirements.
Some maybe visa-free, others visa on entry and others might need to be applied for in advance depending on the passport you hold.
2. Pick your destinations and make an itinerary
You can start by deciding on the countries or cities that have been on your bucket list but if you don’t know where to go yet, niche it down by deciding whether you’re all about historical sites, big cities, or wildlife.
You can check out the best African countries to visit, the best landmarks in Africa, or the best National parks in Africa to draw inspiration on the countries or places to add to your Africa bucket list.
Try not to get overwhelmed by everything. The truth is that there is too much beauty in Africa and it is understandable if you want to see everything!
The ugly truth is that you’re likely not to see everything at once, so don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t.
My suggestion is to first note down all the regions in Africa; East, West South, North, and Central. Lower it down by deciding on which regions you want to visit.
Go a step further by selecting which specific countries you want to visit from each Region.
Then try to be realistic and see if it’s possible to visit all those countries at once.
If the list is too long, try to prioritize until you decide on the maximum number of countries you want and can travel to.
The number of countries to travel to solely depends on you: the time you have, the money saved for a trip to Africa, and how much you’re willing to compromise.
If you want to travel on a budget, check out this post that showcases how you can travel the world on a budget.
3. Do extensive research on the specific countries you’re planning to visit.
It’s not enough to read about Africa as a whole, carrying out research on each individual country will be more efficient.
If you’re itinerary includes countries like Uganda, Botswana, and Egypt, read these posts to discover more about Uganda, these ones about Botswana, and these ones to learn more about Egypt before you go.
Some people assume that since they’re traveling to Africa, it will be hot by default which is not the case.
Even though most countries are relatively hot all year round, some places can be really cold depending on the time of your visit.
So don’t forget to check the weather of each country to pack clothes appropriate for that time of the year.
Related post: Things to know before backpacking Africa
4. Don’t try to see everything in Africa
Most first time visitors in Africa get overwhelmed by the beauty and end up wanting to see everything.
Well, unless you have the entire year allocated to touring Africa, it will be absolutely impossible to see everything.
Prioritize and see only places that are on your bucket list.
5. Pack everything you need for your African safari
It’s not a recommended practice to rely on buying extra things in the place you’re traveling to as you’re not aware of the price and quality.
So packing whatever is required will save you a tonne of money and space in your backpack or suitcase.
If you’re not sure of what to pack for your African safari, I wrote a complete essential guide to packing for Africa.
The guide comprises of things you should pack and what not to pack for an African safari. You can read it here.
Don’t forget to carry sunscreen! Since African locals don’t use sunscreen, it will be extremely expensive to buy it from there.
So pack your own not to spend a fortune or you can shop it here at a fair price.
Here are some of the travel essentials you should not leave behind when traveling to Africa.
Travel Essentials you should never leave home as you travel to Africa
– A universal travel adapter: Since some of the countries in Africa use a different adapter, I’d advise you to buy a universal travel adapter to cater to all regions.
You can buy one from here if you don’t have it yet.
– A power Bank: One of the things you should never leave behind while traveling to Africa is the Power bank!
Phones have now become a great deal of our lives that we need to use them for so many important things.
So take a power bank with you so that you don’t run out of battery.
This power bank is small, light and has the capability to charge your phone and other devices multiple times.
– Microfibre travel towel – I always opt for this microfibre travel towel because it is super lightweight, easy to wash, and dries easily.
– First Aid kit: Regardless of where you’re traveling to in Africa, you’ll need to pack a First Aid kit for emergencies that might arise while traveling.
Remember it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Just make sure that the one you pack has all the essentials and that it is small and light enough to fit in any kind of suitcase/ backpack.
This first aid kit actually fits all the qualities mentioned above plus it is really cheap for what it offers.
– Collapsible water bottle: I always prefer carrying a water bottle while traveling so that I can just refill it when I run out of water.
It also helps be a responsible traveler since you won’t have to use tones of disposable plastic bottles which are not great for our environment.
Any water bottle can work but I prefer this collapsible one as it doesn’t take a lot of space in my bag.
– You can also read my complete Africa packing list to know everything you’ll need for an African safari.
6. Your security should be a priority.
Even though Africans welcome tourists amazingly, this doesn’t mean that a few are not seeing you as their next target.
Pickpockets are very high especially in big cities, so, be sure to keep your money and valuables safe.
Wear a cross bag instead of a handbag and if you have a small backpack, wear it from the front instead of the back.
However, this should not scare you away from visiting Africa.
Street theft is literally everywhere whether Europe or America and Africa is not an exception.
For security reasons, buy travel insurance and I recommend World Nomads as they’re highly trusted by almost all travelers.
Remember it is always better to stay safe than sorry by covering yourself with travel insurance.
7. Be ready for the culture shock.
This can literally happen in any new country you travel to be it in Asia especially in the developing counties but the shock could be a little higher in Africa.
Here are some of the cultural shocks you might experience.
If you’re a mzungu ” white person”, some Africans are going to think you’re rich by default.
Don’t get me wrong here, you might even be struggling financially like I am but as long as you’re white, to some Africans you qualify to be rich.
This means a great number of people may walk up to with intentions of getting something from you or offer help hoping that they will be tipped. If you fall for this, you’re likely to go back home broke.
Expect the stares from the locals (though not the long ones that last minutes.) The stares are harmless and should not worry you one bit.
You might find this weird at first but trust me, you’ll get used to it and it will all be normal.
Kids screaming “bye Mzungu” as they wave at you- as a way of saying hi.
This could be one of the commonest traits across all Africa. Kids are just innocent beings that get excited by seeing a white person.
Just be kind enough to wave back with a smile and you would have made their day.
8. Download Offline maps
Most of the areas in Africa especially in the remote villages will not have wifi or even worse, you won’t get any service at all.
So, before your trip to Africa, downloading offline maps and saving all the places from hotel location, famous restaurants in the area, and most popular destinations you want to see will make your trip easier.
Check out this post to see the best offline maps and other free travel apps that don’t need internet that you should download before your anticipated trip to Africa.
9. Poverty is real in Africa but not everyone is poor.
The media and news channels have tried to portray Africa as a really poor continent but this doesn’t mean that everyone is poor.
The only issue is that the poor are actually poor and the rich are really rich.
There are just a few people that lie in the middle. So be ready to experience some level of poverty while you travel through Africa.
Related post: Safest countries to visit in Africa
10. Be ready to enjoy a different means of public transportation.
In countries like Uganda, public transportation can be just chaotic from extreme traffic jams to somewhat careless drivers – the hustle never ends.
So if you’re up for a fun trip, try out Africa’s public transportation. The most commonly used ones are minibusses, tuk-tuk, boda-bodas, trains, and metro which are in a few countries like Egypt.
If you’re not comfortable with public transportation, opt for private taxis. Services like Uber and
Taxify are widely spread in some of Africa’s major cities, so it should be easy to get around.
11. Find out the political situation of a particular country before you go.
The question of safety might seem like common sense but it doesn’t mean that I will skip it.
As a first time traveler to Africa, it would be a bit hard and unpleasant to travel to a country when there is political unrest at that particular time.
So try to follow international news to know exactly the current political situation.
Pro tip* As a first-time traveler to Africa, it’s not always recommended to travel during the election period.
The election period brings out the determination and chaotic nature of people and the outcomes from the election are always unpredictable and yet again the aftermath worse.
So, avoid traveling during the election period if you can.
12. Beggars, street kids, and slums are real.
All these are real challenges that Africa still faces, unfortunately.
You’re likely to find many beggars and street kids as you travel through Africa and you might want to help them.
The question is can you help all of them? Of course not, and don’t feel guilty about it because you and I know that you can’t help all the beggars and street kids across Africa.
But if you feel generous, you can give a few coins to the one you think needs it the most but if not, just smile to them and say “next time.”
13. Cash works better in Africa than credit/debit cards.
Even though some of the high-end places in Africa accept cards, cash is still the highest form of transaction and actually, cards are not acceptable in most places especially in the rural areas.
Things might be different if you were used to transacting using your card all the time. So carry enough cash or you can always get cash from the ATM machines.
14. Check whether the African countries you’re traveling to require a yellow fever card.
Frequent travelers know that a yellow fever card is required in some countries but if you’re a first-time traveler, you probably didn’t know that.
Some countries will require a yellow fever card before you enter their country and if you don’t have it, you’re likely to pay a lot of money to acquire it from the port of entry.
So it’s better to have it before your much anticipated African safari.
15. Ignore the negative and soak in all the beauty Africa has to offer
Regardless of how many negative things you’ve read about Africa, I still believe its the most beautiful and diverse continent in the world.
So ignore the little negatives and focus all your energy on enjoying Africa.
And instead of looking for 5-star hotels, ignore the comfort and experience Africa like a local by going out of your comfort zone.
Are you visiting Africa for your very first time? Tell me if this guide was helpful and if you have any other questions, leave them in the comment section and I will surely get back to you.
More posts to help you plan your African trip
- Best countries to visit in Africa
- Best tips for backpacking Africa
- Safest countries in Africa
- Best National parks to visit in Africa
- Incredible adventures not to miss in Africa
- Famous landmarks in Africa
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