The Safari Experts

Communications in Africa


There has been an incredible revolution in communications in Africa in recent years.

Not so very long ago a trip to the Dark Continent was synonymous with being incommunicado. But things have changed and the continent has come alive with wireless communications. Not only are the city streets filled with cell phone users, but even in remote areas pastoral tribes-people call to their friends in town to determine when is best to bring their stock to market.

Cell phone network coverage is remarkably widespread, although tends to be much stronger for voice rather than data. Many lodges now provide wi-fi capability for their guests, usually free of charge.

The art of travelling in Africa has shifted from being less about how to stay in touch and more about how to avoid detracting from your experience by not letting go of the world back home.

Emergencies contacts ...

When you get your final trip paperwork from us, usually a few weeks before departure, it will contain contact telephone numbers for all of the lodge, safari and transport operators contained within your trip. You can give these to friends and colleagues who may need to get in contact with you. However we do request that you reserve these channels for emergency communication only. They are also free to contact us on the numbers provided on the paperwork and in the contact us section of this website.

Please note that we do not operate a 24/7 emergency number, since we have found this not to be necessary or effective ... there is little that we can do when it is night time in Africa. However if you really do want a 24/7 contact, then please let us know and we will arrange it with one of our personal cell phone numbers.

Mobile phones ...

Much of Africa effectively bypassed the conventional telecoms era and went straight to wireless. It remarkably the depth to which mobile phones have penetrated. Almost everyone you meet will have a cell phone.

Network coverage in many parts of Africa is remarkably good. Towns and cities are no problem, major roads are usually well covered, as are most major wildlife reserves and beach areas. Even on Kilimanjaro. You will obviously find areas of no signal, out on safari you may even be out of signal range for a number of days, but there will usually be some location nearby where staff know where and when they can catch a network.

Most travellers will find that they phones automatically connect to local networks on arrival. You may like to check with your network operator before you depart to make sure this is the case.

You may well find that even where you have apparently strong signal, there may be no data capability. This can be extremely frustrating, but much of Africa has not yet developed a Smartphone culture or capability. You may have to wait until you hit a major city before you can use features other than regular texting and calling.

If you intend to use your regular telephone service provider in Africa then you need to be aware that costs may be exorbitant. Texts should not be too great, but with calls and data you can quickly find yourself racking up an enormous bill. Some networks provide an automated warning each time you consume a certain amount of data and let you know how much each parcel costs.

Some services providers offer you the facility to upgrade to an international call package, which can greatly reduce the cost of calls made in Africa if you subscribe in advance.

If you have a phone with an international standard SIM card, then one way to get around this is to buy a local pay-as-you-go SIM card. Top-up "vouchas" are available just about everywhere. If you run your phone on a contract back home then you may find that the handset has been locked to a particular network, in which case it may well not accept an African SIM. We have found that this is even the case when the African company is apparently under the same ownership as the one back home, such as Vodacom in Tanzania and Vodaphone in Europe. Most operators will unlock your phone on request, although may levy a charge.

Even if you do all the right things, you may find that your phone still does not work with an African SIM, in which case you may consider actually purchasing a handset in Africa.

If your phone does not take a SIM card, then you may also consider purchasing a handset in Africa.

The kind of phones which can be easily purchased at street stalls and small stores across Africa are generally simple and cheap. They may not have any significant capabilities other than texting and calling, but they do tend to have extraordinary battery life, often of over a week. A new phone usually comes with a SIM card and some credit, after which you can purchase pay-as-you-go "vouchas". At the end of your trip you might like to make a gift of the phone, perhaps as part of a trip ... although do note that if you buy a particularly cheap model it may not be considered much of a gift by a more tech-savvy recipient.

Wi-Fi ...

Local wireless networks are becoming much more commonplace in Africa, with many lodges now providing this facility. This should make it possible for you to use smartphones and laptops for data without the compatibility issues described above. Note that if you want to make calls you will need to subscribe to a voice-data system such as Skype.

Usually Wi-Fi is charged on a daily rate, with prices varying from reasonable to extortionate. If you think the price is too high then have a word with the lodge manager, who may have the capability to get around the system.

You are less likely to encounter Wi-Fi in smaller and more mobile safari camps and in more remote locations. We do not keep a record of which lodges do and don't have this capacity as the situation is so fluid.

Note that when you leave a Wi-Fi area you need to disable your data roaming facility or your phone may automatically start using the local data network and you may rack up huge costs.

Internet access ...

Most permanent lodges provide a computer which guests can use to access the internet. Sometimes this is charged at an hourly rate, but increasingly this service is offered free of charge. Depending on the location, download speeds and data quantity may be limited.

Satellite phones ...

If it is critical that you stay in touch at all times then you may consider taking a satellite handset with you. It may be possible to rent one of these before you travel. Expect them to be very expensive. We have never actually travelled with one of these, so cannot speak for their reliability or coverage, but we have received calls from guests in the most extraordinarily remote locations.

In Namibia the use of satellite handsets is more commonplace since some self-drivers pass through areas where there is no conventional network coverage and wish to avoid getting stranded. It is rare for our guests to need such handsets, since we usually only go into these more extreme and remote areas on guided safaris. Often the guide will carry a satellite handset.
Your Trip
Get in touch with us now and we will get right back to you
with a set of individually tailor-made sample trips
From there it should be easy
to fine tune to your perfect african adventure
Trip Search
All the trips we have ever built are here for you to browse
Select a location or experience and a price range to get started
Jay Hanson
Jay Hanson, Senior Safari Consultant
There's no time too soon
to get in touch,
please don't feel that you have to
have everything all lined up
before giving us a call.