BACKPACKING AFRICA. Small guide with everything you have to know.

Before travelling in Africa it was really hard for us to have a real idea of what was waiting for us in this continent. There´s a big lack of information, so many false conceptions, brainwashed by media and safari companies. 
That´s why it´s hard to plan a trip there. And many travellers, specially independent low-cost ones, skip Africa, thinking it´s too expensive and tough.

After our trip throught 12 countries in Southern and Eastern Africa, during 8 months in 2014-2015, we can say YES, it´s possible to travel independent and low-cost way. We did it, enjoyed and recommend you to go. 

We will try to answer some FAQs and then give our TIPs and experience.

Yes, we always say “Africa”, but Africa is not ONE country, it´s a huge and diverse continent with 54 countries. Each country in Africa is unique! We travelled only throuth 12, in Southern and Eastern.
Sorry, no real idea about Central and Western Africa cause we didn´t go.

Is Africa safe to travel, even for 2 women?
There´s always a FEAR feeling about Africa. Wars, diseases, hunger, refugees, authoritarian regimes. Always BAD things! In fact many countries in Africa are “ALL RIGHT”, politically stable and open to foreigners, so relax, in everyday´s life you don´t see AK-47 and humanitarian interventions!
Use common sense like always, more in crowded areas, or in towns that get empty after sunset avoid going out at night.
Most white people who live in Africa in fear surrounded by big fences, are going to tell you how dangerous some places are, and may be you can get paranoic. But, in our trip we didn´t feel unsafe, mixing with local life (lodges, transport, restaurants, shops) like real traveller, you can feel relaxed and happier, like them.

Do I need visas in Africa?
In some Southern Africa countries if European passport, NO you don´t need.
But in all the rest, YES, around 30-80 $/month. In many countries you can get visa on arrival (UE).
Some countries in Africa have expensive visas and hard to get but  usually they are quite closed to tourism (like Angola, DR Congo).
You can find information in the official websites, they are changing things the last months (2015), so always update.

Can I cross borders in Africa?
Yes, easy, many border posts all over Africa. Most of them modern, with computers. More or less busy, more or less trucks. Usually no problem to get public transport on the main routes and borders. There are many people and goods moving around Africa.
We never had any problem crossing a border in Africa, no extra money asked, respectful officers, nothing. Always found transport connections. Easy!

What special health requirement do I need in Africa?
Bring a yellow fever vaccination certificate (the only health document that can be asked when entering a tropical country). In Southern area, they didn´t ask for this paper, but in others yes. Vaccinations, insurance, etc, you don´t really need, up to you!

Malaria, aids, ebola, epidemies, plagues, etc. These cases are often concentrated in time and areas, so don´t worry too much. And things are really getting better in many Africa countries.

How about Malaria, Do I need Malarone or similar antimalarial medication? 
Many places are getting malaria free. In cooler mountain areas (there are many high places in Africa) it should be fine. Always ask people around about the situation. Most of the times, they will say “OK”, only in Malawi they told us “careful”. 

Our recomendation is NO, you don´t need to take medication, specially if you are traveling for long time. The best advice is prevention, use always mosquito net (even basic and cheap rooms have one) and repellents (cheap and easy to find) and you should be safe. African people are used to malaria, controls and treatments are really cheap or even free in some places!
In fact, we didn´t see so many mosquitoes in Africa, even in rainy season, compared with Asia.
In 8 months, only Ainara has a small flu in Rwanda.

What about money in Africa?
There are banks, local and international, in all the main Africa towns, with ATMs, most of them working with foreign cards. Like everywhere you can withdraw cash in Africa.
In South Africa, Namibia, Botswana (only, right now) is even normal to pay directly by card. There are also money changers in big towns, and off course in tourist spots. Easy!

Do I need of an organised tour in Africa? 
No, you can move around on your own, you can rent a car and there are public transports and lodges. 
Keep in mind that even “backpackers tours”, basic overlanders tours in Africa will cost 100-150 €/pp/day! And this isn´t exactly low-cost, is it? 

To do activities, you can ask directly in local bussiness. Not real need to book in advance in Africa! Big local offer, not  so crowded.
For example, in Botswana we did a fly over the Okavango delta and a safari boat, paying less than the tourist normal prices.

How much will I spend in Africa?
There´s no exact reply, it will depend. Number of countries, visas, rhythm, km, flights, activities, parks, beach, what you eat, where you sleep.
Development, everyday´s life prices, size and tourist infrastructure are different in each country.
But it doesn´t mean that a developed country is more expensive. For example, in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia supermarkets are much cheaper than in Zimbabwe or Zambia. Same with the price of petrol. Same for renting a car in South Africa. Tanzania, cause its socialist governments, is really cheap (but not its parks, eh).
You will have to adapt to what a country as to offer. This will keep your budget low! That´s how we managed to spend only 40 €/day/2 people during the Southern Africa roadtrip and self-drive safaris; and 20 €/day/2 people during the Southern-Eastern Africa backpacking trip. This is CHEAP!

Hitch-hiking in Africa. Is it possible?
In empty countries or places with limited public transport, we saw local people asking for a lift. Namibia, Bostwana, South Africa. But it´s not always a FREE lift. You can always try! In other countries, moving by public transport is easy and cheap… Up to you!

Is water safe to drink in Africa? 
In many countries, yes, it´s safe. There are often treatment plants or underground pure water. Always ask locals, they will tell you if any problem. We drank tap water in almost all Southern Africa! Yes! And boiled in Eastern Africa. Anyway, everywhere you find bottle mineral water (not always too cheap).

What will I eat in Africa? Is the food so different?
Some places in Africa are dry but even there you´ll find goats and cattle! And some soils are super fertile and tropical, so the food is not a problem.
Supermarkets, markets, shops, shopping malls with food franchises, not very cheap but affordable. The offer varies a lot country by country, no worries, no regime. There are even many local beers!
Local food can be simple, a lot of rice, cornmeal (the name is different in each country), beans, banana, etc, but it is very cheap (1-2 € in Eastern Africa).

Will I get connected in Africa?
Yes, thanks to sim cards (3 G avalaible in many places), that you can by for 1 € and internet vouchers are cheap. Also in Africa everyone now has a mobile phone.
Not too many free wifi spots except in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia. But many internet shops.

What can I see in Africa? What will I do?
Africa is not a place where you visit one attraction after the other like you would do in Europe, Asia or America. NO! In fact, towns are quite ugly, not many monuments to see. Africa is an experience in itself, interacting with locals, seeing  and feeling every day´s life. Take your time!

Discover rural areas, with simple houses and well maintened fields. In some places, there are still traditionnal villages and even a few tribes in remote areas. Globalisation and development are changing Africa too!
Africa is about outdoors, wildlife. But as we said, to really see wild animals you will have to go to a reserve or national game park and this is not always cheap in Africa.
And sometimes, not many interesting places where you can walk. And if there´s a waterfall, forest, high mountain or something, expect to pay a fee! There are also beaches, many km of coasts, free. Activities are expensive in Africa.

What about Africa people?
In most of the places, people are nice and friendly. Quite shy, helpful, calm (except maybe in Tanzania). 
They are black and you are white, it´s difficult to mix, and true, that sometimes it´s difficult to break,  cause of the past, colonisation, abuses and present days haven´t changed so much… They will see you like a “dollar” more than a person, this is western culture mistake.

Trust them, but be careful with the people around the tourist, like other place in the world, they are looking for easy money! Open your spirit and you will enjoy!
You will learn a lot about simple life, injustice, manipulation. UN organisations and NGOs. See that many ideas about Africa are false. You can even get racist, yes, against the white!
Be one more, take public transport, eat in small restaurants, stay in local lodges. People will be happy, they don´t expect to see a “mzungu” there!

Are there many travellers and tourists in Africa?
In some tourist spots, yes, there are. Like Victoria Falls area, or Zanzibar, etc. Most of them, travelling in organised and expensive tours. Yes, Africa has always been specialised in luxury safaris, hunting farms, overlander rallies, expats, NGOs… since colonial times… Many rooms cost 500 $/night when workers get less than 100 /month!
You will cross a few independent travellers, but not many travelling on a tight budget. So most of Africa is still off the beaten track! For good and bad.

What about volunteering in Africa?
Wherever you go you will see signs of UN, NGOs, religions organisations, local projects.
Do you know that many volunteers have to work many hours a day and pay for that? Yes, PAY, not “being paid”. In average, they pay 1.000 $/month! The voluntary world it´s also a bussiness. If you want to ldo a volunteer and learn about the Africa, just go and try to find something, it shouldn´t be hard and you don´t need to pay.

What about “interchange”, websites like Workaway or Helpx in Africa?
Except in South Africa (where many local white people with farms or B&B), there are many NGO´s and foreigners with businesses and it´s quite usual that you work for them and they ask for a economic contribution (5-10$/day). This is Africa!
Up to you! After travelling in Africa, we think that the continent would be better without so many foreign organisations!

Are Gay travellers allowed in Africa?
Not all Africa countries tolerate homosexuality and in some countries you can go to the jail. In South Africa  are allowed, but the situation is quite tough. But no one will ask you which sexual preference you have. Just be discreet!

OK, let´s go to Africa!
It sounds interesting, something different.

Keep on reading our other articles for independent and low-cost travellers ! 
They will help you to save money and plan your trip in Africa!


  1. I really appreciate your efforts that you have shared with and your ideas
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  2. Hemos dado la vuelta al mundo por un año en Asia y América, y por primera vez queremos adentrarnos en tierras africanas pero esta vez sólo tenemos 3 semanas. Si os tuvierais que quedar con solo 2 países qje me recomendaríais?muchas gracias :)

  3. Hola Tamara.
    3 semanas, 2 países de Africa...
    Depende de vuestros gustos... presupuesto...
    Cuando uno sueña con Africa piensa en los animales, cierto!
    Un plan puede ser Botswana y Sudafrica. Si llegais a Johannesburg podeis alquilar coche o ir en transporte público. Vais a Botswana, ruta similar a la que hicimos o directos a Kasane! lugar increíble! Mirar los detalles que contamos! Camping, safari boat, drive game y barato! Las cataratas Victoria están cerca, podeis hacer la escapada.
    Por el norte de Sudafrica hay parques buenos... Pilanesberg cerca de Jburg o el enorme Kruger y no son caros.
    Otra plan podría ser Botswana y Namibia... Estos 2 países son 100% tranquilos, buena infraestructura, buena opción!
    En estos 3 países lo barato es acampar!
    El Este de Africa es mucho más caro para ver animales.
    Uganda está bien para mochileros, pero vereis menos animales y las entradas y safaris son más caros.
    Kenya es un destino turístico por sus safaris pero se pagan!
    Detalles en nuestro blog.
    Si alguna duda, acá estamos.
    Suerte viajera por Africa!


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