Should I Travel in Africa?

Okavango Makoro Elephant

Travel in Africa

As most of you know, Sissy and I recently wrapped up five and a half months of travel in Africa. We began our journey in Hurghada, Egypt and traveled entirely overland (minus a short boat ride for a few days in Zanzibar) down to Cape Town in South Africa. The most common questions that people have asked us are:

  1. Why Africa?

  2. Is it safe?

3. Should I travel in Africa?

Why Africa?

My original reason for visiting Africa was the same as most people, I wanted to see huge, wild, free animals roaming the land and I wanted to experience a different way of life. Growing up in the US I was very limited in the wildlife I could see. If we went to a zoo or (shudder) Sea World that was about the limit to my interaction with big animals. Sometimes we’d go to Pier 39 in San Francisco and watch the sea lions laze around and fight with each other but we never saw any wild elephants grazing in the open plains of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sea Lions
While sea lions are cool…
Nakuru National Reserve
…tree lions are awesome!

Getting to see a different way of life than the west coast of the US was also interesting for me. While I had traveled around a bit on a few other continents and through a few other countries, it seemed that parts of Africa would be more foreign to me than I had experienced so far. I did what most people do and took a couple week vacation to South Africa and Victoria Falls, which is on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. During that short time I fell in love with the places I saw and was dying to see more.

Hamer Tribe
On our journey we found ways of life that were more foreign to us than we expected!

After my first visit I decided I’d have to go again, but this time for longer and to more places since I had only been to relatively touristy areas like Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Livingstone. After Sissy and I met, we started planning our trip. I quit my job of nine years, sold pretty much everything I had, and it was time to start the journey! The 13 countries we’d visit in the great 54 country-large continent were very different from each other and always held surprises and challenged our idea of reality.

Hanging out with penguins on the beach in South Africa was one of the tamer things we’d do that made us re-think our assumptions about the world.

Is it Safe?

While we can only speak for the countries that we visited – and with the most countries of any single continent, there are a lot that we didn’t – the ones visited (see below) were generally safe.

Overland Africa
We visited Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, and South Africa over the course of five and a half months.

Egypt was the country we felt the least safe in and wouldn’t visit again until the unrest has died down, but otherwise we felt very safe. Egypt used to thrive on tourism, however since the Arab Spring and Egyptian Revolution back in 2011, the country has gone through a half decade of turmoil. Three rulers and lots of bloodshed later, the country is as unstable as it’s been in modern history and the tourism industry has all but died.

Abu Simbel
The group we traveled with were the only people at Abu Simbel, the famous temples in Egypt. A couple of employees hung around but not one other visitor was anywhere to be seen.
Pyramids of Giza
The pyramids at Giza were relatively empty as well, which was nice to not be surrounded by tourists, however it was empty for good reason.

We stayed right on Tahrir Square, the main site of the Egyptian Revolution and a place where hundreds of rapes have occurred since 2011. Machine guns, military personnel, barbed wire, and Humvees were everywhere we looked. This theme didn’t die down over the following weeks as we worked our way south through the country. Military checkpoints were common and we had to pay to join a military convoy to make it from Abu Simbel to Sudan. We visited Karnak Temple, where a suicide bomber had detonated his bomb in it’s parking lot weeks before, and cancelled plans to visit the white desert, where a group of tourists were killed just after we would’ve been there.

Karnak temple Statues
Karnak Temple is amazing, but we didn’t feel overly safe after what had just happened.

Once we crossed the border into Sudan things felt like a night and day difference. People were extremely friendly, and there was absolutely no tourism industry to speak of, past or present. We saw more pyramids in Sudan than we did in Egypt, partly because the country has more pyramids than Egypt, and tons of the sites are barely excavated, if at all. We felt safer in Sudan than I have in any country I’ve visited. While there is a war going on between Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan, as long as you don’t go near that area you’d never know there were any problems.

Pyramids of Meroe
The Pyramids of Meroe aren’t as large as the ones at Giza, however there are more of them and they are largely unexcavated.

We ran into a few isolated incidents, one in Ethiopia and one in South Africa where things could have gone worse than they did, but these were individuals events that had nothing to do with the countries. The incident in Ethiopia seemed as though we may be getting taken by our tuk tuk driver to a remote place where we shouldn’t have been going, however he was really just taking a very long route to justify his $2 fare since the direct route would have been worth less than a dollar. The other incident in South Africa involved us getting off a bus after midnight in a town we weren’t familiar with and meeting a homeless man who seemed intent on mugging us. Luckily cool heads and us getting a bit aggressive got us out of the situation with no harm done. These types of one off incidents could happen anywhere and in general we felt safer in Africa, barring Egypt, than I have in most US cities.

Victoria Falls
Most of what Sissy had to worry about was boys, old and young, asking to have their picture taken with her.

Should I Travel in Africa?

Yes! The beauty of everywhere we went is that there are different ways to experience virtually all of them. We were camping in tents most of the time or staying in cheap hotels in Egypt and Ethiopia mostly since camping was a bit tougher there, but you don’t have to rough it if you don’t want to. The eastern half of the continent is generally developed in areas and if you stick to larger cities you’ll usually have options ranging from pitching your own tent to relatively nice hotels. If you like luxury and want to experience the amazing wildlife and culture there are tons of game lodges throughout the continent that cater to your needs. Our favorite place for safari was in the Serengeti, which is much more remote than our next favorite, which was Kruger, but still has luxury accommodation available.

Travel in Africa
We think you should pitch a tent and experience nature by being a part of it, however the choice is yours and five star resorts are also available in many places.

If you’ve never seen wild big game up close before it’s not even similar to going to a zoo or animal sanctuary. Seeing these animals in their natural environments, interacting with each other and with you is something that is inexplicable. If you prefer the beauty of marine life more than their land bound counterparts then there’s great diving in Hurghada, Zanzibar, Mozambique, South Africa, and a slew of other places. Hop in and try to spot a whale shark or giant manta in Tofo or swim with wild dolphins in the Red Sea if you’re lucky enough to find them.

Rhino Zimbabwe
Get up close and personal with wild rhino in Zimbabwe…
Manta Ray
…or get face to face with a giant manta that’s four meters wide or more!

The people are as much of a reason as any to travel in Africa. You’ll find some of the nicest, most cheerful people the world has to offer in some parts of the continent. The world’s largest falling sheet of water and the highest freestanding mountain both call Africa home as well. There are too many amazing things to list here, so go and see for yourself!

Devil's Pool
The Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls gives you the chance to sit on the edge of the world’s largest falling sheet of water or dangle over it in low water season.
Kilimanjaro Summit
You can walk through the snow on top of Mount Kilimanjaro after a tough few days hiking to the top.

If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, or if you’re interested in any of the places we went you can read more about them by using the Destinations menu in the upper right corner of your screen, hovering over Africa, and then choosing a country.

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