Bargaining

Bargaining is most prevalent in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, less so in Botswana and South Africa. But even here there are nuances, and most other countries lie somewhere in between.

As a general rule, bargaining is usually expected in markets and street stalls, especially those that sell handicrafts aimed at tourists. It is sometimes possible to negotiate a discount for taxis and accommodation, but this varies from one country to the next.

Dangers & Annoyances

It is very important not to make sweeping statements about personal safety in Southern Africa. While some areas are undeniably risky, most places are completely safe. Essentially, violent robbery is much more prevalent in cities and towns than in rural or wilderness areas. But even towns can differ; as a general rule, there’s more of a danger in those frequented by foreigners than in places off the usual tourist track.

Scams

The main annoyances you’ll come across in Southern Africa are the various hustlers, touts, con artists and scam merchants who recognise tourists as easy prey. Although these characters aren’t always dangerous, they can part you from your valuables.

Popular scams include young people carrying sign-up sheets, requesting sponsorship for their school, sports team, youth club, grandmother’s liver transplant or other apparently worthwhile causes. The sheets will invariably include the names of ‘generous’ foreigners who have donated US$100 or more. These are almost invariably a scam; ignore them and politely take your leave. Another scam to look out for is people selling bogus bus tickets in and around bus stations. Always purchase your tickets from official sources, even if that’s a hole in the wall with a penned sign above it.

In the major cities of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique it’s advisable to keep your wits about you when using an ATM. There are dozens of scams that involve stealing your cash, your card or your personal identification number (PIN) – usually all three. The ATM scam you’re most likely to encounter involves the thief tampering with the machine so your card becomes jammed. By the time you realise this you’ve entered your PIN. The thief will have seen this, and when you go inside to report that your card has been swallowed, he will take the card and leave your account significantly lighter.

A popular scam in Namibia is when one guy distracts the driver out of the car while another opens up the passenger side, grabbing whatever is lying around and does a runner. Keep your stuff stashed out of sight in the car and be vigilant if someone wanders up to your car window and starts a conversation.

Road Safety

Although vehicle traffic is light on many roads outside of the major towns and cities, the most significant concern for most travellers is road safety. Most Southern African countries have some of the highest per capita accident rates in the world, and drunk and reckless driving are common, as is excessive speed. Never drive at night unless you absolutely have to.

Safety Tips

Some simple precautions will hopefully ensure that you have a trouble-free journey. Travellers who exercise due caution rarely have problems. The precautions suggested in this section are particularly relevant to Johannesburg and parts of Cape Town, but it’s worth reading them if you’re travelling in other main urban centres as well.

  • Be discreet with your belongings when on the street. Consider leaving your day-pack and camera in your hotel room if the room is safe.
  • Don’t wear jewellery or watches, however inexpensive they may be. Use a separate wallet for day-to-day purchases, and keep the bulk of your cash out of sight, preferably hidden in a pouch under loose-fitting clothing.
  • Walk confidently, but not aggressively. Never look like you’re lost (even if you are!). Don’t obviously refer to a guidebook. Tear out the pages you need, or duck into a shop to have a look at the map to get your bearings.
  • At night get off the streets and take a taxi – a couple of dollars for the fare could save you a lot of pain and trouble.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of thinking all robbers are on the street. Although most hotels are reputable, some travellers have left money in a safe, only to find that less reputable staff members with a spare key have helped themselves. Often this trick involves taking just a few notes, in the hope that you won’t notice. To avoid this, store any valuables in a safe inside a pouch with a lockable zip, or in an envelope you can seal.

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information for travellers.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)

Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (www.voyage.gc.ca)

French Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et Européennes (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)

Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri (www.viaggiaresicuri.mae.aci.it)

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)

UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)

US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)

Electricity

Electricity in Southern Africa is generated at 220V to 240V AC. Most plugs have three prongs (or pins), either round or rectangular (‘square’) in section. In South Africa, three round-pin plugs are used. Outside South Africa, British-style square three-pin plugs are common, while two-pin European-style plugs are sometimes used. A voltage adaptor is needed for US appliances.

Embassies & Consulates

Embassies are most plentiful in South Africa, where whole suburbs of Pretoria are a Who’s Who of global representation. Where home countries have no embassy, often a consul is appointed, who is not a full-time diplomat but has certain diplomatic responsibilities. Australia, Canada and New Zealand have few embassies in Southern Africa, but there is limited emergency assistance available from the British High Commission.

It’s important to realise what your own embassy can and can’t do to help you if you get into trouble. Generally speaking, it won’t be much help if whatever trouble you’re in is remotely your own fault. Remember that you are bound by the laws of the country you are in. In genuine emergencies you might get some assistance, but only if other channels have been exhausted. If you have all your money and documents stolen, your embassy might assist with getting a new passport, but that’s about it.

Emergency & Important Numbers

Botswana

Country Code

267

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

999

Lesotho

Country Code

266

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

112

Malawi

Country Code

265

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

997, 998, 999

Mozambique

Country Code

258

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

-

Namibia

Country Code

264

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

10111

South Africa

Country Code

27

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

112

Swaziland

Country Code

268

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

999

Zambia

Country Code

260

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

-

Zimbabwe

Country Code

263

International Access Code

00

Emergency No.

995, 999

Entry & Exit Formalities

Visitors require a valid passport to enter every country in Southern Africa. To accommodate visas and border stamps, you’ll need at least one or two empty pages per country you intend to visit, especially if your itinerary calls for multiple border crossings. If your passport is close to full, get a new one or pick up an insert – but apply for it well in advance. If your passport is due to expire, replace it before you leave home, as some officials won’t admit you unless your passport is valid at least three (or even six) months beyond the end of your stay.

Crossing borders with a vehicle considerably increases the time you'll spend completing the formalities and continuing on your way.

Customs Regulations

Customs information varies from country to country in the region.

Visas

For everywhere except Mozambique, visas are either not required or available on arrival for most nationalities for stays of between 30 and 90 days.

Further Information

Visa requirements vary according to your nationality. In general, travellers from North America, Commonwealth countries and most of Western Europe don’t require visas (or can obtain them on arrival) for much of the region.

At the time of writing, the only place in Mozambique you can reliably get a visa at the border is Cóbuè on Lake Malawi. We strongly advise that you organise your visa beforehand. You can do it in person or via post from the embassy in your home country.

If you’re from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe or Latin America, you should check with the local embassies of the countries you intend to visit, as some may accept only visas issued in your home country.

At the time of writing, the following rules apply for most Western travellers:

Botswana

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

up to 30 days

Cost

free

Lesotho

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

up to 30 days

Cost

free

Malawi

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

1 month

Cost

US$75

Mozambique

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

no (unless no Mozambique embassy in your home country)

Cost

varies according to nationality

Namibia

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

up to 90 days

Cost

free

South Africa

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

up to 90 days (except New Zealand)

Cost

free

Swaziland

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

up to 30 days

Cost

free

Zambia

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

1 month

Cost

US$50

Zimbabwe

Visa or Entry Permit Available on Arrival

up to 30 days

Cost

US$30-55

Useful Documentation

Depending on which countries you’re visiting, you may need the following: a vaccination certificate to show you have had all the right jabs; a driver’s licence, and perhaps an International Driving Permit (for the rare occasions when it may be required to hire a vehicle, or for insurance purposes if you’re buying a vehicle); youth hostel card and a student or youth identity card (such as ISIC), which may be good for accessing discounts on flights, long-distance buses and visits to sites of interest (especially museums).

A Southern African Visa?

The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is moving towards a universal system, albeit extremely slowly, to be theoretically introduced when all countries are up to speed on the required technical and security arrangements. Basically it will enable tourists to obtain a single visa for all countries within Southern Africa. But don't hold your breath.

Etiquette

Southern Africans are generally fairly relaxed in their dealings with foreign travellers and good manners and acting politely and modestly are key to avoiding offence. It is, however, worth keeping a few general guidelines in mind.

  • Greetings Greetings are always important. Even if you're in a hurry, greet people you meet, ask how they are, how their day is going, and so on.
  • Elders Treat elders and those in positions of authority with deference and respect.
  • Gifts When receiving a gift, it's polite in many areas to accept it with both hands, sometimes with a slight bow.
  • Shaking Hands There are numerous local varieties of the humble handshake. Learning the local version is a fast-track to making friends. A two-hand handshake (ie your left hand on your elbow while you shake) is preferable to a Western-style handshake.
  • Public Displays of Affection These are rarely a good idea and frowned upon by locals.

LGBT Travellers

Homosexuality is legal in South Africa and was decriminalised in Mozambique in 2015. Everywhere else, male homosexual acts are illegal in all countries of the region; lesbian acts exist in a grey area in some countries.

Countries in the region are extremely conservative in their attitudes towards gay men and lesbians, and homosexuality is rarely discussed in public, not least because in traditional African societies, gay sexual relationships are a cultural taboo. When it does appear as a public issue, it's rarely to express tolerance or solidarity. Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has made numerous vociferous diatribes against homosexuals, while back in 2001, then-Namibia president Sam Nujoma famously said, 'Those who are practising homosexuality in Namibia are destroying the nation. Homosexuals must be condemned and rejected in our society.'

Antigay attitudes appear particularly entrenched also in Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia and Malawi, while things are a little more relaxed in Botswana (where employment laws forbid workplace discrimination or dismissal on the basis of a person's sexual orientation), although homosexual acts remain illegal.

South Africa’s constitution is one of the few in Africa that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and there are active gay and lesbian communities and scenes in Cape Town, Jo’burg, Pretoria and Durban. Cape Town is without doubt the focal point, and the most openly gay city on the continent.

Homosexuality has been decriminalised in Mozambique and there is a small but growing gay-and-lesbian scene in Maputo, although cultural attitudes sometimes lag behind the legal situation.

Open displays of affection are generally frowned upon in Southern Africa, whatever your orientation. Please be sensitive to local sensibilities.

Resources

South African resources:

Exit (www.exit.co.za) South Africa’s longest-running gay newspaper.

Gay Pages (www.gaypagessa.co.za) Bimonthly glossy magazine.

OUTright For gay males; available at CNA and other chain bookstores nationwide.

South Africa tourism (www.southafrica.net) Lists gay and lesbian events.

Insurance

All travellers should seriously consider purchasing a travel insurance policy, which will provide some sense of security in the case of a medical emergency or the loss or theft of money or belongings. Travel health-insurance policies can usually be extended to include baggage, flight departure insurance and a range of other options.

Claims on your travel insurance must be accompanied by proof of the value of any items lost or stolen (purchase receipts are the best, so if you buy a new camera for your trip, for example, hang onto the receipt). In the case of medical claims, you’ll need detailed medical reports and receipts. If you’re claiming on a trip cancelled by circumstances beyond your control (illness, airline bankruptcy, industrial action etc), you’ll have to produce all flight tickets purchased, tour agency receipts and itinerary, and proof of whatever glitch caused your trip to be cancelled.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

Most capital cities (and some large towns) in the region have at least one internet cafe, and many hotels and backpacker hostels also offer these services. Speed, reliability and hourly rates vary greatly (between about US$1 and US$5). Wireless access is becoming more common everywhere. Rural areas in all countries are essentially devoid of internet access, although some small towns may have an internet centre and lodges and camps increasingly have wireless services. At the same time, many luxury lodges have made a deliberate decision to not provide wi-fi, on the assumption that your need to connect to your surroundings is greater than your need for internet access.

Maps

The Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa produces a useful map of South Africa (as well as numerous South African area maps), plus others covering Botswana and Namibia. The maps are available from any AA shop in South Africa.

For a useful overview of the region, the best map is the Michelin Africa: Central & South (1:4,000,000; Series No 746). Otherwise, pick up a copy of Map Studio's Southern & Central Africa, which shows all the countries in Southern Africa. Remember, however, that for navigation you'll need much more detailed maps.

Media

The region's media map is varied – the best publications tend to come out of South Africa. Elsewhere, you'll find plenty of local (usually pretty sensationalist) newspapers.

Best Sources for Regional News

  • All Africa (allafrica.com) Posts numerous articles every day, collated from more than 125 different news organisations.
  • BBC News (www.bbcnews.com/africa) Up-to-the-minute news from across the continent.
  • Africa Confidential (www.africa-confidential.com) Subscription-only but arguably the most respected news source on the continent.
  • Open Africa (www.openafrica.org) Excellent site detailing off-the-beaten-track tourism supporting job creation and conservation.
  • Political Africa (www.politicalafrica.com) Latest stories on Africa from various news services around the world, plus links to sport, economics and the UN in Africa.

Magazines

  • News magazines that cover the continent include Africa Today, Business Africa and New African. All are available from newsagents in South Africa and bookshops in capital cities elsewhere.
  • Getaway magazine, a South African publication, covers travel in Southern Africa, with articles ranging from epic 4WD trips to active and not-so-active tours all over the region.
  • Africa Geographic, published online, should be considered essential reading for every Africa buff, with a focus on wildlife and conservation.

Press Freedom

According to the 2016 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters without Borders (www.rsf.org), Namibia had the best record for press freedom in the region, ranking a highly respectable 17th out of 180 countries (higher then Canada, the US, the UK and Australia). Also doing well were South Africa (39th) and Botswana (43rd). Far less impressive were Swaziland (153rd), Zimbabwe (124th) and Zambia (114th).

Money

ATMs widely available in larger towns and cities. Credit cards widely accepted in most shops, restaurants and hotels (especially in South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia).

ATMs

ATMs are readily available throughout South Africa and in cities and main urban centres in the rest of the region. If you’re planning to travel for lengthy periods of time in rural areas, however, plan ahead: ATMs are still a foreign concept. There are a few ATM scams to be aware of, operating particularly in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Black Market

In some parts of the world, artificially fixed exchange rates in the bank mean you can get more local money for your hard currency by changing on the so-called black market. Not only is this illegal, it’s also potentially dangerous. In most of the region, currency deregulation has eliminated the black market; Zimbabwe is a significant exception. If someone approaches you anywhere in the region offering substantially more than the bank rate, they almost certainly have a well-formulated plan for separating you from your money. If you change money on the black market, always count your money before walking away.

Cash

Most travellers carry a mix of cash and travellers cheques, although cash is more convenient. The best currency to bring is far and away US dollars. British pounds, followed by euros, come a distant second and third.

You’ll have no trouble exchanging US cash wherever there are Forex facilities, but try to bring notes (especially US$100) issued from 2006 or later; earlier notes may not be accepted at banks.

The South African rand is also widely recognised throughout the region, but it’s not worth changing your currency into rand before converting it to kwacha, pula or whatever.

It’s always wise to have at least an emergency US$20 note tucked somewhere safe in case you find yourself suddenly devoid of all other possessions.

Credit Cards

Most credit and debit cards can be used in ATMs, which are found all over South Africa, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia. In other countries they’re found only in capital cities and larger towns, and aren't always reliable.

Credit cards work for purchases all over South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, and in tourist establishments in other countries. You can also use credit cards to draw cash advances (but even in South Africa this can take several hours, and be wary of high interest charges).

Whatever card you choose to use, it isn’t wise to rely totally on plastic, as computer or telephone breakdowns can leave you stranded. Always have some cash or travellers cheques as backup.

Following major cash shortage in Zimbabwe many foreign consulates recommended tourists bring enough US dollars to last the duration of their trip. Zimbabwe’s new bond money currency was introduced in late 2016 in hope of easing the money crisis, but time will tell if it’s a temporary measure or here to stay.

Currency

The US dollar is the official currency of Zimbabwe, although government-issued bonds were added into the mix in late 2016.

Elsewhere in Southern Africa, many midrange and top-end hotels will quote their room rates (and accept payment) in US dollars.

In all countries it’s wise to rely on a variety of methods to fund your trip. Local currency, US dollars and a credit card will cover most bases.

Exchange Rates

Australia (A$1)Canada (C$1)Euro (€1)Japan (¥100)New Zealand (NZ$1)UK (£1)USA (US$1)
BotswanaP8.03P7.83P11.62P10.05P7.67P13.05P10.47
LesothoM10.24M10.53M14.69M11.99M9.79M17.51M14.06
MalawiMK541MK532MK783MK680MK511MK515MK713
MozambiqueMtc60Mtc60Mtc76Mtc77Mtc57Mtc102Mtc78
NamibiaN$10.46N$10.50N$14.95N$12.60N$9.92N$17.63N$14.17
South AfricaR10.24R10.53R14.69R11.99R9.79R17.51R14.06
SwazilandE10.24E10.53E14.69E11.99E9.79E17.51E14.06
ZambiaZMW7.34ZMW7.44ZMW10.42ZMW8.56ZMW7.04ZMW12.36ZMW9.80
ZimbabweUS$0.76US$0.75US$1.10US$0.95US$0.72US$1.22US$1

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Moneychangers

Throughout the region, you can exchange currency at banks and foreign exchange bureaus, which are normally found near borders, in larger cities and in tourist areas. You can also change money at some shops and hotels (which almost always give very poor rates).

The easiest currencies to exchange are US dollars, followed by euros or British pounds. At border crossings where there is no bank, unofficial moneychangers are usually tolerated by the authorities. It’s always important to be alert, though, as these guys can pull all sorts of stunts with poor exchange rates, folded notes and clipped newspaper sandwiched between legitimate notes.

Tipping

When it comes to tipping, every country is different, but a few general rules apply:

  • Hotels and restaurants It isn’t usually necessary in small local establishments, midrange restaurants, backpackers lodges, hotels or fast-food places, but in any upmarket restaurant that doesn’t automatically include a service charge (which isn’t obligatory if the service has been poor), it may be appropriate.
  • Taxis Taxi drivers aren’t normally tipped, but may expect about 10% from well-heeled travellers.

Further Information

There is a grey area between midrange restaurants (where tipping isn't usually necessary) and upmarket restaurants (where tipping may be appropriate), because tipping is rarely expected from locals but may be expected of foreigners. On the other hand, wealthier Africans may sometimes tip even at smaller restaurants, not because it’s expected, but as a show of status.

If you’re driving – especially in cities – you are expected to tip parking guards, who’ll watch your car while you’re away (in a few cases this is a protection racket, but they’re mostly legitimate).There’s no need to tip the guys who wave you into the parking space you were going to take anyway.

At safari lodges and on tours, everyone is expected to leave a blanket tip to be divided among the staff, while safari guides expect a separate tip from other staff. Most safari companies suggest the following as a rule of thumb:

  • guides/drivers – US$10 per person per day
  • camp or lodge staff – US$10 per guest per day (usually placed in a communal box)
  • transfer drivers and porters – US$3 to US$5.

Travellers Cheques

Travellers cheques are becoming increasingly difficult to change and doing so is rarely less than a bureaucratic nightmare.

If you do decide to go with travellers cheques, it’s wise to purchase a range of travellers cheque denominations so you don’t have to exchange US$100 in a country where you need only half that. When exchanging travellers cheques, many places want to check your purchase receipts (the ones the travellers cheque company told you to always keep separate), but carry them with you only when you want to change money. Just be sure to have photocopies of them, along with the international numbers to call in case of loss or theft.

Be aware that it can be difficult to change travellers cheques in Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi; some banks don’t recognise modern purchase receipts (or perhaps don’t want to), although US dollars cash in the same institutions is welcomed with open arms.

Opening Hours

Standard opening hours vary from country to country. As a general rule, the working week runs from Monday to Friday; some shops and tourism-related businesses sometimes open on Saturdays, either all day or just in the morning.

Photography

In South Africa and to a lesser degree Namibia, cameras and accessories are readily available in large towns. Even so, the best advice is to carry any special requirements from home.

Other things to remember:

  • In all countries, be careful about taking photos of soldiers, police, airports, defence installations and government buildings.
  • You should always ask permission before taking a photo of anyone, but particularly so if you’re in a village.
  • For more information, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography.

Wildlife Photography

To score some excellent wildlife photos, a good lightweight 35mm SLR automatic camera with a lens between 210mm and 300mm – and a modicum of skill – should do the trick. Video cameras with a zoom facility may be able to get closer and digital cameras will perform all sorts of magic. An early start is advisable because most wildlife is active during the cooler hours. When photographing animals, take light readings on the subject and not the brilliant African background or your shots will be underexposed. The best times to take photos on sunny days are the first two hours after sunrise and the last two before sunset, both of which take advantage of the low sun’s colour-enhancing rays. Filters (eg ultraviolet, polarising or skylight) can also produce good results; ask for advice in a good camera shop.

Post

The postal system varies from country to country, but, as a general rule, services are slow but reliable. Packages are usually sent from a separate counter or even a different office; note that some will require that you show them the contents of any package so don't seal your box until you're in the office itself.

In some circumstances, international courier companies charge rates that aren't all that much more than government postal rates, and they're usually quicker and more reliable.

Public Holidays

Public holidays vary from one country to the next and usually celebrate country-specific dates commemorating independence and/or historically significant events. Most countries celebrate one or more of the following:

New Year’s Day 1 January

Good Friday March or April

Easter Sunday March or April

Easter Monday March or April

Labour or Workers' Day 1 May

Christmas Day 25 December

Boxing Day 26 December

Smoking

Smoking is banned in public places (the definition of which varies from country to country) in most countries of the region and stiff penalties sometimes apply (from fines to prison sentences!). Malawi and Mozambique lag behind with antismoking legislation and no bans apply in these two countries.

Taxes & Refunds

Throughout the region, quoted prices and tariffs usually include all local taxes, but always ask if you're unsure.

There is no system of sales-tax refunds for tourists who purchase items in most Southern African countries. The exception is South Africa, where the value-added tax (VAT) of 14% can be reclaimed on most goods being taken out of the country by departing foreign visitors.

Telephone

South Africa in general, and major cities elsewhere in the region, has good telephone facilities. Although local calls are relatively inexpensive, long-distance calls and international calls can be pricey. Aside from public phones, there are also private phone centres where you can pay cash for your call, but at double the rate of public phones.

Mobile Phones

Local SIM cards are available across the region and can be used in unlocked Australian and European phones. Top-up vouchers are widely available.

More Information

In Southern Africa mobile phones are very popular due, in no small part, to the often dismal state of national landline service providers. Reception varies from country to country, but expect decent coverage in and surrounding most towns, but expect nothing at all out in the bush. Airports in some countries often have a counter where you can rent a mobile phone for the duration of your stay.

Satellite Phones

If you will be out in remote areas for even short periods, it can be worth renting a satellite phone for use in emergencies. 4WD rentals agencies can usually rent you a sat phone, or they'll know someone who does.

Time

In the southern summer, Southern Africa is two hours ahead of UTC (Universal Time Coordinate, formerly called GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time). The only Southern African country with daylight-saving time is Namibia, which turns its clocks forward one hour in September, and back one hour in April.

In the southern winter, however, the region is on the same time as British Summer Time (daylight-saving time).

Toilets

There are two main types of toilet in Africa: the Western style, with a toilet bowl and seat; and the African style, which is a squat toilet with a hole in the floor.

  • Standards of both types of toilet vary tremendously from pristine to nauseating.
  • In most tourist hotels, except perhaps those basic places that receive a predominantly African clientele, Western-style toilets are the norm.
  • In rural areas and campsites, long-drop squat toilets are built over a deep hole in the ground, where waste matter decomposes naturally as long as people avoid depositing rubbish (including tampons or sanitary pads, which should be disposed of separately).
  • There’s also a bizarre hybrid, in which an unplumbed Western toilet is perched over a long-drop hole. As you can imagine, the lack of running water can turn these into an unspeakable horror.

Tourist Information

All countries in Southern Africa have national tourist boards, but their efficiency and benefit range from excellent to little more than a friendly smile to downright uninterested.

South Africa’s tourist information centres are prolific and fabulous. Usually staffed by devoted locals, they're a great source of microscopic information for travellers. Tourist offices in Namibia and Botswana are the pick of the rest.

Elsewhere, tourist boards’ websites are sometimes useful for preplanning, but offices on the ground rarely provide very much enlightenment.

Travel with Children

Southern Africa presents few problems specific to children, and while health concerns are always an issue, food and lodging are mostly quite familiar and manageable. What’s more, foreigners with children are usually treated with great kindness, and a widespread local affection for the younger set opens up all sorts of social interaction for travelling families.

In South Africa, away from the coast, many resorts, hotels and national park lodges and camping grounds have a wide range of facilities for children. Many families hire campervans in South Africa to tour the region. There are fewer child-oriented facilities in the other countries, but here the attractions usually provide entertainment enough: large wild animals in the national parks are a major draw, and even bored teenagers have been known to enjoy Vic Falls and its adrenaline activities. Botswana and Namibia also lend themselves to family camping holidays, and the attractions – such as the wildlife of Etosha National Park or Moermi Game Reserve, or the world’s biggest sandbox at Sossusvlei – are entertainment in themselves. Lake Malawi has plenty of child-friendly lodges and the highland areas of Malawi such as the Viphya and Zomba Plateaus are also good for families.

For more advice and anecdotes, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.

Practicalities

In tourist hotels and lodges, family rooms and chalets are normally available for only a little more than doubles. Otherwise, it’s normally easy to arrange more beds in a standard adult double for a minimal extra charge. On public transport children are expected to pay for their seats unless they spend the entire journey on their parents’ laps.

In Southern Africa, compared with some other parts of the world, there are few nasty diseases to worry about, and good (if expensive) medical services are often within reach.

Outside cities and major towns in South Africa, do not plan on finding pasteurised milk, formula or disposable nappies. They may be available sporadically (especially in Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia), but this is the exception rather than the rule. Breastfeeding in public is fairly common for locals, but in rural areas it’s likely to attract significant unwanted attention for visitors.

Essential Documents

Travellers with children should be aware of changes regarding the documents you must carry with you while travelling through some countries of the region. The law requires that all parents arriving, transiting and departing South Africa, Namibia and Botswana must produce an unabridged birth certificate for their children, and the birth certificate must state the names of both parents. Families not in possession of these documents will be refused travel.

If one parent is travelling alone with their children, the travelling parent must carry with them an affidavit from the other (ie nontravelling) parent who is listed on the birth certificate granting their consent for the travel to take place in their absence. Where this is not possible, either a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights, or a death certificate of the other parent, must be produced.

We have travelled across the borders of all three countries with our children on numerous occasions and although we were not always asked for these documents, we were asked for each of them at least once. Travel without them at your peril.

Accessible Travel

People with mobility limitations will not have an easy time in Southern Africa. Even though there are more disabled people per head of population here than in the West, facilities are few. South Africa stands out from its neighbours with regard to its disabled organisations.

For the imaginative, Zambezi raft trips, mokoro (dugout canoe) trips in the Okavango Delta (where at least one mobility-disabled person works as a mokoro poler), wildlife drives and cruises, lie-down sandboarding in the Namib dunes (if you can reach the top on a quad bike), and other activities won’t be inaccessible. In almost all cases, safari companies – including budget operators – are happy to accommodate travellers with special needs, but they're usually relying more on goodwill than any expertise or infrastructure.

In South Africa, the South African National Parks’ website (www.sanparks.org) has a detailed and inspirational overview of accommodation and trail accessibility for the mobility impaired at all its parks, including Kruger.

Most wheelchair users find travel easier with an able-bodied companion, and happily, travel in Southern Africa does offer a few advantages compared with other parts of the developing world:

  • footpaths and public areas are often surfaced with tar or concrete, rather than with sand, mud or gravel;
  • many buildings (including safari lodges and national park cabins) are single storey, and assistance is usually available on domestic and regional flights;
  • vehicle hire is easy in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana and, with permission, vehicles can be taken to neighbouring countries.

For more information and advice, download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Organisations

Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org) In the US, it advises disabled travellers on mobility issues; it primarily runs educational exchange programs, and some include African travel.

Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org) In the US; offers assistance and advice.

Access-Able Travel Source (www.access-able.com) Another US-based site providing information on disabled-friendly tours and hotels.

Accessible Travel & Leisure (www.accessibletravel.co.uk) Claims to be the biggest UK travel agent dealing with travel for people with a disability, and encourages independent travel.

Volunteering

Volunteer work is a wonderful way to get to know the region and make a difference in the process. The main areas are teaching or wildlife conservation.

There are some excellent local, grassroots opportunities for travellers wanting to volunteer, but community and conservation projects that exist are sometimes small, focused grassroots projects that simply aren’t set up for drop-in volunteers. Approach each on a case-by-case basis.

Volunteering Organisations

The following international organisations are good places to start gathering information on volunteering, although they won’t necessarily always have projects on the go in Southern Africa.

Australian Volunteers International (www.australianvolunteers.com)

Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (http://ccivs.org)

Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org)

Idealist (www.idealist.org)

International Volunteer Programs Association (www.volunteerinternational.org)

Peace Corps (www.peacecorps.gov)

Step Together Volunteering (www.step-together.org.uk)

UN Volunteers (www.unv.org)

Volunteer Service Abroad (www.vsa.org.nz)

Voluntary Service Overseas (www.vso.org.uk)

Volunteer Abroad (www.goabroad.com/volunteer-abroad)

Worldwide Experience (www.worldwideexperience.com)

Weights & Measures

All countries in Southern Africa use the metric system.

Women Travellers

Compared with North Africa and the Middle East, South America and many Western countries, Southern Africa is relatively safe and nonthreatening for women travellers, whether solo or in small groups.

Local Attitudes

Attitudes towards foreign women travellers tend to be fairly liberal, and if travelling solo there are plenty of opportunities to meet people along the way. Southern Africa is one of the few places in the developing world where women can meet and communicate freely with local men – of any race – without automatically being misconstrued. You'll still get questions about what you’re doing, and where your husband and children are, but reactions are usually matter-of-fact.

Nightlife is something of an exception and in this sphere both black and white societies in Southern Africa are very much conservative, traditional and male-dominated. Some bars are male only (by law of the establishment, or by law of tradition), and even where women are 'allowed', cultural conventions often dictate that women don't enter without a male companion. To avoid attracting unwanted attention, it's best to seek out and follow local female advice on which places are acceptable.

Health & Safety

Stay safe with a bit of common sense and keep your wits about you, ie don’t wander around alone anywhere at night, and during the daytime avoid anywhere that's isolated, including streets, beaches and parks. If you go out at night, it’s best to go in a group. Additionally, many budget hotels double as brothels, and are best avoided if you're travelling solo.

Never forget that in Africa, HIV/AIDS presents a threat that's unimaginable in the West. Throughout the region, local sex workers are almost always infected. This also means local men may see a foreign woman as a safe alternative.

Tampons and sanitary napkins are sold in pharmacies and supermarkets in major towns, although you’re best off bringing your own preferred supply from home. It’s also a good idea to pack anti-thrush medication, UTI antibiotics and any other medication you might need.

Resources

Female travellers may like to contact the global organisation called Women Welcome Women World Wide (www.womenwelcomewomen.org.uk), which fosters international friendship by enabling women of different countries to visit one another.

Work

Unemployment in Southern Africa is high and finding work is difficult. There are few opportunities for getting work in the region and those that do exist must be arranged through a company well in advance of your visit to the country. In most cases, to work legally you will not be able to do so on a tourist visa and will instead have to obtain a work visa or permit.

Most opportunities are usually in the fields of aid, conservation and tourism (such as working in a lodge or hotel, as a tour guide, as a diving instructor...); the latter sector is the one most likely to be looking for skilled overseas workers at shorter notice.