Africa Travel Guide

africa travel guide


Planning a trip to Africa can be quite overwhelming. With lots of general tips about this continent, there is usually not much information about certain places, costs, accommodation, and transportation. Most news reports show us only the negative side of life in Africa leaving aside the fact that the country has tons of culture to experience, gorgeous landscapes and rich history.


With around 54 countries that made up African continent, just a small part of them really benefit from tourism. Because of local conflicts and wars that have left a negative impact, the travel industry and infrastructure are now evolving, even in such off-the-beaten-track countries like Djibouti and Mali.


However, it is not uncommon to feel nervous about going to Africa, so I felt exactly that when I first visited it. Is it really true that some places are unsafe to travel in Africa? Some places might be dangerous at night, just stay at your hotel to be safe. For example, when I was planning my Nairobi trip I was baffled by the negative reviews about this city. Some folks who have already been there assured me that Nairobi comes from “night robbery”.


Surely any traveler should adhere to security measures by not walking with a camera around your neck or using a cell phone near locals and surely no money counting in crowded places. These are universal tips. I have never been robbed though. At one point I thought that prosperous Thailand is far more criminogenic. Safety during the trip depends on your experience, behavior, and luck. When you plan a trip to Africa you need to get as much information about your destination as possible. Thus, if they say not to walk at night, make sure to follow the advice.


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Africa Location

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, since 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.


Africa Travel Guide – Getting Around

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.


Africa Travel Guide – Food

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.


Africa Travel Guide – Accommodation

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.

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How To Stay Healthy While Travelling In Africa

Africa is a safe place for travelers who follow safety precautions. The main possible threats are malaria and yellow fever. Both infections transmitted by mosquitoes. So make sure to sleep under a mosquito net and use insect repellent with at least 50% DEET. Drugs that prevent malaria are usually easily obtainable almost everywhere in Kenya. I didn’t use any drugs, though.

It makes sense to protect yourself against sunburn, especially on the ocean shores. If you have sensitive or pale skin, you can get a sunburn in 15 minutes. Therefore, sunscreen with sun protection factor of 30 or higher and sunglasses are a must. Make sure to take care of these things in advance.

Keep your hands clean, as this would prevent a bunch of problems while in Africa. Kenya drives on the left, so if you are from a country of right-hand traffic it might be more convenient to use public transport or taxi. Protect and secure your property as theft are frequent in dorms.

How To Do Africa On a Budget

Stick To Public Buses and Minivans

Buses, poda poda, matatu, dalla dalla and tro tro are great as they cheap and give you a chance to see how people live in Africa. Filled with noise, hubbub, and even fowl, they connect towns and neighborhoods, while more luxurious buses are taken for longer journeys and across borders.


While not all countries in Africa allows Couchsurfing, you can connect with locals in Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia. By using Couchsurfing you get not just a free accommodation, but also a chance to see some secret spots and places that only locals know.


For those on a tight budget, hitchhiking is a way to get around without spending tons of money. Depending on the driver you can ride for a small tip or even for free. However, if you ride for free expect to have a nice conversation with the driver as they usually really curious about the life abroad. Since hitchhiking brings some risks, you can minimize them by asking the staff of your hotel/hostel if there any driver departing soon.

Eat Street Food and Live In a Tent

If you stick to local street food and live in a tent you can save an enormous amount of money. Most camps are located in designated areas in order not to disturb the environment. However, there are some camps in the bush, which means you will have to pay a small fee to the landowner. Mind the tent zipper shut at all times to avoid spiders and snakes. Sleeping bag, first aid kit, mosquito net and head torch are essential when going wild.

Top Things To See and Places to Visit in Africa

Discover Your Roots In the Valley of the Omo in Ethiopia

The Valley of Omo river is home to numerous tribes that live quite the same way they did many centuries ago. The valley is literally a womb of the humanity. Mursi, Hamar, Turkana, and Dorze tribes were minimally affected by modern civilization. Each of these tribes has its own unique culture, traditions, lifestyle and the way they adorn their bodies. Visiting Omo Valley is like comprehending society as it was during primitive communal system.

Of course, the tribes couldn’t have been stayed unaffected for a long time. Thus, local men prefer assault rifles to spears and bows. The indigenous people have long been accustomed to tourists and learned how to take advantage of them. The proud sons of Africa notice every shot you take so payment is inevitable, unfortunately.

Visit Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya

The Maasai Mara national reserve located in the northern part of the Serengeti plain and is known for its annual migration of animals. Once started in Tanzania animals make their way to the north facing the threat of the crocodiles in the Mara River and hundreds of predators that follow them all the way up. While the exact date of migration varies from year to year, it usually takes place from July to September and offers a great chance to see leopard, lion, buffalo, rhino, and elephant otherwise known as Big Five.

Yep, I know the Maasai Mara national reserve doesn’t associate with budget travel. There is a way, however! To visit Maasai Mara on a budget, consider staying just outside the park. In that case, you won’t have to pay an extra fee and pay just for going on safari. With several camps just next to the Reserve, they offer budget accommodation with prices ranging from 15 USD per night for a tent to 80 USD per night for ensuite cottages. They also offer safari packages, which are much cheaper than the same safaris from tour companies. You are free to include things you like. Maasai Mara national reserve entrance fee is 80 USD.

Enjoy Elephants in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya

The Amboseli National Park is probably the most recognizable park in Kenya thanks to so many shots with the elephants in front of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. This land of the giants offers the most spectacular views of snow-covered Kilimanjaro peak, which is actually situated in Tanzania. Shrouded in a haze by day, the peak and the cliffs gain dark purple hue in the evening when the sun goes down.

Amboseli landscape consists of trampled plains that may seem dusty and dry at first glance. In fact, shrinking glaciers of Kilimanjaro feed two freshwater marshes in the center of the park, the watering place for numerous animals and nesting birds. The park is home to more than 800 elephants and lots of other animals. Make sure to visit the observation hill with a fantastic view of the surrounding plains. The park is accessible at any time of the year since Amboseli has an extensive road network and you don’t leave your car during animal watching. Admission is 60 USD.

The Okavango Delta In Botswana

The world’s largest inland delta was created after an ancient lake of Makgadikgadi dried up thousands of years ago. Fed by the highland waters of Uganda, the Okavango Delta creates a breathtaking labyrinth of inland lagoons, channels, islands, and lakes. This is crazy destination full of crocs and grunting hippos. Pristine condition and water purity can be explained by its vast size and difficult access much of the delta.

You can start your journey in the town of Maun, which serves as a jumping-off point to both the Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta. Maun International Airport provides direct flights to and from main city hubs such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. Activities and tours out of Maun range from walking and mokoro safaris to cultural tours and birdwatching. There is a chance to see Okavango Delta from the air, expect to pay around 110 USD in that case. There are several guest houses and inns in Maun with prices start from around 35 USD per night.

Wander through Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania

The main reason travelers come to Ngorongoro is the amazing Ngorongoro Crater. This largest unflooded volcanic caldera formed when a volcano exploded and collapsed very long ago. Serving as a natural enclosure for wildlife, this UNESCO site also accommodates a large number of life forms and creates a unique balance between life and death. You can find several smaller craters nearby that can be best explored on foot. The Olduvai Gorge conservation area is a famous archaeological site that is known as the refuge of the most ancient human fossils ever been found. If you go for a hike in Ngorongoro, mind to take binoculars. Admission is 60 USD.

Stroll the Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar

Madagascar’s first natural monument, the Alley of Baobabs is one of the most popular attractions. The group of imposing baobab trees lining the gravel road halfway between Morondava and Belo Tsiribihina looks especially great at sunset or sunrise. While upside-down trees (as they are also known) aren’t endemic to Madagascar, there is no other place in Africa where they can be found lined up in a row. With around 30 baobabs that grow here, each tree can live up to be 800 years old and be 30 meters tall.

The best time to visit the Avenue of the Baobabs is during the dry season from May to October. The most convenient way to reach the Alley is by taxi from Morondava or Belo Tsiribihina, which set you back around 16 USD. Mind there are parking fees for your taxi as well.

Enjoy Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

The magnificent Victoria Falls are located on the Zambezi River, at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is really hard to imagine how big it is until you see it up close with your own eyes. Also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya or the smoke that thunders its name aptly describe the Falls that can be heard from miles away.

I really enjoyed visiting it. The only confusing part about the Falls is to choose the right side to approach. With several pro and cons on each side, most travelers prefer the Zimbabwean side, as it allows you to thoroughly see the Falls from every angle and somewhat cheaper. Besides, you can always cross the border with Zambia to enjoy the view from the other side. Visa costs 20 USD. During the dry season, you can take a dip in the Devil’s Pool, a narrow area next to the fall and enjoy a great view.

Hike the Fish River Canyon in Namibia

If you ever hiked the Grand Canyon you would definitely like Fish River Canyon in Namibia. While it is one of the most famous hikes in Namibia, the canyon has four-day and five-day trails depending on group size and medical condition of participants. The vastness of this grandiose landscape is truly mind-blowing. Covering a distance of more than 80 km from the base of the canyon, the best time for hikes is a period between May and September when it is not super hot.

The start point is at Hobas Campsite and ends at Ai-Ais with only two emergency exits along the trail. Mind to obtain a permit from Namibia Wildlife Resorts in Windhoek or through their site before visiting. If you don’t fancy doing this route there are several viewpoints and campsites to stay in with prices starting from 13-15 USD per night. Park admission is around 6 USD.

Locate the Great White Place in Etosha National Park

Etosha was declared a National Park in 1907 and means “a great white place” in Ovambo language. When Etosha pan dries up, it forms a large white plain. They say that Etosha has the largest population of black rhinoceroses, however, during my visit I only saw one in the distance. Etosha National Park may not be as great as Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. But it definitely worth visiting because of its landscape. White dust highlights animals as they approach numerous waterholes and makes them look quite unusual.

Some time ago, due to the prolonged drought and lack of water, some animals have died. But now with several artificial reservoirs have been created the population has recovered. Take advantage of staying next to these waterholes. When animals approach them you can take awesome snapshots of wildlife. There are four old campsites around the park – Halali, Namutoni, Onkoshi, and Okaukuejo. Okaukuejo is the closest one to Anderson Gate if you drive from Windhoek. Expect to pay around 20 USD per night if you go camping.

Visit Big Daddy and Dune 45 in Namib-Naukluft National Park

As you drive West from the mountainous region of Khomas Hochland with its breathtaking gorges and narrow mountain roads you suddenly bump into the most ancient desert in the world, currently encompassed by the Namib-Naukluft National Park. This is one of the few national parks in Namibia that you can visit on foot as there are no carnivores or dangerous animals. The park is divided into four parts: Sossusvlei, Naukluft, Namib and Sandwich Harbour. This place is home to amazing sand dunes of vibrant red and red-hued shades. Their color and hue depending on the age of the dune and the time of day.

The dunes gain even more mysterious look when enjoyed in Deadvlei. A white clay pan situated near the more popular salt pan of Sossusvlei with several dead trees in the middle, makes the entire area look really cryptic. When bleached-white pans and pitch-black trees meet rusty-red dunes, then awesome images come out! Surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world (Big Daddy is among them) the Deadvlei is around 1 km away from the nearest parking lot so make sure to get enough drinking water with you. Camping is available for around 15 USD per night. Park admission is around 6 USD.