Whether you’re a backpacker on the adventure or a safari enthusiast, here are some tips to take on your journey — This is Africa.
Whether you are a backpacker or a luxury safari traveler, let the continent embrace you. The real feel of Africa can be experienced only by traveling through the vast, diverse landscape and by meeting people. There is something mystical about it that draws people from around the globe. From the vibrant sunsets and diverse wildlife to friendly people, the experience is like nowhere else in the world.
The continent is known for exotic animal encounters, and it is home to 1.2 billion people. Despite the fact that there are more than 2,000 local languages, the majority of Africans speak English. Many countries struggle, others are in the process of development, and some have booming tourism. No matter where they come from, people are always smiling.
Despite the general opinion in the world that there is danger lurking everywhere, African people are friendly and welcoming. Most of them are even curious to know your name and why you are visiting. Be respectful and bear in mind that most nations are still deeply conservative, and you will be greeted with a warm welcome.
Before Leaving Your Home
Planning a trip to Africa can be daunting, but the more you prepare, the less the surprise. You can expect anything in any part of the continent — getting your clothes covered in dirt 24/7, riding on a public bus while a chicken pecks the back of your head. Africa is the land of many wonders, and if you take everything as it is, you will be fine.
The first and foremost, visit your doctor and consult with them about medical requirements. Most of the countries have a mandatory Yellow Fever vaccination. It is also wise to carry some medicines with you, such as:
- Malarone and Doxycycline (Anti-Malaria medicines)
- Iodine tablets
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Insect repellent
- Whatever medications you take regularly.
Make sure you get Travel insurance. Without it, you are bound to pay the doctor if anything should happen.
When it comes to toiletries, be sure to carry them with you because you might not find them overseas. For example, in some parts of Africa, the sunscreen is nowhere to be seen.
Make sure to inform yourself about the countries you plan to visit. Read guides and anything you can find on the internet. There are 54 currencies. Focus your attention primarily on them and know the exchange rates.
When it comes to accommodation, bear in mind that the busy African season starts in May and ends in October. Planning to stay in hotels or hostels will require booking in advance. There are various camping grounds. If you like the outdoors, you can find anything from a luxury tent to an ordinary one. Although you might want someone to stand guard during the night.
Travel light, do not wear flashy designer clothes and jewelry — no need to make yourself a target. The same goes for the camera you carry with you. Since you will get covered in a lot of dust, do not take any clothes of light colors. Depending on which country you are visiting, pack a scarf, wet wipes, sunglasses, and hand sanitizer. Word of advice — some African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and much of South Africa can get extremely cold during the winter months, so make sure you pack warm clothes.
While waiting at some borders, you will notice that there is a corrupt border process that can be frustrating at times. However, prepare yourself before you go. Although you can get a visa at the point of entry, make sure you get it in your homeland. While you are there, consult with the person in the embassy and be sure to remember how long it lasts.
Transportation and Getting Around in Africa
The most exciting part of traveling experience is getting around from one point to another. The truth is that there are so many choices — taxis, mopeds, minibuses, public transportation, minivans, and even rickshaw. It all depends on your personal preference. The only thing to remember is to never travel alone during the night. Whatever you choose, do not expect you’ll get there exactly on time, because all over the continent things run on “Africa Time.”
Public Transport — If you want to experience the countries in Africa, take a ride with locals in packed public transportation. You may or you may not get a seat, and in addition, there might be chickens on the bus, but it is all part of the everyday life of the locals. If you are asked for additional money for the luggage, do not buy into it — the ticket you purchased counts for the suitcase as well. The tickets cost $3–$30, depending on the mileage.
Safari Tours — The tours are well organized and are less of a hassle than traveling on your own. The guides are knowledgeable and well informed. Several options are available, depending on the size of the group. For the most part, there are seven-day groups, all-inclusive. There are private tours as well, which can come up to several thousand U.S. dollars.
Car Hire — If you want the luxury of driving, you can rent a car. The vehicles are mostly jeeps and they are the cheapest in South Africa, costing $30, while in other areas they can be up to $100 a day.
The Baz Bus — The minibus is a traveling company, which offers rides on the most popular routes. It is especially convenient if you need a ride to the hostel. You choose the direction according to your needs and pay for it. A seven-day ticket is around $375, and a fourteen-day ticket is $375.
Minivans — Much like in some comedy, when you think they can not accommodate more people, that is when you are wrong. Often times the people are holding on to the back of the van, but it’s Africa. Similar to public buses, the prices are low, and you can expect to pay a ticket anywhere from $1-$20, depending on the direction you are heading to.
Hitchhiking — Most of the times, you will get a ride but do expect to be asked in a friendly way where you are from and why you are there. Africans are friendly people, but some rural parts have never seen tourists. Be aware that hitchhiking is not recommended in Central Africa.
The Currency and the Costs in Africa
Costs and Currency
While traveling the continent, you might want to plan a budget — spending money on water and tours can blow it very fast. It is not particularly cheap to travel in Africa. For visiting most of the countries, you will need approximately $100 per day per person, for food, transportation, and accommodation. The cheapest accommodations are hostels and camps, ranging from $5 to $50 per night.
If you have a credit card, make sure it’s Visa. Southern countries have an ATM or a credit card facility. If you do not see one on the street, head to the local bank and exchange to the currency you want.
You want to avoid the street exchange as much as possible because their rates are unrealistic in most of the cases. Credit card frauds are common as in other countries in the world, but you should be especially wary in South Africa. You might want to carry the money belt and no more than $50 in the wallet.
Wi-Fi and Food
There are public networks available around the continent. Surprisingly, they have good reception and in most places it’s 4G. For one month of unlimited data, you will need $10. However, it is recommended that you use a VPN while browsing the internet.
The food in most parts is delicious. You can venture into local towns and buy a cheap meal in the local restaurants. African cuisine is diverse as well as wildlife and culture. You can expect rice with curry in some countries, and exotic saffron-spiced dishes in others. And you should avoid meat in remote places due to the lack of refrigeration.
General Advice While in Africa
The continent with many diversities, landscapes, and cultures changes from north to south. There is a saying that only a person who has never seen Africa is the lucky one because that person has yet to be amazed. While it is generally safe, even for someone who travels solo, there are some things you should pay attention to while on a journey.
Electricity is, to say the least, scarce, some 600 million people still don’t have access to it. Be sure to bring a travel adapter or solar charger, and be mindful when showering. The homeland of Sahara desert has suffered droughts and a quick shower benefits all.
Many of the African lakes seem inviting, but the fact is that the majority of them are infested with a parasite called Bilharzia. Make sure you restrain from swimming there. However, the drinking water in most of the countries is quite safe. Despite the stories about some countries like Namibia and South Africa, Cape Town especially, you can drink water from the tap.
Whether or not you are visiting East Africa, Southern Africa, or Saharan Africa, never say it is your first visit. People will approach you on the street offering you a taxi, crafts or art. Majority of them are harmless, but they will push you on. There is nothing ill about it, just annoying. Invent the story that your sister lives there. It might help to learn a few words in the local dialect to back up the story.
Be responsible when traveling around; some parts of the continent have crime circles where they encourage children to skip school and beg for money in the streets. Giving them money or gifts will not save them, as most of the western countries believe. By giving them money, you further encourage the crime. It is not just children, but people posing as refugees or students as well.
Do not take photos of people without asking, especially children. Everyone will get offended, and some will ask for money. If you can’t resist, take that photo from afar or ask that person for permission before taking the shot.
Also, you should avoid anyone offering you a free product or service, only to charge you an insane amount of money in the end. People who insist on carrying your luggage at the airport or border will usually charge you a large sum for the service.
The locals have had their struggles throughout history. War and political disturbance have made some parts of the continent poor. While some African countries are wealthy, such as Rwanda, which resembles more to a western state, others are still deep in the dark, and just beginning to come out in public. When you take a walk in the desert under the stars, have a first look at the king of Savannah, and watch the colors of the sunset over Baobab trees. You know Africa will call you back.