If you're planning a trip to Africa, consider updating the apps on your smartphone or tablet before you go. In this article, we look at 10 of the best apps for every Africa traveler - including some that help you stay in touch, others that keep you entertained on rural bus journeys and still more designed to introduce you to the continent's flora and fauna. Apps can also simplify the practical aspects of traveling abroad. For example, if you download the programs listed below, you'll be able to convert currency, translate local phrases or even find directions to your next destination, all with a flick of your finger.
Note: In some parts of Africa, cell phone networks are more widespread and reliable than electricity, so a 3G connection often works better than WiFi. Once you're connected, make sure to check out this list of the best Africa-related blogs and websites.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on October 25th 2017.
Amazon has an incredible array of Africa-themed guidebooks, phrasebooks and novels. With the Kindle app, you can download as many of these as you like to your smartphone or iPad. By storing your reading material on a tablet instead of packing paper books, you'll keep your luggage light while still having plenty to read during long journeys or evenings in your safari camp. Devices with a good battery life and a backlight are particularly handy in areas with limited power - just don't forget your local adaptor.
WiFi Finder App
This handy WiFi locator app maps over 550,000 public WiFi spots in 144 countries, including plenty in Africa. It works both online and offline, and allows you to see all the WiFi spots around your immediate location. It also provides useful details about each one, including its address and whether the WiFi is free or paid. You can filter the results into categories (e.g. hotel or café), giving you a handy overview of facilities in the area. The listings for Cape Town, Marrakesh and Cairo are particularly comprehensive.
Making phone calls to friends and family back home can be tricky in Africa, with expensive roaming charges and limited signal for international SIM cards. The best way to call home is via Skype, which allows you to call other Skype users anywhere in the world for free (as long as you have internet). Perhaps most usefully, you can also load credit onto Skype and then use that to call cell phones and landlines for a fractional cost. This is especially handy if you don't have an African SIM but need to make a reservation locally.
African currencies can be something of a culture shock for first-time visitors. If you're traveling to a country with high inflation, even the cheapest groceries will often carry a triple or even quadruple-figure price tag. The XE conversion app is a lifesaver for those that struggle with mental arithmetic. It includes every national currency, from the Angolan kwanza to the Zimbabwean dollar. With a few clicks, you can check prices on the go, whether you're booking a game drive or shopping for souvenirs at the local craft market.
Looking for a last minute hotel or an authentic place for dinner? The TripAdvisor app offers comprehensive hotel and restaurant listings for most African cities and larger towns. From the humblest guest house in Accra to the swankiest Cape Town restaurant, you can make your decision based on the unbiased firsthand reviews of other travelers. This is especially useful in Africa, where insider knowledge often equates to staying safe. The app's map helps you to locate the nearest options, and also to orientate yourself when lost.
One of the joys of an African safari is the breathtaking spectacle of the unpolluted night sky. If you're interested in knowing which constellations you're looking at, the Star Walk App is a must. Simply point your iPad or smartphone at the night sky, and the app will map the stars, planets and constellations above you in real time, updating as you move your device across the heavens. You can also see star maps of the past and future, learn about each celestial body by clicking on it, and receive updates on upcoming astronomical events.
Weather Underground App
The Weather Underground app provides hyper-local weather forecasts for even the most remote locations in Africa. As well as regular cloud cover and temperature information, the app also offers predictions about wind speed and direction, humidity and visibility. Use the hourly and daily forecasts to plan your immediate activities, or book safari outings and city walking tours in advance with the accurate 10-day forecast feature. Extreme weather alerts are especially helpful if you're traveling to an area prone to cyclones or flash-flooding.
If you're planning a self-drive safari or want to rent a car while you're away, the TomTom navigation app is a great purchase. It offers detailed road maps, with up-to-date information about points of interest, traffic and speed limits. The latter is especially useful, because being pulled over by the police is often an expensive event in Africa. Best of all, the maps work offline (handy if you're exploring an area in the middle of nowhere). Make sure to download the right map - TomTom's options include South Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa and West Africa.
There are literally thousands of indigenous languages and dialects in Africa, and at the moment there isn't a single translator app that works for the entire continent. The World Nomads Swahili language app is a great option for those traveling to East Africa. Unfortunately, Swahili is the only native African language listed, but apps for French, German, Dutch and Portuguese come in handy for ex-colonies like Senegal, Namibia and Mozambique. All World Nomads language apps include useful travel phrases as well as a direct translation feature.
You don't have to be an established birder to take an interest in Africa's breathtaking avian species. If you're planning a Southern African safari, the Roberts birding app is a worthwhile investment, providing hours of entertainment when there are limited mammals to be seen. The app acts as a field guide with detailed information about the region's 968 individual bird species. Enter your location and simple bird characteristics to get help with an ID, compare similar birds side-by-side or attract birds to your location by playing recorded calls.