In July of 2006, I went to eastern Africa for around 4 weeks. It was an awesome experience and I would definitely recommened everyone go to see these region of the world. I’m not going to discuss all the poverty, society, governments, and such. I will just focus on what I did and what I would recommend you could do if you were there.
If you are wondering if you should travel here, this is a list of pros and cons.
- Very unique place. If you want some culture shock you can get it here.
- Reasonable costs.
- Big animals and lots of nature.
- Not very safe.
- Poor roads and infrastructure for getting around.
- Corruption, corruption, and more corruption. I’ll discuss this more later.
Should I Backpack or Book a Tour
I did not backpack this trip and I was thankful I didn’t. I know, I know. It is totally possible to backpack and you probably see way more, but there was a lot of times I felt very unsafe and there was so much corruption crossing borders and such, that I was very thankful to be in a group with a guide that had dealt with this on a regular basis. For the most part, I would recommend everyone take a tour unless you are a seasoned backpacker and/or have been here before and understand it (maybe you think I’m out to lunch).
What You Need
This is dependent on where you are going. Read up and talk to people who have been there.
All the countries I went to had their own currency. Take American dollars and exchange them in each place. Travellers cheques were very inconvenient so I wouldn’t recommend it. Credit cards could be used in a few of the more touristy places, so take them along so you don’t have to feel like a drug dealer with all that cash.
Time of Year
I was there in July, which was the cold season for them. Temperatures were in the single digits at night. You could see your breath and would want a knitted cap. Sounds like the wrong time of year, but there were barely any bugs and it made the days really comfortable. I would definitely recommend it.
I came from Canada. It was a long set of flights. Calgary to London, London to Dubai, Dubai to Johannesburg, Johannesburg to Livingstone. You can do London to Johannesburg direct. Our flights came out to $2700/person.
I did the tour thing. In Africa there are what they call “Overland Tours”. They are large trucks with seats and lockers in the back. Underneath the truck is a water tank and storage areas. They are locked at all times and it is kind of a self contained vehicle. You stop at guarded camp sites along the way, cook your food, and basically tent for 3 weeks.
I was with Acacia. They were pretty good and one of the more reasonably priced groups. I was on the 21 Day East African Explorer Tour. It is actually a subset of a larger 29 day tour so we joined a group that had come up from Johannesburg. We had a South African driver and a Kenyan guide. They give you tips and keep you safe while you are traveling.
You should only do this trip if you want to rough it a little bit and are willing to do the work to help out. You set up your own tents every night, take turns cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, etc.
If you want to know more, you can read about overland tours on the Acacia site.
Personally, I thought it was a lot of fun. There were 24 people on the tour total and I was privileged to meet a lot of interesting people.
When I Arrived
I flew into Livingstone quite tired and not knowing what to expect. The airport was small and I thought I was back in Alberta. It was really dry with a few trees.
The airport security was a bit of a circus show. They had us look through a binder full of a bunch of non ordered pages looking for our names. One of the people in our group saw their name twice and we were all on different pages, even though we booked at the same time. Anyhow, we didn’t have to pay for a visa and just walked through. We had a driver waiting to take us to the first campsite.
This is a really nice, secure campsite. When I say secure, I mean from people, not animals. It is only about 10 minutes from the airport. It is a gated campsite that is actually fenced off on 3 sides, the other side being on the river.
Just a word of warning, this place isn’t cheap. The cheapest accomdation was $18/night for a pre-erected tent. This is a tent that is on a concrete slab. There are beds, a nightable with lamp, and a plugin inside. You can lock the tents from the outside as well. To stay in a room at the lodge is over $100 a night and didn’t even have a televsion.
There is a nice restaurant and bar at the main lodge. Upstairs there is internet and a television where you can just relax for a bit if you want. One half of the upstairs also has a tour booking office. You can do white water rafting, rhino tours, ultralight/microlight rides, helicoptor tours of the wildlife park and victoria falls, canoe tours, elephant tours, bungee jumping, and many more activities.
There is a a dinner cruise I would definitely recommend. It is all you can eat and drink and you have a nice cruise along the Zambezi river. Zambia on the one side and Botswana on the other. I saw elephants, hippos, giraffes, and many different birds. The sunset was amazing. By the way, it is nicknamed the “booze cruise” because alcohol is free too.
Hippo on the Dinner Cruise
This was a very cool ride. It cost me $90 for only 15 minutes over Victoria falls, but the view was absolutely fantastic. The pilot was South African and seemed very capable. You are not allowed to take photos (more a safety risk they say), but they will try to sell you a CD at the end for $20. It includes a snapshot every 30 seconds of your flight from a camera mounted on the end of the wing. The photos did look fantastic and they included a ton of other ones on the CD as well.
Microlight Ride Over Victoria Falls
This was a nice tour as well. It costs $75/person. Basically, you get up fairly early and go to a nearby wildlife preserve. You will be guided to the local rhinos living there. Beyond that though, you will see many other animals. Impalas, giraffes, elephants, baboons, african buffalo, and warthogs will be some of the many animals you will see. If you are going to the Serengetti or some other wildlife areas, you can save your money here and do something else if you want.
This is a truly spectacular waterfall. For those of you who have been to Niagara Falls, this is twice as long and twice as high as Niagara Falls. There is such a downpour of water that the splash and the updraft of air makes it feel like it is raining in most places as the water drops out of the sky.
Note: When I say it feels like it is raining, it basically is. You will get soaked. Take plastic rain coats or take an extra set of clothes if necessary. You will want to have a plastic bag or something for your camera.
You need to pay an entrance fee at the main gates and then there is a pathway that will lead you down to the falls. You have ample opportunity to take photos. There will be some spectacular rainbows in the falls. As you walk along the path you will come to a bridge that has a rainbow that forms a circle around the bridge. Watch your footing, it is slippery.
At the top of the falls there is a curio market with quite a few carvings and other artworks. If you like this kind of stuff you might want to pick it up here. It is reasonably priced and some of it is unique so you might not see it on the rest of your trip. I didn’t buy anything here because I had just started on my trip, but I regretted it later.
If it is close to a full moon, go to see it at night. There will be a lunar rainbow that is truly amazing. Check out the photo.
Lunar Rainbow Over Victoria Falls
I don’t know much about the town itself. There is a market, ice cream shop, and curio market that I saw, but that was about it.
On the Road
Since we were on an overland trip we were traveling via a truck towards Malawi. The roads are anything short of horrendous, but they are paved. People can be seen almost constantly walking along the side of the road.
This is the capital of Zambia. I can’t really say there was a whole lot here. There is a secure campground outside here.
This town is getting close to the border with Malawi.
This country is relatively small. You will notice there is a little less poverty here. The structures look a little more solid and such. The capital here is Lilongwe. We stopped at a local supermarket that carried lots of goods if you were looking to buy something. You can pay the security guards in the parking lot a bit of money to watch your vehicle if you need to.
The country itself has a lake (Lake Malawi) along basically the whole length of the country. There are a number of different places along the lake where you can stay.
This is a fantastic little resort spot along Lake Malawi. It is a little bit off the road to get in there, but there are signs along the way. It is basically a sand/dirt road to get to the resort, so I wouldn’t go in unless I had a vehicle that wouldn’t get stuck.
You can camp or stay in one of their beach huts. There is a cool little bar with a pool table and foosball. There are hammocks where you can sit and look out at the ocean. There is a neat little island about a kilometer out into the lake. You can rent paddle boats, catamarans, or kayaks too.
If you are thinking it is a small lake, think again. It is huge. You wouldn’t know that it isn’t the ocean. Large waves roll in and the lake extends as far as you can see.
There a few activities you can do here. There is a village walk, horseback riding, and scuba diving.
On the north end of the resort is the Aquanuts scuba diving shop. You can take lessons or just go for a dive. They take you out to just off the island and drop in. There isn’t a lot to see, but the diving is cheap.
There is a sunken jeep out in the lake with a few fish living in it. The more unique fish you will see here are cyclids. I even saw a mother fish that had around 30-40 of her babies swim into her mouth and stay in there until I backed off, then they swam out. Very cool.
I crossed over into Tanzania and just headed towards Dar Es Salaam. There were some campgrounds along the way for us to stay at. Dar Es Salaam is a large city with some neat buildings. It felt quite unsafe though. We caught a ferry from here to Zanzibar. Note, you will need your passport when you go to Zanzibar.
This is a very cool island. When you arrive you will be in Stone Town. Very old buildings with a few historical sites. There is a neat little night market you can check out. If you want to find some cool souvenirs you can do so here as well. Memories of Zanzibar I found was quite nice. It was a really touristy place, but the prices were reasonable and you could use a credit card which saves a bit on the cash you carry.
I stayed at the Karibu Inn. It was reasonably priced and about 10 yards down the street was an ATM machine in a bank where you could get money. There are even guards there for when you make a withdrawal.
After a day, I went to the north end of the island and stayed at guesthouse at Nungwi. The beach is pretty nice here. You can rent snorkel gear for around $3/day and play a little beach volleyball.
If you walk north along the beach you will see lots of restaurants and there is a turtle refuge where you can see lots of baby sea turtles. There is a funky outside bar with swings and hammocks where you can hang out during the evenings.
I did some diving with the Spanish Diver scuba club. They are located right on the beach and leave every morning to a dive site close by. There are giant sea turtles and dolphins that you have a good chance of seeing.
Arusha, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti
Next stop on my trip was Arusha. This is the major town before you head into the Crater and Serengetti. It is a neat little place. We ended up staying at a campsite on one end of town. There is a Masaii village, museum, and a snake farm right beside it.
You will need to join a safari tour group to go into Ngorongoro and Serengetti. You can’t miss these if you are here. The endless plains of the Serengetti are fascinating. There are many, many different kinds of animals you will see and you need to make sure you go. The Ngorongoro crater is a very interesting site as well. Basically, it is a natural enclosure that keeps the animals from leaving. It is sort of a mini ecosstem of animals that all exist together.
Plains of the Serengeti
Cheetah in the Serengeti
Elephant in the Ngorongoro Crater
From Arusha, you can get here in a day. This was the end of my trip, so I just found a hotel for the night.
A bit to the northwest is this little town. Was quite interesting. A lot of people come stay here before they go to climb Mount Kenya. We stayed at the Sportsman Arms. Quite a nice hotel compared to what we had stayed in previously. You can get to a from Nanyuki taking one of their minibuses.