Perhaps one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises awaiting the traveler to Southern Africa is the level of technological development and basic infrastructure in the region.
Despite being in some of the remotest places on Earth, most camps, lodges, and hotels have facilities for accepting payment by credit card. On safari, almost all major expenses (all meals, activities, and often drinks) are covered in the costs of accommodation such that any extras tend to be very limited, and can generally be paid by credit card.
In urban centers, particularly in South Africa, ATMs are to be found in most shopping malls and banks, and will accept U.S. cash cards using the Cirrus and Plus systems, as well as Visa, Mastercard, or American Express credit cards (provided your credit account has a cash withdrawal facility).
Both major international airports (Johannesburg and Cape Town) also have ATMs, and you can withdraw money as soon as you land (generally at a better exchange rate than if you were to exchange cash or travelers checks at a bank). In a word, no, you will not have to carry lots of cash as any expenses which cannot be charged to a credit card (departure taxes, curio purchases, tips) will amount to very little.
Unlike many other parts of the world, tap water in Southern Africa is, for the most part, safe to drink. Camps, lodges, and hotels will make it clear to their guests whether they should or should not drink the tap water and, in most cases, will provide bottled water free of charge if tap water is not safe. There is no need to travel in fear of contracting some exotic and unpleasant illness from drinking the water or eating fresh produce.
English is an official language in all five countries of the region, and is the de facto language of politics and economics. It is taught at school, and is widely spoken in all urban centres. Even in rural areas, many local villagers (especially younger ones who have received schooling) will be able to converse in English. When staying at a private camp or lodge, your guide will very often be able to introduce you to his or her friends and family, and will act as interpreter if necessary. Yes, some amazing interaction with local people is possible, and more than likely to occur while on your trip to Southern Africa.
Again, the relatively sophisticated infrastructure of the region will surprise many guests. All urban centres are well served by terrestrial telecommunications systems, and cellular networks are well developed (cellular phones can be rented in South Africa, or your cell phone provider may offer the option of international roaming). Calling cards from most U.S. carriers (e.g. AT&T, MCI, etc.) offer toll free numbers which can be dialed from South African phones for long-distance calls, while local calls can be made with telephone cards from Telkom (the local carrier).
Almost all hotels have telephone and fax services, often internet as well. The same holds true for safari lodges in South Africa. While out on safari in countries to the north of South Africa (Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe) you will be able to escape from modern technology, and will be out of reach to the outside world (a rare luxury!). All camps do, however, have radio communications in case of emergencies.
Africa is the world's second largest continent, and is four times the size of the USA. In area, Africa is larger than the USA, Europe, China, India, Argentina, and New Zealand combined. It is therefore extremely unfortunate that the media often treats Africa as a single cohesive entity.
There certainly are parts of Africa (particularly central and northern Africa) that are not at all safe for travel, but it is very misleading to think of this as representative of the entire continent. Southern Africa is by far the most peaceful, democratic, and economically stable part of the continent, and is increasingly considered to be one of the safest destinations in the world for Western travelers by virtue of the region's geographic dislocation from global "hotspots", and the absence of religious fundamentalism. All five countries in the region are multi-party democracies with stable governments and strong economies.
You can expect hot, wet summers and cooler, dry winters in Namibia. Generally the days can be quite hot and the evenings and early mornings can be remarkably cool.
Comfortable, lightweight clothing for the daytime and a sweater or jacket for early mornings and evenings.
Comfortable walking shoes and sandals.
Protection against the sun – sunblock, hat, sunglasses, lip balm and moisturising lotion.
Flashlight (headlamp), binoculars and a good camera with extra film or memory card.
For electrical small appliances or chargers a conversion plug to a three-pin type outlet.
Swimsuit as most lodges and hotels have swimming pools.
Insect repellent, rehydrating solutions or concentrates, diarrhoea medication, malaria prophylaxis (if traveling in malaria areas), bandages, etc.
Warm jersey or fleece plus anorak or parka, Scarf, gloves and beanies/woollen hats for the cold winter months.
Headlamp – Especially when going on the camping safaris
Some flip flops that can be used when showering at Campsites
Pillow – Although we provide comfortable camping mattresses and sleeping bags at extra costs, we do not provide pillows on our camping safaris. We advise bring along a small travelling pillow to make your sleeping even more comfortable.
A 2 Litre Water Bottle. – Namibia is quite dry and during the hot summer months we recommend drinking a lot of water to prevent dehydration. Therefore always keep water with you and make sure you stay hydrated.
The currency in used in Namibia is The Namibian Dollar, South Africa is Rand and Botswana is Pula
The Namibian Dollar (NAD or N$) is linked permanently (with a ratio of 1:1) to the South African Rand (ZAR), and South African Rand notes and coins are also legal tender in Namibia.
As of 2015, NAD 100.00 is very roughly 5 GBP (£), 8 USD ($) or 7 EUR (€). Of course, values fluctuate and different businesses will offer different exchange rates so please do make thorough checks before committing to any purchases!
Credit cards are usually accepted by large hotels, modern shops and western-style restaurants but not by smaller vendors. Ensure you have adequate cash to cover purchases not able to be made on credit.
It's considered polite to tip service workers in Namibia, as most receive a small wage. As a general rule, add 10-15% to bills at cafes, bars and restaurants (if it hasn’t already been added). Tour guides, drivers, valets and porters also should be tipped.