Depending on how you look at it, getting around in Africa is either a nightmare, or an adventure to be cherished. But every journey should be seen as a chance to experience even more of this diverse, fascinating, and scenic continent.
There are so many ways to travel in Africa , that it would be impossible to list them all. Riverboats, camels, bicycles, minibuses, canoes, and horses, all have their place alongside the more common means of reaching your destination. You can grab a hot air balloon ride across the Massai Mara, hitch a lift with a truck driver across Uganda , or simply buy an old car for peanuts, and blend in as you drive yourself about.
Greater distances, without doubt, are quicker by air. In most countries there are many smaller airlines that will fly you to remote airstrips, almost like an air taxi. These can be quite exciting, as they are often in small aircraft that fly much lower than the commercial airlines, and allow you to see a good deal of the landscape from a few thousand feet.
Perhaps the best experience is by train, especially if you are not too concerned about the time. It can be a somewhat limited service, particularly in central and western Africa , and timetables are rarely adhered to. In the north, and in South Africa , trains are of a reasonably modern design, and fairly reliable. Anywhere else it can be something of a lottery, and you could well find yourself on carriages left over from the days of the old empires. Breakdowns are not uncommon, but you don’t need to worry, as help or another train will usually be along in a day or two.
Travelling by road is much the same price as train, far more convenient, but infinitely more dangerous and uncomfortable. There seems to be an unwritten rule that to drive a taxi, minibus, or coach, almost anywhere in Africa , you need to have lead filled boots and ambitions of becoming a racing driver. Everything is frantic, the roads can be full of pot holes, and you are likely to be thrown around as the driver dodges chickens, bicycles, and all manner of other moving targets. If you’re not into this kind of adventure, the best option is to take a taxi, and make it clear to the driver before you set off that you want to travel slowly, to take in the scenery, or take photos.
Another option, which is quite common, is to hitch a ride with one of the many long distance trucks that ply the main highways. This can be a great way to understand more about the local peoples, and experience Africa the way the Africans do, especially if the journey will take you more than a day.
Car hire is available in most countries, and can be very expensive, but it is the best way by far to explore any area you wish in your own time. Be aware that fuel, or rather the lack of it, can be an issue, as shortages can be sudden and widespread.
There are a limited number of tours from the main centres, which can be very useful ways to visit a particular place or tour an area. They are usually a little on the high side for price, but do take a lot of the stress out of planning alternative means.
Of course sometimes the means of travel is the highlight of your trip. Cruising down the Nile through Egypt , or taking a trip on South Africa ‘s Blue Train, can both be greatly enjoyed. For the truly adventurous there are overland expeditions using old army trucks that will bounce you from Morocco to South Africa , taking several weeks to complete the journey. They will not be the most comfortable, but are a great way to witness the ever changing scenery, and you really will be able to say you’ve seen Africa .