It was rather unusual to see my taxi driver gesturing in an expressive manner and suddenly calling up someone when giving me a lift in Nairobi. A little later, he picked up some guy. I felt a tension in the car. It was in vain, however, as taxi driver picked up his brother. That is the way things are done in Africa.
There is a prejudice that public transport is unsafe too. We traveled all the way from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro without a single trouble. It wasn’t the most pleasant trip I ever had, however, everything went well.
When we were spending our trip hiking in the highlands, we had six Africans to accompany us (it can’t be less because of reservation terms), they all were cheerful and decent people. And I want to show you there is nothing to fear about going to Africa, if I could do it, you can too! So to help you visit all these amazing places and make Africa less intimidating, I have put together my top travel tips.
Getting Around in Africa
When I needed to get somewhere in Africa I always asked staff in my hostel or hotel for the best way. As most places are quite reachable, it just takes more time to travel in Africa. If you are a backpacker then make sure to avoid traveling at night as due to faint street light and poor road conditions, not to mention bad guys, it usually brings no fun at all.
While buses are the most typical means of transport in Africa, they range from big coaches to smaller minivans (poda poda in Sierra Leone, matatu in Kenya, dalla dalla in Tanzania, tro tro in Ghana) and even smaller shared taxis. Mainly consist of old spacious European cars, the shared taxis are usually driven by reckless drivers and can be really crowded in some countries. However, they are really speedy and can get you anywhere faster than most buses. Sometimes mini buses are the only means of transport to reach your destination for a reasonable price. Taxis are almost always available but expect to pay tons of money if you’re in a rush.
In countries like Namibia or Botswana buses may not run exactly where you want to go, so you have to hop off the bus to hire a taxi. Almost always one-way ticket for a local bus will set you back under 1 USD.
There are two types of trains in Africa: luxury trains like the Blue Train that runs from Pretoria to Cape Town or Jambo Kenya Deluxe from Nairobi to Mombasa. They cost like hell, however. Locals usually stick to cheap and slow overnight trains. Mainly all railways are followed by roads, which gives you a chance to alternate between them. Trains in Africa aren’t integrated into a unified network (no way to avoid buses). The cheapest train ticket will set you back 1-2 USD and get you as far as 100 km.
Hitchhiking in Africa can get you really far sometimes. If you travel in a group it might slow down your travel and increase the driver’s desire to make some easy money. Truck drivers are usually communicative people and ready to give the foreigner a lift. If you are on a tight budget another option is to ask the staff at your accommodation. As they seem to know everything, they can easily get you a driver.
Since not all cities in Africa easily accessible by land, flying is quite an expensive venture. I would only recommend flying if you are short on time.
Food In Africa
Maghreb cuisine is characterized by an abundance of spices, vegetables, and fruits. As it is a mostly Muslim region, lamb, beef and goat meat are dominant here. Such traditional meals like shakshouka, couscous, and chicken pastilla are a must here. Algeria and Tunisia are the main wine destinations in the region.
In central Africa, the culinary traditions have been least affected by European and Arab influence. While there are tourist baits like the meals from exotic animals, locals prefer beef and poultry meals. Peanuts, cassava roots, okra, ginger are really common here. Make sure to try bambara peanut butter rice pudding and Fufu cassava meat or fish soup.
Countries that make up the Horn of Africa have quite different culinary traditions. Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia stick to cereal meals from wheat and sorghum, various flat cakes. Most common beverages are coffee, local beer and tej wine that is flavored with the powdered leaves and twigs of gesho.
The traditional South African food was influenced by various cultural and religious trends. Meals that based on meat, cereals, milk, and dairy products were common here in the pre-colonial period. The influx of Indian workers in the late 19th century brought new types of food based on curry rice and vegetables. Thus, Bunny chow became very popular throughout South Africa and can be found literally in every eatery for around 3-5 USD. South Africa has lots of restaurants and eateries that offer traditional African, Chinese, Indian, Arabic and Japanese food. Fast food chains like Steers are available throughout the continent with prices ranging from 4-7 USD depending on a country.
Cheap restaurants in Kenya may serve low quality meat meals, so the best way to get decent food is to stick to fish sometimes, which is usually fresh due to the nearby ocean and several lakes. During my trip to Africa, I have never had a problem eating local food though. However, I always avoid peeled fruits and vegetables, unclean looking food.
Meals that are worth trying while in Kenya are matoke, ugali and skuma wiki. Fresh fruits are omnipresent in Kenya. However, mind washing them thoroughly before eating. Expect to pay around 5 USD for a meal in an inexpensive restaurant. Three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant would set you back around 25 USD.
Accommodation in Africa
With a wide range of accommodation options throughout the continent, the first thing to do is to book in advance. In South Africa, there are plenty of cheap youth hostels that offer dorm rooms from 12 USD per night. That makes things a lot easier when you leave your plane disoriented and tired. Dorm rooms in Nairobi cost around 13-20 USD with lockers and sometimes free Wi-Fi and breakfast.
It is a good idea to search for guest houses over the Internet. Camping is popular here so accommodation would be even cheaper. In Mombasa (on the coastline) I rented a bungalow for 220 USD per month with self-catering facilities. Mombasa also has cheap hostels with prices start from 10 USD.