No superlative can come close to encapsulating the raw spirit and diversity that fills the beating heart of the dark continent. It is a land that has captured the imaginations and spirits of travellers since written records began, a land where the some of the first remnants of modern civilisation began to form and continues to evolve today into the pulsing, swaying, heady beat of the warm, vital and friendly people that make up the diverse nations of Africa.
But it is often not the diverse countries or the friendly people that keep bringing travellers back to this intriguing continent time and time again, it isn’t even the ancient monuments or the fascinating cultures, it is the natural history that captures the essence of this great land. Some of the most spectacular natural vistas on earth are filled with the widest variety of wildlife you will see anywhere. No documentary can do justice to the sheer majesty of mother nature at her most visceral, beauty and savagery go hand in hand in a land where hundreds of species of wildlife rule the roost. Nowhere else on earth holds the same raw power or impact of Africa when it comes to the sheer amount of teeming wildlife, reminding the casual observer that we are lucky to be allowed on a land that has yet to be tamed by civilisation. Living proof that nature can still draw a line in the sand and declare here and no further.
Africa is a land that does not give up her secrets easily. Backpackers will face many challenges and frustrations along the way, but for those willing to put in the effort, brave the hardships and the stereotypes of war ravaged hell holes, then Africa will reward you with a longing, a desire to be with her that matches that of any lover. This is Africa.
When to go.
North Africa gets very hot between April and September, and many people do suggest travelling in the cooler months of October to March. However this isn’t strictly necessary provided that reasonable precautions are taken to combat the sun and the heat.
Peak tourist season in the South, East and West as well as central Africa is mostly tied up with the various dry seasons that wax and wane throughout different parts of the continent. Many safaris run during this time and it is easier to get around. However, the wet seasons can be a fantastic time to travel too if you can traverse the logistical problems, wildlife is more abundant, vistas are more stunning, there are less tourists and everything is cheaper. Of course there are mild differences from country to country, but in general South Africa has its dry season in between May and October, getting increasingly hot toward the end, and the wet season is roughly from November to April. East Africa has two dry seasons, from roughly December to March and then June to October. West Africa’s dry season is from October to April and central Africa June to September is the dry season.
Africa on the whole is fairly cheap for independent travel with the price of getting around, accommodation and food generally quite reasonable in the majority of countries with a few notable exceptions such as South Africa where costs are generally higher. Activities such as safari’s, organised treks, personal car hire or any type of activity involving wildlife spotting can be extremely expensive and blow your budget out of the water.
ATMs remain the best way to access your money on the road, however they are generally sparse outside of major towns or cities. This means that a bit of planning ahead is required if you plan on heading away from the beaten track and don’t want to run out of money. Any credit card with the visa logo will be widely recognised throughout many parts of Africa, but cards are often subject to hefty surcharges. Cash is king here in Africa, but it is always handy to have a backup.
Provided you keep your wits about you, Africa is fairly safe regardless of what you may have heard in the mass media. Saying that, petty crime such as theft and pick pocketing, and even violent muggings and carjacking are not unheard of in the cities so it does pay to have your wits about you and to follow basic common sense when it comes to your safety. Like most places, the biggest hassle you will face is con artists and hustlers, so read up carefully about the local scams of the particular country you are visiting. It is also a good idea to be aware of the political situation in any country you may be visiting. Although not necessarily a complete deterrent to travel, certain events may necessitate a slight change of plans.