Once you’ve chosen a destination for your african safari, no doubt you’ll be dreaming of giraffes galloping across savannahs, flamingos feeding in lakes or the heart-stopping thud of a cheetah on your jeep roof. But first, there are practicalities like entry requirements to consider. Here’s everything you need to know before you embark on your first African adventure.


Many countries require visas, which are stamps in your passport that grant you legal access to a foreign country. Some can take weeks to organise, and you may need to visit an embassy, so before you buy your flight, check with your travel advisor or the US Department of State to see if your destination requires one. 

US citizens do not need a tourist visa to enter Botswana or Zambia, and if your trip is shorter than 90 days you won’t need one for Namibia or South Africa. Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania do require them. 


Yellow fever is a rare, serious virus spread by infected mosquitoes. There’s no cure, although a vaccination offers lifelong protection for most travelers. You need to have the vaccine at least 10 days before traveling to give it time to work and to receive a vaccination certificate.

A certificate is required for Kenya and Uganda, which also requires a polio vaccination for under fives.
Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia insist upon a certificate if you are traveling from or via a country where yellow fever is endemic.


It’s vital you take out travel insurance on the day that you book in case you need to cancel or your airline goes into liquidation.  

As well as ensuring you’re covered for missed departures, seek out cover for missed connections – which is much less common – especially if you’re flying with different airlines. Multiple flights also increase the chances of lost or delayed baggage.Repatriation and cover for hospital stays, treatment and transfers are also crucial.

National parks versus private reserves

Your African safari will depend upon whether you explore a government-owned and managed national park or a private game reserve, which is owned and managed by the lodges within it.

With fewer crowds and restrictions, safaris on private land can result in intimate wildlife encounters. Driving off road, at night and in open vehicles are permitted – none of which are allowed in national parks – which means you can get up close to nocturnal pangolins and wide-eyed bush babies. 

However, national parks are home to unique natural wonders. The world’s largest caldera, the Unesco site known as Ngorongoro Crater, is in a government-owned conservation area in Tanzania, while the wildebeest migration over River Mara is in a national park in Kenya. Kruger National Park in South Africa also allows self-drive tours.

What to pack

Take a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and closed toe shoes to protect yourself from the sun and insects, and a fleece for early starts. Blend in with beige and khaki.

Pack binoculars and a camera, but leave jewelry, drones and bright clothes at home. Jewelry can get lost or stolen, drones are often banned and white soon gets dusty. Dark blue attracts tsetse flies, while some countries ban civilians from wearing camouflage.

Other points to consider

You’ll spend a lot of time with your guide and will rely on them in the unlikely event of an emergency, so choose an experienced, local one.

Select a lodge that implements responsible tourism policies to ensure your visit benefits the community and wildlife you hope to see. When you need a break from your safari, consider participating in a community conservation project – and build in time to appreciate your beautiful African safari tent, too.

Image credits (alphabetical order): 2021 Photography; Hang Dinh; Ana Gram; Ger Metselaar; Jan Rix; Shutterstock; Asaf Wiezman.

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