Is Africa Dangerous for DIY Travel?
Africa is not necessarily what you see on the media, or what you read about in the newspaper and if you believe everything you hear, you may never make it there…
My aunt and uncle moved to South Africa nearly 20 years ago and I’ve been trying to visit them for at least 10 of those years. My parents were always worried that I wouldn’t be safe and that Africa was just too dangerous of a place for me to visit.
Of course there are dangerous places in every continent, I won’t deny that fact, but with a little bit of research you can figure exactly where you should and shouldn’t go. For the most part Southern Africa is safe and you can navigate it entirely on your own. You can rent a car from any number of carriers and drive yourself as we did for many weeks. Depending on your budget you can rent anything from a mini for $15/day – a camper style truck for $150/day.
Do keep in mind that they drive on left side of the road – most countries in the South were colonized by the British, so their roads have remained as so.
Other than that along any tourist route, you’ll find awesome options for lodging and/or camping. Most facilities have real toilets and hot water – this region is much different than what you encounter in Eastern Africa. It is easy to navigate, the roads are really solid and if you don’t feel comfortable driving the safaris on your own, you can always hire someone to take you in a 4×4 when you get to the parks.
Honestly, unless you are seeking companions for the ride, there is no need to take a tour in Southern Africa – you can do it all on your own, save money and gain total freedom for your route/timing.
Other helpful tips for traveling Southern Africa:
You can get a SIM card in almost every country for an excellent rate – just be careful about the package you buy. If you are looking to use the internet (data) on your smartphone, you will need to be clear with the carrier and have them confirm with you all minutes have been converted to data. The reason for this is that most of the developing world is just now getting on the cell phone train – their packages are then all by way of calling minutes. Now they are letting you convert these minutes into data (MB), but if the conversion fails for any reason your data will be charged at a rate which ends up being about 10 times higher than the agreed upon price. Most carriers have a way for you to call in and hear your remaining minutes and MB, so I recommend just checking a few times early on in your visit what everything is being done properly, it is quite a common mistake.
Food in Southern Africa is becoming highly westernized, so you should have no real problems finding some things you’re used to. I would say that it is worth reading labels on the things you don’t know though, Tartrazaine is in a lot of things they produce and it’s quite a nasty synthetic dye with serious side effects (read more about it here). There’s also MSG and GMOs in just about everything. If you are averse to either of those, just scan the products you pick up.
There is a ton of access to alcohol, but you have to buy it in stores (mostly outside of groceries) and there are certain hours that it is not sold. Most campsites and/or lodges also have bars though – and even there the cost is not all that high. My personal favorite in South Africa is Savannah, which is a dry cider. They have several varieties, but I would say it’s definitely worth a try if you’re at all interested.
The music scene in Southern Africa is cool, especially in South Africa you’ll find just about every genre covered in live scenes, DJs, festivals – Cape Town and Durban are quite fun if you are into that kind of stuff.
All and all – South Africa is one of the most amazing countries I’ve ever visited and I would say all of Southern Africa is worth doing for the safaris and natural diversity. Hope the tips help in planning for your trip – and best of luck for your world adventures 🙂