Zebra[i] Some things you might want to know in the way of backpacking, budget travel advice, tips, info and summaries for: East Africa - Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda (Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa section). n).

You can also see West, North and Southern Africa in other sections.

» It is worth looking, if you have not already, at the example layout to see the guidelines each section of information is based on - or for other travel advice and site home head for http://travelindependent.info

Africa Rasta Flag - http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?photo_id=281997What follows are only basic snap shot summaries. If you have decided these are some of the countries you want to visit and need more planning information then you are strongly recommended to complement what you find here with a planning guide. Trust us it will make life much easier. If you are set on going and need a guidebook please see a list of recommended guides here. All books can be viewed in more detail and click-through purchased with Amazon in the UK, US or Canada. Buying through the site is a big thank you (if you have been helped out), to see why click here.

>   East Africa

 * Get your bearings... show/hide map of the region

» Ethiopia

* Miss at your peril: Ethiopian Highlands and Rock Hewn Churches - 'Highlight of Independent Travel'

  • Public transport: In comparison to the GDP and other African transport, public transport is actually pretty good. Ethiopia is one of only a few countries we know of in Africa where it is illegal to stand in the aisle, thus buses don't get too crowded. Equally the practice, so typically African, of stopping every half km to pick-up or drop someone off is fairly rare. Overall buses and mini-buses are very cheap, have regularly organised breaks and overnight stops.

    The problem is not the buses or their ridiculously early departures, the bumpy roads or even the perilous mountain routes - it is quite simply the distance. Ethiopia is huge and getting around even the basic sites (including Axum) is going to take around 10 days of solid exhausting bus travel.

    Mini-buses are less common and faster than buses, generally used for shorter trips, where they can be used to 'town-hop' in order to get off the beaten track and avoid long stretches in a bus.

  • Air: Flying is by far the easiest and most efficient way of getting around Ethiopia. Even if you might prefer to travel overland and 'see' the country, buying a couple of flights for difficult legs makes a huge amount of sense and saves mountains of time. Equally by booking flights between all the main points of interest, a 3-4 week exhausting overland trip can be made into a relaxed 10-14 day short holiday.

    Ethiopian Airlines has a good domestic network (see route map) and you can get to most places of interest even if you have to make a stop-off before reaching your final destination (a change of plane is not necessary). It is impossible to comment accurately on availability of flights. Many find flights even the day before departure, but given the alternative, best advice would be to book what you need before you get to Ethiopia and if flying with Ethiopian Airlines internationally to Ethiopia, with your international ticket (for the cheapest fare).

    You can book multi-leg e-tickets with ease on the Ethiopian Airlines website, pay by credit/debit card and relax (make sure you have the credit/debit card which you booked with for presentation at your first flight). It is also impossible to comment on prices, which have been creeping up. Good value (given the distance) is the norm, but some dates and routes give crazy high prices. For the northern historical circuit, have US$250-400 in mind - but go to the Ethiopian Airlines website yourself and check some dates/routes.

  • Car Hire / Private transport: Public transport can only take you so far in Ethiopia and if you want to get off the beaten track or travel at your own speed with any comfort, you will need a car and driver. This could be as simple as hiring a car/driver to head out for an afternoon or day trip/tour, or conversely for longer to get somewhere like South Omo.

    Hiring a car and driver is not cheap by Ethiopian standards and travellers normally club together to split the cost. There are plenty of guys offering their services and if you can share between three or four then costs are manageable. If however you need a vehicle (possibly 4x4) for several days, with no one to share with then costs soon push beyond the realms of budget travel. You can be looking $100-200 USD a day.

The historic circuit

SignThe highland/historic circuit is effectively all the main 'must-see' sites and the 'standard' Ethiopian trip. This circuit which comprises of Addis to Axum and back, taking in Bahir Dar, Gonder and Lalibela on the way, can be made in a variety of orders (with little discernible price difference) via Ethiopian Air internal flights or by overland transport, or a combination of the two. However, it is important to remember that distances are huge and most road surfaces are poor.

Although using flights you can zigzag to different destinations with ease, for the sake of comparison to overland transport and simplicity, let's look at a typical clockwise route around the highlands/historic circuit:

First stop Bahir Dar, which you will find several flights per day from Addis taking an hour or so. Via bus the trip takes two (long) days (note that this is two separate days, as buses will not travel overnight and will stop for you to get a room to sleep during the night). There is now a mini-bus service, that is faster and can make the journey in one (very long day). En route there are several points of interest, but without your own transport you won't get to stop with ease.

Next stop is Gonder (note you could skip Bahir Dar completely and fly directly to Gonder from Addis) from where you can fly from Bahir Dar in no time at all. However, the road is now sealed the whole way and takes only about 3-4hours (185km), with some guesthouses in Bahir Dar arranging mini-buses for tourists.

From Gonder, north to Axum, the overland route is not so easy, taking a full (very long) day, with a change in Shire. The road is unsealed and through the heart of the Simien mountains. Note that  from Gonder the Simien mountains are accessible as a day-trip by private transport. In Axum you are a stones throw from Eritrea and over 1000km from Addis.

From Axum the next main stop is Lalibela, which is famously inaccessible. In 960 there was no road and only since 1997 can you fly in all year round; still today Lalibela is not connected to any other town by an asphalt road. By road and public transport you need two (full) days from Axum or Addis or one day from Gonder or Bahir Dar. Either way it is tough by road and with several daily flights in all directions, far from appealing.

In short making the above circuit by public transport on a bus would take 9-10 solid (waking) days, covering around 3000km! Via air (despite pointlessly long check-in times and security) 5-6 hours combined. One option is of course much cheaper and much more of an adventure than the other.

  • [book]Guide book: There is both an up-to-date Lonely Planet and Bradt guide. The Bradt guide is superior in every way and stands out alongside Philip Briggs' other guides as a cut above the rest, such is the knowledge and passion conveyed.

  • People vibe:

    • Locals: The attitude of Ethiopians to foreigners (faranj) generally takes one of three veins: indifference, friendliness or over-excitement. At a basic level, Ethiopia is a poor country and those needing to earn a living or with some level of English will want to talk to foreigners for some ends. Sometimes this can be interesting, other-times it can be quite annoying after a while. If you do find the right people and connect, you can see just how friendly, warm and welcoming Ethiopians are. The only problem is that most of those whom seem initially friendly want something. As for over-excitement this normally comes from children running after you (everywhere) and if you get anywhere even slightly of the beaten track, being a major novelty and getting a lot of attention (normally shouted comments). However as always the actions of the few make a far greater impression than the many, who like people anywhere around the world will just be trying to get on with their lives unless for some reason your paths cross.

    • Other travellers: You'll find a good mix of Europeans and North Americans. The general age of backpackers is much older than in say South East Asia and there are many middle-age independent travellers. Ethiopia is not a common destination, but since the typical route is well defined you'll come across many other tourists in certain locations and it is easy to meet interesting people. This is particularly useful for finding others to share transport with.

  • Accommodation: Finding a room in Ethiopia is pretty easy, however it helps if you are not fussy. In all the main towns on the historic circuit you can find an okay standard of cheap hotel and a few tourist (tour group) geared versions. In Lalibela and Abbas you can find an excellent standard, although with prices to match. Off the circuit you would need to accept a basic option, but even by African standards they are always very cheap and clean (spartan, cell-like with communal toilets).

    In all instances it might be the case that tourists are charged more than locals, but for an okay double room with a bathroom (outside a major holiday period), a room for US$5-15 is easily found and many places on the historic circuit are increasingly traveller geared, offering free airport pick-ups, tours and onward transport.

Visiting South Omo

It is hard to explain South Omo and its unique tribes - it is certainly very different from the rest of Ethiopia (if not the rest of the world). Located in the far south in the low lands where travel is strongly limited by seasonal factors (rain putting it virtually off limits), it is expensive and complex to visit. This is Africa how you imagined it to be (without the large game) - or at least how National Geographic led you to believe - a cultural Garden of Eden on par with very few places around the globe.

South Omo is not somewhere you can explore casually. Jinka the administrative centre is easy to get to, but to explore further you need a private safari which is normally a guide and car hired (pre-booked) out of Addis. A minimum of eight days is needed, if not more. Expect US$125-225 per day for the car, driver, cook, guide and camping gear - luxury is not an option.

The tribes, cultures and region are simply amazing and it is hard to do them justice here, however apart from the cost, a trip to the region is a lot of effort with little comfort and long journeys on bad roads. Equally tourism is catching on big time and all tribe members will want money for being photographed. While there is no reason why it is unreasonable to demand to be paid to be photographed, requested amounts can border on the unreasonable (and per photo (click)) and all lead to the slight feeling you are in a human zoo. So the jury is still out. (see 3rd party comment)

Ethiopian dates and time

Interesting, while at the same time being rather confusing, you will in the course of any travels note dates written on admission tickets and hotel check-ins, as being about seven years behind the year you are used to. Hence the phrase come to Ethiopian and be seven years younger!. The reason is that Ethiopia never adapted the Gregorian calendar (more info on Wikipedia). There are thirty days in each month with the remainder forming a 13th month. Likewise, time-keeping is also interesting, with the clock starting each day at 6 (rather than 12midnight). So 0600 in the morning translates to 12 and 0900 would be 3. Just deduct 6. It is more a point of curiosity rather than something with a significant effect on travel. Some bus departure times are quoted in local time, but Ethiopians are conscious that foreigners don't always understand their system and all official transport, like airplanes, work on the clock you will be familiar with.

"" 'Thrilled to see Ethiopia as an 8.5 - totally blew me away. Your summary is very accurate - who knows where the country's tourism industry would have been today without all those pictures we saw back in the 80s. People still can't believe there's anything to see there - until they go. I just hope that the tourist industry becomes developed in a sustainable way - very hard to balance what we term as progress with maintaining such distinct cultures. - Jason K.

"" 'I would like to add some addition​al info: Ethiopian beers are pretty good as is some Ethiopi​an music. Fasting is not just limited to Wednesdays and Fri​days - e.g., there is a 40 day fasting period leading up to Ea​ster (Fasika). Avoid eating meat off the beaten track​during fasting periods, - hotels and restaurants catering fo​r tourists in major centres are generally OK, but outside of​these treat meat dishes with caution (during the fasting per​iods). If you are going to drink water, rather stick to bott​led water. Omo tribes, - if that's your bag well go for it ​but exercise caution when choosing your tour company and avoid the rainy season. Some beautiful places : Semien - and Bale Mountains, Nech Sar. Paradise for birders.​ Access usually difficult and/or expensive (4x4). The downside is often more people and livestock than wildlife. But, the Semi​en landscape will blow you away, and the crocodiles in Lake ​Chamo (Nech Sar) are the biggest in Africa. Curios etc.: Be ​careful (VERY) about buying 'antique' religious icons/manuscript, - most are fake, and if per chance real, it's illegal ​to take them out of the country. In Aksum a number of to​uts will hassle you constantly to buy icons or Aksumite coin​s. Crime: generally you're OK. In parts of Addis minor stuf​f like pickpocketing does occur. If you take normal precauti​ons you'll be OK. Dangerous/violent crime is absent. In 5 ye​ars I've never had any hassles outside of Addis. Bus trave​l: Interesting. Selam Bus is the best but you must book in a​dvance. For bus journeys longer than 1 day, the buses stop a​t certain 'hotels' for the night. These are really "local" h​otels, but foreigners using these buses are so few and far b​etween that you usually get good service (in relative terms)​. TIP - these places mostly have communal ablutions, - try t​o be the first to use the toilet. There's no room service, b​ut you'll be safe, and woken up in the morning. All buses le​ave at very early hours, but usually stop along the way for ​brunch. The biggest hassle (in Addis) is arranging for a tax​i to pick you up and to drop you off in time to catch your b​us at 5/6 in the morning. Ethiopia Airlines internal flight​s: - usually OK and on time. Hiccups do occur though. When p​lanning your trip budget for airport time, Some spots requir​e you to check in 2 hours before take off, and then sometime​s the flight arrives late. Bole Airport (Addis Ababa): you ​can buy tourist visas here. If you're lucky it takes maybe 1​5-30 minutes but on 2 occasions it's taken me 1-1.5 hours du​e to the crowd!! TIP: The taxis outside are rip-offs. I sugg​est you book your first (and last) night at a hotel with a ​airport shuttle service. If you arrive in the daytime and you​'re up to it, ask for directions to Bole Road and walk, - ab​out 500m outside the airport there is a large bus and taxi r​ank under the flyover - you cannot miss it, - look for the b​lue and white Lada taxis there, - they'll still rip you off ​but not as badly as the taxis at the airport. GENERALLY, ​- as this site says, Ethiopia is well worth a visit. It neve​r was on my list of "places to see", - it never even occurre​d to me to go there. But, I got a job there and fell in love​with the place. Forget all the 'Time magazine' images you ma​y have in your mind. After the rains Ethiopia is painfully g​reen! There are deserts, and the Danakil is worth the effort​and expense to see, - it's probably the closest one can get​to visiting "another planet". - Many thanks to Derek Clark for sharing his knowledge and experience.


» Kenya

The Safari Circuit:


The most compelling reason to visit Kenya, is to take a safari (journey). However this is an expensive activity for the budget traveller (although cheaper than in Tanzania). Expect to pay at least US$100 per day for a safari if you hit a very good deal, however US$120+ is nearer the mark.

It goes without saying that pushing the limits of how cheap you can get a trip for, will often compromise it's quality. This sort of price will be camping, which is fine (in fact it's great) and require a full group. If you want fixed accommodation or a vehicle or a couple then you had better triple and more the per day price.

The reason for this cost being so high is that like in all parts of East Africa you pay for 1) fuel for a very long trip, 2) a guide plus a cook and 3) most importantly up to US$60 per 24 hours (more in most popular parks) for park admission (plus fees for the vehicle and camping - you can check latest rates on the KWS website). Understand that you will be expected to tip at the end of your trip and therefore will need to budget for 5-10 bucks extra a day.

Competition is fierce and any guidebook will recommend some established operators to haggle with. Perhaps the most sensible way to approach the situation is to make contact before you arrive, but if you can't, don't worry. A trip is easily arranged in Nairobi and the best deals can be secured when you team up with another group (normally trips work out cheapest when a couple has pre-booked from their home country at a premium and you turn up with flexibility and say 'I will go as well'). If you have some flexibility, there is no real reason to pre-book, since several companies offer daily departures and you would certainly be a fool to book via a company based in your home country that was listed top of the page when you did a Google search. As a final note, look at getting yourself in a Land Rover or Land Cruiser not a mini-bus and with a enough blankets for the cold Maasai Mara night's.

The most popular itineraries are out of Nairobi are for three to four day Maasai Mara only, and six to seven day trips to Maasai Mara and Samburu with an over night stop at Lake Nakuru and Mount Kenya. The latter is a highly recommended alternative to the Tanzania circuit with a great range of animals and landscapes.

Note that unless just after the rains, Samburu is typical dry dense bush as found in Southern Africa. The huge Tsavo NP (most easily accessed from the coast) is also dry and dense, so is Amboseli where iconic Kilimanjaro views cannot be anywhere near guaranteed. See Tanzania safari info in the respective section for more tips and advice.

For the record we prefer Maasai Mara to the Serengeti since operators take you closer to the action, distances are shorter, camps are better and prices are lower.

Self-drive safaris are not really an option in Kenya and are much more suited to Southern Africa, where a safari can be made much cheaper in rental cars and your own camping equipment, although don't expect to see sweeping plains, wilder beast migrations or huge numbers of predators as can be found in Kenya/Tanzania.

* Miss at your peril: Kenya or Tanzania Safari and Islands - 'Highlight of Independent Travel'


» Malawi

  • Getting around: Transport is hard work and to summarise horribly, made up of five options.

1) Government buses, should technically work on a timetable, but never seem to show on time. They are very, very slow, but more spacious than the other four wheeled choice. 2) The other four-wheeled choice are mini-buses which are the most expensive, but most practical. They leave when full (and I mean full) and travel quite fast. These buses really do get VERY crowded and things can get a little difficult with a big bag. With a big bag and recommended for general comfort is purchasing two spaces (this laughably equals one 'normal' seat) or try to get the front seats.3) Since these buses leave so full they sometimes can't pick up passengers on the way, which makes hitchhiking the only option, but do expect to pay for your ride and only travel during daylight. 4) is the Ilala ferry which operates a sort of weekly erratic service up and down the lake. FerryFavourite for getting to Cape Maclear and to islands. The ferry is again slow and gets a little boring after the second day. Comfort, security and serenity are also questionable on the first class deck. A first class cabin is okay, but hardly a bargain. Second class is only for the brave. 5) Lastly is walking, which is the only way to see some areas and get to some places, such as Livingstonia.


Not too long ago, Malawi was widely regarded to be the safest travel destination in the region. This unfortunately can no longer be said. That's not to say it should be compared to Nairobi or Jo'burg, it is just that travellers need to be alert to casual and armed theft (like anywhere else in Africa).

Crime seems to be a greater problem than in cities at popular lakeside resorts, notably Nkhata Bay and Cape Maclear. Stay alert no matter how relaxed you feel, make sure your pockets don't have valuables in whilst swimming and especially guard your possessions during a ride on the Ilala ferry.


The biggest question for most travellers in Malawi is should I swim in the lake? The obvious answer is yes, it's warm, crystal clear and everyone else seems to be doing it. However in the back of most travellers minds is the fact that the lake like many others in Africa contains Bilharzia which is a debilitating disease cause by tiny worms that digest their way through human and animal skin. Normally infected travellers suffer fewer problems than the some 200 million people worldwide with the illness, since symptoms (fever and wheezy cough) encourage them to seek prompt treatment and they are exposed to fewer parasites. It's commonly stated that 75% of those diving off Cape Maclear for only one week acquired the disease - whether the statement is true or not, it's a serious risk.

Nonetheless, virtually everyone swims or dives in the lake and you'll be told that all you need to do is be tested upon returning home (most western doctors either don't know how to take the test or will think you might die when you mention Bilharzia) and/or just buy the simple treatment (this can be quite hard to obtain in the west especially if you don't go through a doctor). So what's the answer? Well since Bilharzia is a nasty illness, a little avoidance and commonsense is wise, along with not bathing at length in high-risk areas (those with reeds where the snails that the worms live on reside). Cape Maclear has many of these reeds, the northern part of the lake in Tanzania has fewer and you will be told that Nkhata bay (the most popular resort) has none and is Bilharzia free. This is admittedly a difficult issue and you are as equally stupid if you ignore the threat of infection as if you don't go in the lake at all. Mosquito

Mosquitoes: The Lake Malawi shore's and Shire Valley are among the worst parts of Africa for Malaria, particularly in the wet season. Take care and cover up at night.


» Rwanda

  • Getting around: Transport is pretty easy between the three main destinations of (old names): Kigali - Ruhengeri - Gisenyi. Buses leave on time and are not overcrowded. For getting around in towns take a motorbike taxi.

    If you want to hire a car expect prices at around $65/day for a 4x4. This will save you the cost of getting from Ruhengeri town to the Gorilla trek HQ and to the trail head (which would cost $50-100 alone). Driving is easy and the roads are good. Driving the Congo Nile Trail needs a 4x4 and some confidence. The road is bad and check no bridges are washed out before you leave if in the rainy season. Equally the road to the trail head of a gorilla trek will be rough and steep.

    There are no passenger boats on Lake Kivu. There are good and regular bus services from Kigali to Kampala and Kigali to Bujumbura. The DRC border town of Goma is easily crossed to from Gisenyi if you have a visa in place. Gorilla viewing and volcano hikes now possible from DRC side. Permit cost is lower, but overall cost is higher.

  • Visa strategy: Available on the border or airport on arrival (although a visa on the border may only be issued for 8 days. You can apply on-line for a longer visa and bring the confirmation with you for a 30 days visa.

    If you are planning on also visiting Kenya, Uganda or re-entering Rwanda you can apply for an East African visa for $100 which will allow multiple entries for 90 days to all countries. You can get this at Kigali airport with pre-approval, but it is not clear if you can obtain on land borders.

  • Typical tourist trail: Kigali to Ruhengeri and back. Some take in Gisenyi and the most adventurous take a tent and walk/bike the Congo Nile Trail.

  • Costs: Excluding a gorilla permit US$30-40/per person per day depending on quality of accommodation.

  • Money: Use ATMs in major towns or change USD/EUR cash.

  • Guide book: Bradt best option if you need one.

  • Accommodation: Good selection in Kigali (although expensive), Ruhengeri and Gisenyi (on lake shore) - expect to pay $30-40 for decent room with hot water and private bathroom. Lower cost possible, but standards drop fast. Away from main towns, poor choice/quality.

  • Communications: Wi-Fi in hotels and data connections on pay-as-you-go local SIM cards.

Place names

Bus RwandaIt is worth noting that many cities were renamed when the administrative structure of Rwanda was re-vamped. Expect to hear both names used and on maps:

Rubavu, formerly Gisenyi (Lake Kivu resort town)
Muhanga, formerly Gitarama
Huye, formerly Butare
Karongi, formerly Kibuye
Musanze, formerly Ruhengeri (base for Gorilla viewing)


Gorilla viewing

Reserve your permit in advance on-line and wire the payment to the RDB to secure. They will send you an e-mail confirmation which you use to collect the permit in Kigali. From Kigali you take the bus to Ruhengeri (3-4hours). You can sleep in Ruhengeri and hire a private car (~$50) for the 20min drive to the park HQ (15km) for 0700 on the day of your trip (look for others to share cost). Or you can [the day before] take a motorbike taxi to the Kinigi junction just outside town and take a mini bus from there (or ask a taxi/motorbike to take you all the way) and stay at the Kinigi Guesthouse in stunning countryside and walk to the HQ (5mins) for your trek. You do not need a tour - it is easy to arrange yourself.

At the park HQ at 0700 on the day of your trip up to 80 people will assembly drink tea/coffee and get split into groups of 6-8 going to different parts of the park. If you want to see a particular group tell the guides when you sign in. All treks start away from the park HQ at the end of a bumpy track and you need to find someone in your group to give you a lift, use your own car or pay for a ride (need 4x4).

The gorilla's would have been pre-located and a hike to them takes 45min to a few hours. It is up hill, but not too strenuous. You need covered footwear and clothing that covers your arms and legs (some plants sting), but don't need to go crazy on outdoor gear. You will probably be back at 1400-1600.

See Gorilla viewing section in the Uganda summary for general info and other options.


» Tanzania

  • Intro: Tanzania often comes out in reports from travellers as their favourite country in East Africa and sometimes Africa and it's easy to see why. In fact you could just reduce the country to a list of statistics: Africa's highest mountain, largest game reserve and three largest lakes. It is also the only East African country most travellers get to.

KilimanjaroJust some of the evocative names say it all: Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, Lake Victoria and of course the Ngorongoro Crater - but these are not the all and even if they draw the visitors they (since these attractions are very popular with fly in visitors and very expensive) are not reason most rate the country so highly.

Tanzania really does embody the African tourist dream and being such a large country, it's the ability and ease to get off the beaten track and meet some beautiful people in some beautiful places that is as much, if not more of a highlight than any of the instantly recognisable names mentioned above.

Come on a two week trip or flash through and you will see (with a lot of money at your disposal) some of the prime attractions Africa has to offer and go home content. Come on a three/four week trip, still visit some big attractions, but also put up with some basic accommodation/transport to get miles from it all (virtually anywhere south of the Dar - Mwanza railway line is miles from any beaten tourist track) and you will like most come to believe that far from being overrated, this is the most underrated country in the region.

  • Highlights: Many of Tanzania's highlights are heavily touristed and very expensive by regional standards to see, but nonetheless very impressive. Mentioned are most of the big draw cards* in the introduction.

    Also worth noting is just how beautiful and how good walking is in the south of the country, in particular Tukuyu and the Usambara mountains. Not mentioned above and highly rated are Lake Manyara NP a gem in the northern safari circuit plus Mount Meru, an underrated (and better), cheaper alternative than Kilimanjaro.

  • Lowlights: Tourist density and accompanying touts in Zanzibar, Moshi (Kilimanjaro) and Arusha (Northern safari circuit). Off the beaten track: roads, accommodation and English spoken all start to decline dramatically. Crappy camping sites and 'production line' safaris and Killi climbs.

    Of note is safari operators are not allowed to drive off tracks in national parks, meaning that you don't always get that close to wildlife. Whereas in Kenya in the Maasai Mara (technically part of Serengeti) operators will take you so close to the action you might be worried you will run over the lions tail! For this reason (and others) we prefer savanna game viewing in Kenya to Tanzania.

Organising a Northern Safari:

There must be over a hundred safari companies operating out of Arusha and as you would imagine competition is cut-throat. Of course you get several bad apples among lots of good operators. You would imagine it's budget travellers who get caught out the most by these 'bad apple' out-fits as it is they who try to drive prices down the most. At time of writing the cheapest rate per day was around US$150-180 and you can safely assume that if you get offered much lower than this, something's amiss.

At the budget end accommodation is in tents (which is fine, although many campsites are inferior to other popular parks in Africa). Understand that a good part of several days will be spent on (poor) roads. For this reason, longer safaris seem better value as durations are normally for three to six days. Five, six or (better) seven days would take in Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Manyara and Tarangire while a typical three days takes in all these reserves apart from the Serengeti. A five day safari, would drop either Serengeti or Tarangire. To visit all four reserves you really need six if not seven days or use a short flight. See a sample itinerary, or the (recommended) company: www.basecamptanzania.com

This is safari central and you can expect lots of other tourist/jeeps at almost every point of your safari. The key to great safari is ultimately your guide/driver and luck. Both are quite random. The very cheapest deals can means the highest risk, but not always. Best advice is to give yourself a few days in Arusha, use your commonsense and have a few conversations around town. You can ask the tourist office about blacklisted outfits, but operators can always operate under another name. It is also worth noting that many touts are skilled manipulators, and often pressure you into a decision by making you feel you have a one-off deal. Arriving by bus you'll get met by many touts and although they are great to find you a room, it is well worth saying you have already been on safari. If there are only two of you try and team up with another pair or your tour will cost about 50% extra and if put into a group by an agency, then it will be the choice of the operator not yours.

[book]The 'walk-in' safari industry in Arusha has much reduced in recent years and is smaller in volume than Kenya where budget travellers normally head. All guidebooks (the one pictured left being the best) have recommendations, but be warned many companies in Tanzania are NOT geared for budget safaris; don't offer camping or want to mix groups. If you are on a budget and can resist the exotic names, we think you are better off in Kenya (during low season) where camping is better and prices cheaper. Final note, as with anything, it always pays to ask for a discount, especially when things look slow. See Kenya safari info for more tips and advice.

Note that high costs reflect park entry fees which the government keeps on increasing, you can check latest prices here.

  • Hot/cold, wet and dry: Generally speaking like most of East Africa, Tanzania has a tropical climate along the coast but it gets temperate in the highlands. April to mid-May you will find long periods of rain (Green Season); Nov – Dec you will find short periods of rain. In the south, west and south-west there is only one rainy season between December and April. The warm Tanzanian summer lasts from mid-December till March, roughly corresponding with the rainy period of the south, west, and central region of the country. Winter, from June to October, is dry and cold across the country. The range of temperatures is fairly limited and always very warm to hot, ranging from 25 to 30 degrees C on the coast while the rest of the country apart from the highlands run from 22 to 27 degrees C. It goes without saying that if you plan to climb a mountain you will need warm clothing, that you will have very little use for elsewhere. Nights on the NGO crater rim or anywhere above 1750 metres will require a light fleece or other extra clothing. And on Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru the night time temperatures will drop well below zero once you get above 3500 metres.

Getting Around

Due to recent elections, the current government is spending a good deal of money on roads. The Dar-es-Salaam - Morogoro road has improved a greatly over the past few years, and they are extending it down to Mikumi. The Dar-es-Salaam - Arusha road shows signs of imminent construction, but that could mean anything - but still absolutely nothing is being done. The road is getting thinner and thinner which makes for some terrifying trips. A Japanese NGO has built 'the nicest road in Tanzania', which replaces the gravel/old road to Ngorogoro crater. Good surfaced roads and quick buses connect Dar-es-Salaam to Arusha, Moshi, Tanga, Morogoro and Dodoma. The road from Dar-es-Salaam to Mbeya is okayish, but most other roads are quite bad (if improving), but all roads are normally always serviced by buses. However, as with elsewhere in Africa the concept of a full vehicle simply isn't recognised!

Buses: Care should be taken in choosing a reputable bus company. Many buses are ancient, and go way too fast. Royal coach is the best for Dar-es-Salaam - Arusha (new company, new buses, 80kph all the way), or if your're in a hurry, 'Dar-es-Salaam express' (they've recently purchased a fleet of new buses and run many each day). Scandinavia coach line is a good bet for all over Tanzania (there are others: Dar Express, Royal and Akamba, Tawfig Buses). On the popular routes between Nairobi, Arusha and Moshi see: www.riverside-shuttle.com

For general travel and shorter distances between towns transport is better in a dalla-dalla (mini-bus). Dalla-dallas are privately owned and usually crammed, travelling along set routes (disembark wherever you want). They are cheap and a perfect 'African experience'.

Trains: There are two train companies in Tanzania, TAZARA, and the Tanzania Railway Corps TAZARA is nicer, and very safe, but the trains only go from Dar-es-Salaam south, to Mbeya, then into Zambia, to a place called 'Komperi mposhi' (sp), about 2 - 3 hours from Lusaka. Visas are available on the train. Tanzania railroads trains go west. Muggings on trains are not unknown, even when sticking close to locals. Travellers should be warned to bring a chain lock to tie their baggage in the cabins, and to keep the window locked (Tanzania railway, provides you with a wooden wedge for this), especially when going through Morogoro, and out by the lake. These trains are certainly not known for punctuality, and should not be relied on if time is critical. First class is comfortable (although different sexes maybe split (book with other travellers to share the carriage)).

Air: The main domestic airline is Precision Air and Air Excel also operates between Dar es Salam; Zanzibar; Arusha and Dodoma. Websites have all details, but booking is tough (frustrating) on-line.


Kilimanjaro and others: Kilimanjaro is one of the most famous symbols of Africa and the highest mountain on the planet able to be climbed with no mountaineering skills (basically an up-hill slog taking about 4-6 days with no 'technical' climbing - although some would argue Aconcagua which is higher does not require 'technical climbing, although you get a lot more ice). The challenge and iconic status Kilimanjaro presents is lost on only a few and even fewer resist it's lure and end up going for the climb. Of which certainly a proportion regret - since Kilimanjaro is in reality not just a walk and although there is nothing technical about the ascent, it is a very expensive, very hard and arduous climb even for those who are fit and experienced (ability to handle attitude helps more than fitness and better to have an extra day to alclimities than be fitter). On completion many less travellers regret the overall experience (but few would say they would repeat it), however the reality is not everyone even makes it to the top and those that do (especially on the shorter trips find the last day very, very tough).

Mount Kilimanjaro, TanzaniaThe most daunting factor for many is not the energy needed for the climb, but the cost of the whole thing, starting at about US$1000 and normally ending up at a lot more (up to US$2000 inc. trips) - note this price includes new park fees and rates porters/cooks/guides must earn, so if you see cheaper elsewhere on the net they likely don't. The reality of the matter is that government parks fees increased dramatically in the last few years. These fees are priced per day and night in the park so depending on how long you take varies the price, but at something like US$60 per day plus camping and plus rescue insurance fees, most end up paying hundreds of US$ in fees alone. This is terrible value and really doesn't offer good value considering all the amazing thing to do on the continent. You could find guys who will take you for about a hundred bucks less than most quoted price, but Kilimanjaro is not to be taken likely and the risks of doing so are considerable. If you just can't afford it, don't lose too much sleep or head north and climb the far prettier Mount Kenya or Meru close by. The mountain is cold and the sun harsh. In addition at certain times of the year it can be wet. Most of the equipment you need will be supplied or can be hired in Moshi, although it is advisable to bring a few of the essential items yourself to ensure good quality.

Far less popular is Mount Meru (the fifth highest mountain in Africa) and rated by many to be a much better option than Kilimanjaro. It's a shorter (2-3 days), much cheaper, less tramped and certainly prettier climb (Kilimanjaro is quite ugly in places). Highly recommended over Killi.

Getting to Zanzibar

There are several ferries that ply between Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar, these seem to take turns each going once a day (so normally three trips daily - no real need to book). All these ferries charge around US$35 - 40 for tourists and much less to locals. This is blatant tourist pricing, but there is nothing you can do about it. Ferries are okay (despite one sinking in 2011), but can be rough and night trips are best avoided, but a little cheaper. However, another option is to fly, with many travel agencies offering flights (15 minutes) including transportation at both ends for not too much more than a ferry ticket.

There are numerous travel agencies around Dar-es-Salaam which can also arrange travel. On Zanzibar, the Precision Air offices are downtown in Stone Town. The night ferry from Zanzibar to Dar-es-Salaam (there isn't normally one the other way), is quite comfortable in first class (the only class as a tourist you're allowed). Get there early to get a whole couch to lie on. This ferry is cheapish, and saves you from needing a hotel. Just try not to use the bathrooms!

* Miss at your peril: Kenya or Tanzania Safari and Islands - 'Highlight of Independent Travel'


» Uganda

Uganda's great benefit as a destination is its compact travel circuit and lush landscapes. Those that expect big game viewing on par with Kenya, Tanzania or even Zambia will be very much disappointed. However the draw cards in Uganda are monkeys and apes, which can be viewed with little effort (although with varying price tags ranging up to spectacular for the mountain gorillas that Uganda is famous for).

A current favourite with volunteers and NGO projects, Uganda - although yet to completely recover from the international image formed by the well-known reigns of terror of Idi Amin and Milton Obote - is in fact one of the safer countries in the region and although this is still Africa and you need to always expect problems, it is easy to be disarmed by the real treat of the friendliness of ordinary Ugandans most of whom are happy to talk to you. Furthermore widespread English means fascinating windows into African life can be gained from local newspapers or striking up conversations with total strangers on buses, most of whom although a little hard to understand are happy to talk to you.

Unfortunately where the country has so much going for it as a destination, the problem for many travellers looking to stretch their funds is costs. Being one of Africa's fastest growing economy's has certainly pushed up prices and equally the price of fuel (which is imported on terrible roads through Kenya and despite large oil discoveries in the country) remains more expensive than in most of the western world). However the main cause of significant [travel] expense is the proliferation - as in neighbouring countries - of foreigner pricing. Quite simply almost every notable attraction (the point of the source of the Nile for example) has an official price attached to it that is different for a foreigner than a local, of which the foreigner price is often above a comparable level to that of the developed world and at a level where anyone on a reasonable budget would struggle to accommodate. Gorilla trekking permits aside (which are the most costly and debatably understandably so), national park fees are actually slightly less than Kenya or Tanzania, (however in fairness Uganda's national parks do not hold a candle to those of Kenya and Tanzania and should thus be cheaper). However national park entry and access is still expensive and lastly almost everything that is worth seeing has a 10 to 20 fold price increase for foreigners over Ugandans - not all justifiably so. This 'problem/issue' is not new or uncommon to the region and not without merits in cases, nevertheless its extension in Uganda to almost all attractions and the widespread belief that all whites are so rich the extra cost is a drop in the ocean, means those on really tight budgets should be warned.

White water rafting on the White Nile

White water rafting, although priced at international levels is one of the most popular activities in Uganda. The Victoria Nile just outside Jinga offers some of the best and most accessible rafting in the world, on par with the Zambezi River by Vic Falls and the Rio Futaleufú in Chile (although not to directly compare with either, as the experience and scenery is quite different). There are several grade 5 rapids, but with little danger of hitting a rock or being underwater too long, due to many long flat stretches of water between rapids.

It is not easy to describe white water rafting on the Nile because since companies (Adrift was the first, NRE came latter) started operating back in 1996 the 'experience' has changed as the water level has changed due to the construction of dams. The effect of these dams has been to raise the water level and cause some of the better rapids (the amazing 'silver back' for example will probably be history by the time you read this) to disappear. However, even with the new big dam you can still raft, only the route has been pushed further down the Nile from Jinga.

Several companies run the route, all with daily departures and no need to book ahead, even in July and August with close to 400 people rafting each day you can find a spot. There are several international companies that offer the standard day trip for around US$125 and often an African run competitor with a much lower price. The standard of operation and safety from the international companies is excellent, but that of the African (local) outfit(s) is questionable. There is a good discount offered on repeat trips within a few months of an initial trip and often a bed for the night and a meal/beer after the trip is included in the price. Some companies pickup and drop off in Kampala making it an easy day trip from the capital.

No one should be overly worried about enjoying rafting as safety records are excellent and you can pass or take an easy route on any of the big rapids. However you must be prepared not to panic in the event you leave the raft on a big rapid since you will likely go under, and stay under for a little while. It is worth noting that probably contact lenses won't stay in and sun block definitely won't stay on - so cover up. You'll raft barefoot and need no special equipment.

The rapids all have various names such as 'overtime', 'the dead Dutchman' and 'Kula Shaka' and guides are only too happy to build the suspense and anxiety before each rapid, while those rafting from overland trucks will whoop and compare grades 3, 4 or 5 rapids in a cringe-worthy fashion. Either way and despite the cost, if you can afford it, rafting on the White Nile (also known as the Victoria Nile) remains one of the most enjoyable activities in Africa and the sooner you do it the better as one day soon the new Nile dam will change it forever.

Gorilla Trekking in East Africa

Few would pass up the chance to see a mountain Gorilla (for low land head to Nigeria) in its natural habitat, but most do pass up the opportunity due to the practicality and costs involved in doing so.

Gorillas can be tracked in four different parks in three different countries; in all you need a permit  - of which only a limited amount are available each day - and to part with a significant chunk of change.

  • Bwindi National Park (Uganda): Gorilla trekking US$600 (2015) plus park entry (cUS$20 per 24hr) - there may be reduced prices for some off-season months. Six permits issued for any given day to be booked in advance through UWA in Kampala. No standby permits and unfortunately most permits are booked months in advance by organised tours.

  • Mgahinga National Park (Uganda): Costs as above, however habituated gorillas (gorillas use to people) spend only part of the year in the park (typically Mar-May and Sep-Dec), most tours don't use the park due to unpredictability and the UWA only sells permits on-site.

  • Parc des Virungas (DR Congo): Gorilla trekking US$465 (2015), park entry free. Now open, one hour from Goma (4-5 from Kigali (less time on border)). Getting a DRC visa can be the main pain. http://visitvirunga.org/

  • Parc des Volcans (Rwanda): Gorilla trekking US$750 (2015), park entry free (it seems to increase every year!), but car hire from Ruhengeri town to the car park at the base of mountain can cost anything from US$50-100. This park is the new favourite since re-opening in 1999 and used by most over-land tours. Up to 32 permits (four groups of eight) are available daily. As of 2000-2005 you could find free permits on most days, however now it is normally booked up several weeks in advance. Permits can be booked in advance through ORTPN in Kigali or in the ORTPN office in Ruhengeri. We just e-mailed, reserved and wired the money.

For your US$750 you get effectively 1 hour. That is one hour with a group of gorillas at close proximity and anything from a 20min to 4 hour hike to find the group. And of course nothing is guaranteed. Due to the cost and hassle of getting the permit, few independent travellers get to see the gorillas and most that do are on organised tours, or with overland buses that take the hassle out of getting there and the permits. Under the circumstances a cheaper option for a flavour of the experience would be chimpanzee viewing or trek in the Virunga mountains at around a tenth of the price (although Chimps flee and Gorillas stay still).


Remember, this is only a take (an overview if you will); very few get the chance to see every inch of every country or have the time to get everyone's opinion (you are welcome and encouraged to mail in yours).

M Please, please if you have been anywhere recently send your comments to contribute and help keep all information fresh for future travellers. Or if you are about to head off remember this site when you return and put a few lines in an e-mail to let us know if things have changed.

"The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory."

Paul Fix

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