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1st trip to Botswana OR South Africa? I'm PETRIFIED of both!


Dec 16th, 2011, 08:13 AM
Join Date: Mar 2007
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If for viable physical reason you can't or won't take malaria meds, then you have to follow the precautions during 'mossie biting time' - dusk-to-dawn - wearing long pants, sleeves, socks and applying repellent to exposed sking (not face or behind neck). Sleep under a net where provided.

However, I'd get the script for the meds, take them as the protocol indicates, i.e., with food (never on empty stomach. If for some reason you have a reaction, stop taking them. It's your system, you know it, so decision has to be yours.
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Dec 16th, 2011, 08:28 AM
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For your next* trip, taking into account your husband's interests/profession, consider a canoe trip around Momella Lake in Arusha, Tanzania. I saw 8 snakes in 2 hours without really trying.

*It is not unusual to start planning a 2nd or 3rd trip before departing on the first African safari.

Back to this trip...You've done well in identifying your fears. Caution in health and safety issues that you mention is reasonable and would be foolish to not consider.

I certainly would not repeatedly return to a place that jeopardized my health or my well being. I want to have fun and relax, not defy odds or take adrenaline rushing risks.

Malaria--The risks are low, especially in the dry season June-Oct. Doesn't that work well with your travel dates?! The risk goes down as you get further into the dry season.

Many repeat and longterm travelers take nothing for malaria and are fine. They use bug spray and cover their skin when the sun goes down. Hardly any mosquitos anyway.

Advice from US healthcare providers tends to be on the aggressive side in preventing diseases and medicating for them. Other places are not as big on malaria prevention drugs for travelers to common safari destinations.

I've always taken malaria prevention, except for one late season Botswana delta trip with very low risk. My innards cannot tolerate caffeine, merry-go-rounds, Imax, more than 3 oz of alchohol at a time, Nutrasweet/Equal, and numerous prescription drugs. But I've had 0 problems with several types of malaria prevention. Currently I use Malarone. If you can afford it, purchase a trial perscription and see how you react to it at home.

If you choose to forego malaria pills, just be atuned to symptoms when you get home, like fever chills, etc. and immediately get tested for malaria if any of these crop up. What often causes death is lack of medical access once malaria is contracted. I once went to the ER after returning from Africa and getting a fever and chills in August. Two tests and $350 later, I found out it was just flu. Odd for August, though, so I did not delay.

Most of the residents I encounter in Africa (and other tropical locales) have contracted malaria a time or two. And they survived.

An international travel clinic can assist you in warding off malaria and all sorts of diseases. The biggest risk of contracting serious infections or fatal diseases while traveling results from sexually transmitted diseases and you can control that one.

Violence--To put things in perspective, gather some stats from your own city or region on violent crime and deaths. Then compare to how many tourists visiting the whole of Africa are victims. I think you'll find you are in more danger locally than anywhere as a visitor in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a sad fact that local African residents are not as immune from violence as visitors.

It is a good idea to arrange your travel with a reputable and knowledgeable agent who can advise you on what to avoid. I'd give that same advice to foreign tourists coming to the US if they don't have personal contacts or friends to stay with.

In Africa I personally do not travel during election times; I do not wander around on my own in most cities (Simons Town and Cape Town's waterfront are exceptions); obviously I do not wander around outside of the camp grounds in the bush; I do not invite strangers into my hotel room; I have never joined a demonstration; I get the hotel to arrange taxi-cabs for me; I wear no flashy jewelry; my valuables are inside my clothing. Such common sense measures greatly reduce your odds of being a victim of violence.

In your initial contact, mention to your agent, your private city guide, the camps you book with that you are concerned about protecting yourself from violence.

Also mention that this trip is for your husband's birthday. Often special surprises await.
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Dec 16th, 2011, 01:02 PM
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Good advice from Atravelynn. Some people use Doxycycline, an antibiotic, instead of Malarone or Larium (yeah, I still use it with no side effects.) As mentioned, a lot of frequent travelers to Africa (safari planners) don't use anything. On a recent trip to South Africa, our leader (a South African) thought it was crazy to be taking the drugs.

I've never felt threatened by violence in Africa, especially while I'm out in the wild. I think Botswana is an especially safe destination. Traveling through Jo'burg, you can stay at one of the airport hotels such as City Lodge, or nearby at a hotel with a shuttle.
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Dec 16th, 2011, 01:37 PM
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While some visitors self drive, many (even Fodorites who would never usually sign up for tours) do take private or group tours in Africa. Having a guide who knows which areas are safest would provide me with an extra feeling of security. In my own city I know which areas are safest but it is harder to know these things as a tourist!
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Dec 16th, 2011, 09:38 PM
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atravelynn, as always, gives great advice.

My husband and I travel to S Africa/Botswana June-Sept and don't take the anti-malarial meds. We know to tell our doc if we do come down with symptoms that we may have malaria. As atravelynn says, it's treatable. Both S Africa and Bots are doing very well in reducing the malaria mossies and the cases are WAY down from just a few years ago. My husband has a very delicate tummy, too. He takes a Pepto tablet twice a day no matter where we go. He can't handle the water change even from state to state. It might help you, too.

As for violence, there are few instances of tourist incidences. If you remember the World Cup, the whole world thought it was a terrible idea to have the WC in SA. Except for the vuvuzellas, it was above and beyond everyone's expectations. Few problems. Very few.

We arranged for drivers on two SA trips. It was nice to have a guide instead of self driving and seeing the country without worrying about driving. We are now comfortable self driving.

In Bots, the Sefofane planes from camp to camp are usually 12 seat Caravans. Nice big windows, but pretty noisy. More pleasant than the teeny-tiny planes and have an excellent safety record.

Our first safari included Cape Town, Vic Falls, three Wilderness Safaris camps in Botswana and a camp in Timbavati near Kruger in three weeks. It was very busy, but great. Best advice is to stay at a camp for at least three nights so it doesn't feel rushed. Of course it was a once in a lifetime trip. Ha!!

Go. Enjoy. I hope Africa gets into your soul like the rest of us! Really-you're fears are real, but likely won't be felt. I will post some info on vector control (mossies killing) when I find it.
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Dec 17th, 2011, 06:16 AM
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Best month for South Africa is September, perhaps from the 16th onwards. Highlights if you are in the Western Cape would be a day trip or an overnight up the west coast to Clan William. Chances are pretty good that you'll be there in time to catch the flower show. (Cape vygie and sundry others bloom in the spring). You'll also be around to see the whales that move into the various bays to breed. As this is out of the regular Cape School holiday season you'll find plenty coastal accommodation in B&B type places as well as most beaches reasonably free of the maddening crowds (Dec - Jan). If you opt to head up to the Kruger Park you'll be spared the anxiety of anti malarials as this falls outside the malaria season (Nov - Mar).

Then Botswana: Peak tourist time is from August through until October. Prices are astronomical and virtually every lodge is full. Ok, so they are small properties but buzzing with bodies and planes. definitely not my favourite time to be in Bots. I would suggest that you aim for April/May to enjoy Bots. Less pricey, game rich and the Kalahari areas are teeming with game as well. Also not really a malaria season, but if you head into the delta, the jury is out on that so as a precaution I'd recommend the anti malarials. This is also a great time to make your return a little circuitous by heading up to Zim for two nights to see the falls before returning to JNB and heading home.
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Dec 24th, 2011, 05:47 PM
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I am concerned you will not be able to enjoy the time leading up to your trip as you really seem to have excess fear. You may want to reconsider Africa or perhaps consider letting your husband go on his own or with a friend. But please believe that your greatest chance of death will be on the car ride to the airport in the USA.

In case you do want to continue planning, I have re-read the information on this post. I have some ideas that I think will minimize all your concerns but there will be a cost in two ways. Expanding the destinations a bit for discussion purposes… Although Zimbabwe is one of my favorite spots in all of Africa, I don’t think you will be able overcome the fear induced by the media in the time period leading up to your trip. Something will happen and you will be afraid. In your situation, the same may even be true in South Africa. You will likely see some stories in the news before your trip and I would hate to be the safari agent having to comfort you after this. So, perhaps you should focus on the two countries that are hardly ever in the news and where there is absolutely nothing going on that will likely draw media attention in the next year. These two would be Zambia and Botswana. KLM (Skyteam with Delta) has announced direct service into Lusaka, Zambia starting in May and BA already has flights there. You can land in Lusaka and connect on ProFlight to Livingstone/LVI on the next day. After seeing the Falls for a day or two you can head into Botswana.

I suggest you do this trip in July. The reason I say this is that July is cold and also peak season. There is a good chance you won’t see a mosquito at all during that time of year. I have been to Southern Africa 29 times and I have never taken a malaria pill in my life. On two safaris I took my daughters now 13 & 16. When we were in Zimbabwe for eight days this past July 2011 the girls stopped taking malaria pills on day two after we saw no insects at all. It was 40 in the morning. It was also 40 in Hwange and got down to 32 one night. I am from Minnesota which has the most mosquitoes of anywhere on earth and I have never seen a mosquito after mid-September. They can’t survive in the cold. Traveling in July will have cost vs May or January for example because it is peak season. Flying into Lusaka may be slightly more expensive than Jo’burg depending on if it forces one or two nights at a hotel at Lusaka.

Keep in mind, doctors and travel clinics make money selling pills (I make money selling safaris so take my advice with a grain of salt as well). I am sometimes very frustrated by what these travel clinics try to sell to people and the fear they create. I have clients booked on South Africa Airways/SAA from Dulles to Jo’burg next month. They walked into a DC travel clinic last week and were sold yellow fever shots for $150 per person. The clinic insisted they get it because the plane makes a one hour stop in Dakar, Senegal. They never get off the plane and the SAA web site even says they don’t need this shot. I can’t tell them not to get it as I cannot legally give advice contrary to a doctor or travel clinic. I suggest you search these forums and try to find any story in the past five years of anyone that got malaria while on safari in Botswana. In South Africa, there has been one case of Malaria in the Sabi Sands since 1975 and it is not know if this person got malaria there or came there infected. My company has been in business since 1975 and we have sent over 2000 people to Southern Africa this year. Nobody got malaria. I have a lot of friends that have worked in the safari industry and three people at our US offices have worked for Wilderness Safaris at lodges in Zambia and Malawi. They DO know people that got malaria in the summer months while spending time in the major cities. You can easily avoid this.

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
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Dec 25th, 2011, 08:22 AM
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We just spent two weeks in October doing South Africa using Friendly Planet's tour- The Best of South Africa. Although it was an escorted tour, there is plenty of free time and you get to see the very best the country has to offer. Prices include airfare from NYC for about $3100 a person! The hotels were the best we have ever stayed in on a tour and we thoroughly enjoyed the small group. It included several safaris and options to do more. I can't speak highly enough about this tour!
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Dec 25th, 2011, 08:32 AM
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Sherry, how many optional tours were there? I don't mind paying for a few extra optional tours but I don't like it when there are too many. And did you do the Vic Falls extension? Thanks.
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Dec 26th, 2011, 12:09 AM
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As a Southern African and biologist I will give my perspective.

First I will say South Africa can be scary. However, if you stick to driving during the day and be cautious you will be fine. Once you arrive in National Park you are completely safe.

A lot of your trip depends on what time of year and how long you want to go for. Regardless I think you would be mad to stick to the Southern Coast of South Africa.

Internal flights are relatively cheap in South Africa ( roughly 100$ two way using https://www.kulula.com/.

You could easily spend a week on the coast and see some other things as well like the Kruger National Park or Kgalagadi National park(great landscapes, very wild). For South Africa national parks go to sanparks.com. When I book lodges I often use wheretostay.co.za. A great option if you book in time is a walking trail in the Kruger National park where you walk 3.5 hours a day for 3 days usually, although i am not sure how your hip will feel about it.

I would not do guided tour personally. South Africa is easy enough to get around. You could hire your own car and transit on your own schedule.

Depending on your schedule I would fly from Johannesburg into Vic falls and do that as well. If you have the Money in Botswana Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta are must do's. Here a guided tour is likely a must unless you feel comfortable in driving 4x4 roads by yourself.

I never have had Malaria in South Africa and if your not there in the summer I would not worry about it.

If you want to give some more details on your time of year of travel and length of travel I could give more advice.

If you want more details or advise you can always email [email protected]. Id even be willing to help organize an itinerary for your (a bit of a hobby of mine) . I love travelling South Africa and always take my friends for long trips throughout the country (I now live in Canada).
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Jan 7th, 2012, 09:59 PM
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Hi Melissa, you haven't been back here in a while so I wasn't sure if your plans are still on? Here is my 2 cents for what it is worth:

1) Stay out of the cities and focus your attention on the safari part of the trip - so either South Africa or Botswana would be fine for this (or both). Hire a car and driver to take you from place to place (or fly) so that you don't have to drive yourself (just extra worry that you don't need).

2) Malarone has no side effects for most people, but if it bothers you, stop taking it and just make sure you take precautions in the evening. Nothing is 100% anyway - you could take malarone and still become infected. Be aware of the side effects but don't obsess over them or you will be imagining you have them. But I have to tell you - I don't think I was bitten by one bug in either South Africa or Botswana (Tanzania was another story!) and the bugs **love** me! I was there in October.

3) If you are really worried about this trip, you may seriously want to consider letting your husband go with a friend instead. If you are not going to be able to relax and enjoy Africa, then it is probably best not to go because no vacation is worth so much stress Having said that, I think once you get there, you will be fine. I am a single woman who usually travels alone and I can tell you that Africa is not somewhere that would make me feel uncomfortable, but we are different people and you need to do what is best for you.

You can very easily do both South Africa and Botswana on this trip. I would say that the less you need to worry about the better so having someone to help you plan the trip and make sure everything goes smoothly once you are on the ground there is of utmost importance.

I hope that if you decide to go that you are able to you enjoy it. It really is a magical place! I often dream about going back(often - meaning every day!). Let us know how you're doing with your plans and if you need any more suggestions as things firm up, this is a great place for advice.

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Feb 19th, 2012, 12:25 PM
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I'm ready to plan our adventure to South Africa or Botswana! THANKS for the fantastic fountain of info!

I'm intrigued by the responses of the folks who have gone on safari to Botswana and NOT taken anti-malaria pills...and NOT gotten bit by mosquitoes. Can I hear more about the seasons & areas in Botswana where this is a reasonable choice? As far as safaris go, my husband is most interested in a safari to the Okavanga Delta in Botswana.

I will also ask my doc if I can try out Malarone at home and see if I have side affects. I'd really prefer NOT to take this during a trip because I already have a delicate digestive system, and taking this may make me more vulnerable to other digestive upsets during the trip...which wouldn't be fun. (But of COURSE I don't want malaria either.)

We are also willing to go the southern coast of South Africa (Cape Town etc.) as an exciting alternative.

I'm always nervous before trips but I always have a great time! Just got back from the big Island of Hawaii where I was nervous about the altitude but I went up to 13,000 feet...the highest I have ever been! Gorgeous island!

Your favorite guidebooks for South Africa and Botswana? I have a Fodors guidebook but have to check the year...not sure if its current.

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Feb 19th, 2012, 03:18 PM
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I don't recommend not taking Malarone, but we don't when we go in winter (June to early Sept). Mossies are much less active. We just make sure we use DEET liberally (well, that's not true either but you should), especially dawn and dusk. Spray before you go to bed. If you have flu-like symptoms within six months of going, tell your doctor you were in a malarial area and you will be treated for it. You can't give blood for a year after being in a malarial area. I can't find the new vector-control info for Botswana, but maybe you can google it. The mossie control is significantly better over the last few years. Again, I'm not recommending it, but it's a personal choice.

My husband takes a Pepto pill in the morning and evening whenever we travel to prevent tummy issues.

I used this co for my first time to Botswana. They have a lot of good info on their website. They are high end, but do a good job: classicafrica.com. The guidebooks have similar info, the Internet has much more than any book. Plus, you have us!! Fodors and Frommers both have a guide book. I got them at the library. Not much has changed, so a book that is a couple of years old will be fine.
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Feb 19th, 2012, 06:43 PM
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I don't get bitten by mosquitos in Bots in July-Aug. I have taken Malerone, though.

Not a guide book, but you might want to get one or more of the McCall Smith Ladies No 1 Detective Agency series, set in Botswana. Bradt is always good too,
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Feb 19th, 2012, 08:25 PM
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I love those books, and the mini-series on HBO.
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Feb 21st, 2012, 05:57 AM
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Hi Melissa

I would be seeking proper advice regarding malaria medication. We know nothing about your circumstances/medical conditions so you really are best to speak to a travel doctor and let them decide what they think you should have.

Obviously it is up to you what you decide to get but at least you are dealing with people who know all the current drugs and what medications or health issues you have, WE DON'T!
Here in Australia, I would certainly go to a Travel Doctor Specialist rather than my normal General Practitioner.

I also had to decide if I would get rabies needles to work in an animal refuge in March and once I visited the travel doctor, it was not the answer I wanted, but she gave compelling reasons for me to go ahead with the series of rabies shots. She also wanted my niece and I to have Typhoid needles and this I did not do as I felt the food preparation where we are going will be good and I have never had this issue in previous trips.

I got dengue fever in the Sabi Sands in 2003 and although very rare in Southern Africa, clearly not impossible to get. I now have to be ultra careful with mozzies as I have been told if I get either the same one or one of the other 4 strains (can never remember which one), I could be in serious trouble. But has it stopped me going back twice a year ever since? Absolutely not, I just make sure I am very careful.

Once you have decided on this issue, I think you will be able to decide on the rest of it.

With regard to violence - I have been coming to Southern Africa for 11 years, twice a year. Sometimes by myself and other times with nieces ranging from 8 to adults. I have never been on an organised group tour and have driven myself a few times. Have been to some cities but I am a gameviewing addict so mainly am in the bush. At no time have I been worried about our safety and I take my niece's safety very seriously. I take care, but then I do at home as well and I don't think I live in a particularly dangerous city, but certainly it has areas where I would be foolish to go around by myself at night!

Happy Planning!

Kind regards

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Feb 22nd, 2012, 09:25 AM
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Hi Melissa5
You have a lot of good advise on this post and all I can say is come on safari and have a life changing experience. It will simply blow you away. With regards to Malaria I would not be too concerned if you came to South Africa but Botswana is a little bit more serious. As has been said you can take precautions from dusk to dawn and I will probably be lambasted for saying this but a good few G&Ts do keep them away. Otherwise as Sandi says keep yourself covered at night and use spray.
I live in South Africa and travel around quite a lot so come and have that amazing experience that your hubbie wants.

I wish you all the Best.

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Feb 24th, 2012, 06:09 AM
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Southern South Africa is a dream trip. We have been there 5 times.
Just remeember where you are and you will be fine. Taxis are inexpensive and self drive extremely easy. The people are wonderful and in no time you will be looking to return.
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Feb 26th, 2012, 04:48 AM
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Melissa - You should not risk NOT taking malarone, even though malaria is less of a problem in Botswana and S. Africa than some other parts of Africa. I was in Botswana last year late Aug and early Sept. I came home with about 50 mosquito bites on my legs - no exaggeration. Now I admit I was not paying attention much and did not use the insect repellant wipes that I brought with me and I had shorts on every afternoon because it was bloody hot. You'll have a wonderful time!
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Feb 29th, 2012, 04:08 PM
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lucillehumair: I'm inspired by your statement "Southern South Africa is a dream trip." That makes me feel excited! I'm going to post a separate question about South Africa, since my husband has indicated he wishes me to start planning our 1st trip to South Africa, (and we are saving Botswana for a possible 2nd trip someday.) I'm going to post a separate new question focused on South Africa right away! I'd love to hear about the highlights of your 5 trips to Southern South Africa. Perhaps if you have the time you can post your reply on my South Africa question.

THANKS for so much fantastic info everybody! I'm saving this whole thread which is so full of great advice and info.
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