Communications – Internet and Cell Phones
One of the best things about going on vacation in Africa is being “off the grid,” getting away from your daily work and life, and truly immersing yourself in a different environment. An African safari is all about tuning out of your busy wired life and tuning into the natural world around you. But being far from home can also be scary, for yourself and those you leave behind. A working cell phone can be good to have, even if you only use it once to say “I’m here, everything is great!”
One of the first things you’ll notice is that nearly everyone has a cell phone in Africa. The industry on the African continent is one of the fastest-growing in the world, and in some areas, Africa is forging ahead with ingenious uses of cell phone technology. Villagers can use their phones to find out which market to take their produce, while in South Africa they are using mobiles to educate children. Exciting as all this may be, it does not necessarily mean that your fancy iPhone will be of any use to you while on safari. You must do some preparation before you depart or you are likely to be stuck with no signal at all. Check with Your Cell Provider
The best way to make sure you can be reached while on vacation in Africa is to check in with your cell phone provider. Most larger companies like AT&T, Sprint, Vodaphone and Verizon have special international plans. Sign up in advance to make sure you don’t end up paying an arm and a leg for a basic call or text. Specify the country you are travelling to. Ask for details on rates and find out if it will cost extra for your friends and family to call you too. Ask how much they charge for basic roaming fees. Find out if it is cheaper to text than to call, as this is often the case. Be aware that roaming in Tanzania can be crippling if not properly researched.
Cell phone networks are more widespread and reliable than electricity, so a 3G connection works better than Wi-Fi in many African countries (especially when you are in remote safari camps). Most hotels in cities and towns have internet and even Wi-Fi available for guest use but don’t expect it to always work. Sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised, the fastest connection I’ve ever had was in a fairly remote camp in the Ngorongoro Conservation area. The local Maasai were checking on the latest soccer scores from the UK while I was happily uploading some of my lion snapshots. But a speedy internet connection is not the norm, so if you are on a two week safari, save yourself the frustration and upload your photos or update Facebook once you get back home. Many of the camps and lodges rely on satellite connections so will request you only check emails and WhatsApp while there as they buy data by the Gigabite. It is advisable to switch off all your apps and automatic downloads on your phones.
WhatsApp is a cheap and easy way to stay in touch with friends and family but you do need an internet or 3G connection so it is practical only in the larger hotels. You can use WhatsApp to call someone’s cell phone or land line, which is very useful because you don’t have to wait for your receiving party to get online. The reception is very clear and it’s certainly cheaper than any international phone plan out there. Be sure to get an internet based e-mail account before you go, so you can easily receive and send e-mail from an internet connection anywhere in Africa. Your hotel in Arusha or Dar es Salaam will have Wi-Fi but access is limited at some safari camps.
Don’t Forget …
Before you go, don’t forget to switch off roaming on your devices. Bring your chargers and the right adapters with you so you can recharge your cell phone and/or tablets.