Choosing an Itinerary
For many first time travelers, Africa can prove a little intimidating. Even seasoned travelers are often thrown by the frustrating public transportation, lack of infrastructure, and often poor quality yet overpriced hotels. Many visitors choose to head to Africa as part of an overland tour. There are many companies that offer packaged trips that are targeted at a backpacker crowd. This is far from necessary however if you're looking for and adventure and have a good amount a flexibility built into your schedule. Choosing the right region can also be very important as there are many regional differences within this vast continent.
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Many visitors to Africa head straight to the Eastern part of the country. It's easy to find an international flight into Nairobi. From there you can enjoy a safari in Masai Mara or head south into Tanzania to Mount Kilimanjaro. Malawi is known as a friendly and welcoming country and it's a great place to linger for a while before heading on into South Africa.
South Africa is a hub of international flights and makes for an easy entry point. While you're around the southern tip of this great continent you can explore South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia, all of which are quite fascinating and unique countries. The transportation in some areas is surprisingly good, but for remote destinations you may be better off hiring a private car and driver. This will cut down on some of the hassle and allow you to see a little more.
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West Africa is a challenging place to travel independently, but it's also very rewarding. Mali is one of the region's most diverse countries and it has a lot to offer visitors. Senegal has beautiful coastline and interesting villages, Burkina Faso is known for its friendly people, and Ghana is a great place to begin or end your African odyssey, as it's a more relaxed and comfortable country than others in West Africa.
Planning Your Travel Expenses
A trip to Africa is on the top of many people's wish list. The continent itself is actually quite diverse, and it's important to understand what you want from your trip before you zero in on a final destination. It's also important to consider your budget, and how long you plan on traveling before you begin planning the specifics of your trip. Africa, as a region, is actually far more expensive than you might expect. Despite its generally low cost of living, as a traveler you're likely find yourself spending more than you anticipated. Many countries are not visited by many tourists, and as such, the travel infrastructure is limited. The few hotels you may find are overpriced for their level of quality. Local transportation can be cheap, but highly inconvenient. If you're tight on time you will likely have to hire a private vehicle. Many people who travel to Africa do so to experience a safari, which is far from a cheap activity. The budget for Africa is well above what you might spend in Southeast Asia, and less that a trip to Western Europe, but the facilities are not as luxurious and you get far less bang for your buck. In most capital cities you'll find at least one or two western chain hotels that charge western prices for western quality. Mid-range options are more limited in selection, high in price, and often lower in comfort and style. Budget options may be cheap, but are often very low in quality. In some places they are also almost nonexistent. Again, the budget will vary dramatically from country to country, as does the travel infrastructure. Selecting the right country can really make or break your budget.
There are many things you can do to keep your travel budget in check. Planning ahead and selecting more affordable destinations and activities will not only keep costs down, but will also allow you to see a side of a country you might otherwise have missed. For some trips local transportation is the way to go. If the roads are good and the buses or trains leave frequently then this can be a good option. Other routes are better covered with a private vehicle. For the more challenging legs of your trip hiring a vehicle can save you time, which will ultimately safe you money. The goal is to get the most out of your experience in every way, without falling into the typical tourist traps and breaking your bank in the process.
Activities and Highlights
The most popular reason for visiting Africa is to do a safari. Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa are among the most popular countries to see wildlife. Kenya's Masai Mara National Park is perhaps the most affordable option, but depending on the season, you may be better off visiting the Serengeti in Tanzania or Kruger National Park in South Africa. Animals migrate, and while you do want to save a few bucks, don't do so at the risk of missing what you came for. While these are the most popular countries for safaris, there are other excellent options in countries that are a little more off the beaten track.
Many people travel to Africa for the culture. Life continues in some areas virtually untouched by modern technology. In Turmi, Ethiopia you can get a glimpse of how life once was. Ceremonies and traditions remain in place despite the changing outside world. In Mali, West Africa, you can trek through the Dogon Country and see women making their daily walk to the well to collect water. Often, to get off the beaten path you may need a guide and hired car. If you plan ahead you can coordinate with other travelers and split the cost. In this way, everyone wins.
Some African countries have world renowned beaches, and while this may not be the first image that pops in your mind when you think of your African holiday, it can be a great way to relax after an African adventure. Places like Zanzibar, Tanzania are known as backpacker havens, while Cape Town, South Africa appeals to a higher end crowd. There are some great places for diving in the Red Sea off the coast of Egypt, and there are some surprising beachfront resorts in many different countries with a coastline. Whether you're looking to relax in style and chill out on a hammock with a drink, there is a beach that is perfect for you in Africa.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, is a lifelong goal for many people. It's a wonderful trek that requires a certain amount of preparation and patience, but the reward is worth it. Alternatively, you could look to some less known peaks in Africa such as Mount Kenya. These routes are equally as rewarding and in some cases a little less challenging.
If you're looking for a truly exotic adventure, a camel trek will get you off the beaten track to see the landscape and the Bedouin culture. You'll sleep under more stars than you imagined possible and meet some of the most fascinating people. It's a truly unique experience, whether you choose to do it in Morocco or Egypt.
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Cheap African Destinations
While Africa may prove to be a more expensive destination than you had expected, you can save some money by choosing certain destinations. If you want to go scuba diving in the Red Sea, head to Dahab
instead of Sharm el-Sheikh. Skip South Africa for Botswana, or try something totally unique and go to Ethiopia, a great destination for the budget conscience. Choose places where independent travel is more practical so you can avoid the expense of hiring a car. In West Africa, consider Mali, which is easier to navigate than nearby Senegal.
Once you're in a country you can also save money by choosing to visit certain towns or cities. Capital cities often have more hotels available so there is a broader diversity in cost and comfort level. Smaller towns may have one or two budget hotels, or they may have only one expensive hotel. Know what to expect before you arrive and your budget will last you a little longer.
Wherever you go, remember, you have to stay flexible. In Africa things can arise that are unexpected. Assume a "go with the flow" mentality and you'll enjoy your time and save money in the process.
Buses, Trains, or Taxis
Transportation in Africa can be expensive. Flights within Africa can be quite expensive because of the weak demand. Trains are challenging and slow, and buses are crowded, uncomfortable, and often break down. If you're on a tight schedule your best bet is to hire a car. If time isn't a factor, and money is, then choose a route, find a bus, settle in and do your best to enjoy the ride. In some countries prices are set, but it's generally a good bet that you should negotiate, particularly when a baggage fee suddenly appears. Be fair but assertive when you negotiate.