An African Overview for Travelers Home
These are our views based on our experience in South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia and traveling up the east coast of Africa in 2005. Experiences of other travelers will differ depending on their background, knowledge and route.
Africa is not the back of beyond. Western civilization with all the technical trappings has infiltrated quite deeply.
Type of vehicle
We have a Land Rover Defender 110. If you stay in southern Africa (up to the middle of Kenya) and do not go off the beaten track any vehicle will manage very well. We have been through Namibia and Zimbabwe in a BMW. However a high clearance vehicle is better and if you intend to go well off the normal roads, a 4x4 is better still. After saying this we met travelers in Adis Adeba who drove from England through Egypt and Sudan in a normal sedan, they expected to make it to SA if the chassis held out.
A diesel engine is better than petrol as the supply seems better. In Mozambique (an earlier trip in 2004) we came to one town where all the petrol stations were empty except one which only had diesel.
We used a Howling Moon rooftop tent. This is great for Africa where the sun shines. Whatever you use, cross ventilation will help you keep cool. Have mosquito nets on all openings into the sleeping area.
The roads in Ethiopia are made of very sharp stones, tyres with a thick tread are needed or a supply of puncture repair equipment.
Spares and Maintenance
Parts are sometimes available and can be sent from South Africa or Europe. Whatever you take will probably not be what you actually need - its called Murphy's Law. You can take the filters and oil for the next service, if you intend to do it yourself. Otherwise there are mechanics and service centres available in the major cities. Bush mechanics (those away from major centres) are absolutely fantastic at getting the car going again with limited equipment and parts. Do NOT expect a quality job! But if it works..........
Everything takes at least a day. This the same all over the world when you are away from home as you need to find out which garage can do the service, find the garage, then hope they can attend to you immediately. It takes longer if you need parts that are not readily available.
If any major items are removed i.e. the gear box, take down the serial number to ensure you get the same one back! The Egyptian Land Rover Dealer stole our working gear box and replaced it with one that did not work!!!!
If you intend to travel through Sudan and Ethiopia make sure you have enough fuel for about a 1,000 kilometers when the main tank and all jerry tanks are full. This is the maximum you should need.
Diesel is almost always available, petrol may have run out. Unleaded petrol is available in SA and Namibia but not often elsewhere.
Diesel can be dirty especially in Egypt. Filter where practical, otherwise be aware dirt may be the cause of an engine problem. We did not have any problems until Egypt, even then the problems caused by dirty fuel were minor.
In southern Africa (to half way through Kenya) roads are not too bad. We came across some potholes in Zambia and large ruts made by heavy trucks in Tanzania. Unless the roads have improved the M! in Mozambique is a nightmare of potholed tar. Once into northern Kenya rain will make driving difficult even for a 4x4. Luckily we missed the rainy season. Ethiopia has dirt roads with very sharp stones.
Sudan has some tar. Beware though, the dirt road along the Nile is absolutely horrific, there are ribbles across the road which are exactly long enough and deep enough to cause maximum damage if you go too fast (or at any speed). Many cars make their own track beside the main road; in fact sometimes there are so many tracks, you do not know which to take. The only consolation is that they all tend to head to the next little village. Be careful the track does not lead into soft sand. I have heard from other travelers that the road from Khartoum to Port Sudan is similar.
From Egypt on there are tarred roads.
Europeans should go for a holiday in Italy before going to Africa, it is a mild introduction to road conditions, drivers and beggars in Africa.
Third Party is generally available at the border. Most countries insist on its purchase as part of the border crossing fees (along with road tax etc). There is also a Yellow Card available from Insurance Companies which covers most of Africa.
We do not have comprehensive insurance as this is far too expensive being based on European and US prices.
A carnet is issued by the Automobile Association in your home country. It is a guarantee that you will either not sell the vehicle or will pay the import duty if you do sell. For this reason a deposit is required by the AA. It is a requirement for several countries. The deposit for Egypt is usually very high as the Egyptians claim often. We could not afford the pay this deposit in SA but found that the Dutch ANWB required a smaller deposit. Our carnet now comes from Holland. Pieter is Dutch and we met another couple from SA with a Dutch carnet. The lesson is that you do not have to get the carnet from the country where the vehicle is registered so shop around. Alternatively avoid Egypt. You can always go from Jordan by public transport.
It took us 4.5 months to do this trip, excluding the time spent in Egypt. We spent 70% of our time in campsites. The balance being split between wild camping and Ethiopian Hotels. It is easy to find places to stop along the Nile in Sudan. Elsewhere it is much more difficult and you will have an audience, they arrive out of nowhere.
Most camp grounds have electricity. It is a good idea to have two short connection cords. Both should plug into your electrical system. On the other end one should have the standard SA / European 3 pin blue camping plug, the other is used to add the local plug where necessary. The British 3 pin is the most common one required. There are a lot of ex British colonies on the east coast.
Toilets, of varying degrees of cleanliness, are available in petrol stations, restaurants and bars. Otherwise, outside camp grounds, learn to squat, go behind a bush and make it the first thing you do when you stop, before the audience arrives. In my view, squatting is also more hygienic in dirty toilets.
We took tins of food but hardly used them. There was always a supermarket with most requirements. The ones in larger towns also had prepackaged meat. The cuts are different to Europe and SA though, good for a stew but not for a braai (bar-b-que) or for a tender steak. The meat from butchers is usually covered in flies. Try it if you want but cook well with at least 10 minutes at boiling point.
Small shops and markets supply a variety of food stuffs, mainly fresh vegetables, fruit and packaged biscuits.
The water is drinkable in the majority of main towns. We only bought water in Tanzania (because it was so cheap and the local water was not up to standard) and Egypt (the local water was highly chlorinated). We have purification tablets but have never used them.
Take the injections recommended and malaria tablets in the equatorial region.
The local doctors understand tropical diseases and know how to treat them much better than doctors in Europe or USA. If you need a doctor go to the local hospital or ask for a recommendation from the camp ground owner. In Egypt the chemist can prescribe any medication required and often provides an alternative to a doctor. You can buy any medication from them, i.e. those that are strictly limited by regulations in SA and other more westernized countries.
Border crossings can take a long time (2 days for Egypt) or a few minutes. Allow about 3 hours. You will need to understand the procedure at that border, where to go for what and who to deal with. Generally on entering you go to the entry police checkpoint first, then passport control, then customs followed by the exit police checkpoint. On leaving the procedure is the same except customs comes before passport control. If you arrive at a border at mealtimes, eat first. It is much easier to be patient on a full stomach!
There are usually money changers at the border. Their rates are usually not so good but at least you can get rid of old local currency and obtain new local currency. You may not be able to exchange old local currency away from the border - African States do not like the currency of other African States. The exception is Libya, there were no money changers at the border. We ended up giving our excess Egyptian Pounds to some people we met in Spain who intended to spend a month in Egypt. Any loose coins we gave to one of the many small children that were always around. They also appreciated cold drink bottles that could be exchanged for money.
The US Dollar is the major foreign currency, everyone knows the exchange rates with the local currency. International ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines, cash from a hole in the wall) are available in some major cities. Both VISA and MasterCard can be used. Credit cards can be used to withdraw cash from a bank if there are no ATMs. We have debit and credit cards from both Visa and MasterCard, just to be on the safe side and it has come in handy even in Europe.
The normal cost of a visa was USD 50, some were cheaper but it is at least a guideline.
We spent an average of USD 60 or Euro 40 per day. However, we did not go into game parks which can be very expensive.
People everywhere are friendly but there are always exceptions. Do not expect trouble and you probably won't have any. Egyptians do tend to pester you though to buy souvenirs.
Internet cafes are everywhere except in SA. People do not have computers at home and the cafes are very popular and cheap. Usually you can use your own laptop. In SA people use the office or home computer. There are cafes though and they are expensive.
A GPS is handy. Go to www.tracks4africa.co.za for updated information. Even without data at least you know which direction to head.
|Cost per litre diesel||0.62||0.94||0.84||1.07||1.07||0.79||0.53||0.34||0.12||0.10||0.78|
|Camping per night (2 people)||15.68||5.00||6.81||9.85||3.52||9.45||5.86*||11.00||10.60**||11.11||11.09|
|Days in country||18||9||26||5||30||4||23||7||98||5||5|
NB: Currency is US Dollars using the exchange rate at the time.
* Ethiopian Hotels are very cheap
** In a cheap hotel