Most travellers to Africa are all too familiar with the irksome, high-pitched hum of a mosquito on the prowl – a serious nuisance guaranteed to ruin a good night’s sleep. If mosquitoes were just an annoyance with no potential for serious harm, we might be more tolerant of them. But in some areas, fear of mosquitoes is well-founded due to the diseases they may carry.
There are some 2,500 species of mosquito and they are found in almost every region of the world. During peak breeding season, mosquitoes outnumber every animal on the planet except for ants and termites, carrying diseases including dengue fever, the Zika virus and Encephalitis. However, the most deadly mosquito-borne disease is malaria, caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is transmitted through the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito.
The realities of malaria in Africa
In Africa, the highest malaria transmission rates occur in the continent’s Sub-Saharan regions (the areas with warm, wet climates). That said, the risk of actually contracting the disease in places that sit within the malaria belt, such as the Kruger National Park, Etosha, Mozambique’s Bazaruto, Zanzibar, the Masai Mara and Serengeti, is minimal – even more so during the dry season and when appropriate precautions are taken.
Anti-malarial medication (prophylaxes) and other precautions (for instance insect repellent or travelling in winter) provide very effective ways of handling the risk. However, medication can be expensive and cause unpleasant side-effects ranging from migraines to nausea, and for some, the unpleasantries are just not worth it.
Many travellers decide to steer clear of malarial areas altogether. This option is particularly recommended for the elderly, those with impaired immune systems, pregnant women and families with children, as these groups are most at risk of complications arising from the disease.
Where to go for that malaria-free safari?
Plainly said, malaria cannot survive at certain altitudes and latitudes, meaning that mosquitoes found at these heights do not carry the parasite.
South Africa’s Eastern Cape boasts a collection of malaria-free reserves, offering you the chance to see the celebrated Big 5 and more of the continent’s most iconic wildlife. It’s also incredibly popular for combining a safari with the Garden Route and Cape Town. And with a coastline of over 800 kilometres, the Eastern Cape offers pristine beaches, excellent surf and a variety of watersports, so you can enjoy some downtime after your wildlife adventure.
The North West Province extends from the Botswana border and the Kalahari Desert to the province of Gauteng and is predominantly a vast grassland. Offering views stretching into the distant horizon, its landscape is dotted by trees with the Magaliesberg mountains running along the eastern flank. It’s also home to two of South Africa’s finest game reserves, providing excellent malaria-free Big 5 safari experiences.
Those with a limited budget and time should consider visiting Pilanesberg Game Reserve, but if traditional safari-going is on the cards, Madikwe makes for the premier option.
The magic of malaria-free Madikwe
Situated in South Africa’s largest malaria-free sanctuary, Madikwe Game Reserve is one of the most extensive game reserves in South Africa (over 75,000 hectares) and combines two unique ecosystems; Kalahari thornveld (western and northern parts of Madikwe) and lowveld or savanna bushveld (southern and eastern parts of Madikwe).
Here, white rhino viewing is exceptional, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a family of elephant taking a mud bath. Madikwe is also less busy than the Kruger, and the different lodges within the reserve all work together and share information about sightings to help increase your likelihood of catching that life-altering glimpse you’ve always imagined seeing.
The benefit of a malaria-free safari destination, such as Madikwe, is that no precautionary measures are required before, during or after travel. The mosquito nets provided around your bed are simply a functional touch and enable you to get a good night’s sleep without undue disturbance. After all, despite being non-malarial, the vast majority of these reserves do still harbour mosquitoes.
These regions are also ideally suited for the first-time traveller to South Africa or families with children who wish to discover its wild beauty, without worrying about the side-effects of doing so.