Africa truly is a world like no other, and although many stereotypes reduce this diverse continent to the highlights of a Moroccan holiday or the images of famine on an old TV relief special nothing could be further from the truth. 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 people that make up the diverse nations of Africa.
But it is often not just the diverse countries or the welcoming cultures that keep bringing travellers back to this intriguing continent time and time again, it isn’t even the ancient monuments or the fascinating historical remnants of long lost civilisations, 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 Africa, 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 erroneous 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.
Know Before You Go.
Despite some misconceptions, Africa is a huge continent and so diverse that it is impossible to define or categorise easily. Quite often the simplest way to get an overview of just how diverse it is, is to break it up into geographical regions.
With the exception of South Africa, this is the region most travellers are most familiar with. Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and the Western Sahara are included in this region. The primary culture and language is Arabic and the main religion Islam, although there are others. The destination highlights include some of Africas most spectacular natural wonders such as the Sahara Desert, the Nile and Red Sea, the Atlas Mountains and more, not to mention the only remaining ancient wonder of the world, the Pyramids of Giza.
Made up of Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Sao Tome, and Principe, this is perhaps the least visited region in Africa and with few exceptions there is very little tourist infrastructure.
East Africa is the wildlife filled jewel of Africa and is where most travellers head to when they want to go on a safari or wildlife adventure, tick off the bucket list item of climbing mount Kilimanjaro or visit some of the most romantic islands and pristine white beaches in Africa. Consisting of Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, the Comoros, Mauritius Seychelles, Reunion and Mayotte, Mozambique and Madagascar as well as Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Collectively this region includes the famous Great Lakes Region and the area known as the Horn of Africa, and politically the East African Community.
West Africa consists of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan Da Cunha.
South Africa is the most touristy region in in Africa, made up of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and of course South Africa itself. South Africa’s Cape Town, Vivtoria Falls and of course Kruger National Park always top most travellers bucket lists.
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.
In very general terms the best time to go on a safari in Africa is during the overall dry season in Spring and Summer. A lack of rainfall mean that wildlife congregate at fewer waterholes, meaning sightings are more likely.
However, the wet seasons can be a fantastic time to travel too if you can traverse the logistical problems like lack of transport and difficulty getting to some remote areas, 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 safaris, 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.