Destination Running: Tips for Running in Rural Southern Africa

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Himba lady of Namibia, Southern Africa Destination Running: Tips for Running in Rural Southern Africa

Most of the Southern African countries that comprise the SADC (Southern African Development Community) group are very popular holiday destinations. And what better way to fully explore and experience a new and beautiful location than on the run. Whether one visits the region to go on safari or to participate in one of the world-wide popular races such as the Comrades Marathon, southern Africa is a top running destination.   

What makes visiting this African sub-region so attractive is the variation. No two countries or even provinces within them are alike. South Africa alone recognizes 11 difference ethnic languages and 8  different biomes based on climate. It would of course be impossible to compile a complete guide for such a vast area. There are, however, a few good general tips for anyone who is up for the ultimate African running adventure.


The largest part of the southern African subregion  is quite temperate with generally warmer weather throughout. More tropical weather persists in countries closer to the equator, where countries such as Tanzania and Mozambique can receive up to 1150mm (45.3 in) of rain per annum. On the flipside, the desert to semi-desert regions of the Namib and Kalahari in Namibia and Botswana can sometimes receive no rain within any given year. The mountainous regions of Lesotho and the South African Drakensberg region often have some snowfall during winter, and the winter rains of the western Cape region adds a little drama to an otherwise quite pleasant outdoors-funcation destination.

  • Generally speaking, if you are planning a run in sunny southern Africa beyond the coastal regions, then early morning or late afternoons would be the most comfortable time of day to do so. Even in winter, daytime temperatures in inland Namibia can soar well above 25 °C (77 °F) with a whopping average UV index of 12 for six months of the year.
  • Always wear sunscreen, even if it is overcast, early or late during the day.
  • Hydrate well and take water along on a run longer than 30 minutes.

Dressing for a Run

Depending on where you are running in southern Africa, the ambient temperatures will mostly dictate what to wear. But in most rural areas the locals aren’t overly used to people running for leisure unless it forms part of a local soccer game. So be forewarned that running tourists usually draw loads of attention.

  • When visiting areas with a strong Islamic influence such as Tanzania it is advised to dress modestly. Overly revealing or tight clothes are frowned upon by locals and may draw unnecessary attention.
  • Also, when running in rural areas outside of normal high-traffic tourist areas, try to dress as plainly as possible as to not draw unwanted attention. On the island of Zanzibar I once had to turn my “Girl on the Run” shirt inside out halfway during a run after about 10 different “hey Girl, you like to run?!” calls. So best avoid shirts or caps with flags or bold slogans that can be recognized from a distance.


Like most popular tourist areas within poorer countries, sadly the biggest risk when visiting the southern African sub-region does not relate to wild animals lurking. Instead, running tourists should be wary and vigilant of opportunistic human scoundrels.

  • Before heading out for a run, let someone know what route you’ll be taking and when to expect you back.
  • Run with your phone and a card with the address of the place where you stay. Also, carry some taxi money on your person so you can get back quickly if need be.
  • When unfamiliar with the safety aspects of a new area, stick to centres frequented by other tourists.
  • Refrain from wearing expensive equipment and jewelry.
  • Carry pepper spray, which can also serve as deterrent for dogs or the odd opportunistic monkey.

Enjoy The Scenery

No doubt you’ll be looking for the best photo ops during your runcation to Africa. Incidentally, running during the advised time of early morning or late afternoon has the added advantage of rendering the African countryside favorable for stunning photos. Early mornings are when the animals of the African Savannah are at their most energetic. They can be most easily spotted at these times while they graze or frolic in the cool morning air.

On the opposite end, a run in the late afternoon may afford one the opportunity to observe local communities at their best. This is when mothers are washing clothes along the riverbanks while toddlers splash in the shallow water. Teenagers return from water sources carrying pots or pails on their heads, while small groups of tribesmen leisurely stroll home after a long, hot day of toil.  

  • A smallish waterproof, shockproof camera is a good investment for taking photos on the run. It usually takes better quality photographs than a cellular phone. Also, the flash function of a compact digital camera is very handy and exceeds the abilities of a normal smartphone.
  • Unique tribes such as the Maasai in Tanzania and the Himba peoples of Namibia are frequently photographed tourist attractions. Unsurprisingly, they have learned the economic value of appearing in touristy areas dressed in tribal regalia. Hence, taking photographs without permission (and usually payment) of members of these tribes may result in unpleasant exchanges that would be best avoided.  
  • Late afternoons are also when the local boys practice their soccer skills. And as with singing, no age, race, ethnic origin or social status boundaries exist in a good game of ball. Nowhere will you find a better running workout while connecting with the locals than joining in a game of soccer, so don’t pass up on the opportunity when it appears!