There is a special kind of freedom to backpacking adventures: you get a chance to explore new environments all on your own, develop survival skills and structure your vacation as it suits you best. And if you are headed to Southern Africa, you are in for a double treat: a place where flora and fauna thrive in their full glory, people greet you with a wide smile and beaches feel silky under your bare feet, the continent offers abundance of backpacking sites ready for the taking. Sounds fascinating? Buckle up, it gets even better: we have several tips here to help you plan your African adventure and stay on the safe side at all times during the visit.
As far as visa regulations go, pretty much everyone can enter Southern Africa: free 90-day visa-on-arrival is available at airports and border crossings for citizens of the US, EU, Israel, Scandinavian and Commonwealth countries, as well as most Latin American countries. All you need to get your visa for Southern Africa countries is a blank page in your passport, evidence that you have been vaccinated against Yellow Fever and proof of accommodation bookings. Don’t worry about finding accommodation, you can easily find places to stay online on real estate portals like propertymaputo.com.
If you intend to visit Limpopo, Zululand, Mpumalanga and territories on the border with Mozambique, you should consider taking anti-malaria pills – but if these areas are not on your travelling agenda, you do not have to worry about the obnoxious disease. Do not be intimidated by urban legends about high malaria mortality rates: Southern Africa has come a long way since widespread epidemics of the disease, and most tourists do not even bother taking anti-malaria pills. If you want to stay on the safe side, however, go with Malarone as it entails fewest unpleasant side-effects compared to other similar medicines available on the market.
Best time to visit
Although you can visit Southern Africa any time you wish, the best months for backpacking are September-November and April-May, when temperatures are moderate and the chance of rain is slim. If you intend to go conquering higher altitudes such as the Drakensberg Mountains, pick a warmer season. Winter months are a better time for backpacking trips structured around landscape explorations and animal watching.
Food and drink
Dry food may provide a convenient solution for short backpacking tours, but if you intend to spend over a week exploring the amazing landscapes of Southern Africa, pack a meal replacement powder for easy-to-make grubs on the go. If you want to eat out, be aware that restaurant prices are approximately the same as in western countries, so if you are travelling on a budget, you might want to go and get your own groceries at the supermarket – food is much more affordable in local groceries here than in the EU or US. The good news about food in Southern Africa is that the offer is more diverse than in other countries on the continent, and delicious wines and other alcoholic beverages are much cheaper than in Europe and America.
The internet and booklet guides
When in Southern Africa, do not bank on fast and free Wi-Fi: not all hostels have internet access on their list of amenities, and even the places that do let you use their connection for a fee have slow Wi-Fi. So, unless you are eager to pay through your nose for sluggish internet service, you should get a 3G dongle to minimize the costs. Or, if all you want to do online is browse for travelling guides and accommodation options, do yourself a favor and get a copy of Coast to Coast and Alternative Route. The booklets offer a comprehensive compilation of important info on where to stay and what to do during your Southern Africa adventure, and they are available for free at most hotels and grocery stores.
Are you ready for your Southern African backpacking adventure? Explore the vivid marine life on a diving session with a local scuba instructor, go cage-diving in the midst of a school of sharks, try whale-watching, surfing, bungee jumping and parasailing on the coast. Or, if you prefer land-borne adventures, you can go zip-lining through the jungle, rock climbing, hiking, rhino tracking and safari riding. We promise you will love every minute spent in the tropical South African paradise!
About the author
Oliver Hyde is an experienced business consultant from the UK. His job allows him to travel, which also happens to be one of his greatest passions.