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Top 8 Tips for Traveling to Central & Southern Africa | iVisa
9 min read
Updated on May 29, 2024

Navigating the Central and Southern African regions requires preparation and respect for local customs and environments. As our world record-breaking sponsor, Michael Zervos nears the end of his African adventure, he leaves us with many invaluable tips for traveling the continent.

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Here are our top eight tips to help you get the most out of your travels in Central and Southern Africa.

1. Research visa requirements

Before you travel, check the visa requirements for the specific countries you plan to visit. Some countries offer visas on arrival, while others require you to apply in advance. For more information on what visas you may need for Africa, check out our Visas for Africa, how to get yours with iVisa blog.

With only 542 days to visit 195 countries, Michael relied on our expert visa services to support his record-breaking quest to travel to every country. Michael has expressed that achieving this record would have been impossible without our assistance.

I know I say this often, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without you iVisa.

Why not start planning your travel adventure by checking out what requirements you'll need to meet and if we can help you obtain your visa?

2. Health and wellness tips for travelers to Central and Southern Africa - Get vaccinated

Visit a travel clinic to get all the necessary vaccinations. Standard vaccinations required to visit Africa include Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A and B, and Typhoid, among others. Also, malaria prophylaxis (preventive treatment) should be considered, as malaria is prevalent in many parts of Central and Southern Africa.

Refer to the CDC website for your vaccine, disease control, and prevention requirements.

Carry your yellow fever card everywhere

In one of his most recent Instagram posts, Michael states that -

The visa is the most important thing you need, followed by your yellow fever card in many cases.

Top Tip: On several occasions, Michael was asked to show the printed-out version of his yellow fever card. Hence, it's essential to always carry both a physical and electronic copy with you during travel.

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3. Travel Insurance

Always have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical evacuation in Africa. Medical facilities may be limited in remote areas all over the continent, and insurance can be crucial in emergencies. Here are a few benefits to consider:

1. Medical coverage: Perhaps the most vital feature of travel insurance. It covers medical expenses incurred due to illnesses or injuries during your trip, including hospital stays, doctor visits, and, in some cases, medical evacuation.

2. Trip cancellation or interruption: Travel insurance can reimburse you for pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses if your trip is canceled or cut short due to reasons covered by the policy, such as severe weather, illness, or family emergencies.

3. Lost or stolen luggage: If your luggage is lost, stolen, or delayed.

4. Emergency assistance services: Many travel insurance policies offer 24-hour hotlines to assist with emergencies.

5. Personal liability: If you accidentally injure someone or damage property while on your trip, travel insurance can cover legal expenses or claims made against you.

  1. Coverage for travel delays: If your travel plans are disrupted due to delays from airlines, natural disasters, or other covered reasons, travel insurance can reimburse you for additional accommodations, travel expenses, and sometimes meals

  2. Covid-19 coverage: In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many travel insurance providers have begun offering coverage for Covid-related issues

Flights are delayed everywhere, always. I've had about three flights leave on time this whole trip. - States Michael as he finalizes his journey through Africa.

Consider additional coverage for cruises or adventure holidays depending on your destination and itinerary in Africa.

Project Kosmos is backed by one of our partners Genki Health Insurance.

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4. Safety precautions for traveling in Central and Southern Africa

Stay well informed about the safety conditions of the areas you’re visiting. Many African countries face significant issues with crime and violence, and tourists and travelers are often targeted, particularly at airports and on public transport. Be cautious with your belongings, avoid displaying valuables, and follow local advice to avoid unsafe areas.

  • DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo: Michael warns travelers that it is a very corrupt country - “be wary of bribery and petty crime. It's like Nigeria in that way, and you can expect people to follow you for cash bribes and try to help you out as a fixer.”

Michael adds - “I was spotted by a cop who tried to charge me to help for things I didn't need. You could break a rule you didn't know existed, and they ask for a bribe. And, there are assaults on men often, even if you look at somebody the wrong way.”

For example, when leaving the DRC, they charged him for a $50 surprise pass to exit the country, which no one had ever warned him about.

  • Angola: - Micahel says, “Even though it has a bad reputation, I felt very safe there. Of course, bribery is present, just like in many other South and Central African countries.”

  • Mozambique: - “We had to bribe our way out of the country three times. At one point, the guy walked away with our passports as we didn't give enough money. There are stops everywhere if you do the land crossing.” - Michael told us.

For such reasons as the above mentioned, Michael took a tour through 8 Southern and Central African countries, including DRC, the Republic of the Congo, CAR (Central African Republic), Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Angola, and South Africa.

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5. Navigating transportation in Central and Southern Africa: Tips for getting around

Navigating transportation in Central and Southern Africa can be an adventure in itself. The region offers various modes of transportation, from well-established railway networks in some areas to more adventurous options like minibusses and ferries.

Here is the best advice we have been given to make your journey run a little smoother:

  • Plan your routes: “Flights will be delayed or canceled, cross-country journeys will take time and patience, and public transport is not always a smooth ride either,” says Micahel.

He was planning his world trip for a year, so do your research, including the best ways to travel between destinations before you arrive. Online forums, travel guides, and local tourism websites can provide valuable information. He recommends the trusty Facebook group Every Passport Stamp.

  • Embrace public transport: In cities, public buses and minibusses (often called "matatus" or "dala dalas") are common and affordable. However, they can be crowded and may not adhere strictly to schedules.

  • Consider private transfers: For ease and safety, consider booking private transfers ahead of time, especially when traveling between airports and hotels or in areas where public transport is less reliable.

  • Use boats and ferries: In areas with significant bodies of water, like Lake Victoria or along the Zambezi River, ferries and boats are practical transportation options. Always check the safety and schedules.

  • Utilize taxi apps: Where you can, and they exist. Uber is active in South Africa, and Michael verifies its efficiency. In Angola, The Congo, Namibia, Ethiopia, and various other African countries, you have Yango, their version of Uber.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help at your accommodation or from local friends about how to get around.

Some great advice from Michael:

“Some West African nations have airports built so far away you might need several modes of transit (a boat for Sierra Leone!). Arrange with your hotel beforehand; otherwise, you’ll have to negotiate in a different language. Cabbies often try to charge 2 - 5 times the standard rate. One even tried ten times.”

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6. Cultural etiquette and customs to respect in Central and Southern Africa

If you're on a tour or being escorted through any country, you'll have trusted guidance from your guides. Otherwise, you should research the country you're visiting before you travel and find out what is and isn't accepted as the norm.

It is good to be aware of the following before traveling:

  1. Greetings are important - In many African cultures, greetings are a sign of respect.

  2. Use of titles and names - Show respect by using proper titles and surnames until you're invited to use first names, especially with community elders.

  3. Gift-giving customs - In many parts of Central and Southern Africa, bringing a small gift when visiting someone's is customary home.

  4. Eating and drinking etiquette - In many African homes, washing hands before and after eating is common. If you're eating with your hands, use your right hand only, as the left is traditionally considered unclean.

  5. Photography - Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, their homes, or religious sites.

  6. Religious practices - Respect religious customs and rituals. Be aware of the religious context of the area you are visiting.

  7. Time perception - Patience is the key. Time can be perceived differently, with a more flexible approach to punctuality known as 'African time.'

Get enough money from the ATM at the airport beforehand for the taxi.

7. Local Currency and payment methods

While significant cities accept credit cards, carrying some local currency is wise, especially in remote areas. Inform your bank of travel plans to avoid issues with your cards abroad.

In a recent Instagram post, Michael advises:

“Get enough money from an ATM at the airport or money changer beforehand for the taxi (maybe a little extra for emergencies) and then get the rest in town. Airport rates are usually higher than elsewhere, especially if the country has a gray/black market for currency.”

He also adds that the Western Union app has been an enormous salvation in being able to do things around Africa. Especially when he ran out of cash and got his card eaten by a machine at the Gabon airport.

South Africa: “If going with USD, you have great buying power; I got two coffees for half the price in a very expensive mall.” (Just remember you’ll need to use rands, the official currency if you’re paying in cash.)

DRC, Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Botswana: You can transact in USD, which is rare in most countries.

Malawi: - “You can get a lot for your USD here,” Michael told us.

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8. Pay priority and use the airport lounges

This is an essential tip from Michael, who has traveled across all 54 African Countries and taken numerous flights, buses, taxis, car-shares, and tuk-tuks.

During one of our interviews, he could not stress enough how beneficial paying for priority services and being able to use the airport lounges has been.

He emphasized:

Pay priority so you can use a lounge and their wifi, eat like a king, and rest.

You get priority through certain credit cards and memberships, like the Chase credit card he uses. Read more about getting a priority pass with them here and enjoy a bit of respite on your travels.

Bonus tip - Airport advice

An extra piece of golden advice about travel in Africa that Michael re-iterated in several interviews:

“Arrive early, expect to wait - Always arrive early to the airport because lines might be unpredictable, computer systems might be broken, security could hassle you, and the airline might cancel your flight. Or you might pass through like a gazelle across the savannah. It’s that unpredictable. Remember, for international flights, you still need to check in again even if you have your ticket.”

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