The Best Lodging Options in Africa
Learn more about accommodation in the following countries.
Hotels and hostels are surprisingly expensive in Africa. The value is not always what you might hope and the quality of the hotel may be less than you expected, even if you payed western prices for it. You'll generally find the lowest quality hotels for the highest prices in areas that receive few tourists and have the most limited infrastructure. This is in large part because there is no competition to drive prices down. The one hotel in town can and will charge whatever they like for sub par facilities. West Africa, in particular, where the currency is locked to the euro, is quite expensive. More affordable countries with a higher number of tourists include Morocco and parts of Kenya (with the exception of safaris).
Capital cities usually have the highest diversity in accommodation. Most capital cities have at least one or two western chain hotels, with the Sheraton or the Hilton being popular options. These hotels usually charge western prices, about US$250 a night for a room, and they offer rooms that are comparable in quality to their western counterparts. Depending on the city you may also find other amenities attached to the hotel. Restaurants serving local cuisine and western fare are often available as is shopping, hairdressers, gyms and pools.
If you're looking to spend less, then your best option is almost always to go with a locally owned hotel. Familiarize yourself with the hotel's online reviews and you can be confident that you've chosen a place with high quality rooms at a reasonable price in a good neighborhood. If you're traveling to a smaller town, you're less likely to find a hotel listed online. In these cases your best option is to inquire on travel forums and ask people who've already been to the area about sleeping options. They will likely have some excellent suggestions (or warnings) for you.
Staying in locally owned places is part of the experience in Africa. Small, family run hotels are the norm, so embrace this idea and enjoy the stay. The owners will likely go out of their way to make sure your experience in memorable and you feel welcomed your entire time you are in town.
Tips to Get More for Your Money
Africa is often more expensive than you may have expected. It is also a very unpredictable area to travel. To give yourself peace of mind, budget far more than you actually expect to spend. Plan for the unexpected. You may end up staying in an area longer than you original thought or you may find it more challenging to find a hotel than you had realized.
Negotiate hard. In many African countries there are western prices and there are African prices. Sometimes the western prices can be astronomically high, so do not simply accept them. Negotiate, but of course, be fair. You will likely end up paying more than the locals even if you're a good negotiator. This is the system and it is something you have to accept while you're in the area. While many people find it a little frustrating, you'll have a more enjoyable time if you negotiate and then accept the price for what it is. It's all part of the African experience.
It's most frustrating to negotiate when you have a limited number of options available to you. This is common in smaller towns and rural areas where there is only one or two poorly run hotel. The hotel owners know that your hands are tied and they may take advantage of this. Try to get the price down to a fair and reasonable level, but know that it can be a tricky situation. It's all about supply and demand and in this situation the equation is not in your favor.
Flexibility can save you a lot of money as well. If you find yourself spending more than you expected, find an affordable place to sleep and linger for a while. You'll get to know that community quite well and you'll have a far more memorable experience than if you rush through on a whirlwind tour. Also, if you expect the unexpected then you won't be completely caught off guard when you end up spending the night in a different town than you'd planned, or stranded in an city because of a transportation strike or some other unexpected surprise. These things happen and sometimes they are almost unavoidable in Africa. Take it as part of the experience and make the best of it.
A Range of Sleeping Options
There are very few hostels in Africa, but there are guesthouses and hotels in most cities that you would consider visiting. Accommodation can be of varying quality so do thorough research before booking a reservation. In some countries, such as Mali, where the heat is quite high, you may be tempted to sleep on the roof. You can often get a mattress on the roof for a few dollars, and it's cheaper, and in some cases more comfortable than the stuffy rooms. If you're carrying a laptop or expensive camera with you it may be possible to have it locked up, although theft is rarely a problem in this country.
In more rural areas you may benefit from having a tent. Some areas have few hotels or accommodation options so sleeping in a tent may be quite enjoyable. You'll be quite impressed by the number of stars in the sky over Africa.
If you're doing a safari you will likely have several sleeping options to choose from. Budget safaris in places like Kenya and Tanzania usually offer "luxury tents" to guests. These are usually far more than tents. They are often permanent structures that are surrounded by heavy cloth material to create the illusion of a tent. They usually have their own attached, private bathroom which is fully equipped with running water. Most are situated in an organized camp with a circle of tents surrounding an eating area or restaurant. They are almost always located outside of the national park. If you choose to stay at a camp that is inside the national park then you will have to pay substantially more in permits and fees.
More luxury safaris offer everything from moderate to very fancy sleeping options. In some of the national parks you will find five star hotels or lodges that have excellent restaurants, spas, and comfortable rooms. You are far from roughing it if you choose to go this route and they can be quite a fun and extravagant experience. Even if you're on a budget safari, your guide will likely swing by a lodge so you can see it.
Morocco has its own unique feel and style. One of the most interesting experiences in this country is to stay in a riad, or a traditional Moroccan style hotel. These hotels usually have a lush courtyard that opens to the outdoors. The rooms surround the courtyard and the natural light and open feel can be quite wonderful. There is also no shortage budget options in Morocco, many of which use the riad style architecture and layout, without the impressive attention to detail that you would find in a more luxurious place. By finding a riad style guesthouse for a fraction of the cost you can still experience this traditional Moroccan facility for a fraction of the cost.
Different Levels of Hotel
In larger cities, particularly capital cities, you'll find luxury hotels that are often western chains. These hotels can be quite comprehensive with small shopping centers, restaurants, and various amenities you don't typically find at a hotel. Depending on the city and country in which they are located, you may find obvious security measure in place to protect the hotel. Don't be surprised to see a hotel with an armed guards in front, particularly at the major western chain hotels. This is common practice and should not raise concern.
Mid-range hotels can be difficult to come by in some parts of Africa. Hotels that are moderately priced are often of a lower quality and may not be a good value. Many places are built with low quality materials and items begin to break as the hotel ages. Many places feel very dated but continue to charge the original price for the room despite the deterioration. In these cases it might be worth staying at a budget hotel option or upgrading to a nice hotel, depending on your budget and your preference.
With the exception of South Africa, some places in Kenya and Tanzania, and a small handful of other countries, you will find very few hostels throughout Africa. Most budget hotels come in the form of guesthouses. They can be small in size and offer the most basic amenities. There may be a small restaurant attached and in some places the hotels include mosquito nets. You'll rarely find an alarm clock or television. Despite being a low cost hotel, private bathrooms are usually attached to the room, but there are rare exceptions when this is not the case. In cities and towns that are frequented by tourists you will usually find the highest quality budget accommodation. These towns usually offer the highest selection in accommodation at the best value. These are also the times when negotiating can help you the most.