Africa: Guides & Reading

Africa is bigger than China, the USA, India and Japan combined - so there is a lot to cover for any guide. The continent also throws up more great reads than expected. Here are a few of the best.

Africa With something like fifty countries it's difficult to recommend guides without breaking the continent down into different regions. These regions are generally visited independently, the North, West, South and East (South and East sometimes combined) and since most of these regions are not frequently visited, the number of good guides is far and few between. One guide (Lonely Planet's: Africa on a shoestring) aims to cover all of Africa's countries and is laughable in doing it, so avoid it like the plague. However, saying that if you take say two of the traditional routes of Morocco to Ghana or Cairo to Cape Town, you can see why many go for this option as no other guide comes close to covering the countries needed, in one hit. If you need info from this book just photocopy the pages needed and get a real guide for the rest.

In North Africa because travelling right across the region is difficult, it's best to stick to single country guides especially considering the level of interest in countries like Egypt. In West Africa, both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide have a guide for the whole region, the new version of the Rough Guide reads much better and is more up-to-date than the LP (which is still quite good). For single country guides in this region your choices are limited to only the most popular destinations or the very good (but a little out dated) Bradt guidebooks. Some of the best fiction comes from this region.

Africa Both Kenya and Tanzania are relatively highly visited. Both have good single country guides and are covered (including Uganda and Rwanda) by the excellent Footprint: East Africa. The Lonely Planet regional guide in this region is quite poor. A problem then arises when you continue to Malawi and on to Victoria Falls where you will need a Southern Africa regional guidebook. If there is ever an opportunity to step away from the big boys of guide books, it's here. Bradt's East and Southern Africa: A backpacker's manual, is one of the best guides around and one of only a few written especially for budget travellers. It covers a trip from Nairobi to Cape Town, but when you get to South Africa you might want to pick up a new guide for this large country if you are spending a while here. Miss out on this guide at your peril. Philip Briggs the author of this title has guides out for many other African countries, all of which are highly recommended, but a little out of date (don't let this worry you).

Into Southern Africa, there are many choices for all major countries, particularly South Africa. Let's Go: South Africa is by far the best regional guide in this area (it covers the whole of Southern Africa). Footprint guidebooks are okay, but not at their best. As always, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide have the best offering for the likes of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Understandably, updates on Zimbabwe guides or sections in guides are not frequent at this time and things are changing.

Africa Rasta Flag - http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?photo_id=281997As for reading there are a number of very good books that you might like to read. The ones recommended on this page are a wonderful introduction into understanding the soul that lies behind Africa.

Read more reviews, get info and of course buy any book on this page. Remember the beauty of Amazon is that you can buy books for research and send them back when you are done or if they don't fit what you require.

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Click here to learn more about the various different publishers of guidebooks: their strengths, weaknesses and general background.

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Read This First: Africa -Mary Fitzpatrick

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Out of print - look for second hand copies. Great intro and break down of the 'where to go' question in a continent of over 50 countries. Great intro and break down to the 'where to go' question in a continent of over 50 countries. This book gives a detailed description of how to go about planning any trip (regardless of continent), then describes the joys and problems of Africa (culture, health, etc). And THEN it provides a few pages describing each country - what's good to see, visa requirements, and so on. It even provides suggested itineraries, highlights and a map. Basically, it's what you need to know about a country in order for you to decide whether you research a place in depth or consign it to the "not going there" pile. It doesn't try to put you off, it just tells it to you straight, and allows you to make your own mind up.

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The Rough Guide to First-Time Africa - Jens Finke

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

New Rough Guide offering. Packed with essential information, this pre-trip guide makes the preparations easy. Practical tips and a comprehensive profiles of 41 countries, including details of the main attractions and when to go.

Published: February 2011

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Sahara Overland: A Route and Planning Guide - Chris Scott

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

If you are overlanding North Africa, buy this book. Pure and simple. The GPS references alone make it worth buying. Things have changed, but the web updates more than make up for this. There is also an extensive introductory part dealing with vehicle preparation, desert driving, etc, that provides a host of information for the saharan beginner. Of course it is advisable, driving on one of the described routes, to take information from other guidebooks and ask for the most up to date conditions, including security and mines in some sensitive areas.

Published: 2nd edition (November, 2004)

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Africa Overland: 4x4 Motorbike, Bicycle, Truck - Sian Pritchard-Jones & Bob Gibbons

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

A Bradt book, this fifth edition gives updated information on each country's political and security situation (Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia are on the up; since this guide's last edition, security in Western Sudan and Eastern Chad has turned sour); provide an expanded Route Outlines section including information on border crossings; and offer revised recommendations on vehicles including practical coverage on buying a vehicle, maintenance and driving. Not for everyone, but authors do a great job of presenting an overview to planning and undertaking an overland African trip. They assume the reader has a decent degree of common sense and independence and point the would-be traveller in all right directions without producing that 'hand-holding' feeling.

Published: 5th edition (April, 2009)

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The Rough Guide to West Africa - Richard Trillo

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

At the moment, there are two main contenders on the market with comparable books on West Africa: Rough Guide and Lonely Planet. Neither is perfect. Rough Guide feels a bit more professionally-made, and has been made on a bigger budget too, but it suffers from terminally boring writing style. This RG does not offer the same level of self-righteous (and often annoying) rhetoric. However, on balance, the LP is maybe better researched and more accurate, and also less bulky. If you have plenty of luggage allowance and money's no object, buy both, otherwise, stick with Lonely Planet. 

Published: 5th edition (June, 2008)

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Lonely Planet: West Africa - Alex Newton

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

New style LP for West Africa, as usual the LP is full of details from the best hotels in small towns to bus schedules. The only weak point is the limited amount of information on regional cultural differences or history (Rough Guide is better), which is probably caused by the number of countries covered. Unlike many other regions in the world where LP's down fall is its over use, in West Africa there are just not that many travellers.

Published: 8th edition (October, 2013)

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Bradt Travel Guide: Ghana - Philip Briggs

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Not a particularly striking guidebook, but does the job more efficiently and comprehensively than the slim sections in West Africa guides, which are about the only alternative. This new third edition should be good. Of course, there are discrepancies and errors, plus the layout takes a while to get used to. But basically, a guidebook is a guidebook, and this one targets the independent and adventurous traveller, and gives them almost all the information they need to know - its recommendations are usually right on the nose. Also, the free e-mail update included is invaluable.

Published: 4th edition (February 2014)

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Lonely Planet: Gambia and Senegal - Andrew Burke

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

This is a comprehensive summary of most of what the independent traveller will need. It is particularly good on the cultural history and ethnic makeup of The Gambia, but is also packed full of essential information, right down to the names and likely locations of individual money-changers. If only travelling to the Gambia, try the better Bradt guide ISBN 1841621374.

Published: 4th edition (September 2009)
 

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Lonely Planet: Morocco - Bradley Mayhew

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

As usual with LP guides, their strength lies in detailing the essentials - where to go, how to get there, where to find a bed for the night etc. In these areas it's excellent. It's *not* so strong on the history and cultural details of places (something I personally think Rough Guides are much better at), so if you're not moving around much and want detailed histories of places, this might not be the best guide for you. If however you need to move around and 'live' in the country for more than a few days, you won't be disappointed. Found RG, found maps and other essentials to be inferior to this LP. 

Published: 11th edition (September 2014)

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The Rough Guide to Egypt - Dan Richardson

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

We have seen many an Egypt guide and can say that this RG is by far the best, informative and succinct guide. The information is thorough, measured and as accurate as it possibly can be. The style of writing has an innate humour and could only have come from one who knows Egypt, its people and its quirks. This edition (5th) has improved on its detailing of places to stay.

Published: 7th edition (February 2013)

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Footprint Egypt - Vanessa Betts

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

An excellent guide, but the RG will provide the most easy reading and down to earth guide. However is you want all and I mean ALL the details on everything then consider this Footprint.

Footprint now seems to focus on small sections of Egypt in different books with more upto date titles for Cairo, Luxor and the Red Sea.

Published: 9th edition (May 2011)

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East & Southern Africa: The Backpacker's Manual - Philip Briggs

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

It doesn't matter that this seems a little out of date. This is an excellent guide. Here, in one volume, are the countries most often visited by first-time Africa travellers: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. No other guidebook writer knows these countries better than Philip. No one else so ably combines a personal "voice" with meticulous on-the-ground research to help backpackers on a tight budget enjoy their trip to the full. Forget all the rest, give this a try.

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Lonely Planet: East Africa - Various

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Covers: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Not Ethiopia. New style LP, not too bad a guide and up-to-date over the 2002 Footprint, just very LP in style and not as comprehensive as the Footprint.

Published: 10th edition (August 2015)

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Malawi: The Bradt Travel Guide - Philip Briggs

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Many will prefer the Lonely Planet: Malawi/Zambia which is a more detailed guide in some respects, but I like Philip Briggs guides very much and are therefore recommending it here for anyone who really wants to understand Malawi and its pain/hope.

Published: 6th edition (April 2013)

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Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel Guide - Philip Briggs

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Phil Briggs is one of the best guidebook writers out there and he know Ethiopia like few others. As good as a guide book you will come across for any country. Not only is it highly informative, dependable and up to date, as you would expect, but it is also very readable. Phillip Briggs' writing style demonstrates a real affection for the country and great commonsense lacking in other guides (LPs). This is the most comprehensive, thorough and reliable guide you will find.

Published: 7th edition (December 2015)

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The Rough Guide South Africa - Various

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

South Africa is one of our favourite countries and I have always thought this (and other Rough Guides) to be the best read, guide and planning tool rolled into one. If you are hiring a car it is perfect. If you are on the Baz Bus, the LP might be better. Covers Lesotho and Swaziland too. Currently the most up-to-date guide, now in its 4th edition, this Rough Guide has been fully updated and revised. Its 16-page full-colour section introduces the author's highlights, from the mysterious Drakensberg mountains to the wine lands of the western cape, to whale watching on the southern Cape Coast and pony trekking in Lesotho.

Published: 7th edition (March 2015)

Footprint South Africa - Lizzie Williams and Francisca Kellet

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Published: 11th edition (October 2012)

Lonely Planet South Africa - Francisca Kellett

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Published: (December 2015)

Not the best choices. Despite quality information, Footprint in particular seems poorly put together and scatty in places, but 2009 version is much better. RG still the favourite.

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Lonely Planet: Southern Africa - Alan Murphy

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

This is better than other Lonely Planets for the region. Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe. The info is up to date and pretty accurate and the maps and accommodation very handy as always. I believe that the Namibia section has received a good overhaul of some very thorough research (lacking in other books).

Published: 6th edition (September 2013)

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Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa - Jason Stearns

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

The DR Congo is not featured on this website, but such is the brilliance of this title it required a 'highly recommended'. It is quite simply a magnificent achievement. It not only offers the clearest explanations but also the most compelling narrative of how and why the Congo has become such a tragic land., but does so with a page turning narrative. Part tradegy, part comedy, part horror. Well worth a read if you care about the DRC and indeed Africa.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight - Alexandra Fuller

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

The vivid imagery makes you feel you can jump into the pages and become part of the story. You see, hear, smell and taste Africa. The Rhodesian/Zimbabwe War of Independence somehow seems more stark and chilling when seen through the perspective of a child, as does living under the dictatorship of Life President Dr. Hastings Banda in Malawi. It is also funny and sad and cannot be recommended highly enough.

Comment 'One of the best books ever is "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: an African Childhood" by Alexandra Fuller. It is an autobiographical account of an English girl growing up on various farms in Rhodesia, Zambia, Malawi in the 70s and 80s. Check it out and add it to your 'must read' list! - Bonnie

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Cry, The Beloved Country - Alan Paton

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

First published in 1948, Cry, The Beloved Country addresses the problem of race relations in South Africa with the scrupulousness of a historian and the sensitivity of a poet. It stands as the single most important novel in twentieth-century South African literature. Set in the city of Johannesburg, a father seeks his delinquent son. His search takes him through a labyrinth of murder, prostitution, racial hatred and, ultimately, reconciliation. The plot is awesome and the pace of the story is fast moving. Also a movie.

The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay

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:-) Highly Recommended

A masterful plot, which at times is heart wrenching. Based in South Africa, The Power of One tells the story of a young boy in the 1940s growing into adulthood with one focused ambition to become the world boxing champion. T You will fall in love with Peekay right from the beginning. His trials through life in the book will bring you both tears and laughter. A tale from the heart of sadness, courage and discrimination in the heart of South Africa -The Power of One is a great book.
 

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Heart of Darkness: White Cargo Diary - Joseph Conrad

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Right from the opening paragraph it is obvious that this book is going to be special. Conrad's Polish background gives his use of language a robust economical style, and he often conjures powerful vivid images in two or three words. The world around the character, in particular the jungle, seems to be more than just a backdrop. People enter the jungle and are swallowed up as if it is a living malignant force, but as you progress you realise that it is the Europeans who are the real source of darkness. A must read for anyone interested in Africa.

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

This is a social document, recounting the impact of colonialism and Christianity on the life of the Ibo tribe in turn-of-the-century Nigeria. A must have for anyone interested in Africa, it will help greatly in an understanding African culture and beliefs. It's also a masterpiece. If you like this also try: A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

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Dark Star Safari : Overland from Cairo to Capetown - Paul Theroux

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

This had the potential to be an excellent book, but it's ruined by the attitude of the author. Theroux's primary aim seems to be to shock, painting a very dark picture of how messed up Africa is. It's a very cynical book; he is very critical of governments and especially aid agencies ("agents of virtue"). The only positive remarks he makes are those concerning the beauty of the African landscape. This may be accurate, if one sided, but Theroux is also pompous and pretentious. He belittles "tourists" (making it clear that he himself is a "traveller") and people who go on organised safaris in Kenya. At one point he says people who take short vacations (as opposed to months traversing entire continents I suppose) are doing it "to feel foreign", but there's an amusing irony when he has to fly from Cairo to Khartoum after saying that he dislikes the way people fly to places instead of travelling overland from A to B. I found all this really annoying, but it must be said that the book offers a fascinating and enjoyable account of the culture, history and the people of Africa, and there are many interesting and enlightening chats with local people giving an insight into life in Africa. If only it wasn't written by such an old-fashioned writer.

China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa - Howard W. French

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Half travelogue, half ponderance on how China cosied up to African politicians. If you visit Africa you can't help but notice Chinese everywhere. More than 1m Chinese migrants have moved to Africa; they work on big projects and stay on, more for the money than out of ideology. This book looks at how, why and what across a number of different countries. The book is an entertaining personal travelogue attempting to provide analysis on the theme based on a string of analogies.

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Out of Africa - Karen Blixen

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

'Out Of Africa' is a marvelous account of Karen Blixen's time running a coffee plantation in Kenya. The enchanting prose in which this 'novel' is written laments the intense love for Africa, its places and people that through a woven, progressive and sometimes heart-rendering narrative, Blixen so beautifully portrays. Blixen's interaction with the Kikuyu tribe lends a unique perspective (in terms of the period in which this novel was written) of a young imperialist white woman and the way she deals with the natives of Africa. She genuinely wants to help them, wants to educate and employ them. This is probably one of the best works of travel writing, setting a precedent for authors such as Francis Mayes etc. ...Well worth a read. If you like this or travelogues, you might also like The Shadow of Kilimanjaro by Rick Ridgeway.
 

It's Our Turn to Eat - Michela Wrong

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

A true story of corruption in Kenya and an excellent book that is hard to put down once you started it. Drama and a bit of a thriller and not to forget a bit of a history lesson of what has transpired on that continent. One of the Economist books of the year and the best book to read before any trip to Kenya. Michela Wrong is a well-respected journalist with other good books to her credit, but this one is superb and the most painless way of discovering how corruption is put to work in an African government and why it will be neither easy nor simple to change the situation. The research is thorough and many well-informed Kenyans find material they are unaware of, though there may be few surprises for Nairobi insiders. The perceptive portrayal of the people involved and the device of telling the story through them makes it easy to read.

If you want to recommend a book or reckon that something has been left out, please get in touch.

Indecision is like a stepchild: if he does not wash his hands, he is called dirty, if he does, he is wasting water.

African Proverb