Things to Know About Travel in Africa

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa

Amazing Africa

Overall, Africa has provided an amazing set of experiences that will stick with me forever. This continent can obliterate your faith in humanity one minute, then transport you into a euphoric state that restores all faith the next minute. It is a lesson in the best and worst of what humanity has to offer. You’ll gain a newfound love for all that you have back home. You might also be envious of locals for their simple, no stress kind of lifestyles. It is a land of beautiful contradictions that is well worth seeing for yourself! This list of things to know about travel in Africa is invaluable for anyone planning a trip to Africa.

3 Important Things to Know About Travel in Africa

Safety

With over-sensationalised media reports and travel warnings issued by many countries, it can be hard to know whether travelling in Africa is safe or not. Personally, from a safety point of view, I don’t think travelling in Africa is different from travelling in any other place. There are problems everywhere and it always helps to be mindful of your surroundings wherever you are.

Let’s talk about travel warnings for a bit. Obviously, governments think they are issuing these in the interests of their peoples’ safety, but often they are issued based on outdated and/or exaggerated information. This tends to create fear and worry, which leads to needless itinerary changes. Also, the people issuing the warnings have probably never been to the countries they post the warnings for. You wouldn’t want to learn a language from someone who doesn’t speak that language, so why take travel advice from someone who hasn’t travelled?

Unecessary Travel Warnings

Of the 13 Northern and Western African countries I’ve travelled, 9 had current ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ warnings, with one of those having a ‘reconsider the need to travel’ warning. The last one, incidentally, turned out to be the most amazingly friendly country where I never felt anything but completely safe. I also managed to pass through the rest of the countries with no incident. Do your own research and contact locals in the places you intend to visit; they are in a much better position to tell you what it’s really like. They will probably show you some awesome African hospitality when you arrive too!

Even if you’re travelling alone, you’re never alone in Africa. Almost every car ride or outdoor walk produces new friendships, which will endure long after you’ve returned home. Locals will help you out of the goodness of their hearts, to make sure you’re safe and don’t get ripped off by people who just see a walking dollar sign instead of a person. These same kind-hearted souls will call you weeks or months later just to check that you are okay. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from travelling through West Africa was that when the focus isn’t on money, humanity prevails. On the flip side of that, when money is the focus, corruption prevails.

Corruption

Parts of Africa are almost infamous for their corruption, but the corruption presents itself to visitors in different ways, depending on the country. It can range from a light-hearted, cheeky attempt to convince you that you need to pay for an entry stamp, to out-right extortion where a passport is held until money changes hands. Of course, corruption can run much deeper than what takes place at borders.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Anti-Corruption Sign

Sometimes the level of corruption in a country’s government is painfully evident in the lack of infrastructure and services within its cities. Other times, roadblocks are set up for the express purpose of pocketing other peoples money. It can be extremely disheartening, but be thankful you only have to deal with it for a short time; some Africans have to deal with it their whole lives.

Languages

Most of the countries in the North and West Africa regions were colonised by the French and therefore mainly speak French. Arabic is also widely spoken in the Northern region, but as you move into the Western region, you’ll begin to hear a variety of local languages, sometimes several within one country. Locals from different language groups in the same country will often use French as their medium for communication.

It would most definitely be advantageous to have some knowledge of French when traversing these countries, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible to make it through without. Just be prepared for a little more frustration than usual, but it’ll help you find new ways to communicate without words. There are English speakers here and there, so you could get lucky.

2 Logistical Things to Know About Travel in Africa

Africa Time

One thing to keep in mind is that time is a different concept on the African continent. While people in other places are watching the clock and busily rushing around to get through their never-ending lists of things to do, Africans are ignoring clocks and taking it easy. This means that Africans always have time to chat and connect with people. You can see this in communities, where everyone greets everyone they pass in the street and everyone in the community looks out for each other.

The lack of regard for time creates a situation that most from outside the continent might not be used to; excessive waiting. While schedules do exist in North Africa, they’re rarely adhered to. In West Africa, schedules are almost non-existent and most forms of intercity transport require a wait. It could be an hour, it could be a day, but however long it is, it’s a great opportunity to talk to some locals. You can guarantee they will be eager to talk to you!

Transport

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Intercity Van
Inter city van

Buses, vans, shared taxis and mototaxis are available to take you where ever you want to go at almost any time of the day or night. Each type of transport has its own pros and cons. Buses are by far the most comfortable mode of transport but are generally not available for long distance travel in all but a few countries. Vans and shared taxis are the most common forms of transport for longer distances throughout West Africa. They can be quite cheap, but they can also be quite uncomfortable!

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Intercity Taxi
Intercity taxi
Shared Taxis

While in buses, you would have your own seat, in vans and shared taxis you would be sharing seats. For example, a small hatchback style car would have 6 people, not including the driver, squeezed in; 2 in the front seat and 4 in the back. A larger wagon style car would carry 7 people; 1 in the front, 3 in the back seat and 3 in another added seat behind that. A Landcruiser would have 10 people crammed in; 2 in the front, 4 in the back, then another 4 on bench seats in the luggage area. Depending on the country, a 12 seater van may have anywhere from 12 to 32 people inside, plus the ticket guy riding along on the back.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. City Taxi
City taxi
Mototaxis

Mototaxis are normally the most prevalent form of transport through borders as you go deeper into West Africa. Sometimes border roads are so bad that they are essentially impassable for cars, or at least that’s what the Mototaxi drivers will tell you. Sometimes the lack of cars in the area and the condition of the road kind of backs up what they’re saying.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Mototaxis
Mototaxis waiting for you
African Tuk Tuks

There is a fourth mode of transport that appears to only exist in Sierra Leone and Liberia, called Keke or Kekeh. It is essentially the African version of the Tuk Tuk and is generally the cheapest way to get around cities, as drivers will charge a per person rate, as opposed to a flat hire rate.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Sierra Leone Keke
Sierra Leone Keke

2 Other Things to Know About Travel in Africa

Animals

You will see a lot of animals roaming around African towns that you just won’t see in any other places. Goats are like the dogs of Africa. Many people have them as pets and many are strays that just wander around looking for food. Cows can also be common in more remote areas and you can guarantee that they’ll want to cross the road at the exact moment that your car enters their area. But you won’t mind, because you’ll be on Africa time.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Border Goat K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Cows

In Northern Africa, you’ll see camels wandering around and donkeys being used as beasts of burden. In Western African countries you can see goats, cows and boars wandering around. Strangely enough, these animals seem to have a bit of road sense and tend to not randomly run onto roads. They also tend to be fairly docile and will barely take any notice of people walking near them, so they don’t pose any safety risks.

Things to Know About Travel in Africa – Accommodation

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Outdoor Amenities
Outdoor Amenities

I stayed with locals for my entire trip, so I can’t comment on the condition and price of hotels in West Africa. Most locals live in very simple houses with no running water, so bucket showers and non-flushing outdoor toilets were very common. Some places even had outdoor amenities without roofs, where you could shower under the sky.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. More Outdoor Amenities
More outdoor amenities

Just For Fun

Now, just for a laugh, I’ll leave you with my version of the Africa song and some trip stats –

I hear the taxi beeps tonight
Along with people hissing to get my attention
It doesn’t matter if it’s right
Kids keep stretching out their hands for a donation
A young man stopped me along the way
Saying welcome to my country, please take my phone number
Here, time moves in a different way
There’s no hurry, let’s just wait a while

Border officers try to bribe you on the way through
Sellers of water and peanuts will gather around you
And then it rains down in Gambia
Taking away all the power and the internet

The wild goats wander ’round at night
Taunting the tied up donkeys longing for some company
That’s when the time is just right
For friends to gather in the dark for BBQs or tea on a rooftop
Outside it’s cooler than inside
And everyone’s always glad you’re there

Border officers give their phone numbers to you
Transport is squeezy and some roads are atrocious too
But then it’s calm down in Cote d’Ivoire
Sit back, relax and enjoy your tea

Western African Trip Stats
50,000 goats
11,000 kilometres in 235 hours (averaging 49.8km/h)
60 days
50 bucket showers
28 cars/vans in 11 countries (6300km, 100h)
13 countries
15 motorbikes in 6 countries (280km, 4h)
11 buses in 4 countries (1550km, 30h)
8 coaches in 2 countries (2830km, 45h)
3 trains (740km, 16h)
3 car carrying ferries
1 regret; not finding Wakanda.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 7 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Travel Map
Look at all those pins!

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Côte d’Ivoire

Once I’d passed through immigration on the Liberia side, I walked across the bridge into Cote d’Ivoire. After getting my passport stamped, which took less than a minute, I had my first on arrival request for my yellow fever vaccination card. From a doctor. There must be a lot of non-vaccinated people going through that border if they’ve posted a doctor there!

As I walked further into Cote d’Ivoire, a guy was trying hard to get me to take his bike to Danané. The first price he told me was 10,000CFA, (€14) but I wasn’t willing to pay that much. The silly man asked how much I would be willing to give him. I said 2000CFA (€3). He said he couldn’t go below 5000CFA (€7). We eventually settled on 4000CFA (€6), less than half the original price. I can still barter like a boss!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cote d'Ivoire. Another Lovely Road
Another lovely road

Getting to Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire

The road was a pretty terrible dirt road that had plenty of twists, turns, dips and bumps. My motorbike guy drove like a crazy man. Who needs to slow down for the numerous bumps and dips along the way? It was an extremely uncomfortable ride that my back hated me for. Upon arrival in Danané, he took me straight to the bus company. After I paid the rather exorbitant 8000CFA (€12) bus fee, I hopped on the bus to Abidjan at about 9am. Thankfully we weren’t squeezed in like we had been on previous transport. It was the first vehicle that I’d been in for a month that didn’t have a crack in the windscreen. Bonus!

Bus ticket

They already had a full load and the motor was running by the time I got my ticket. That led me to think we’d be leaving soon. You’d think by this point, I wouldn’t be expecting so much in Africa. Of course, we didn’t leave until about 30 minutes later. Then we were only on the road for about 5 minutes before we stopped just outside of town. The area we stopped at had many piles of what looked like smoking sand. I could only guess that it was some kind of rubbish dump. Luckily, we only stopped for a few minutes to load something onto the roof.

Checkpoint Chats with No Checks

A little later, we stopped at a checkpoint and the driver just seemed to be having a chat with the people there. They didn’t actually check anything. We then stopped 15km out of Danané for some reason. Then again in another town called Bangolo for the first of 2 fuel stops. I guess the bus guzzled a lot of fuel.

It was amusing watching women and kids running from out of nowhere, at each stop we made. They were all running to be the first to the bus for the best chance of selling their wares to passengers. They were pretty much selling the same things in every town. Mangoes, bread, eggs and cold drinks.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cote d'Ivoire. Sellers Running Towards the Bus
Sellers running towards the bus

Sporadically of Bumpy Ride

The road was sealed the whole way, but there were ridiculously large potholes everywhere. There was a lot of slowing down and driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid them. At various points along the way, local kids were trying to fill some of the gigantic potholes in the road with sand. The poor kids were fighting a losing battle, especially seeing as they had to move off the road every time a car got near.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cote d'Ivoire. Pot-holed Road

Surprisingly, the road got worse as we got closer to Yamoussoukro. I considered this strange as it’s supposed to be the (political) capital. The 420 kilometre trip from Danané took about 8 hours. That made me think that the 230 kilometre trip to Abidjan might take about 6 hours. That would put back my arrival time to after midnight. Luckily, almost as soon as we left the city, the roads got remarkably better. So much so, that it was almost like being on a European highway. That 230 kilometre trip took just over 2 hours, even with a couple of stops! After the roads I’ve endured lately, I would rate it as amazing.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cote d'Ivoire. Amazing Road to Abidjan
Now this is more like it!
Cycling in Cote d’Ivoire

Cote d’Ivoire is also the first country in West Africa where I’ve seen people riding bicycles along the side of the road. Perhaps because they have the only roads in Africa so far where it seems semi-safe to do so. Mind you, once you get into the city, the traffic would make it a lot more difficult. There’s so much traffic in fact, that drivers create their own ‘third lane’ on two lane roads.

Two lanes become three

One thing that seems to be universal here, is the thought that the place is dangerous. As a visitor just passing through, I guess I can’t really make judgments about such things. I honestly didn’t see or hear anything that made it feel any less safe than in any other countries in West Africa. The only thing I’ve found mildy offensive is the strong smell of urine on some streets. It seems men will just go to the toilet wherever they feel, even if people are within their line of sight.

Walking Around Abidjan, the De Facto Capital of Cote d’Ivoire

My bag had taken a bit of a beating on this trip, so when I saw a shoe repair shop while walking, I stopped in to get it stitched up. The very friendly man inside the stall kept trying converse with me in French. Even after I told him, in very bad French, that I didn’t speak French. He could’ve been telling me that his son that went off to university, who knows. But he was done in a few short minutes. It only cost me 200CFA (€0.3). It’s still holding up well two years later.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cote d'Ivoire. Local Farming Fields
Local farming fields

I then walked on to an area close to the water, along what I thought would be a hiking trail. It ended up being a road to people’s houses. Whoops. I still got to see some interesting views on the way. Including local farming fields, abandoned buildings and cows being cows.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cote d'Ivoire. Cows Being Cows

Sleepy Sunday in Cote d’Ivoire

As I continued along, I noticed that the city is very quiet on a Sunday. I’d say that about 70 percent of the shops that I saw were closed. Even the roads seemed to have a lot less cars on them. I guess Sunday is a rest day. Or a wedding day. I passed about 3 marquees in different areas of the beach where people seemed to be all dressed up like they’d been to a wedding. Just chilling and dancing to local music in wedding gear.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cote d'Ivoire. A Quiet Sunday in Abidjan
A quiet Sunday in Abidjan

I was starting to get hungry, as I’d been walking around most of the day and got so lost in my own world that I’d forgotten to eat! It was lucky then that I somehow stumbled upon a cute little establishment where the staff were friendly and spoke English! I was ushered upstairs to an interesting open-air bar area where they fed me a lot of free tea. Before I made it to a seat, the guy at the souvenir shop tried to sell me this –

Could this be the most aptly name chili sauce ever?

Chat and Chai

As I approached the bar, one of the workers started talking to me and it turns out he was originally from Mali and was very interested in what I thought about some of the other West African countries I’d visited. We ended up chatting for hours and he noticed how much I liked the tea, so just ended up telling the staff to give me the pot. It was then that I found out that I have a tea limit. Three quarters of a pot, in case you were wondering.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cote d'Ivoire. My very own Tea Pot
My pot!

I didn’t actually want to leave, as I was loving the laid back atmosphere of the place so much, but as it was already way past midnight, I was getting very tired. While I was walking along the road after leaving, a taxi stopped and offered me a free ride home, because he’d seen a drunk man near me and was worried for my safety. Awfully nice of him, but he also took the opportunity to tell me that I should love Jesus, because he will provide for me. I advised him that I was doing a good enough job providing for myself, haha!

Getting to Ghana

Not long after seeing a dude taking his lawnmower for a walk along the side of the highway. As you do. I was on my way to the Ghana Embassy. I was told a visa would be waiting there for me, as my host had completed most of the process on his end. Unfortunately, the people at the embassy were the opposite of helpful and said I would have to wait for it. It was at this point that I was advised that I could just pick up a visa at the border. That sounded like an adventure! So I headed for the Gare du Bassam/Bus Station to get a car to the border.

As I got to Gare du Bassam a guy approached me and asked where I was going. He then took me to another bus station that only had one service to Ghana a day. That service had, of course, already left. We then had to walk back to where we’d started. The cheeky git then asked me to give him something for taking me on that unnecessary walk. Yeah, right.

It seemed like it wasn’t really a bus station, just more of a place where cars to various destinations gather to pick up passengers. I got in a car where the driver had agreed to let me pay the 5000CFA (€8) for my ride at the border, where I could get some money changed. For some strange reason, there were no banks or money changers open in the area, despite it being a weekday. This car wasn’t too bad and we weren’t squeezed in, which was a lovely bonus!

Changing Roads

The road was generally good, but there were a couple of short sections about 30km out of town where it was terrible. It got good again and stayed that way for the rest of the journey to the border. I started talking to a Nigerian guy who was sitting next to me in the car and he ended up helping me through the border.

We slowed down significantly on approach to the border as random lots of speed bumps started popping up on the road about 60 kilometres from the border. Once we got within a kilometre of it, there was a huge traffic jam, with cars at a standstill. We were about to get out and walk, but then the cars started magically moving again. The driver and the Nigerian’s daughter waited in the car while we proceeded on foot to the immigration point and exited Côte d’Ivoire with no drama. The car was waiting for us outside and drove us to the Ghana side, where a new adventure was about to begin.

🇨🇮Cote d’Ivoire Summary🇨🇮

In a few words – friendly, but overly security conscious
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶📶
Abidjan has a few big modern shopping centres as well as some small cafes with decent WiFi. These places are normally quite easy to find, but people will always help you if you need it.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗
🚕 Shared taxis are available on a zone system, but the zone system seems to be a lot more simplified than other countries and drivers will charge you the shared price of around 1500 CFA (€2.30), even if you’re the only passenger. Taxis are colour coded according to the zones they work in, with the red taxis being able to take you point to point, for a slightly higher fee of around 2000 CFA (€3).
🚍 Cote d’Ivoire was the first West African country I encountered that had fairly roomy intercity buses, but they were also quite a bit more expensive than those in other countries.
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣
The roads in Cote d’Ivoire covered the full range, from shockingly terrible to amazingly smooth and well maintained.
Scenery – 🌲⛰️🌲🏖️🏞️
Green and dusty with an occasional beach.
Prices – 💰💰💰
While still relatively easy to travel through on a budget, Cote d’Ivoire is a little more expensive than some of its neighbours.
Checkpoints – I did not encounter any checkpoints.
Border efficiency – 🛂🛂🛂🛂
Border crossings were quick and easy.
Corruption level – 0
No corruption was evident. Cote d’Ivoire seems to be a lot less corrupt that other West African countries.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍

Check out more of the overland adventures from North to West Africa:
The Port of Tanger
Northern Morocco
Southern Morocco and Western Sahara
Mauritanian Coast to Capital on the Iron Train
The Mauritanian Capital, Nouakchott and Beyond
Super Social Senegal
Gambia
Southern Senegal
Guinea-Bissau
Guinea
Sierra Leone
Liberia
Côte d’Ivoire
Ghana
Togo
Benin

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