Africa Retired Travelers Travel by Location

Traveling to Africa: Where to Start

Mokoro in the Delta
Written by Tom

updated on May 16th, 2019

For Part 1, click here

Let’s break down the nitty-gritty details!

So we’ve agreed that you don’t spend your life in the corporate world merging billion dollar companies. Maybe you want a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip but don’t want to take out a mortgage on your home to do it. That’s OK, that’s where Dayna and I are in life. Where to start?

Great resources for planning your trip to Africa

If Moses was here today, I would recommend he do a couple of things before he takes his next major trip. First, for him, get the latest Lonely Planet guide book for Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. There are many good guide books out there. Lonely Planet is my personal favorite because it caters to budget travelers, not the bus tour luxury crowd.

Second, check out TripAdvisor. It’s a great place for tour planning and reviews. My favorite area is the forum section of TripAdvisor. If the question and answers aren’t there, then the question probably wasn’t worth asking. Do you need an obscure questioned answered, such as “How to choose a single day tour guide in Nairobi?” It’s there.

Finally, start using Google. Remember, the search questions you ask will determine what answers you get. If you search “African Luxury Safaris” your results will be entirely different than a search of “Budget African Safaris” or “African Overland Tours/Adventures”. Dayna and I have always opted for overland trips. (Oh, and don’t forget YouTube, too.)


A typical lunch stop on an overland tour, with Nomad Adventure Tours

Before you get too deep into your search, remember: Africa is HUGE! You can find maps of Africa with the US, India, China and Western Europe, and Mexico fit into its boundary. That’s how massive it is!

The true size of Africa

Where to start when planning your trip to Africa

On our first trip, we traveled from Nairobi, Kenya to Johannesburg, South Africa in 30 days. Almost 6,500 miles by truck. Impressively, we only saw a sliver of the continent! One of the hardest decisions is deciding where to go first. I would recommend you start in Nairobi. It’s hard to beat the plains of the Serengeti National Park or the Maasi Mara Reserve if you want to see the critters. If you have time, combine your visit to Nairobi with a trip to Uganda to see the gorillas, chimps, rhinos, and maybe a Pygmy village. We did that very affordably in 14+ days with a group called Nomad Africa Adventure Tours.

The souvenir shirt from our first trip to Africa

Another good starting point would be Johannesburg or Cape Town, South Africa. These cities are very affordable but a little more upscale because Southern Africa IS a little more upscale than East Africa. These starting points will get you closer to Namibia, the Okavango Delta of Botswana, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Kruger NP, and maybe a side trip to Mozambique. All are “must-sees” in our opinion.


Remember these things when planning your trip to Africa

Airfare booking

Remember, summer in the northern hemisphere is winter in South Africa. Except for Cape Town, none of that much matters in Africa, except for when you book flights. If you’re looking for cheap tickets from the US, you’ll probably have to travel to Africa through Paris or Amsterdam. It isn’t cheap to travel through Europe in the summer months! African round trip airfare can cost $1,500 per person. I’ve occasionally seen them for around $700 on Scott’s Cheap Flights if you avoid the peak season (summer in the northern hemisphere).

Enjoying drinks during sunset in Zanzibar

Weather

Most tourist destinations in Africa don’t have four seasons like we are familiar with in the northern hemisphere. Africa has the dry season and the wet (or Monsoon) season. You can check out a helpful article about Africa’s wet and dry seasons here. We started in Nairobi in the wet season and ended in southern Africa in the dry season. Africa is just that big. Even the Monsoon season is workable for a vacation. The animals really don’t know the difference. Wet season may even mean sun all day and rain in the late afternoon and evening. Your guides will know how to handle it. There is something cool about lying in your safari tent at night, wrapped in a warm blanket and listening to the lions roar over the patter of raindrops on your tent. You will daily learn the phrase, “This is Africa!” (TIA) as you deal with the peculiarities of African travel.

Monsoon season- the rainstorms are impressive!

One final tip about time and weather. If you’re going to the Okavango Delta, I would recommend going when the water level is higher. You can Google that information. You’ll see the animals regardless of the time, but the “wet” delta is spectacular when traveling in a makoro (tree trunk canoe).

Budget and Plan

Set your budget and make a list of “must haves” and “must do’s”. For example, see the “big 5 animals,” the gorillas, maybe the people, the Kalahari Desert, visit Cape Horn, etc. Do you have lifestyle requirements? Dayna once told me when I was planning a trip; “I’ll sleep anywhere as long as it’s clean, has an outside window and western style toilets!” For marriage stability, I haven’t forgotten that.

Clean enough, a window, and a toilet!

As we wrap this segment up, let’s cut to the chase. Dayna and I love “overland” travel. In our next segment we will cover how to pick out an affordable SMALL group tour, and what to expect. In future segments we’ll discuss how and what to pack so you don’t look too ridiculous to your local guides, who must chuckle at some of the getups we have seen draping western frames!

See more posts in our Africa series!

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