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governments think they are issuing these in the interests of their peoples’ safety, but often they are issued based on outdated and/or exaggerated information.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.

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!

Check out some African adventures here

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you’ve found this ‘Things to Know About Travel in Africa’ post useful, let your friends know and click the picture you like to pin it for later! :o)

Gambia

K In Motion Travel Blog. Near Soma, Gambia

Entering Gambia From Northern Senegal

Just a short walk from the Senegal immigration area and I found myself at what looked like it could be Gambia immigration. I wasn’t really sure. I approached and one of the policemen standing outside ushered me inside. Not before inquiring about my well being. He took me to a room at the back of the building. There a man in a white shirt asked for my passport. He then said, “Oh, I’m looking for a wife from your country! I’m Amadou”. What else could I do but laugh awkwardly?

Amadou wrote down my passport details in his record book. Then he gave me his phone number and told me to go to another room to get stamped. Now that’s where the fun started. The man in this room asked the standard questions. Then he pulled out a piece of paper to check if my country was on the list of countries requiring a visa. Of course, it wasn’t, I had checked beforehand! He then stated, “You used to need a visa, but no more. Now you have to pay for an entry stamp.” Hmm, seemed like another one of those not so subtle bribe request situations. I informed him that I knew what he was saying was wrong. He just nodded, stamped my passport and let me go. I was now in Gambia, West Africa’s smallest country!
Kez = 2, African Border Corruption = 0

Crossing the Gambia River from Barra to Banjul

Despite the implied marriage proposal and the sneaky bribe request, this was the most efficient border crossing in Africa yet. I was in the immigration ‘shack’, (I’m not sure it qualifies as a building), for less than 10 minutes. From there, I walked to the taxi station and got a seat in a shared taxi to Barra. It cost 100 Dalasis, or around €2. From there I got the Ferry to the Gambian capital Banjul for 45 Dalasis (€0.80).

K In Motion Travel Blog. On the Way to Barra, Gambia

As far as ferries go, this one wasn’t large. It had with room for around 30 cars, squeezed in Africa style. Then there was one open-air passenger deck. The ferry chugged along rather slowly, so there was only feel a slight breeze. That provided time to relax and enjoy the view over the Gambia River. It was actually quite stunning at sunset. You can see Banjul on the other side of the river for most of the 30 minute trip.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Sunset on the Way to Barra, Gambia

The bubble of serenity that had been surrounding me was instantly popped upon stepping into the Banjul port. Within seconds I was engulfed by a sea of taxi drivers. they were probably the most in-your-face of any in Africa so far. Luckily my host was waiting for me, but I was still getting taxi offers almost all the way to his friend’s car. One thing about this port is that there is no lighting past the ferry arrival area. Everyone was using the lights from their phones to navigate through the muddy streets.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Banjul, Gambia

Getting to Brikama

Now in a more comfortable car on the way to Brikama in Southern Gambia, I was happily chatting to my host. Until we pulled into a service station. He informed me that I would have to pay 300 Dalasis (€6) for his friend’s fuel. Putting aside the fact a taxi would’ve charged less, my host hadn’t mentioned that picking me up from the port would be at my expense. Fuel in Gambia is very cheap. The driver was clearly just using me as a way to pay for his weekly fuel. I was not at all happy with paying it. But I was too tired to argue and begrudgingly handed over the money.

When we arrived at my host’s place in Brikama, in the southern part of Gambia, the power was out due to the rains we had encountered on the way down. All the restaurants on the main road were still open though. So I ate some cheap and delicious specially made food in the dark. My host kept saying that the power would be back on soon. It was still out by the time I fell asleep.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Brikama, Gambia

Heading to the Mountains?

My host had offered to accompany me to the mountains in the east of Gambia, so I could go for a hike. He said he had a friend with a car that could take us. I agreed to this only after checking that this friend wasn’t expecting me to pay for his weekly fuel. It turns out this friend had something to do and wouldn’t be available until the afternoon. That would be too late to make it a day trip.

It was time for plan B, go to the local bus station to get a minibus heading east. We waited quite a while for the bus to fill up with people. It was very squishy and uncomfortable. I didn’t even have a complete seat to myself and I was sitting right above the wheel. That meant that my short legs couldn’t even reach the floor. Let’s just say that my back hated me after that ride! Once it was full, we waited some more while the workers loaded a fridge, TV and some plastic barrels onto the roof. Maybe someone was moving house?

K In Motion Travel Blog. Crowded Bus From Brikama to Soma, Gambia
Yet another squeezy ride
Police Stops Along the Way

Along the road, there were a few police stops. The first was in a town about 6km away, where the road to the Southern Senegal border intersected with the road we were on. When the officer, Mr Grumpypants, entered the bus I gave him my ID as instructed. He then started complaining that I should show him my passport. When I pointed out that he asked for ID and I had given him a valid government ID he grumpily accepted it. We then had to wait while he took some locals that had no ID into the station. They needed to get papers to get them through the checkpoints ahead.

In stark contrast, the officer at the last stop, Mr Happypants, was excited when anyone produced their documents. He individually thanked everyone as they showed their ID by saying, “Thank you very much for showing me your ID”. He also said every thank you with a big smile and nod.

The road was smooth most of the way and the scenery on the drive was quite mesmerising. Occasionally, kids playing on the side of the road would point and wave as the bus drove past. Even a girl who had been using the local water pump to lift her off the ground, stopped and excitedly jumped up and down while waving.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Walking Near Soma, Gambia

Exploring Soma

Once in Soma, my host took me to the place where he grew up and we met his friend Lamin, who was to be our guide up the mountain. While there, I saw some interesting lizards with yellow heads and blue/grey bodies. They did this cute little head bobbing thing whenever they stopped running. I decided at that moment that I wanted to take one home. Do you think they’d let me?

K In Motion Travel Blog. My New Lizard Friend near Soma, Gambia

Lamin took us to property nearby, where we met another Lamin and got some water for the trek. Now we were ready to go, but we had one more stop to make at another property. There Lamin asked a man, who was building a wall, permission to enter the mountain area. He explained to me that the man was the caretaker of the area and bad things to do with spirits would happen if we didn’t get his permission. Fair enough.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Heading to the Hill near Soma, Gambia

Making Mountains out of Molehills

With all formalities now taken care of, I was eager to hit the Gambian mountains. But where were they? I couldn’t see any! After inquiring as to the location of the mountains, it became clear that my local friends were not actually aware of the difference between hills and mountains. We ended up walking up 2 small hills that only rose about 70m above the surrounding area. Not the big workout and panoramic view I was hoping for, but still lovely all the same.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Panoramic View From The Hill Near Soma, Gambia

On the way back to Brikama in the west of Gambia, we got the public bus, which turned out to be much cheaper, quicker and most importantly, more comfortable than the sardine tin we’d been subjected to on the way there. I guess the fact that the public bus was waved through every police stop and only made limited stops to let passengers on and off shaved a lot of time off the trip.

Crossing the Border from Gambia to Southern Senegal

Getting to the border from Brikama was relatively cheap (around 150 Dalasis or €2.50) and easy, as far as these things go in Africa. Of course, there was time waiting for the seats in the taxi to fill up. One good thing about this taxi was that it would be taking me all the way to a bus station in Senegal. That meant there would be no car changeover or haggling a new price at the border. Sweet!

At the Gambian immigration post, the officers seemed more interested in chatting with me than checking my passport. They were pretty relaxed. They had already started planning my return trip for me. I got the feeling that very few non-Africans pass through that border. I had to cut the chat short because my taxi was waiting for me, so we could move on to Senegal. Before I left, one of the immigration officers gave me his phone number. Maybe it’s a Gambia thing to check someone’s passport then give them your phone number?

??Gambia Summary??

In a few words – Waving and smiling kids
Language – English and local languages
Currency – Gambian Dalasi (GMD)
WiFi availability – ??
When the power is on, WiFi is available at restaurants, but I can’t comment on the speed as the power was out almost every night I was there.
Transport – ???
? The old, squeezy shared taxis of Senegal seemed to have been replaced in Gambia by slightly younger, more sensibly loaded taxis.
? Vans are available, but as in many other African countries, won’t leave until they are full. They are quite old and not too comfortable.
? By far the cheapest and most comfortable option is the public buses. They also tend to be quicker than the for-hire vans as they leave whether they are full or not.
Roads – ? ? ?
The intercity roads were sealed and well maintained. Suburban roads tended to be made of dirt and some of them didn’t fare well after rains.
Scenery – ?????
Gambia is much more tropical and green than the countries to its north.
Prices – ?
Gambia is awesome on a budget. Snack size servings of tropical fruits like coconut and mango were readily available from roadside sellers for 5 Dalasi (€0.80). A meal from a restaurant could be found for around 200 (€3.50)
Checkpoints – ?
Aside from a couple of ID checks on the way to Soma, I only encountered one checkpoint, 5km out of Brikama, near the border area.
Border efficiency – ????
Although the crossing into Gambia only took about 10 minutes, it required speaking to 3 different officers in 3 different rooms.
Leaving Gambia was also relatively quick. The hardest part was trying to stop the officers chatting to me after they’d stamped me out.
Corruption level – ⚠
Gambians will try to get money out of you, but won’t press the issue. When entering Gambia, a cheeky officer tried to tell me and some Europeans that we needed to pay for an entry stamp to get money out of us. We refused and entered with no problems.
Overall – ???

The adventure continues in Southern Senegal

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve enjoyed the adventure in Gambia, let your friends know and Pin It for later :o)