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Safaris Travel Guide

Health and Safety

The most serious health problem you'll face while on Safari is malaria. It occurs in the prime game-viewing areas of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces (home to Kruger and Sabi Sands) and northern KwaZulu-Natal (site of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Mkuze, and Ithala game reserves, and Phinda and Thanda private reserves). Travelers heading to malaria-endemic regions should consult a health-care professional at least one month before departure for advice on antimalarial drugs. As the sun goes down, wear light-color long-sleeve shirts, long pants, and shoes and socks, and apply mosquito repellent generously. Always sleep in a mosquito-proof room or tent and keep a fan going. If you're pregnant or trying to conceive, avoid malaria areas if at all possible.

All malaria medications are not equal. Chloroquine is not an effective antimalarial drug in South Africa. And halofantrine (marketed as Halfan), which is widely used overseas to treat malaria, has serious heart-related side effects, including death. The CDC recommends that you do not use halofantrine.

You must be up-to-date with all of your routine shots such as measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine, etc. If you're not up-to-date, usually a simple booster shot will bring you up to par.

Dehydration and Overheating

The African sun is hot and the air is dry, and sweat evaporates quickly in these conditions. You might not realize how much bodily fluid you are losing as a result. Wear a hat, lightweight clothing, and sunscreen—all of which will help your body cope with high temperatures.

Drink at least two to three quarts of water a day; in extreme heat conditions drink as much as three to four quarts of water or juice, and drink more if you're exerting yourself physically. If you overdo it at dinner with wine or spirits, or even caffeine, you need to drink still more water to recover the fluid lost as your body processes the alcohol. Antimalarial medications are also very dehydrating, so it's important to increase your water intake while you're taking this medicine.

Don't rely on thirst to tell you when to drink; people often don't feel thirsty until they're a little dehydrated. At the first sign of dry mouth, exhaustion, or headache, drink water, because dehydration is the likely culprit.

To test for dehydration, pinch the skin on the back of your hand and see if it stays in a peak; if it does, you're dehydrated. Drink a solution of ½ teaspoon salt and 4 tablespoons sugar dissolved in a quart of water to replace electrolytes.

Heat cramps stem from a low salt level due to excessive sweating. These muscle pains usually occur in the abdomen, arms, or legs. When a child says he can't take another step, investigate whether he has cramps. When cramps occur, stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool spot and drink. Don't do anything strenuous for a few hours after the cramps subside. If heat cramps persist for more than an hour, seek medical assistance.

Motion Sickness

If you're prone to motion sickness, be sure to examine your safari itinerary closely. Though most landing strips for chartered planes are not paved but rather grass, earth, or gravel, landings are smooth most of the time. If you're going on safari to northern Botswana (the Okavango Delta, specifically), know that small planes are the main means of transportation between camps; these trips can be very bumpy, hot, and a little dizzying even if you're not prone to motion sickness. If you're not sure how you'll react, take motion-sickness pills just in case. Most of the air transfers take an average of only 30 minutes, and the rewards will be infinitely greater than the pains.

When you fly in small planes, take a sun hat and a pair of sunglasses. If you sit in the front seat next to the pilot, or on the side of the sun, you will experience harsh glare that could give you a severe headache and exacerbate motion sickness.

Intestinal Upset

Microfauna and -flora differ in every region of Africa, so if you drink unfiltered water, add ice to your soda, or eat fruit from a roadside stand, you might get traveler's diarrhea. All reputable hotels and lodges have filtered, clean tap water or provide sterilized drinking water, and nearly all camps and lodges have supplies of bottled water. If you're traveling outside organized safari camps in rural Africa or are unsure of local water, carry plenty of bottled water and follow the CDC's advice for fruits and vegetables: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it. If you're going on a mobile safari, ask about drinking water.

Document Checklist

Passport

Visas, if necessary

Airline tickets

Proof of yellow-fever inoculation

Accommodation and transfer vouchers

Car-rental reservation forms

International driver's license

Copy of information page of your passport

Copy of airline tickets

Copy of medical prescriptions

Copy of traveler's check numbers

List of credit card numbers and international contact information for each card issuer

Copy of travel insurance and medical-emergency evacuation policy

Travel agent's contact numbers

Notarized letter of consent from one parent if the other parent is traveling alone with their children

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