Vacationing in Africa? Africa is one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world, and now — travel experts say — is the time to book your trip. Keith Bellows, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler explains what makes Africa a popular travel destination. Plus, he offers tips on where to go and what to pack.
NPR logo Vacationing in Africa?

Vacationing in Africa?

Audio is no longer available

Africa is one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world, and now — travel experts say — is the time to book your trip. Keith Bellows, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler explains what makes Africa a popular travel destination. Plus, he offers tips on where to go and what to pack.


But now, we want to move on to a different lens on the continent. Africa is literally one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world, and now could be the best time to book your trip.

We've got Keith Bellows, the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler. He has a life's worth of experience on the continent, and here are some of his must-see recommendations.

Mr. KEITH BELLOWS (Editor-in-Chief, National Geographic Traveler): South Africa, obviously, is a starter place, I guess. Botswana, Okavango Delta, truly a remarkable water landscape. Kenya, Zambia where you're right on the border with Zimbabwe. And that's where Victoria Falls is, the greatest waterfall probably in the world.

CHIDEYA: I've crossed Victoria Falls from one side to the other.

Mr. BELLOWS: And you've seen those people bungee jumping, no doubt.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. Looks like those crazy people.

Mr. BELLOWS: Yeah. I don't know how they do it. And intensity, I mean, you've got Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. You've got the Ngorongoro Crater. You've got the Serengeti Plains. It is a remarkable, remarkable galaxy of things to see and do.

CHIDEYA: Now, what about nations not to go to? There's always like that what not-to-wear column, or what not to wear on, you know, in terms of going out at night. But what about what not to visit?

Mr. BELLOWS: Well, and unfortunately, we hear about the what-not-to visits a lot more than the where-to-gos in the news. Alas, I was born in the Congo. And I hate to say this but that is probably, you know, a place that you don't want to go. It's unstable. It doesn't have great infrastructure. It's one of the richest countries in Africa potentially. But it is not - it's not what I would call your starter country. Liberia, Sierra Leone, a lot of unrest there. Those would be countries, I think, that you might better off be avoiding.

CHIDEYA: So there are a lot of things that people have to go through in order to get to Africa. I don't just mean the expense. I don't just mean the passports. I'm also talking occasionally about shots. Talk a little bit about health.

Mr. BELLOWS: No question. I mean, you really have to be careful about this. You really need a proof of vaccination. If you're going to West Africa, you're talking about yellow fever, dengue. Pretty much most of Africa, you have to protect against malaria, so you're going to be taking malarium. There are some other medicines that you can do. You've got to be a little bit aware of bilharzia, which is kind of a sleeping sickness disease that if you get into, you know, still standing water in certain parts of Africa, it's possible that you could contract that.

But I don't want to over dramatize this. I mean, these are precautions that you take. It's not like you get out of the, you know, the car, the plane, whatever, and boom, you're going to get a disease. You're not.

CHIDEYA: Now what about the passport situation? You know, the government has moved to these new passports that have radio chips, RFID chips, in them. But what about any regulations you should know about in terms of getting a passport or being able to leave the country?

Mr. BELLOWS: My guiding principle here is, if you think that you are going to leave the country for any reason, whether it's Africa or it's Jamaica, get on the passport situation right now because no matter how complicated it is, it's going to be more complicated if you leave it to the last minute. Everybody who's listening to this, look at your passport. See when it's expiring. If it's within the six months, get on it. Renew it.

CHIDEYA: Give me a moment where something in your travels just transfixed you.

Mr. BELLOWS: Well, I have two elephant stories. The first probably when I was three. We - my family had a pet elephant in the backyard. I've never forgotten this.

CHIDEYA: What do you mean by a pet elephant?

Mr. BELLOWS: Well, it's a little baby elephant who is basically our lawnmower. And the last time I was in Africa, we - my wife and I - were charged by an elephant, a mother elephant actually, and transfixed is a sort of relative word. We were transfixed for seconds and then running for our lives. We were…

CHIDEYA: Oh my gosh.

Mr. BELLOWS: We were on an open jeep. We outraced her. We found safety and we thought we were completely in a clear and then, boom, she came around the corner and there she was again. So that was fairly transfixing.

CHIDEYA: You had to let your heart rate settle down a little bit after that.

Mr. BELLOWS: Yeah, for about five days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Well, finally, and this may seem pedestrian, but what about packing? You know, some people may take their designer cases or their duffle bags and stuff them with every conceivable, you know - what should you really take when you're going to visit Africa, which, of course, has its cities but going out of the cities?

Mr. BELLOWS: Yeah, well, leave your Manolos at home. It's the basic stuff. Bring insect repellant, bring a hat, bring sunscreen, bush attire. And what I mean by that is tans, greens, no white. You do not want to attract or surprise the animals. You want to be - you want to merge as much as possible into the environment. Sturdy footwear, always bring duct tape; something's ripping all the time, and binoculars, and a camera.

My presumption is that most people who go to Africa do want to spend time in the bush. You're perfectly acceptable in Cape Town restaurants, and something that doesn't require a jacket and tie. I go with the backpack. I really keep my clothes and stuff to a minimum. And I assume a couple pairs of jeans, three or four shorts and T-shirts. That does it. And then warm clothing. The safari drives in the morning, it's a very frosty experience.

CHIDEYA: Well, Keith Bellows, thank you so much.

Mr. BELLOWS: My pleasure.

CHIDEYA: Keith Bellows is editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler. Their annual "Tours of a Lifetime" issue comes out in October.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.