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By Greg Illes
A lot of people feel that Africa is so exotic and remote a destination that it’s beyond the reach of mere mortals (with mortal bank accounts). This is simply not the case.
We’ve discovered that it’s not only easy and affordable to visit Africa, but it’s reasonably safe to do so, and – best of all – you can actually RV there as a visitor!
[Full Disclosure: We have not at this time actually done any RVing in Africa; rather, we spent five weeks on the ground in Namibia and Zimbabwe, viewing the sights and talking to both locals and tourists about how to travel and see the countries.]
Virtually everywhere we went, we saw everything from tents to mid-size motorhomes, all roaming around the countryside and the national parks. They took their place alongside our open-air safari vehicles, and we all marveled at the rhinos and lions, and chatted about where we were from and where we’d been traveling.
For sure, one of the deeper joys of traveling is shared experiences. When those experiences involve majestic, wild beasts such as those found only in these countries, well, it hardly gets any better.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE COST?
Yes, cost is always a consideration, but consider this: With some shopping, you can find round-trip airfares to Nairobi, or Johannesburg, for right around $1000 per person. A small two-person “campervan” (small motorhome) will rent for anywhere from $150 a day and up – call it $3000 for two weeks. Wow, sounds reasonable, right? Well, yes, but there is a small gotcha…
To travel around South Africa, Namibia, or Zimbabwe, you must have confirmed reservations for official places to stay for every night of your visit. I’m sure that savvy travelers and locals can and do get around this, but everywhere we asked and checked, this was the answer we were given.
So just wandering around and parking somewhere for the night (like in the western USA) is not something you can plan on. Just think of it as mandatory stays in “RV parks” – but parks like you’ve NEVER seen before.
CAMPING and LODGING
The overnight accommodations across Africa range from austere to Buffett/Gates luxurious. You can stay for $50 a night or less, and you can stay for $2000/night PER PERSON or more. Really. And everywhere in between.
The fabulous news is that tourism is King in these (and other) countries. There are more than 700 campgrounds and lodges in South Africa alone, and dozens of RV rental agencies that purvey all manner and type of RV, from simple B-class vans to serious 4-person 4×4 go-anywhere rigs. There is a very broad range of location and luxury (or austerity) to choose from.
IS IT SAFE?
We were surprised at several things regarding safety. First, there were a lot of people driving around, and we learned of NO accidents, maulings, or such while we were there. Doesn’t mean it does not happen, but not very often for sure. In general, we learned that if you give the animals space, they will not be troubled by you – or trouble you. The animals in the parks and conservatories are very used to humans and (best of all) do not regard us as food products.
Second, there is a lot of supervision and policing, all for the sake of tourist safety. Tourists are the bread and butter of many economies, and it’s in their interest to keep people coming.
Yes, the folks who are given to impetuous or belligerent behavior can certainly get themselves a healthy dose of trouble. Those personality types should consider traveling in more forgiving locales.
Of course there’s no perfect safety, even hiding under your bed at home. Everyone has to pick their comfort level and risk level, and YMMV as they say. But we certainly never felt in danger, in many, many days and weeks of travel in some pretty wild places.
This is one destination where you simply cannot “wing it.” It takes a LOT of planning, and you may want to engage a professional safari travel outfit to help you. You’ll need carefully arranged flights, rentals and bookings, not to mention arranging for camping gear, knowing where to shop for food/gas/etc.
You also might want to occasionally stay in a regular lodge, for some hot showers, catered food, and maybe a view of some elephants at your dining room deck.
We can assure you that it’s well worth the cost and effort. Everybody we talked to was absolutely loving their Africa experience, even with the occasional snafu. If you’re looking to drive down a track which has been blocked by a fallen tree – pushed over by a hungry elephant; if you’d like to stop your vehicle and wait for a herd of zebra to cross the road; well, driving around Africa is for you.
Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his excellent blog at www.divver-city.com/blog (which includes much more about his trip to Africa and tons of amazing photos).