A good way to go birding or on safari in Africa is on an organised tour managed by a professional tour operator. This will allow you to see some of the best sites and a large number of birds in the country you choose. For busy people, it will certainly mean less time involved in detailed planning.
Ashanti, Birdfinders, Birding & Beyond, Birding Africa, Birding Ecotours, Birdquest, Field Guides, Letaka Safaris, Lawson's, Limosa, Nature's Wonderland Safaris, Rockjumper, Safari Consultants, Safariwise, Sunbird, Venture Uganda Travel are all sponsors of the African Bird Club and operate tours to many parts of Africa.
If you choose to organise your own trip to Africa, make sure that you use local bird guides to show you around. In many African countries there are local birdwatchers who will help you to find the birds. Some of these do this for a living while others do so voluntarily. Using a local guide will get you a bigger list - and quicker! Take a look at http://birdingpal.com
Introduction: Africa is such a vast continent that trying to produce a general set of logistical information for all countries is virtually an impossible task. What we have attempted here is to describe some of the major issues which you need to plan for and which you might face when travelling to and within Africa. There is more detailed information available within each country section of this website, in travel guides and on other internet sites. Whether you are travelling in an organised tour or independently, there is no substitute for some detailed research and planning in advance of your journey.
Although there appear to be a number of logistics, safety and health issues when travelling in Africa, remember that millions of people do so each year safely. A few sensible precautions can reduce the risks and make for a pleasant and enjoyable visit.
Internet: The internet and email have made independently organised trips a lot more feasible than previously but you need to be aware that many addresses will be accessed through unreliable phone lines so don't expect immediate replies and don't send large attachments without asking first. Internet cafes are available across much of Africa in order for you to communicate whilst you are travelling.
Visas: You should always check visa requirements with your local embassy and / or its website in plenty of time before travel. Visas are often mandatory and sometimes must be obtained in advance since not all countries issue them upon arrival.
Maps and navigation: Excellent, detailed maps are available for many African countries and can often be purchased on arrival in the country itself or from a specialist map shop in your own country. Good quality maps are highly recommended, particularly if you intend to visit some of the more remote sites mentioned in this website on an independent basis. In many countries, driving off-road is inevitable and in such situations a GPS (Global Positioning System) can be very useful.
Air travel: Most if not all capital cities of African countries have flights to and from international destinations. The air infrastructure between countries within Africa is generally poor however when compared to Europe, America or Asia say, so it may not be easy to fly from one country to a near neighbour. Europe has a large number of routes to and from African destinations and many of these tend to be aligned with the colonial links of the past, for example France to Cameroon and Senegal, UK to Kenya and South Africa and Portugal to Angola. Direct flights to and from America, Asia and Australia are sparse and may require a transfer en route.
Flying within a country is often a feasible option and many towns may be connected with the capital city. Given the large distances which may be involved in travelling around a country and the inadequacies of many roads, this is often the best option.
Rail travel: This is normally not a good option for travel in Africa as the trains, if a railway exists at all, are slow and infrequent. If you enjoy rail travel however and are not in a rush, trains can represent a pleasant and inexpensive way to see a country. There are few trains which run across international boundaries.
Road transport: Most countries have a network of public bus services which connect the major towns although the standards are variable and the services are often crowded. Taxis are often a reasonably cheap way to travel.
Driving: Between countries, driving can be an option although the number of border crossings is limited. In order to reach many of the places mentioned on this website and other sites of interest to birders, you will need to use your own vehicle or a hire car. The price of hiring a car varies greatly and it is sometimes easier and cheaper to hire vehicles in an adjacent country and drive across the border to your detination.
Africa’s road network is not well developed although some countries such as Egypt, Namibia and South Africa have a reasonably high percentage of the total road network which is sealed. Where sealed roads do exist, however, they may be in varying states of repair. The vast majority of Africa’s roads are gravel or dirt and getting to most sites will involve driving on such roads. High-clearance vehicles are important therefore. Four-wheel drive vehicles may be necessary and are sometimes essential if the roads are wet and muddy, rocky or sandy for example. In wet conditions, roads may become impassable.
It is important for your vehicle to be in a well maintained state but even so, there is a chance of breakdown. If you are exploring distant, remote and unfamiliar areas, it is advisable to travel with two vehicles. It is worth carrying extra cans of fuel and a selection of spares and tools including a tyre mending kit and pump. Distances can be huge and most areas are not well signposted.
In most countries, it is best to refuse to travel on the main roads in the countryside at night. Accidents have happened at night because outside of towns the roads are neither marked nor lit. There are plenty of vehicles without any working lights as well as donkey carts and animals on the roads; they are invisible in the dark until it is too late.
Camping: Across much of Africa, camping is an option and it is a good way to be in the right place to see birds at dawn. In all cases however, it is both advisable and polite to seek the permission of the local landowner or village head before you set up camp. If you intend to leave a camp or vehicle whilst you explore on foot, it is wise to leave somebody to act as a guard. Employing a full-time guard and helper on a trip into the bush is highly recommended. Furthermore, local villagers are often keen to act as guides or porters if you choose to travel any distance on foot. Suitable payment should be negotiated, but not issued, before departure.
Timing: The timing of your visit is important both in terms of seeing birds and in the ease of travel within the country. It is hard to generalise for all countries but most tours operate in the dry and not the wet season. Travel towards the end of the dry season but before the rains is perhaps a useful rule of thumb. Some information is contained in each of the country sections about weather patterns and times to travel.
Currency: Some countries have good facilities for changing money and travellers cheques and obtaining cash at banks and through ATMs. Facilities in other countries may be sparse and only available in major cities. The best advice is to research this thoroughly before you travel. It also makes sense to take a supply of a widely accepted currency such as the US dollar.
Language: Check with the country pages on this website or in travel books to see which languages are spoken in the countries which you are visiting. Many countries but not all have a European language as their national language based on the colonial period for example English is widely spoken in Kenya, French in Mali, German in Namibia, Portuguese in Angola etc. There are also a host of local languages and dialects. In many countries and in particular outside of the large centres, you will require a guide with the appropriate language skills.
Photographs: The taking of photographs can cause offence to local people in some countries and you are well advised to ask permission in advance. Having said that, children sometimes ask for their photo to be taken and with digital cameras, showing them the image can be a source of interest and amusement. Some countries place restrictions on the use of binoculars and cameras especially near military or government establishments.
The health and safety aspects of travelling in Africa can be a daunting subject. Travelling to Africa is rather like travelling anywhere else in the world however and there is no substitute for good research and planning, and taking sensible precautions before and during the journey.
Vaccinations: Your local doctor should obviously be consulted about health matters before you travel. Inoculations are advised for most countries as a preventative measure against a range of tropical diseases. In some countries and depending where you are travelling from, a Yellow Fever certificate is essential as proof of vaccination and this may be checked on arrival.
Malaria: Again, consult your own doctor well in advance of travelling. Much of Africa and especially sub-Saharan Africa is in a malaria zone. The best advice is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes and you can reduce the chances by covering your skin especially at dusk and by sleeping under a net. Prophylaxes are available and you should take those recommended by your doctor and in the correct dosage before, during and after the trip.
Insects: Some people find that other insects are much more of a nuisance than mosquitoes. Tsetse flies in particular can provoke irritating histamine reactions.
AIDS: In much of sub-Saharan Africa, a high percentage of the population have AIDS. You need to be aware of the risks.
Drink: In general, you should not drink tap, river or stream water and risk getting stomach upsets or worse. Bottled water can be purchased in most supermarkets and stores. When camping or travelling off the beaten track, you should ensure that you have a supply of water with you and a method of purification, even if this is only a campfire and pot for boiling.
Food: Most supplies that you need can be purchased in local markets and supermarkets. The chance of picking up a stomach disorder whilst travelling in Africa is high but fortunately for most people, this is the worst that they will suffer. Many common ailments are spread through food and water so it makes sense to eat food which is served steaming hot and fruit with skins such as bananas.
Sun: Much of Africa is in the Tropics and the days can be very hot and sunny. You should not underestimate the danger of being in the sun for too long, ensure you use sun-block, wear a hat, drink several litres of water a day.
Medicines: You should take a reasonably-equipped first-aid pack with you including supplies of hypodermic and suturing needles. You should also take sufficient personal medications to last the journey as they may not be available locally.
War: A number of African countries have fighting, border disputes and civil strife. Your embassy will tell you the latest situation for the countries you plan to visit. Often, some areas of the country but not the whole country are off limits. In other cases, you will be advised not to visit the country at all and it may then be very difficult or impossible to obtain travel insurance. Countries where fighting has taken place in the past often have a poor reputation but it may no longer be justified. Travel to Rwanda, Mozambique and Angola for example is feasible at present.
Crime: Some parts of Africa have a reputation for violent crime and this will almost certainly be mentioned on your own embassy website. Most travellers will be perfectly safe by following a few simple rules which apply to all countries in the world: do not travel to specific areas which are mentioned as being off-limits; do not wear jewelry and expensive watches; keep expensive cameras and optical equipment out of sight especially in main centres.
Animals: You will almost certainly see a selection of animals and reptiles when travelling in Africa but it is important to remember that these are all wild and potentially dangerous. When viewing and photographing wild creatures, remember to treat them with respect. Keep close to your guide and follow instructions.