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What was once known as the Dark Continent has revealed itself to be anything but; to the intrepid traveler who is looking for the most beautiful landscapes in the world, some of most friendly people on earth, and an experience that is truly unique.
Of course to lump all of Africa together would be just as insulting as saying there is no difference between Connecticut and Texas, or New York City and Mexico City. Africa is a massive place with hundreds of different cultures that provides a diversity that would make Europeans look like the Boys from Brazil.
From the Northern countries whose sandy landscapes caress the Mediterranean, to the Arab Republic of Egypt, to the jungles of the Sub Sahara region and the rolling plains of the South, Africa has it all. The following is brief guide to the countries that you can visit in Africa, and some tips on what you can expect from these magnificent countries. The list is in alphabetical but this only for ease of searching.
While most travel guides will recommend that you leave Algeria off of your travel list, there are still some great adventures to be had there. In recent years the disaster that was Algeria has clamed down quite a bit, but there are still rampant kidnappings. If you are an identifiable foreigner you are a definite target. There is still a lot of resentment against French colonization and you should avoid anything that make you look anything like a French person.
It can get a little depressing going down the list of African countries and continually having to issue travel advisories, but Angola is probably not that safe for travelers. In April 2002, the civil war that ravaged the country has simmered down, the scars of war remain. Refugees, landmines and suffering can still be found in every corner of the country, and the illegal diamond smuggling racket has introduced an unsavory criminal element into the mix. Besides that, Angola is a beautiful country with friendly people and a great National Basketball team.
In the car wreck that is West Africa, Benin stands out like a beautiful flower. The country is relatively free of violence, and is much calmer than its rowdy neighbors. This however might bore a traveler a little. There doesn't seem to be much going on here, until you stay a while and begin to notice the wonderful idiosyncrasies of this great place. From Voodoo to great food, you'll become a slave to this great country that once led the continent in the 18th century slave trade.
Botswana can be compared in many ways to Wyoming in the United States. The country has a relatively small population and in turn has some of the best-preserved wilderness sanctuaries on the continent. The country is also comparatively peaceful and wealthy for the region. With many large diamond mines, the population here has a lot going for it. But much like Wyoming, there are few roads and large cities. Your trip to Botswana will be more of natural exploration than culture gazing. But that can be a good thing. Just be sure to bring your own deodorant.
Located just north of the countries that boarder the Bight of Benin. Burkina Faso has very little in the way of natural resources, fighting off the Sahara resident of Burkina Faso see themselves as the descendants of mighty kings and emperors who once ruled the region. And while British colonialism took care of that, the people here still have a royal attitude and they are some of the most friendly people you'll find anywhere in the world. There really isn't much to do here, but the people you'll meet will than make up for that.
Ah poor Burundi. The country is as violent as ever and kidnappings and murder go largely unreported. Located in a triangle of countries that include Rwanda and Uganda, it is probably best for you to skip this country. Even the capital city of Bujumbura is victim to nightly gun battles between government forces, rebels and crooks (these are not mutually exclusive). Of course if you are brave and you have a good guide you can still get a lot out of Burundi, but don't expect your life insurance to cover your trip.
Cameroon has many fathers and mothers. With over 150 different ethnic groups, several spoken languages and a colonial history that includes occupation by both the French and the British, you'll find a varied and diverse country that is sure to spark your soul. This is also a nation that is crazy about football. It's hard to go anywhere and not see children of all ages kicking a ball around (or at least the closest thing to a ball). Apart from that Cameroon is very modern and you'll have no trouble finding creature comforts in the major cities. In some areas such as poor neighborhoods and along its boarders you be exposing yourself to thievery, but if you avoid these areas you'll be fine.
If you are looking for unspoiled and out of the way Cape Verde is your place. This collection of islands is dry, dusty and almost uninhabited. While a tourism industry is starting to materialize, you won't find hordes of English Lad's popping ecstasy and dancing to 'beats'. Instead you'll find great beaches and peace and quiet you'd nevr thought possible.
Central African Rep
When people think of a stereotypical version of Africa, they are picturing Central African Republic. It has all of the elements that define this wild continent. With sprawling forests and an array of animals that includes colorful butterflies, and out on the plains you can spot elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos. Plus, the tacky tourism has not yet found its way here so you can still have a good time without feeling like you've been taken advantage of. The folks here also know how to party, so bring your appetite, caus ether is plenty of beer and dancing for those who are interested.
No this is not a country named after the guy you used to smoke pot with in high school, it is actually one of the larger countries in Africa, and it is also one of the most depressing. While the cities are modern and have a great nightlife, the country still sees it fair share of suffering. Once declared the poorest country on earth, this barren and resource less country has pulled it self up and is making a serious go of it. Still, you will get robbed here, but you'll live and you laugh about it when you get home. Just stick to the cities and the major tourism areas and you'll be fine. You should also check out the ancient castles made of sand that are found out in the desert.
Much like its neighbor to the east, Republic of Congo is not really a safe country to travel in. While the capital city is considered safe, and the coastal city of Pointe Noire is also relatively calm, you'll most likely want to avoid Congo. Violence, while much diminished is still a problem here and major roads are still prime hunting ground for kidnappers and criminals. It's too bad though, because Congo really has a lot of beauty to offer, and when the country does calm down it will be a tourist Mecca.
Dem. Rep. Congo (Zaire)
Democratic Republic of Congo is just not a safe place to go to. If you fly into the capital you should be fairly safe, but otherwise avoid this country for the near future. Democratic Republic of Congo should have a lot going for it, it is massive, it has billions of dollars worth of resources and it is beautiful, but recent violence there has rendered the country in a state of hibernation. Central African Republic is a much better bet if you are looking for a tourist experience in the heart of the continent.
Djibouti is one of the best countries for tourism if you are looking to take a vacation to the Red Sea. While not completely free from strife, Djibouti has not suffered nearly as much as it's neighbors, Somalia and Ethiopia. While refugees from these countries are ubiquitous in Djibouti, it only goes to show that they are tolerant people. You will be welcomed here with open arms, and you might be surprised to find beaches full of French tourists. But with that said, tourism is still kind of new to Djibouti and you'll be treated more as a curiosity than a 'mark', which is quite refreshing. However, beware the usually pickpockets and you'll be fine.
Well Egypt really does just sell itself. There probably isn't much about Egypt that I can tell you. My only advice is to try and get to a football game. Egyptians take their football very seriously and you'll be amazed at the joy to be found at a football game. Sure their team isn't the greatest but that doesn't bother the fans here. They're better than Canada after all. I would also suggest you check out the tourist areas on the Sinai Peninsula. They are cheap and you can hang out with a blend of Arabs and Israelis who will make you forget any bi-national acrimony.
This very small Christian country on the west coast of Africa is very poor, but poised to become very rich. With massive oil reserves off its coast don't be surprised if Equatorial Guinea becomes the Kuwait of the region. Until then you can hang out at the beach and chill out with locals who always love entertaining.
This country used to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. Eritrea fought a war of independence with Ethiopia not too long ago and the country still has plenty of battle scars to prove it. But lately things have been pretty relaxed here. Tourists are slowly trickling into the region and there are always locals who are happy to see new faces. One of the most remarkable aspects of Eritrea is how old the country feels. From the moment you get there you can almost feel the history seeping into your skin. You'll enjoy it there for sure.
Besides its brief war with Eritrea, Ethiopia is a relatively peaceful place. In the1980's the country went through one of the worst famines in the world and it devastated the country, now it is back on its feet and doing well. There is a little bit of everything in Ethiopia from desert, to beach, to jungle. And the people here are spectacular. You can roam the streets rather freely and don't be surprised if you are invited in for some hearty chow. What is even stranger is Ethiopia's pride. The only African country not be colonized, they have their own way of doing things. Not only that but the religion in the region feels more like the Ukraine than Africa. A blend of Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam make it an anomaly in the world.
Gabon is the surprising glitz and glamour capital of the African continent. Much like Equatorial Guinea, its neighbor to the north, Gabon has made a pretty good fortune in the oil business. This has stabilized the country to a great degree and it is has attracted a lot of investment. Most interestingly casinos are to be found all over the country and they are really spectacular. The only major problem with Gabon is that all of this money has all but destroyed the traditional culture here.
Gambia is an essentially a small sliver of a country that runs the length of the thickest part of Gambia River as it snakes its way into the continent. As a result the country has a wide array of landscapes that are sure to make any traveler giddy. Whether it be the golden beaches on the Atlantic, or the thick jungle and mud huts in the interior you'll truly be amazed. And as for the people, they welcome tourists with a friendly indifference that will make you feel like you are truly welcome, and not just a pale novelty.
Besides some latent ethnic tension in the north, Ghana is one of the safest countries in this hornet's nest of a region. There isn't really much in the way of modernization here but Ghana keeps up with its neighbors, without all of the nasty business. The people here are also very friendly and they tend to cling to their ancient traditions a little more closely than the average West African. This knowledge of their past could be one of the reasons they are so kind. Oh, wait, several European and African Kingdoms have enslaved them…well, I guess they are just nice folks.
Guinea Bissau has many of the problems of it West African neighbors and is probably not the safest place to travel to. If you must go, please stay close to the more modern and sophisticated areas, and whatever you do, do not travel alone.
Guinea has so far escaped much of the recent fighting that has plagued its neighbors. But they still have a nasty history of colonization and Maoist communism. Recently the country elected a new government and things appear to be fairly safe. This is country that at once was at the heart of the slave trade as well as the clash of culture between Islam to the north and tribal spirituality to the south. You can really feel the ghosts in the air here. It is a good, bet that after visiting Guinea, you'll never be able to forget it.
A few years back the Ivory Coast was considered one of the bright sports in Western Africa, but due to poor government and a host of internal problems the country is descending into civil war and things seem to be getting worse. Recent three French peacekeepers were killed there and things seem to be escalating. You might have to wait a awhile before you can experience the musical and vibrant culture of the Ivory Coast.
Kenya is the home of the safari, it is a Swahili world that literally means journey. The vast natural landscapes that punctuate this beautiful country will truly give you a sense of what Tarzan went through as a boy. Just kidding, but this is the place in Africa for nature. Although if you plan on leaving the country with all of your possessions be sure to take them out in public. They don't call Kenya's capital city Nairobi 'Nairobbery' for nothing.
While it was tossed around between colonial oppressors for around 200 years, Lesotho has survived and as a result it is a growing country with a bright future. One of the main reasons it has survived intact is the relatively homogeneous population of the country. While it the colonial governments established boarders, they worked out fairly well. Without any racial issues the country has existed peacefully since it declared independence from the British. But it is still a third world country and as a result keep an eye on your stuff.
Americans should have a special interest in Liberia, the name of the country which translated means place to be free, was once a dumping ground for freed American slaves. The US government figured it was better to send freed slaves back to Africa then have them stirring up trouble at home. The only problem was the American born Africans had none of the natural tolerances to African disease that Africans did and most of them dies soon after they arrived. That said, the countries capital, Monrovia, is the namesake of the president whose bright idea it was to form the country. But You can't go there as a tourist. It is very dangerous and it's best just to stay away until the civil war is over…which could be a long time.
While Libya probably shares more in common with the Arab world than it does with most of Africa, it is still a unique place that is a great destination for travelers. The beaches in the north of country look more like Greece than Kuwait and the people, as always are friendly as ever. Even better, Libya's recent disarmament has resulted in a flood of US support, which has taken the edge off of Gadaffi, and team of sexy female bodyguards.
The big story today in Madagascar is the rapid deforestation taken place there. The island and former French colony has special creatures that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. But regrettably they are losing their homes and might no be around for much longer. If you are interested in this type of thing, it might be a good idea to get there sooner rather than later. The animals may be gone soon, as sad as that is to say.
Malawi is one country that is often overlooked by foreigners because it is so small. But in many ways it is like the Gambia of the east. It is a long narrow country that surrounds a beautiful lake. This makes Malawi a great place for outdoor adventure. Best of all, it is safe and the people are very nice.
The desert is slowly swallowing up Mali. This is just one of the many trials faced by these stoic and resilient people. They have suffered through plague and pestilence and they have survived. And now, finally it appears that the country may be sitting on a gold mine…literally. This could help lift the country out of the crushing poverty that has made life there so difficult. It is a great lace to travel to though; you'll find some of the most unique arts and music there.
Sand, sand and more sand. This is the best way to describe this all but forgotten African country. If you do decide to go there don't expect to see many other travelers, which can be a good thing. The folks who live here generally tend to be nomadic people who live day to day. They are warm and friendly and do not have many of the preconceived notion of westerners that many other African countries have. You have the time, it is a great place for a couple of days.
This is probably the best vacation destination you'll find anywhere in Africa. It has all the tropic beach culture of a Caribbean island and all at a bargain basement price. The people here are used to tourists and you'll feel very welcome. There are also all of the creature comforts you would expect to find in a resort country and getting off the beaten path is far easier here than in most places. Oh, and did I mention the food? Delicious.
Morocco is very easy to et to from Europe so you are bound to find many travelers in this amazing country. In fact, the mere mention of the name conjures up images of old movies and history. You can get just about anywhere in the country fairly easily and you'll be amazed at the harsh but beautiful landscape. You can also expect to be hustled fairly regularly here. Moroccan's have long ago learned how to wrestle money form the pockets of tourists and don't think you can fool them.
Recently having recovered from a civil war that really damaged the country, this postcolonial paradise is a great haven for beaches and interesting architecture. If you are in the area go there for a couple days and enjoy yourself. But, whatever you do, please travel with a guide who can tell you where the landmines are.
This is one of the few countries in Africa with a German colonial past. It's capital Windhoek still has many German-speaking people and is a very fun place to go out and have a good time. The country, located on the southwest coast of the continent also has some of the most amazing sand dunes anywhere in the world. Plus, the country is relatively safe, and, besides getting robbed, you'll find life here to be very calm.
Many people say that the people of Niger are some of the best looking people in the world. However their country is almost always teetering on the brink of collapse. That said, Niger is an Oasis in the desert…literally. As desert creeps slowly and slowly southward, you can still find lush green patches of land that stand out for their beauty and their strength…much like the residents of the country.
Nigeria is a country that is more than the sum of its parts…and there are a lot of parts. With more than 250 different distinct cultures in this large country you can find just about anything you are looking for. While not currently too violent, the country has a pretty nasty history that you should be sensitive of. Also, Nigeria is world famous for its music. It seems that all of the different cultures here have come together to make for one of the coolest music scenes on the planet. Brooklyn eat your heart out.
If you aren't French you have probably never hear of this country. That's okay, you have now. This is a mountainous island off of the east coast and it has some of the best hiking in the world. There are also beach resorts but not many of them. Reunion is a very expensive place and most tourists opt for the much cheaper Mauritius, for their African island getaways.
The name still evokes fear in many people who remember the country for its horribly bloody civil war in the mid 90's. But that said, the country has always been relatively safe for tourists. The mountain ranges play host to some truly remarkable beasts including mountain Gorillas who have gained their own measure of fame through studies by scientific types. This is one country that you should not leave off your itinerary. The infrastructure has been rebuilt after the war and it is as easy to get around as most African nations.
Senegal is the tourist capital for the region and it is easy to see why. With a great culture that embraces art and music you'll be enchanted by this hot country. There is a separatist movement brewing along its boarders but if you avoid those regions (they are hard to get to anyway) you should be fine. It is well worth a look if you are traveling in western Africa.
Seychelles has often been described as a rainbow of a country. Firstly, on a map the islands that make up this nation curve just like the arc of a rainbow. Secondly people who return from there often describe the multitude of colors that can be found with every glance. This is a great place for a vacation and millions of people a year flock here for rest, relaxation and escape from their boring gray lives.
Sierra Leone is a dangerous place. It is very nice though. I won't tell you all about it because if you went there and were hurt I would feel responsible. Wait five years and it could be a different story. And remember, every time you buy a diamond, be sure that people dies so you could have it.
Somalia is a dangerous place. It is very nice though. I won't tell you all about it because if you went there and were hurt I would feel responsible. Wait five years and it could be a different story. Get the idea.
South Africa is still in the hangover phase after apartheid and will be going through growing pains for some time. That said, there probably isn't a better country in Africa to get the whole Africa experience sanitized and Europeanized enough for the less brave amongst us. This means you can feel safe bringing grandma and the kids here. But still, use extreme caution, the country is not perfect and there is a lot of AIDS and poverty still to be dealt with.
Sudan is a no go region for just about everyone. The countries western region Darfur is currently experience upheaval of catastrophic scope. There is massive famine and the Arab population is making a concerted effort to destroy the indigenous people of the region. Even Khartoum, which is one of the largest cities on earth, is at best acceptable. But the vast majority of the city is off-limits to most people.
Ah Swaziland, everything about this country seems to be funny. Firstly, it is completely surrounded by South Africa making it look like a small lake in the middle of the nation. Secondly, its royal family always seems to be getting in the news for some kind of strange behavior. In fact the King, who is already married to many women, hold a beauty pageant every year, and the winner gets to be his new wife. She asked for world peace and she gets this guy?
If you though that Oklahoma was big shy country you have to see Tanzania. This country of mostly plains has some of the most exotic animals on earth. Here you can observe lions, cheetahs, hippos and giraffes all in their natural habitat. While the country remains quite poor, it is still in a lot better shape than many of its rowdy neighbors.
The country of Togo fits into the rubric of West Africa. It is beautiful and it is recovering from civil war. Of course, the country has solved many of its problems and is now open to people from all over the world. It has great beaches and a village market culture that is vibrant and tasty. You can find some really great food here and the people will be more than happy to serve it to you.
Tunisia is so magical it has been fought over hundreds of times. From early tribal conflicts, to the Romans, to Islamic forces to Italy in the second world war, people want a piece of this place. In fact, Luke Skywalker has even fought over this country as part of Star Wars was filmed here. There are old ruins and some of the nicest beaches in the world. Tunisia is just under the European radar right now, but that will change soon, and I suggest you get there before they do.
Uganda is much like Rwanda but with a past quite as nasty. The country also became famous for the many studies that were done here on the mountain gorilla population. The country is lush and fertile and has some great hiking trails in the mountains. IT should be at the top of anyone's travel list if they are going to Africa.
Zambia is one of Africa's few success stories; this country has emerged as one of the largest protectors of natural rain forest in the world. This means that for the nature lover there is tons of stuff to see. That said, the country could be a bit of pain to get around in. If you are persistent your trials will pay off and you'll be treated to natures bounty.
Zimbabwe is great.