“Africa is a nation that
suffers from incredible disease.”
- George W. Bush
(Which is what a Zulu is likely to say when he or she really means just "Hi".)
In the book I left out most of the boring, practical travel details, although that kind of information may be of great interest to those of you who are planning a trip to Africa. Here I'll try to be of more use. This is also where you can find the colour photographs that I had to leave out of the book.
Please use the links below to jump to the part of this page that interests you:
Please go here to learn how to get my book for free (ebook) or buy the paperback.
Please see the updates section for the entire book for a list of reported spelling mistakes and factual errors.
Some things have of course changed over time. When I visited Zimbabwe, One US dollar was officially worth 56 Zimbabwe dollars and ten times that on the black market. In February 2008, One US dollar was officially worth just over 30,000 Zimbabwe dollars! The annual inflation rate had passed 66,000 percent, which means that the economy has stopped working a long time ago. In November 2010, the exchange rate has come down to 373 Zimbabwe dollars to 1 US dollar...
You can still visit Victoria Falls, though, but make sure you go to the right place to change your money, or preferrably, always pay in US dollars, Euros or South African Rands. Never pay using a credit card. Crazy things could happen because of the huge difference between the official exchange rate and the unofficial one, and you will not benefit from it...
I have put up photos with captions here.
Your best hopes for finding relatively cheap flights from anywhere to Southern Africa is by getting a ticket to Cape Town or Johannesburg in South Africa. Sometimes there are good deals to Durban as well. Considering that Johannesburg is a hellhole, you had better opt for Cape Town.
Since Southern Africa is so far away from everywhere else, it might make sense to include it on a RTW (Round-the-World) ticket. In some cases you pay for the kilometres rather than per stop. By planning your route, Africa can make a fairly inexpensive stop between for instance South America and Europe. Other tickets just require that you keep moving east- or westwards all the time. If you have a ticket like that, definitely include Southern Africa in your schedule!
If you want to see only the highlights, you can either fly between them, or you can join an overland bus tour. If you fly, it's worth checking whether you can buy cheap internal flights in South Africa in connection with your long-distance ticket from Europe, America or Australia.
Overland tours is a bit like going on a school trip. There's a lot of socializing between the passengers, and everyone has to contribute by doing chores of some kind. It can be fun, but the route and stops are all set, so you get exactly what the brochure says, and nothing else. Some companies to check out are Wild Dog and Crazy Kudu Safaris, Dragoman, Drifters, Oasis and Whichway.
The tourist authorities of Botswana has chosen to concentrate on attracting rich tourists, so it can be expensive to visit for the independent traveller. Five star lodges and air-conditioned safaris are easiest to find, but fortunately there are other options as well.
The most convenient option is to join an overland tour (see "Getting around" above). You will live in a tent. The air-conditioning in the bus may or may not function. You won't be able to have a shower whenever you want to, but neither will the others, so the stench from you all gradually disappears from your awareness. The kitchen is an open fire, and you will be helping with both making the food and doing the dishes.
Botswana's main attractions are its national parks and wonders. Although there's lots to see, the highlights have long distances between them. So you will have some intense, great experiences, separated by long, sweaty, monotonous rides. Things you should do: Go on a safari in Chobe National Park (near Namibia/Zimbabwe). See the salt plains of the Makgadikgadi Pan (a bit further south). Fill petrol in Nata (even a petrol station is a welcome distraction from the barren lands of that area). See stone-age art in the Tsodilo Hills (a little bit of culture and history won't hurt you). And most importantly, see the Okavango Delta thoroughly, be baked in the sun and try to avoid being eaten by mosquitos or crocodiles.
If you go on an overland tour, food and accommodation will be included in the tour price. If you go on your own, expect to pay between US$60-200 for a room at a hotel near the tourist attractions mentioned above. It's expensive, but on the other hand, the price usually includes breakfast and the possibility to view lions or other fierce creatures from your bedroom window. There are few or no hostels in Botswana, so you'll have to stick to the hotels. If you find a place that offers surprisingly expensive "tent accommodation", don't be surprised if the tents have four rooms and a mint chocolate on your pillow.
Namibia is somewhat similar to Botswana, in that the only relatively inexpensive way to see the country is to go on an overland tour. The difference is that as long as you stay away from the Caprivi Strip, Namibia is a more, well, civilized/orderly country, so if you can form a group of 3-4 people and rent a car to get around, you will get a more flexible tour and possibly a better experience than on an overland tour. Do bring a GPS if you choose to go without a guide! You don't want to get lost in the Namibian backcountry. Car rental companies in South Africa actually allow you to bring the car to Namibia, which is an excellent idea if you want to contrast the lush flower-covered hills of Namaqualand in South Africa with the barren deserts of Namibia.
If you don't have your own wheels and you don't want to pay for a plane ticket from South Africa to Windhoek, there are good and relatively cheap overnight express buses between Cape Town and Windhoek, taking about 18 hours. See the Intercape Web site for times and prices.
Accommodation is usually very nice cottages that even Germans will approve of, at a cost of down to US$50 per night, and you can cram several people into them. In Windhoek, Swakopmund and a few other places there are cheap hostels and hostel-like accommodation.
There are a few world-class attractions in Namibia, spread evenly out across the country. In the north there's Etosha National Park, excellent for safaris. In the south there's Fish River Canyon, an impressive sight and a demanding and rewarding hiking area. In the middle there's the astonishing Namib Desert, with Sesriem/Sossusvlei as the absolute highlight. If you enjoy an action vacation, there are lots of options to barely kill yourself parachuting, sandboarding and more in Swakopmund.
A small, inexpensive and nice country to visit. Accommodation and food costs about the same as in South Africa (see below), but due to the tininess off the country, your transportation costs will be very low. Just hitch-hike (give a small fee to the driver) or get on the local bus (slow and not comfortable, but often somewhat entertaining).
There are no outstanding tourist attractions, but it's 100 % Africa, which means it's just interesting to go around and look at it. And it's safe! Enjoy.
While it may be expensive to get to, since it's so far away from most other places, the current South African economy means it can be a cheap country to travel in. Lonely Planet maintains a useful list of typical costs.
Flying may make sense for long distances, but there are good and frequent train and bus services available to many destinations. If you're a backpacker and you're a bit worried about your safety, you may want to travel on the Baz Bus.
The Baz Bus is a door-to-door bus service catering to backpackers exclusively, and in addition to being convenient for hostel-dwellers, they also let you bring a surfboard! You buy a ticket for a route, like Cape Town to Johannesburg, and then you're free hop off and on along the way as often as you like. You need to confirm a seat on the bus the day before you want to go, at the latest. It's expensive compared to taking direct, long-distance buses, but compared to taking a number of shorter rides, it's not so bad.
South Africa has a huge number of hostels, and many of them offer single or double rooms in addition to dormitories. Staying at "proper" hotels is often very good value for your money, but if you're the type that sees a hotel room mainly as a place to sleep, stick to the hostels.
Although safaris in South Africa are much cheaper than in Botswana, it can still be somewhat costly. For a good chance of a decent deal, just go to Nelspruit, seek out the Tourist Information office and ask them about last minute openings. The Kruger National Park is nearby, and so are many private wildlife reserves. It can turn out much cheaper than if you arrange it through a travel agent from wherever you live. If it's your first time going on a safari, it doesn't matter much which one you go on. You'll be thrilled by the animals anyway. A good safari operator should offer days like this: Plenty of food and refreshments, a long morning walk or drive, a place to sit and observe near a waterhole during the middle of the day, a sunset walk or drive and quite possibly a night drive. You choose for yourself how much of this you want to participate in, but nature is a different place during the different parts of the day, so do as much as you can!
The cheapest way to do safaris is by staying in a town or village outside a park or wildlife reserve and just make daytrips into the "wilderness". You can do it by rental car, but if you can afford it, do a guided drive. Your experience will be improved by being guided to the animals by people who know where the animals like to be during the day. And get up really early, as early morn is the most exiting time in the wild.
The Times of Swaziland
- Among the most absurd on-line newspapers I know of.
- A good place to stay in Cape Town, and to arrange onward travel.
The Baz Bus
- Backpacker-friendly transportation in South Africa
Overland Tour Operators
A number of companies arrange various tours for semi-independent travellers in Southern and Eastern Africa, and between these two parts of Africa. In many cases it is possible to sign up for just parts of the routes they sell, but you have to check that with the particular operator you're interested in. Some of them offer discounted last minute tickets!
These are some sites I've personally found useful.
Africa offers lots of waiting, so do bring some books!
All the main travelguide publishers offer good stuff, so the main thing to keep in mind when picking one of them to buy is how recently it has been updated.
There's a large selection of books about travelling in Africa available, but many of them are outdated in one way or the other.