Jabali House, Watamu, Kenya
The African continent has to be one of the most diverse regions of the world to travel. I know often we think of the cliches and stereotypes – namely wide open plains teeming with wildlife – but there is so. much. more. to see and explore.
Between my husband and I, we’ve travelled through Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and seen the pyramids in Eygpt… as we flew over Cairo. So that’s 8.5 (we can’t really count Egypt hey?) out of 55 – barely scraping the surface! Our travel list is long and getting longer, but we’d love to visit friends in Burundi, marvel at the order that is Kigali, Rwanda, and eat our way around Cape Town. I’m also dying to get to get to Senegal and practice my (very poor) French!
Here are some quick tips for travelling the continent. I guess many are relevant to travelling anywhere, but since most of my travel experience is in this part of the world I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve learnt:
Visas and entry permits
If you plan to get a visa on arrival, be sure to have US currency on hand. Also, many countries require you enter a Yellow Fever vaccine certificate.
Check out your options – there’s now an East African tourist visa, valid for 90 days, that will get you into Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
If you’re just heading to Rwanda, you can get a visa on arrival, but you must submit a form online about two weeks before.
As always, have photo copies of your passport and visa. More importantly, store them in a different location to your actual passport.
Kate and I playing models on our Amboseli safari
What to wear
Check the weather forecast. Cape Town, for example, actually gets really cold – it’s not all Saharan desert!
If you’re going on safari and aren’t sure what to wear, think about this. You will be sitting in a vehicle all day. You’ll probably get a bit of sun, but you won’t be hiking over mountains for hunting lions with your bare hands. You can wear a skirt or a cute top if the whole khaki cargo look isn’t your thing!
Dress smartly, perhaps a little more modestly than usual, and you’ll fit in fine. It’s the daggy tourists in ratty clothes that stand out like sore thumbs amongst smartly-dressed Nairobians.
Bring a Visa card. It really is more widely accepted than MasterCard – I learnt that the hard way when I discovered there was only one MasterCard ATM in all of Ghana.
Get ready to carry cash. I realised again how cashless Australia had become when we moved to Kenya. In Nairobi we can use our cards in a lot of places, but there are so many situations where you just need some cold hard currency in hand.
If you bring US dollars, check the date. Some countries won’t accept older notes.
Do your research on the cost of things. Safaris, for example, aren’t cheap. National park fees are often US$80 per day, and that’s on top of food, transport and accommodation.
Floating restaurant at Crater Lake, Kenya
Where to stay
A lot of people book through a travel agent for trips on the continent, but you can double check your accommodation options on sites like Trip Advisor. Tourism is big business in many African countries and you will find a lot of reviews online.
If possible, check your accommodation isn’t next to a primary school, a gospel church or a mosque. Otherwise prepare to wake early to sweet kids singing, a full gospel concert or the morning call to prayer.
Safety and security
Stay updated with travel warnings and local media, and always have a phone number of someone who can help if you get stuck (i.e. hotel reception, a friend etc).
Like travelling anywhere, don’t carry a lot of valuables on you. And please don’t carry everything in a bum bag! I feel like that just yells ‘target me, I’m a tourist!’ A plain handbag that closes with a zip is a little less obvious than a bulky North Face contraption.
Get ready to bargain. Try and find out a reasonable price from a local beforehand. Otherwise decide what you want to pay for the item before you engage and stick to your guns.
Double check what you can and can’t bring back into your country. Certain animal and plant products may be banned. We’ve found lovely Maasai women in the middle of a rural area who quickly determine we’re Australian because we explain we can’t take certain items back home.
I’m not a fan of souvenirs for the sake of it, but when you find yourself in a bustling market with pushy vendors, it can be hard to not get overwhelmed and end up with something you’d never otherwise buy. Figure out what you want before you shop (a nice tote? a pair of leather sandals? a simple bracelet?) and go from there.
This planet of ours is a big one – get out there and enjoy it!