The start of the Holiday season coincided with my return from an extraordinary journey to East Africa. Last week, my kids woke to our elves who have returned, be-masked, traveling safely and socially distancing among the poinsettias. What a time!
I am so extremely grateful that I got to travel after so long! On an incredible safari to Uganda filled with bucket-list experiences, to boot.
I was exhilarated and privileged to be among one of the first travelers to return to Africa since its re-opening, a ‘safari pioneer’. Those of you who follow me on social media may have seen my stories of plains teeming with wildlife, our very moving gorilla and chimpanzee trekking experiences, and remarkable interactions with local communities. We almost had the wilds all to ourselves and felt completely safe at all times.
I am so humbled that our visit made such an impact locally. Our group (a safe bubble of travel advisors and friends who all had negative COVID tests) caught the attention of the Ugandan nation and feedback was that were bringing hope and light at the end of the tunnel, that tourism was returning. To a place that relies so heavily on tourism income, this is immense.
Our visit, plus our very hearty shopping efforts at local markets and women’s empowerment sewing groups, meant that some families were able to see a way forward financially, for a little while longer. Our visit also bolstered wildlife conservation efforts and provided desperately needed income for local guides, trackers and porters.
So Why Africa During a Pandemic, and What About Safety?
Africa is life-changing, and whilst we are seeing this extraordinary destination booking up rapidly for 2021 and into 2022, it may surprise you that right now is indeed a wonderful time to visit like we did – Provided you do it safely, thoughtfully, and with a trusted, knowledgeable partner making the plans. You’ll need to pack a hefty dose of adventure, responsibly follow the rules and COVID protocols and perhaps have to quarantine on return – but right now, you’ll have the plains and incredible prolific wildlife sightings mostly to yourself. You will be greeted with huge smiles and warm, grateful welcomes on your African safari.
My decision to travel during the pandemic was not made lightly. I thought long and hard and did my research surrounding the risks, protocols and adequate travel insurance coverage. Traveling during a pandemic certainly requires a certain amount of adventurous and ‘pioneering’ spirit. What gave me absolute peace of mind though, and this is KEY – was that I was traveling with trusted and vetted partners and local specialists who were utterly professional, knowledgeable and took things seriously with outstanding safety protocols outlined before we left – underscoring that our well-being was the most critical aspect.
Once we arrived in Uganda, we saw that COVID protocols very taken very seriously and enforced. Everyone has gone to truly extraordinary lengths toensure that travelers are welcomed back safely. This is the same for the rest of East and Southern Africa. We encountered strict temperature checks and mandatory washing stations or foot operated sanitizers at every public entry point. Our guides washed and sanitized our vehicles regularly and lodges and hotels adhered to the same strict standards. And local markets are bursting with masks in gorgeous, vibrant colorful fabrics!
Privacy. Africa’s wide, open spaces are safe. Its small, intimate camps and lodges offer privacy in remote locations, whilst adhering to the strictest safety protocols and provide private transfers and safari vehicles for your group. Exclusive-use, fully staffed private safari villas are available in most regions.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) assessment regarding COVID-19 is that Africa is the least impacted region in the world. Over the past few months East African countries and most recently those in Southern Africa, have opened up to international visitors. Many countries in east and Southern Africa have been awarded the stringent Safe Travel designation by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) for adopting required global health and hygiene protocols.
We all have different comfort levels and not everyone is ready to travel in the next few months and that is fine. Africa is booking up rapidly for 2021, with bookings into 2022. Trips can always be rolled over for a later date if need be and if booked with a trusted partner, there are no cancelation or postponement fees, or lost forfeited deposits. Please reach out if you’re curious about visiting this incredible destination!
So What About Flying?
Most international commercial airlines, including all those flying to East and Southern Africa, require a certificate of a negative COVID-19 PCR test that has been conducted within 72 hours of departure.
It gave me enormous peace of mind, knowing that passengers around me had all been tested. The flight from New York to Amsterdam was practically empty, and whilst the connecting flight to Uganda was a bit fuller both ways, we still managed to have empty seats all around us, with all passengers wearing masks.
Most African countries require another test when departing again. We had to produce a negative COVID-19 certificate before boarding our flight back home from Uganda. In fact, no one without a current negative PCR test was even allowed into the airport terminal, having to go through an extensive health check tent beforehand. Our guides arranged for a Dr to do all the testing at our hotel, making it totally hassle-free for us.
Plus, flying is surprisingly safe. The U.S. Transportation Command states that aircraft remove particulate matter 5-6 times faster ‘than the recommended design specifications for modern hospital operating rooms.’ And, the odds of contracting COVID-19 on a flight are about the same as being struck by lightning, according to Dr. Powell, medical advisor to IATA (International Air Transport Association).
As for our charter flights in Uganda? Again, the strictest COVID protocol and masks required for passengers and pilots. Not to mention the glorious, smooth flights – gliding low over volcanic crater lakes and the Nile Delta teeming with elephants, hippos and buffalo.