Africa has 54 sovereign countries—the most on any continent—and is the second largest continent in terms of both land area and population. Africa is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, by the Red Sea to the northeast, and by the Indian Ocean to the southeast. Africa is a vast continent spanning over 8,000 kilometers (5,000 mi) north-south and 7,500 kilometers (4,800 mi) east-west (not including islands) and contains a wide array of peoples, skin colors, religions, and cultures. Africa contains the world's longest river—the 6,650 km-long (4,100+ mi) Nile River running from Burundi to Egypt—while the Congo River in the DRC is the second largest in terms of discharge as well as the deepest with a depth of over 230 m (750 ft) in some spots. Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro is the world's tallest free-standing mountain at 5,890 m (19,340 ft). Djibouti's Lake Assal is the second lowest point on Earth, the saltiest lake outside Antarctica, and one of the hottest places on Earth. While the first activity most people associate with Africa is safaris, there are endless possibilities for adventure. You can purchase crafts in markets, venture into the Sahara with a Tuareg caravan, visit pygmy villages, hike through jungle to watch gorillas, relax on tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, snack on exotic treats, travel down a river in a dugout "pirogue", travel across savanna on a colonial-era railway, and much more.
Africa is a very diverse continent, with each country, or even each part of a country having its own unique culture. While it is common for people in the West to refer to Africa as if it was a single country, one should remember the sheer size of the continent, and that Africa is not one country but 54 different countries, meaning that it is impossible to make generalisations of Africa as a whole.
Tragically misunderstood by many people as a land of poverty, corruption, war and famine, and simply as a land of suffering—a misconception only bolstered by the media and the numerous NGOs on the continent—Africa today is a vast continent with many bustling metropolises, friendly people, and amazingly diverse and beautiful landscapes. While there are plenty of places resembling the stereotypical Africa of war, famine, and poverty, much of the continent is peaceful, well-fed, and of working class.
See also: African National Parks
Modern humans, homo sapiens, are believed to have originated in East Africa somewhere between Ethiopia and Kenya. Despite this long history of habitation, there is very little (or little known about) African history prior to the second millennium AD outside of North Africa, Sudan & Ethiopia, as most were hunter-gatherers similar to some cultures still found today on the continent, with no writing systems nor lasting structures, arts, or crafts (aside from some cave paintings). North Africa, on the other hand, has a recorded history dating back several millennia with bountiful structures, writings, arts, and crafts which have survived to this day. The ancient Pharonic civilization centered in modern-day Egypt is recognized as the longest-lasting and one of the, if not the, greatest ancient civilizations lasting from around 3300BC until the invasion of Persians in 343BC. Today, their legacy lives with many of their cities well-preserved and now popular tourist attractions along with a few museums hosting their artifacts. Modern Jews believe themselves to be descendants of slaves in ancient Egypt and much of the Hebrew Bible, religious texts for both Jews and Christians, was based and written in the region. The other great early civilizations on the continent were the Nubians in northern Sudan and southern Egypt, who were very similar to the ancient Egyptians, leaving behind the city of Meroe in Sudan, and the Aksumite Empire from the 4th century BC until the 7st century AD in modern-day Ethiopia and eastern Sudan which was important to trade between India and the Roman Empire and an important center of early Christianity.
Meanwhile, the 300s BC brought about the first (and less famous) invasions of Europeans to the continent. In 322 BC, Alexander the Great invaded Persian-occupied Egypt, establishing the famous city of Alexandria which would go on to serve as an important center of scholarship and Greek culture for many centuries. Meanwhile, the Romans conquered much of the Mediterranean coastline to the west, leaving behind such ruins as Carthage and Leptis Magna. In the first century AD, Christianity spread through much of the region, first to Egypt, then Nubia, Ethiopia, and on to the Roman Empire.
The Muslim invasion and the beginning of the Arab Slave Trade in the 7th century AD changed the cultural landscape of Northern Africa and large parts of Eastern and Western Africa. The newly-formed Arab caliphate invaded North Africa and the Horn of Africa within a few decades. In the west, Berbers would intermarry with the Arab invaders to become the Moorish population that would later invade the Iberian peninsula. When Damascus was invaded in the early eighth century, the Islamic religious and political center of the Mediterranean shifted to Kairouan in Tunisia. Their progress was limited only by the dense forests of West and Central Africa and to coastal areas in the East. The last region to come under Muslim influence was that of Nubia (moden-day northern Sudan) in the 14th century.
The 7th-9th centuries would be a time contributing significant changes to the history of sub-Saharan Africa. In the west, there was a rise of large and powerful inland kingdoms, such as the Ghana (in Mali & Mauritania, no relation to modern Ghana), Dahomey (which lasted until French capture in 1894, now Benin), Za/Gao (in Mali and Niger), Kanem (in Chad), and Bornu (in Nigeria). As many of these kingdoms converted to Islam, trans-Saharan trade grew as salt and gold were transported to Libya and Egypt in large caravans—a trade made possible by the introduction of camels from Arabia in the 10th century and would support much of the area from northern Nigeria west to Mali and Mauritania until the 19th century. During the 13th-16th centuries, many of these early kingdoms were replaced with new empires, chief among them the Mali (in Mali, Guinea, and Senegal) and later Soghay (in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger) and a plethora of small, single-tribe kingdoms and city-states sprouted. Many of Mali's popular tourist destinations, including Timbuktu, Djenne, and Gao, rose to prominence during this period as they became centers of trade and Islamic scholarship during this period. The Hausa tribes in northern Nigeria began organizing in walled city states, of which remnants remain in Kano. Coastal, forsted West Africa remained largely unorganized, with the exceptions of a few Yorba city-states of Benin, Ife, & Oyo along with small Dahomey and Igbo empires all in modern-day Benin and Nigeria.
Meanwhile, East Africa saw a rise of Islamic influence and prosperity from Indian Ocean trade as ships from Arabia, Persia, India, and as far as Southeast Asia dropped anchor in major ports from Somalia down to Mozambique bringing spices and in return for slaves and ivory. Between the 7th and 19th centuries, over 18 million people were taken from the region as part of the Arab slave trade—roughly twice as many as the Atlantic slave trade would take to the Americas. Today, that influence remains in the culture and gastronomy of many places, most notably on the Indian Ocean islands such as Zanzibar, Comoros, the Seychelles, and Mauritius.
Southern Africa remained undeveloped, with primarily nomadic hunter-gatherers such as the San people and some small kingdoms. The Kingdom of Zimbabwe (namesake of today's state) was one of the most notable, constructing the greatest stone structures in pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa at their capital Great Zimbabwe. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe in modern eastern South Africa also left smaller stone ruins. Both profited from the trade in gold and ivory with Arab and Asian merchants.
While a few Genoese, Castillian, and French explorers managed to reach parts of West Africa in the Middle Ages, European exploration of the continent truly began when Prince "Henry the Navigator" set out to acquire African territory for Portugal in the mid-15th century. The Portuguese reached Cape Verde in 1445, and by 1480, had charted the course to and began trade with the entire Guinea coast (modern Guinea-Bissau to Nigeria). In 1482, Diogo Cão reached the mouth of the Congo River, in 1488 Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope (the southern tip of Africa), and in 1498 Vasco da Gama sailed up the eastern coast, where in Kenya his expedition set up a trading post at Malindi before finding a guide to take them to India. The Portuguese set up numerous forts along the African coast and established a highly profitable trade, (initially) held good relations with locals, and remained the dominant European power in the region until the 17th century while Spain, France, and Britain began exploring the Americas.
The lucrative trade and large amounts of gold obtained by the Portuguese lured other nations to the continent. As the demands for labor in the America's grew, Portuguese sailors began taking shiploads of slaves to the Americas, beginning the Atlantic slave trade. In the early 17th century, the Dutch fought the Portuguese to win control of most of their West and Central African ports, some (like Luanda) would be retaken later, and established a couple dozen forts of their own, notably at Goree Island in Dakar and at the Cape of Good Hope—a port they hoped to use for trade routes to East Asia and which has become modern-day Cape Town. In 1642, the French built their first fort on Madagascar (which they claimed in 1667) and in 1663, the British built their first fort on the continent in the Gambia. Swedish merchants established a fort on Cape Coast, which later was overpowered by the Danish nearby at modern Accra.
In the 19th century, European attention shifted from establishing coastal ports for trade to fighting one another to colonize the continent and explore its uncharted interior. With slavery abolished by Britain and their strong efforts to thwart slavery around the world, Europe began to look for other sources of wealth on the continent. The most successful European colony, the Dutch Cape Colony, was seized by the British in 1795. Napoleonic France conquered Egypt in 1798, notably discovering the Rosetta Stone, only to be forced out by the British and then the Turks. France invaded a significant amount of coastal West Africa and the Barbary states in Algeria, cutting rampant piracy in the region. Accounts of brave adventurers travelling inland to find places such as Mount Kilimanjaro and rumored "inland sea" (the Great Lakes) and city of gold on the Nile sparked a wave of exploration in the mid-century primarily by Catholic and Jesuit missionaries in the Southern, Eastern, & Great Lakes regions of Africa. Chief among explorers was the British national hero David Livingstone, who as a poor missionary with few porters explored much of Southern and Eastern Africa, flowed down the Congo River from its sources, and sought the source of the Nile. In West & Central Africa, French, Belgian, & Spanish explorers ventured into the Sahara to find the legendary Timbuktu and Malian gold mines and the Congo in search of the Pygmies and hairy, large peoples (gorillas) of Greek legend.
As accounts of Africa's interior reached Europe, nations and merchants began to view the continent as a major source of commerce and wealth, simmilar to their Asian exploits, while the philanthropic and missionary class saw a great opportunity to "Christianize" and "civilize" the savage people of Africa. With social Darwinism introduced, many countries saw Africa as a great opportunity to establish colonial empires and establish their preeminence among other European nations, chiefly Germany to catch up with other European nations and France, to regain glories lost in North America and under Napoleon. Britain and Portugal joined this Scramble for Africa when they saw their interests threatened. In 1885, the Berlin Conference brought together European colonial powers to carve up the continent into defined colonial territories with many straight lines and no input from any African kingdom or settlement.
At the turn of the 20th century, Britain began a series of deadly South African Wars from their Cape Colony into surrounding African and Boer (white descendants of the Dutch) lands in modern South Africa, which brought Cecil Rhodes to fame for his vision to conquer and bring unite Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. The dense jungles of Central Africa lured Joseph Conrad, who wrote the novel Heart of Darkness from his experience. World War I saw one battle in German East Africa (Tanzania) which the British lost, although post-war, German possessions were divided amongst France, Belgium, & the UK. The Union of South Africa was granted independence from the UK in 1930. World War Two saw Ethiopia invaded by Italy along with major fighting in North Africa in which the Nazis were eventually evicted by the Allies. It was the social changes stemming from the war, in which tens of thousands of Africans fought for their colonial power, along with the Atlantic Charter which led to the spread of nationalistic movements post-war.
The decolonization of Africa began with Libyan independence from Italy in 1951. Colonial powers employed varying means of control over their colonies, some granting natives representation in the government and cultivating a select few civil servants while others maintained a firm grip with an all-European government. In some countries, nationalist movements were quashed and their leaders killed or jailed while others were able to peacefully achieve independence. In the 1950s, Guinea, Ghana, & North African nations gained independence non-violently with the exception of Algeria, where France violently fought independence movements until 1963. With the establishment and new constitution of France's Fifth Republic in 1958, French West Africa & French Equatorial Africa ceased to exist and, after a brief "community" with France, the countries of these regions gained independence in 1960. By 1970, all but a handful of African nations were independent. The Portuguese bitterly fought to maintain their African possessions until 1975, all but one of whom gained independence through war. Zimbabwe was the last major colony to gain independence, in 1980. In 1990, semi-autonomous Namibia gained independence from South Africa and in 1993, Eritrea separated from Ethiopia following a protracted war. South Africa remained under firm control by its white minority, suppressing its black population under a system called apartheid until 1994. Morocco maintains control over Western Sahara, despite an established independence movement and remains a point of contention between Morocco and Algeria. Southern Sudan will vote on an independence referendum in 2011.
Europe divided Africa with complete disregard for the cultures and ethnic groups in Africa, often dividing a peoples between 2 or more countries and forcing peoples with a history of fighting or differing religions into one country. Additionally, a lack of training in civil service before and even after independence left most countries with dysfunctional governments and leaders tended to reward their own ethnic groups with jobs and money and in many cases suppressed ethnic minorities. This has been a cause of much strife post-independence across most of sub-Saharan Africa and has led to dozens of prolonged civil wars (notably in Sudan, Angola, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Nigeria), countless coups, and a countless number of inept, corrupt leaders. The discovery of valuable natural resources such as oil, uranium, diamonds, and coltan, has produced numerous independence movements post-independence citing the taking value of resources from their land to benefit the entire country (notably tiny, oil-rich Cabinda in Angola). Fortunately, there are numerous examples in Africa where past conflict has made way for functional governments, offering some hope for the future of African self-government.
As the second largest continent, there is a wide range of climates to be found. However, since the continent is nearly centered on the equator, much of the continent is quite warm/temperate with very few, small areas on the continent experiencing any temperatures that can be considered "cold". In the temperate regions (parts of northern Morocco & the Mediterranean coast as well as South Africa), temperatures generally range from the 10s C to the mid-30s°C (40s-90s°F) year round. Closer to the equator and on islands like Cape Verde or Mauritius, temperatures may only vary less than 20 degrees Celsius (15-35°C/65-95°F) throughout the year. In the deserts and arid regions like the Sahel and Horn of Africa, temperatures routinely hit 40°C+ (and even 50°C+ in the heart of the Sahara) but because sand does not retain heat like most soil does, those same places can easily fall down to 15°C at night. There are a few bastions of cooler weather, however. Higher elevations, such as the Atlas Mountains in Morocco & Algeria or in Lesotho, are quite cold and snowy during winter and Mount Kilimanjaro, almost on the equator, is cold year-round (cold enough to support glaciers!). Peaks on islands such as Reunion, the Canary Islands, Mount Cameroon and more are cool enough to necessitate a jacket much of the year.
A far more important factor to consider when travelling to Africa is when the rain/monsoon season occurs. Timing varies a bit even in neighboring countries, so check the page of the country you are visiting for more info. In West Africa the season starts in March around Cameroon, but not until June in Senegal or the Sahel and ends around September. While rain may not be a huge factor when travelling to southern or East Africa, it is very problematic in West Africa and on islands in the Indian Ocean. In West Africa, rains will often flood and make many roads and railroads impassable and, due to poor drainage, can literally result in rivers of water flowing down streets and sewage lines to overflow. In the Sahel, it can result in flash floods in low-lying areas.
The largest weather-related dangers for travellers to Africa are lightning and tropical cyclones. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has more lighting strikes each year than any other country on earth, especially in the eastern part of the country near Goma. Lightning risk is highest from western Kenya/Tanzania and Ethiopia west to Senegal and south to Angola and Zambia. Tropical cyclones affect the islands of the Indian Oceean, with the season running from 15 November-30 April (15 May in the Seychelles & Mauritius). Tropical cyclones also infrequently affect the horn of Africa near Djibouti & Somalia, but when they do, the arid land results in major flooding. Tropical cyclones often form off the coast of western West Africa (Guinea/Senegal) during the early part of the Atlantic Hurricane Season (June-August) and will rarely impact Cape Verde, for which these particular storms are called "Cape Verde-type hurricanes".
Air fares to Africa can be very expensive, but there are ways to save. The best way to get great airfare to the continent is fly directly to an African country from its former colonial rulers. For example, it can easily cost hundreds of euros/dollars more to fly from London to a former French colony, or conversely from Paris to a former British colony. About the only exceptions are Egypt, which has plentiful, cheap connections with the Middle East & Europe and a handful of West African destinations (e.g. Cape Verde, Morocco) popular with British tourists and accessible with cheap holiday flights.
Airline consolidators can also be used for discounted air fares. If you have additional travel time, check to see how your total fare quote to Africa compares with a round-the-world fare. Don't forget to add in the extra costs of additional visas, departure taxes, ground transportation, etc. for all those places outside of Africa.
See your destination's article for more specific information on flights. Bear in mind that many African countries only offer a few international flights each day, or in some cases, each week. While it isn't hard to reach South Africa or Egypt, getting to Malawi or Togo can be quite a challenge.
There are more flights to Africa from Europe than from any other continent. Popular holiday destinations such as Egypt, Morocco, Cape Verde, & South Africa are well-served from Europe's major cities, even with discount and charter airlines. Royal Air Maroc, Afriqyah Airlines, Jet4you & EgyptAir have a good selection of European destinations and Ethiopian, Kenyan, South African, & Arik Air serve a couple of major cities (London, Paris, etc.). The cheapest flights to African cities are often through the African country's former colonial power. Cities with large immigrant populations such as London, Marseilles, & Paris have a good number of flights to Africa.
Chief among European airlines flying to Africa are:
Many European discount airlines serve major tourist destination in Africa (especially Morocco, Cape Verde, Tunisia, Egypt, & the Gambia), including Jetairfly, EasyJet, & Corsairfly.
From the Americas
From the United States, these are routes operated as of January 2012:
Outside the peak travel times to Europe (e.g. summer) you might be able to get a good deal to London or Paris and book a fare from there to Africa separately on a European travel website. But don't book the United States to Europe portion until you get confirmed on the Europe to Africa portion first. Through fares to Africa from the United States can be quite expensive, so avoiding peak travel times to Europe can sometimes save a lot. However, since new non-stop flights to Africa have recently been added, and Europe is much more expensive than it used to be, try getting a direct quote first, then see if you can do better. Another growing option is flying through the Middle East on Emirates or Qatar, which both serve a reasonable selection of African & American cities.
In Canada, Montreal is connected to Casablanca by Royal Air Maroc and Algiers by Air Algerie. TAAG Angolan Airlines offers weekly service to Havana—the last of the heavily-subsidized communist friends routes Cuba has to Africa (former routes include Tripoli, Maputo, & Conakry).
Connections from South America are:
From Asia & the Middle East
If you're flying to a small African country, Africa's major airlines all have extensive coverage in Africa and fly to a handful of Asian destinations:
Nearly all North African countries along with Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, & Somalia have extensive connections with the Middle East. And similarly, countries with large Muslim populations are likely to have a connection to Jedda/Mecca either year-round or seasonal (e.g. during hajj). North African destinations aside, connections with the Middle East include:
Other flights from East and South Asia include the following: Cathay Pacific flights to Hong Kong. Furthermore, due to increased Chinese investment many cities have service from Beijing, cities with direct flights to Beijing-Capital include Luanda, Algiers, Lagos, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, & Harare. Malaysian Airlines serves Johannesburg from Kuala Lumpor. Korean Air serves Cairo from Seoul. Air Austral flies to Bangkok seasonally from Reunion. Air Seychelles flies to Singapore and Male from Mahe. Air Madagascar flies from Antananarivo to Bangkok & Guangzhou.Air Mauritius flies from Mauritius to Bangalore, Chennai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, & Singapore.
The best option to fly from East or South Asia is likely on Emirates or Qatar, both of which have a decent selection of destinations in Asia & Africa, or via Europe on airlines such as British Airways, Air France, or Lufthansa which all offer an extensive number of destinations across Africa.
There are only a handful of connections to Australia:
Qantas' flight is one of only two commercial routes that pass over sea ice near Antarctica (the other is Qantas between Buenos Aires [Santiago after March 2012]& Sydney). International aviation rules require polar gear that takes up several rows of seats to fly over Antarctica (specifically, south of 72 degrees), so there are no commercial routes over the continent. The 747 flies close on the westward journey, Sydney-Jo'burg, because there are very strong tailwinds near Antarctica (flight-time is 11.5 hours westward vs. 14 eastward). With a clear sky and a window seat—especially on the left—you should be able to see a vast expanse of sea ice and perhaps even continental Antarctica near the horizon! Other airlines fly further north because their 2-engine planes must remain closer to diversion airports in Western Australia/the Mascarene Islands, in case of engine failure. A New Zealand-South Africa flight would be only route where the Great Circle (shortest) route would pass over continental Antarctica, but no airline has ever flown this route.
The only land connection to another continent is the 163km-wide Isthmus of Suez, which is found in Egypt (although the Sinai peninsula is sometimes considered a part of Africa for geopolitical reasons). Thus the only way to drive into Africa is to drive through Egypt. Most people driving from the Middle East to Africa travel through Jordan and take a short car ferry to Egypt to avoid transiting Israel, since Egypt's two African neighbors (Sudan & Libya) deny entry for persons with Israeli stamps or Egyptian/Jordanian stamps indicating travel to Israel.
Despite there being just one, narrow land crossing into the continent, there are other ways to bring vehicles into Africa by short car ferries. The short crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco is crossed by several ferries daily and relatively inexpensive. Other car ferries include:
Several overland trucks make journeys which cross between Europe or the Middle East and Africa, these companies are listed below under "Get around/Overland trucks".
Many Mediterranean cruises stop in North African countries such Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, the Canary Islands, & Cape Verde. Some ocean liners will stop in the Canary or Cape Verde Islands on trans-Atlantic crossings or in South Africa, Madagascar, Zanzibar, the Seychelles, or Mauritius on round-the-world trips.
Elsewhere is Africa, cruises are limited to luxury or 'boutique' cruise lines often aboard small vessels and quite expensive or "freighter cruises" which do not offer much to "passengers" but may spend a few days in a handful of ports. Grimaldi Freighter Cruises, , has weekly departures to West Africa making the round-trip from Amsterdam in 38 days.
The Seychelles, Reunion, & Mauritius are popular destinations for yachts and private vessels, but piracy around the Horn of Africa has kept a lot of the European vessels away.
For a truly unique experience, take the RMS St Helena  from the UK to Cape Town via St Helena-one of the world's most remote islands!
Visa Policy differs country by country. There are currently four customs unions in effect in Africa:
There are a number of reliable airlines that ply the African Continent. Chief among them are certainly:
There are also many airlines which are noteworthy in particular regions, such as TAAG Angola Airlines (South/Central Africa), Arik Air(Nigeria), Afriqiyah Airways (Central/West Africa, but their hub is in Tripoli), Royal Air Maroc (West/Central/North Africa, but hub is in Morocco), Air Mali (West Africa), Air Burkina (West Africa), Air Austral (Indian Ocean), Air Mauritius (Indian Ocean), Tunis Air (North Africa), and more. Many other African carriers offer flights to more remote locations.
Consider airline safety when flying in Africa. Although SAA, Ethiopian Airlines, & Kenya Airways all meet EU & FAA safety standards, the same isn't true for all airlines, especially smaller domestic carriers in countries where political stability may be lacking, tenuous or only recently reintroduced. Check with the EU Commision on Air Safety  for a list of airlines that do not meet their safety standards.
If you want to drive your own car around Africa see also Carnet de Passage
For sightseeing trips, it may be less expensive to hire a taxi than to rent a car, but be sure to negotiate taxi fares beforehand. Travel on rural roads can be slow and difficult in the dry season and disrupted by floods in the rainy season. If you plan on traveling in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, avoid the rainy months of May through October above the equator and the rainy months of November through April below the equator. Some roads may be flooded or washed out during these months.
Travel by car outside large towns can be dangerous. Major roads are generally well maintained but there are few divided highways in Africa. In addition, rural auto accidents are fairly common because of high speed limits and the presence of wildlife in these areas. Night driving, especially in rural areas, is not recommended, and visitors are encouraged to hire reputable tour operators for safaris or other game viewing expeditions.
Bus service is extensive in Africa and in almost all countries it is the main means of transportation for locals and tourists alike. Styles of busses and minibusses vary across the continent, refer to country pages for more info.
Many locals hitchhike in countries throughout Africa, often paying a small fee to the driver. It is best to check the political and social climate of each region before traveling.
In the whole of Africa it is possible to flag down cars and pay them a required fee and get a lift in return. That is just the way public transport works in this part of the world - he who has a means of transportation, that is a car or minibus, is automatically expected to give lifts to others and of course charge them a small amount of money for the favor. The idea of it has nothing to do with the Western idea of hitchhiking.
Some people with limited amounts of time or who would prefer not to make their own arrangements opt for the "overlander" experience. Many operators run tours in large trucks that are comfortable and equipped with facilities for around 8-30 persons. They're generally run on a pretty tight schedule and cover a lot of distance, such as "Nairobi to Johannesburg in six weeks". These tours are run throughout the whole continent but East and Southern Africa are by far the most popular destinations. Accommodation is mostly camping with tents provided. Most meals are arranged and many are prepared by those on the trip (cooking duties rotated throughout the trip), and free time (like everything else) is scheduled. However, there is plenty of time to participate in the adventure activities that certain areas of Africa are famous for such as Victoria Falls, Swakopmund, Zanzibar, and Serengeti National Park. Some people really enjoy these tours, especially when they do not have enough time to organize all travel arrangements themselves. Others loathe the very thought of traveling in a group and think that they keep you way out of touch with the "real" Africa. Whatever the case, they're a very different way to travel through Africa. The people that go on these tours tend to be young at heart and slightly adventurous; these tours are not luxury trips.
Passenger railroads in Africa are sparse and the majority are short and within one country. South Africa and Egypt are the two countries with significant passenger railroad services. There is also a handful of interconnected railroads running from Botswana through Zimbabwe & Zambia to Tanzania (which will connect to Rwanda by 2012). Morocco has two modern, fast train lines connecting most major cities. In Kenya, there is a Mombasa-Nairobi-Kisumu line which is popular for wildlife spotting. Namibia has a line running from Swakopmund to Windhoek and south to near the South African border.
There are also a handful of very old, slow trains in Africa: Wadi Halfa-Khartoum, Sudan (with a short ferry on Lake Aswan, you can continue north to Cairo); Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso-Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire; Dakar, Senegal-Bamako, Mali (stopped running summer 2009); a couple trains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and short lines in Cameroon & Gabon. The Chinese are currently building railroad lines in Angola which should open in the next few years.
For a unique experience, you can ride the longest train in the world in Mauritania in either the caboose or atop open iron ore carriages.
Where there is water, there is usually boat services to some extent. In the DRC, boats are the primary means of transportation due to the extensive network of rivers and lack/quality of roads. Some noteworthy river travels in Africa are:
Along the Niger River small, wooden pirogues varying in design from a 2 person canoe to wide, ~10 person boats with a canopy and toilet. Travelling by pirogue is slow, but the Sahelian scenery and people you meet on the boat and during stops make this a memorable African experience. Due to cataracts, pirogues on the Niger only operate in Mali & Niger
Along the Congo River large, old and often overcrowded ferries connect cities along the river in the Congo, DRC, & Central African Republic. Small boats from villages come out and moor themselves to these ferries to sell food and merchandise and the boat is a bustling marketplace of hundreds of people much of the time. Conditions aboard these ferries are poor and bearable only by the most seasoned of travellers. Talk to the captain to see if you can use one of the handful of rooms to sleep.
There is no dominant language in Africa, but if you are traveling in West or Central Africa, French will be the most useful across these nations and regions. Arabic is the dominant language in North Africa, though French is also widely spoken. English is also useful in many countries. Swahili is the most useful language in East Africa. In Ethiopia, most people speak Amharic, which is indigenous to the nation. Even if you know a blanket language like French, it is always a good idea to bring phrasebooks for the native languages. In Senegal, for example, despite being part of Francophone Africa, visitors are likely to find Wolof very useful and sometimes necessary when dealing with residents. The more you wish to interact with locals or go out of the cities, the more important it will be for you to have resources to communicate in the local African language.
Flora & Fauna
Africa is home to many famous natural wonders, from the Nile River, the world's longest river, to Victoria Falls. The continent is home to two of the world's four volcanoes with permanent lava lakes—the dramatic Mount Nyiragongo which rises hundreds of meters above Goma, DRC and Erta Ale in Ethiopia's stark Danakil Depression (the others are Mt.Erebus in Antarctica & Kilauea in Hawaii). Both volcanoes can be climbed by the adventurous tourist to stand at the rim gazing in awe at the bubbling lava below, an especially incredible sight at night!
While the continent's diverse and unique wildlife is often all that is mentioned in regards to African travel, as home to the oldest civilizations on the planet, Africa has equally impressive cultures and history. The most famous civilization on the continent, and arguably in the world, is that of ancient Egypt. From the southern city of Abu Simbel to Luxor and all the way north to Alexandria and Cairo, including the Pyramids of Giza, the only surviving of the original Seven Wonders of the World and the most iconic symbols of this ancient kingdom. Sites from the Nubian-Kushite Kingdom that broke away from Egypt can be found in Sudan, such as Gebel Barkal and many other pyramids in Meroe.
Ethiopia offers many ruins from the ancient Axumite Kingdom where the Queen of Sheba ruled. The obelisks and Dungur ruins in Axum were built prior to the kingdom's conversion to Christianity, while many other great monuments, such as the Ezana Stone and the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, where the Arc of the Covenant is said to be stored, were built after the conversion as religious sites. Other famous Christian structures built later by the kingdom's successor, the Abyssinian Empire, especially during the 12th and 13th centuries, can also be found in Lalibela.
In West Africa, structures from the ancient Mali Empire can be found in Timbuktu and Djenne. Although there are Islamic influences, the architectural style of the Malian Kingdom's mosques are still quite unique and recognizably African. The cliff dwellings in Mali's Dogon Country, built by the Dogon people, are also impressive ancient structures in Mali. Often overshadowed by Africa's other monuments, Sungbo's Eredo in Ijebu Ode, Nigeria, built by the Yoruba people, is actually the largest pre-colonial structure remaining on the continent. Today it towers over the city, covered in vegetation.
Ruins from the ancient Swahili culture can be found in the coastal areas of East Africa, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania. The Swahili structures combines elements of African architecture with Islamic architecture, which was quite prominent around the 14th century. Some of the most famous Swahili structures include the Gedi Ruins and Pillar Tombs around Malindi and Kilwa Kisiwani. Zanzibar's Stone Town features Swahili structures spanning hundreds of years from its early days to the 18th century.
In Southern Africa, the ruins of Great Zimbabwe have fascinated visitors ever since Europeans discovered them. No one had believed that the inhabitants of black Africa were capable of creating any great monuments on their own until the ruins of this ancient culture were discovered.
Roman structures are scattered throughout North Africa, with the ancient city of Carthage being the most well-known abroad. Many cities, such as Leptis Magna, Timgad, and Dougga feature Roman ruins as impressive as those in Europe itself. Many other European structures can be found throughout the continent, dating back to the earliest days of imperialism.
Africa does not have tall, jagged mountain ranges comparable to the Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, or Alps and there are very few mountains requiring technical gear. The Atlas Mountains across Morocco, Algeria, & Tunisia; the Drakensberg in South Africa & Lesotho; the Semian Mountains in Ethiopia; and the Rwenzori Mountains between Uganda & the DRC are the only considerable mountain ranges on the continent, all with numerous peaks which can be easily climbed. Additionally, there are some tall volcanoes along the Great Rift Valley, on the Indian Ocean islands, & in Cameroon. Some of the continent's most climbed or unique mountains are:
Abseiling and rock climbing can be done in many parts of Africa, with many opportunities in South Africa.
Trekking & hiking
Most of Africa's mountain ranges and highlands are suitable for trekking. The Drakensberg in South Africa & Lesotho, Ethiopian Highlands, and Mali's Dogon Country are the most popular trekking destinations in Africa and most guidebooks to these countries describe the most popular routes. In the dense jungles of the CAR & DRC treks, almost always organized, to pygmy settlements are available. Established trekking routes exist in the forests of Guinea's Fouta Djallon highlands and Cameroon.
The Aïr Massif in Niger is popular for hiking around its sand scraped rock formations and oases, usually short distances from your camel or vehicle transport. Hiking can also be done in many forests with established paths. In Uganda, Rwanda, & the adjacent DRC, hiking to see the endangered mountain gorilla is a major tourism draw, although permits are US$500 to spend hours hiking through tropical forests to spend 1 hour in close proximity to the gorillas.
There are a good number of great scuba diving sites across Africa. The Red Sea off Egypt offers clear, tranquil waters. Diving in the Indian Ocean is common off all islands and on the continent from Kenya south. Diving in South Africa is most famous for "shark dives", where divers are lowered in cages to watch sharks feed on bait, although other diving opportunities exist. Few locations inland are popular with divers; Lake Malawi—which is clear, deep and filled with unique species—is the only lake with a significant number of dive operators.
Relax on a beach
Africa has a very long coastal line with thousands of beautiful beaches as it is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
Football is the most widespread and popular sporting event with games between countries usually drawing tens of thousands of patriotic, cheering fans filling basic stadiums. Watching a football match in Africa is a must; try to dress in the colors of the home team and join the cheering celebration with your neighbors! The quadrennial African Cup of Nations (Angola in 2010) is the continent's premier championship. South Africa played host to the first African FIFA World Cup in 2010.
Rugby is played by several former British colonies in Southern & Eastern Africa.
The three easiest currencies to exchange within Africa are the Euro, US Dollar, & Pound Sterling. In some countries with a large tourism sector Australian & Canadian dollars and Japanese Yen may be exchanged at large banks and some currency exchanges, but you will receive a poor exchange rate as these currencies are uncommon and more troublesome for the banks in turn to exchange. The continent is roughly split between a blocks where the US dollar is easiest to exchange and use and where the euro is.
Due to concerns about counterfeiting, money exchangers, banks, and most likely even merchants will not accept US dollar banknotes that are worn or older than 2001. As strange as that sounds, it seems to be a steadfast rule amongst anyone dealing much in dollars and you will find it difficult or even impossible to dispose of worn or pre-2001 dollar banknotes. The same does not seem to hold true for euros, but may for other non-African currencies.
With few exceptions, African currencies are generally not accepted by banks or money changers outside their native territory, or at least not at a decent exchange rate. The currencies of some smaller countries are non-exchangeable and become worthless abroad, with some countries prohibiting export of their currencies and confiscating and even fining people leaving the country with currency (most notably the Angolan kwanza).
There are three currency unions in Africa:
Despite sharing the same name and same exchange rate (655.957 CFA francs = €1), the two "CFA franc" currencies are issued by different banks and are NOT interchangeable. A 1000 CFA franc banknote from Gabon will not be accepted by a merchant in Benin, and vica versa. Indeed, even with banks and money changers it will likely be easier (and you'll receive a better exchange rate) to exchange Euros or even US dollars. Given the fixed exchange, if visiting any of these countries, euros will receive a more favorable exchange rate.
The Mauritanian ouguiya & Malagasy ariary are the only two non-decimal currencies currently in use in the world, divided into 1/5th fractions known as khoums & iraimbilanja, respectively.
The U.S. dollar has been the de facto currency of Zimbabwe since the collapse of the Zimbabean dollar and allowance of foreign currency as tender in January 2009. The Djiboutian franc (117.721=US$1) and Eritrean nakfa (16.5=$1) are pegged to the dollar.
The U.S. dollar is the easiest currency to exchange (and may receive a better exchange rate compared to the euro) in Southern Africa and East Africa, as well as the DRC, Nigeria, & Liberia. Many tour operators, tourist attractions, and hotels in these regions set their prices in dollars, some even going as far as to offer poor exchange rates for or even refuse local currency. Also, many countries in these regions set their visa prices in dollars and will only accept dollars (or perhaps pound sterling).
The euro is the official currency of France's Mayotte & Reunion territories and Spain's Canary Islands. The West & Central African CFA francs are pegged to the euro at 655.975 (formerly, simply 100 to the French franc). The Moroccan dirham is pegged (with a fluctuation band) to the euro at roughly 10 dirhams to one euro. The Cape Verdean escudo is pegged at 110.265 to one euro and the Comoran franc is pegged at 491.9678 to one euro. The Sao Tome and Principe dobra was fixed at 24500 to 1 euro in 2010 to guarantee stability—it was worth just 12000 per euro in 2004.
The Euro is the easiest currency to exchange and receives the best exchange rate in countries whose currencies are fixed to the euro, with strong European ties, and/or where the majority of tourists are European. This generally corresponds with North Africa, the Sahel, West Africa, & Central Africa with the exceptions of Egypt, Sudan, & Ghana, neither the euro nor dollar is better, and Nigeria, the DRC, & Liberia. Due to the relevantly recent creation of the Euro and long-standing status of the dollar, beware that there are some regions of Africa where people either have never heard of the euro or will see it as worthless.
South African rand
The South African rand is an official currency and widely circulated in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, & Namibia. Although the latter three issue their own currencies, they are pegged 1:1 with the rand and are not legal tender in the other countries as is the SA rand. The rand has also been accepted in Zimbabwe since the Zimbabwean dollar's demise, but not as widely as the U.S. dollar. It is also readily exchanged (and sometimes accepted for payment) in Botswana and Mozambique as well as most of the tourist spots in Botswana and Zambia.
Trade in ivory is prohibited by nearly all countries in the world, with hefty penalties and even jail time for offenders. Many animal products (some commonly found in fetish markets) are also banned by western countries, such as tortoise shells, tusks of any animal, or any part of or item made with an endangered species. Some African countries keen on conservation will prosecute all violators to the fullest extent of the law...so be careful when purchasing animal products unless you want to spend years in an African prison. Keep in mind that even if an item may be exported from an African country it may be illegal to import into a Western country; both the EU and US have strict laws on importing animal products in the name of conservation.
Some medications which may be purchased without a prescription in Western countries or parts of Africa may contain ingredients considered illegal narcotics or controlled substances in some countries. In particular, diphenhydramine is a "controlled substance" in Zambia and several Americans have been fined and jailed on drug-trafficking charges for possession the over-the-counter allergy medicine Benadryl (elsewhere called Dimedrol) and the pain reliever Advil PM whose main active ingredient is diphenhydramine.
Drug trafficking is as common an offense as in most Western countries. The list of what substances are considered drugs varies from country to country. Beware khat which is readily grown and consumed in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa is considered a drug in most other African countries. Organized drug trafficking is a major problem in Guinea, & Guinea-Bissau en route from South America to Europe.
As with most countries, check local laws concerning antiquities before trying to leave the country with anything that appears to be over 100 years old.
Africa has a bad reputation for genocidal dictators and while most of Africa is safe for travel and nearly all tourist attractions on the continent are far from conflict, there are a few regions in which conflict and/or general lawlessness exists.
Somalia, where warlords have fought for control since the collapse of the central government in 1993, and the Central African Republic, where general lawlessness and rebels exist throughout most of the country, should only be visited by experienced travellers who are very competent regarding the dangers that exist. Otherwise, these areas should be considered no-go regions. Exceptions are Somaliland which is de facto independent and quite safe and the CAR's isolated Dzanga Sangha National Reserve.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to the second largest jungle after the Amazon and most of the country is impassable by land. The eastern and northeastern regions are home to rebels and general lawlessness and have recently been home to the bloodiest conflict since World War 2. Safe regions are the west (incl. Kinshasa), south (near Zambia border, incl. Lubumbashi), and a few spots on the border, such as Goma, Bukavu, & Virunga National Park.
The Central Sahara is host to numerous problems, notably that a growing presence (or at least impact) of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in much of Saharan Algeria, northern Mali (north of Timbuktu, east of Gao, and near the Nigerian border), and far eastern Mauritania has resulted in several kidnappings (incl. one Briton beheaded, kidnapped near the Mali-Niger border) and a couple of suicide bombings in Nouakchott. A Tuareg uprising has left much of the area around Agadez, once a popular tourist destination, off-limits and unsafe. Several borders in the Sahara are closed or very unsafe as a result of banditry: Libya-Sudan (closed), Libya-Chad (closed), Chad-Sudan (unsafe due to Darfur conflict), Chad-Niger (banditry), Libya-Niger (banditry), Mali-Algeria (no road crossings, AQIM), Algeria-Mauritania (AQIM), & Algeria-Morocco (closed).
Portions of Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Chad are home to rebels and it is important to obtain up-to-date information on which parts of these countries are safe to visit (see warnings on those pages). Nigeria has a poor reputation for conflict largely based on events 20+ years ago and, at present, only a small region around the Niger Delta is unsafe to visit. Similarly, in Sudan, only the western Darfur regions and south-central "boundary" between the conflicting North-South are dangerous.
As of February 2010, the authoritarian governments of Eritrea & Guinea have been hostile to the West following harsh condemnations of authoritarianism, massacres of civilians, & refusal of food aid. Niger had a coup in February 18 2010 and instability (especially in the capital) is possible in coming months. While it is physically safe & possible to visit these countries, beware of political unrest.
As of 2011, the states of North Africa have been swept by a wave of popular unrest, with Egypt and Tunisia experiencing revolutions and Libya descending into a civil war, and all other countries going through some sort of unrest. While travel to much the region is perfectly safe now, protests still sometimes turn violent, and travel to Libya should be avoided.
Africa can certainly be a dangerous continent just like others. Check the "stay safe" areas of the individual countries you are going to.
In most parts of Africa dangerous wildlife should be of only very minor, if any, concern at all. In some parts of East Africa and South Africa large abundances of potentially dangerous animals can be found, but the majority of the time any traveler would most likely be perfectly safe in a vehicle with their tour guide. Nonetheless, attacks and deaths do occur (rarely with foreigners, but commonly with locals) and it is best to be well-informed. Nile crocodiles can be extremely dangerous and swimming is not an option in most low-lying portions of East Africa. Lions and leopards can be dangerous, but you are unlikely to encounter them on foot unless you are being extremely foolish. Large herbivores such as elephants and rhinos can also be very dangerous if aggravated, even while in a vehicle. Venomous snakes exist and are plentiful, but are very shy and you are unlikely to even see one let alone be bitten by one. Most insects in the country are no more dangerous than what you would find in any other country, and the spiders are mostly harmless to humans. Despite all of this, easily the most dangerous non-human animal in the entire African continent is the mosquito.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of HIV and AIDS infection on Earth. A 2005 UN Report says over 25 million infected, over 7% of adults, for the continent as a whole. Be extremely cautious about any sexual activity in Africa. Especially note that the rates of HIV infection among sex workers is phenomenally high.
Bushmeat from gorillas, monkeys, chimpanzees, & mandrills should be avoided. Due to their similarity to humans, a number of diseases (including yet-undiscovered or poorly-studied ones) can be spread by consuming their flesh, especially if not heated hot enough. HIV is undoubtedly the most famous disease transmitted from primates, but others include ebola, anthrax, yellow fever, and more.