Africa is a continent known for its wild animal encounters, dramatic landscapes, exotic cultures, and stunning beaches. It’s a travel experience that will creep under your skin, compelling you to return again and again. However, traveling around Africa can be a difficult and daunting experience for travelers. The most popular backpacking trail is through East and South Africa starting in Cape Town and ending in Cairo. The question most travelers ask themselves is “How am I going to get around?” There are many different transportation options in Africa:
Overland Africa Safari Tours
Overland safari tours are the organized packaged tours of Africa, and are filled with people traveling for a short time who want to see Africa without the hassle. It’s not what I would call an “authentic” local African experience, but if you are a little intimidated about traveling Africa on your own, this may be your best option. Overland tours are more expensive, but your food, transport, and accommodation costs will be covered. Seven day all-inclusive tours start around $750 USD and go to $6,000 for a 63 day ‘Kenya to Cape Town’ tour.
The Baz Bus is a transportation company in South Africa with designated routes that generally follow the travel trail. It is a hop on, hop off style bus that picks you up and drops you off at your hostel. You choose the route you want and buy the proper ticket. You can buy a ticket for a certain number of days or a more open-ended, flexible ticket. Prices range from $175 to $500 USD depending on the type of ticket bought.
Traveling by bus gives you an opportunity to be a part of the everyday life of the people of Africa. Our bus journeys were often filled with laughter and conversation with local Africans, who went out of their way to make sure that you, the visitor, were made as comfortable as possible. Children were plonked on your lap and entrusted to your care, and quite often the head of a neighboring rooster would poke threateningly around your face and cock-a-doodle in your ear. Public buses (USD$3-$32) are usually taken for longer journeys and across borders where there is a good network of sealed roads. These buses are generally comfortable, safe and spacious. Places that have fewer or no sealed roads will have ancient buses that frequently break down, and are overcrowded.
How many people do you think you can fit in a mini-van? Africa is the place that defines the limit to that answer. Just when you think they couldn’t possibly fit another person in, they have them stand on the window sill outside the van. Mini-vans are a very cheap way to get around, and are usually taken for up to 6 hour journeys within a country (usually around USD$0.20-$8). They don’t leave until they are full, so jump on one that looks ready to go and avoid waiting for hours until it fills up.
More people tend to hitchhike through Namibia and South Africa more than other East African countries. Hitchhiking always brings risks, but is an easy way to get around. If you hitch from the side of the road it’s best to wave your hand up and down as sticking out your thumb is considered rude in Africa. Craig and I hitchhiked from Namibia to South Africa because other transportation options were limited. A Namibian trucker, for a small tip, drove us halfway, sharing stories with Craig about Namibian life while I slept comfortably in his bed. Chinese students drove us the rest of the way to Cape Town for the price of gas.
Hiring a car will put a small dent in your budget, so make sure you know which game parks you want to go to, and where the best viewing areas are, so you can plan accordingly and cut down on fuel expenses. We hired cars for safaris in Namibia and South Africa, which made for a flexible, relaxed and comfortable safari. We also hired a car to experience the beautiful Garden Route, a popular and scenic stretch of the coast of South Africa. Car hire from South Africa can be found for as cheap as $30 a day especially if you book online. In other parts of Africa it ranges from $75- $100 a day. If you are planning on long-term travel in Africa you may even consider buying your own 4WD to tour the continent in. South Africa would be the best option for purchase, or a departing traveler ready to sell up!
When planning your African travel adventure, carefully consider your budget and safety interests for getting around. While public transport is cheap and authentic, it is uncomfortable and less safe. Hiring or buying a car is the more expensive option, but will give you greater freedom as well as maintaining an authentic experience. Overland Safari tours will be expensive and less authentic but will give you an all-inclusive package and the biggest sense of safety. No matter how you get around Africa, you’ll find the experience unforgettable.
Caz Makpeace hails from Australia and traveled Africa with her husband Craig. You can read more about their adventures and travel tips at their blog, Y Travel.