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Introducing Africa

How do you capture the essence of Africa on paper without using up every cliché in the book? No other continent comes close to it for scale, variety and pure, raw impact. Africa offers a travel experience a thousand kilometres from the well-backpacked, air-conditioned tourist trails of Southeast Asia or the cash-cow theme parks of Australia or Europe.

Africa’s natural history alone would make a dozen visits worthwhile – where else on earth can you fall asleep to the sound of lions roaring, or watch a million flamingos take off from the waters of a remote soda lake? Parts of Africa boast scenery so spectacular they’ll damn near blow your mind, but the essence of this incredible continent isn’t in any desert, mountain or lake. It’s the spirit of the people – pushing, shoving, sweating, dancing, singing and laughing – that infects so many visitors with a travel bug so powerful they’ll never stop coming back, sometimes against all sense or reason.
Debate with venerable merchants among the cool, narrow streets of an Arabic medina, dance to the thumping reggae beats coming from a West African market stall, or shoot the breeze with fishermen under Indian Ocean palm trees, and you’ll be struck more than anything else by the honesty, warm-heartedness and vitality of the African people.

Africa’s not always an easy place to travel in. It can be frustrating and challenging at times. Hardships and logistical disasters can happen. But don’t believe everything you see on TV: Africa’s not a hell hole full of civil war, plague, famine and violent crime. It’s a fantastic, enlightening, surprising and intriguing continent. Try it once, and we guarantee you’ll dream about coming back for the rest of your life.

Getting there in africa

Getting yourself into Africa can be as simple as booking a direct-flight ticket from a major European hub, or as adventurous as hitching a lift on a car ferry then jumping onto a cargo truck. However you choose to do it, it pays to put aside some research time in advance to make sure you don’t blow unnecessary bucks or time. Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at


The bulk of air traffic with Africa is to and from Europe, but there are a handful of direct flights between Africa and North America, the Middle East and Asia. A few flights link Australia with Africa, and there are flights between South Africa and Brazil, Chile and Argentina. Many North American travellers pass through a European ‘hub’ (airports located in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt for example) en route to Africa. For Australasian travellers it’s often cheaper to pass through a Middle Eastern and/or Asian hub before arriving, but these flights too often pass through a European hub as well.

Wherever you’re coming from, the main thing to remember is that flying into one of Africa’s main hubs is going to be your cheapest option. Flights to the hubs can cost peanuts from Europe, and once you’re there the national carriers of the various countries can easily transport you to other destinations across Africa. These extra flights are known as ‘add-ons’ and are often best booked in conjunction with your main international ticket through a decent travel agent at home (tip: flights with add-ons or multiple stops are still almost always best booked with a real live reservations agent rather than through a website).

The main gateway into East Africa is Nairobi (Kenya), although Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) is also busy. Johannesburg (South Africa) is the southern African hub offering the most options (flights arrive from the Americas, Asia and Australasia as well as Europe) and biggest bargains – also look out for cheap deals into Cape Town (South Africa). In West Africa, Accra (Ghana) and Lagos (Nigeria) are the busiest gateways (and receive flights from North America), but Dakar (Senegal) is often a cheaper option. In North Africa, flying into Casablanca (Morocco) and Cairo (Egypt) is the cheapest option. If you’re travelling from Europe, Tunis (Tunisia) is often the cheapest African city in which to arrive. However, it’s surrounded by Algeria and Libya, which can make for tricky onward overland travel.


Wild climatic variations across Africa, and differing holiday seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres, means that it’s tricky to pin down the cheapest times to fly to Africa. Using mile-wide brush strokes it could be argued that flying from June to September or around Christmas (a ‘peak season’ that can last from November to March if you’re coming from Australasia) is going to hit your budget hardest. But you don’t need generalities if you’ve a well-defined trip in mind, so get the low-down on costs from a travel agent well in advance.

If you’re planning a big trip consider open-jaw tickets, which allow you to fly into one city, then out of another, and can save you cash, time and hassle. All manner of combinations are available, enabling some great overland journeys: think about a ticket into Cairo and out of Cape Town (fares from here can be amazingly cheap), or into Nairobi and out of Cape Town, or even into Dakar and out of Cape Town.

Another handy way of flitting around the continent are stopovers. Many flights to Africa stop at least once before arriving at the main destination, and on some tickets (sadly not always those at the cheapest end of the spectrum) you’ll have the chance to get off; on some happy occasions taking advantage of these stopovers can effectively save the cost of an internal flight. For example, a Kenya Airways flight from London to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) goes via Nairobi, allowing you to explore Kenya first. If you’re coming from North America or Australia, a stopover in Europe can be handy if you need to pick up an obscure visa in Paris or Amsterdam or just fancy finding your travel legs somewhere vaguely familiar.

Jumping on a charter flight can sometimes save you a bundle if you’re travelling from or via Europe, especially if you pick something up at the last minute. Short-date returns are common, but there is sometimes some flexibility. From the UK charter flights leave for The Gambia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Kenya, destinations that are also serviced by French operators. Charter flights to Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin also leave from France between November and May. Point Afrique (04 75 97 20 40; in French) offers cheap flights (from €400 return) to these and other Saharan countries from Paris and Marseille. Heaps of other charter flights leave from across Europe; for instance, Italy is a good place to look for cheap charters to Zanzibar (Tanzania) and Mombasa (Kenya).

It’s not rocket science, but take your time, shop around, double-check all restrictions and date- or route-change penalties on your ticket, look out for credit-card surcharges and book well in advance. A couple of hours on the internet should give you an idea of the most useful travel agents; talk to as many as possible. Remember that although websites are great for straightforward return tickets, they cannot tell you about little add-ons and shortcuts or custom-build itineraries from a cluster of domestic and regional flights.

If you’re under 26 or a student you’ll occasionally be able to turn up some juicy deals. There are many specialist student travel agents, but many ‘normal’ travel agents offer student fares, just as student travel agents can serve older travellers. STA Travel ( has hundreds of potentially useful offices and affiliates around the world, but service can vary and it’s vital that you shop around. Travel agents that recognise the International Student Identity Card (ISIC; scheme are another possibility – the contact details of thousands of agents are available on its website.

Intercontinental (rtw) tickets

On the cheapest round-the-world (RTW) tickets Nairobi and Johannesburg are the usual stops, but stopping in these major hubs will cut down your options once you leave the continent. If you want more stops within Africa look at the Global Explorer or oneworld Explorer RTW tickets offered by the oneworld alliance (, which includes Aer Lingus, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, LanChile and Qantas. Coming from Europe with British Airways can get you to a variety of interesting African destinations, but flights within Africa are limited to British Airway’s African franchises Regional Air (based in Nairobi) and Comair (based in Johannesburg), essentially limiting travel to East and southern Africa.

The trick with RTW tickets is to decide where you want to go first and then talk to a travel agent, who will know the best deals, cunning little routes and the pitfalls of the various packages. If you’re departing the UK, you could also try the handy interactive route planner at


Flights to Africa from North America are not cheap, but direct flights to Accra (Ghana), Lagos (Nigeria), Banjul (The Gambia), Cairo (Egypt), Casablanca (Morocco) and Johannesburg (South Africa) are possible. The latter two destinations are serviced by Royal Air Maroc ( from New York and Montreal, and South African Airways ( from New York respectively and are reliable options. As well as efficient trans-African networks, both these carriers have good connections inside the USA. Accra, Banjul and Lagos are serviced by rather flaky national carriers, but Egypt Air’s Cairo flight (from New York or Montreal) is worth considering. Although ‘through’ ticketing via Europe is a very popular option it might be cheaper to get a supersonic deal across the Atlantic and then a separate ticket to Africa.

South African Airways has a flight between Johannesburg and São Paulo (Brazil) that continues to various South American destinations on Brazilian airline Varig. ( Includes links to a US RTW fare generator from Airtreks. ( Comprehensive North American fare generator.

STA Travel (800-781-4040; The biggest student/under-26 flight agent in North America.

Travel Cuts (1-866-246-9762; Canada’s primary student and discounted travel agent.

Australasia & Asia

Most flights head to Africa via the Middle East, often with Emirates ( or Gulf Air (; direct to Johannesburg with Qantas ( or South African Airways (; and even via Mauritius with Air Mauritius ( from Sydney and Perth. Other fares go via Europe. Many of these flights, including those going via the Middle East, often allow a nice Southeast Asian stopover.

Of course, you could head straight to Europe and then root around for a bargain to Africa (or sort it out over the internet first), but either way, you’ll go via a combination of airlines so it may be worth considering a RTW ticket.

In Southeast Asia flights go to Africa from Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Most of these only fly into Johannesburg. However, Kenya Airways ( runs services from Bangkok and Hong Kong to Nairobi, and you can fly to Cairo with Egypt Air ( from Bangkok or Singapore Airlines ( from Singapore.

Flight Centre Australia (133 133;; New Zealand (0800 24 35 44;

Ninemsn ( Good internet booking engine.

STA Travel Australia (134 782;; New Zealand (0800 474 400;


If you are coming from Europe, then Africa is your oyster. London, Paris and Amsterdam probably have the greatest selection of flights, but whatever country you start from there’s almost nowhere that a good travel agent can’t get you into.

Africa Travel Centre (0845-450 1520; Experienced UK operator offering flights and tours.

Air Fair (0900-7 717 717; Well-respected Dutch travel agent.

Nouvelles Frontières (0 825 000 747; Good French option with adventure tours and charter flights.

STA Travel Germany (069-743 032 92;; UK (0871 2 300 040; There are loads of other offices across Europe.

Trailfinders (0845-058 5858; Reliable UK travel agent with competitive prices.

Indian Subcontinent

There is a stack of traffic between Mumbai (Bombay) in India and East Africa; flights to and from Nairobi can be pretty darn cheap. Many other Middle Eastern carriers (such as Gulf Air via Muscat and Emirates via Dubai) service North and East Africa.

Getting around in Africa

Travelling around much of Africa often requires time, patience and stamina. African public transport sometimes leaves and arrives roughly on time (off-the-beaten-track transport is more circumspect and unreliable), but there are few interesting places that you cannot reach without your own car, even if you have to wait for a few days. It’s also worth remembering that some of your most memorable and enjoyable travel experiences will take place en route between places – in Africa, the journey is the destination.


• Boat

• Hitching

• Car & motorcycle

• Train

• Local transport

• Air

• Bicycle


Lakes Malawi, Tanganyika and Victoria in southern and East Africa, as well as Lake Volta (Ghana) and Lake Nasser (Egypt and Sudan), all have ferries operating on them. There are even more fantastic journeys to be had along the Niger, Congo, Nile, Senegal, Gambia and Zambezi Rivers, to name but a few.

On simple riverboats you’ll be sat on mountains of cargo, the bows of the craft sitting just above the water line, but on some major river routes large ferries and barges are used. Generally speaking, third class on all ferries is crammed with people, goods and livestock, making it hot and uncomfortable. Happily there is usually a better way: at a price, semiluxurious cabins with bar and restaurant access can be yours.

Seafaring travellers might be able to hitch a lift on cargo boats down the West African coast, up the east coast of Madagascar, and on the Red Sea, but this will take some work. Down the east coast there’s a little cargo traffic and ferries from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar, but you’ll find small Arabic-style dhow sailing vessels plying the coastal waters. Similar to dhows are feluccas, the ancient sailing boats of the Nile. Pirogues (tiny canoes) ferry people across remote waterways where small, diesel-powered (and often unreliable), pontoon-style car ferries are not available. Not many ferries or boats take vehicles, but you can get a motorbike onto some.

Travelling by boat can sometimes be hazardous in Africa. For the most part you can forget about safety regulations and lifeboats, and overloading is very common. To make matters worse, on some ferries third-class passengers are effectively jammed into the hold with little opportunity for escape.


Hitching is never entirely safe in any country, and we don’t recommend it. But in some parts of Africa it’s a recognised form of transport – there is often simply no other option to grabbing lifts on trucks, 4WDs, lorries or whatever vehicle happens to come down the road first. Whatever vehicle you jump on to, you’ll generally have to pay. One exception might be in more developed countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia and Zimbabwe, where there are plenty of private cars on the road and it’s not only possible to hitch for free, but in some cases it’s very easy indeed.

Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs. Remember that sticking out your thumb in many African countries is an obscene gesture; wave your hand vertically up and down instead.

Car & motorcycle

Travelling in your own vehicle will enable you to explore Africa at your leisure, but it takes some doing. As well as cars, motorbikes are a popular way of travelling around Africa, but the same things generally apply to bikes as to car travel. For heaps of other options and inspiring tales from overland trips past, present and future, check out the website of the Africa Overland Network (

Rather than shipping your vehicle all the way to Mombasa or Cape Town, you are much better off buying something in Kenya or South Africa before taking off to explore southern and East Africa by car. South Africa in particular is a pretty easy place to purchase a car –either from a dealership or from a fellow traveller who has finished with it. Handily, cars registered in South Africa don’t need a carnet de passage for travel around southern Africa, but you will need to have an international driving licence, your home licence, vehicle insurance and registration, and you will have to get a new set of plates made. The Automobile Association ( in South Africa offers vehicle checkups, insurance and travel advice.


A carnet de passage (sometimes known as a triptyque) is required for many countries in Africa, with the notable exceptions of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. A carnet guarantees that if you take a vehicle into a country, but don’t take it out again, then the organisation that issued the carnet will accept responsibility for payment of import duties (up to 150% of its value). Carnets can only be issued by national motoring organisations; they’re only issued if it’s certain that if ever duties arose you would reimburse them. This means you have to deposit a bond with a bank or insure yourself against the potential collection of import duties before getting a carnet.

You don’t need to prearrange a carnet for many West and southern African countries (most southern African countries will issue a Temporary Import Permit at the border, which you must buy), but if you’re driving through Africa, you’re going to need a carnet, which sadly doesn’t exempt you from the bureaucratic shenanigans encountered at numerous borders. If you’re starting in South Africa, you can get one from the Automobile Association ( there pretty easily. In the UK, try the RAC (

Also consider the following:

Motoring organisations’ insurance companies can be a little paranoid in their designation of ‘war zones’ in Africa so watch out; none will insure against the risks of war, thus denying you a carnet.

If you intend to sell the vehicle at some point, arrangements have to be made with the customs people in the country in which you plan to sell the car for the carnet entry to be cancelled.

If you abandon a vehicle in the Algerian desert, you’ll be up for import duties that are twice the value of your car when it was new.


Hiring a vehicle is usually only an option to travellers over 25. For the most part, vehicle hire is a fairly expensive option (2WD vehicles commonly cost over US$75 a day in sub-Saharan Africa; you’re looking at over US$100 a day for a 4WD) and rental can come with high insurance excesses and bundles of strings. On a brighter note, car hire in South Africa can be an utter bargain (if you hire for a longer period, it can be less than US$30 a day), especially if booked from overseas; have a look on internet sites such as Travelocity (, Expedia ( and Holiday Autos ( Some vehicles can then be taken into Namibia, Mozambique and Botswana, which is great if you get a group together. Also consider hiring a car for exploring southern Morocco and taking a 4WD (possibly with driver) to explore Kenya’s wildlife parks at your leisure.


Legislation covering third-party insurance varies considerably from one country to another – in some places it isn’t even compulsory. Where it is, you generally have to buy insurance at the border (a process that is fraught with corruption), but the liability limits on these policies are often absurdly low by Western standards; this means if you have any bad accidents you’ll be in deep shit, so it’s a smart plan to insure yourself before heading out. If you’re starting from the UK, one company highly recommended for insurance policies and for detailed information on carnets is Campbell Irvine (020-7937 6981;


Where available, travelling by train is a wonderful way to get around Africa. Even the shortest rail journey can be a classic experience, full of cultural exchange, amazing landscapes and crazy stations where all kinds of food, drinks and goods are hawked at train windows. Train travel is safer and usually more comfortable than travelling by road, although outside southern and North Africa the trains are often very slow. Long delays while the train or track is repaired en route aren’t uncommon. Second-class fares weigh in about the same or less than the corresponding bus fare.

More expensive (but still negligible by Western standards) are sleeping compartments and 1st-class or 2nd-class carriages, which take the strain out of long journeys and occasionally allow you to travel in style –some high-class train carriages are like little wood-panelled museums of colonialism. It’s worth noting that in many countries male and female passengers can only sleep in the same compartment if they buy the tickets for the whole compartment (four or six bunks), and even then you might be asked for evidence that you’re married!

The flip side of train travel is that security and sanitation facilities on trains can be poor, especially in 3rd class, which, although novel and entertaining at first, soon becomes simply crowded and uncomfortable. Keep an eye on your baggage at all times and lock carriage doors and windows at night.

Local transport

Bus travel is the way to go where there’s a good network of sealed roads. International bus services are pretty common across the continent, and in the wealthier African states you may get a choice between ‘luxury’ air-con buses with movies (the trashy Hollywood/Bollywood variety) on tap and rough old European rejects with nonfunctioning air-con and questionable engineering. In poorer countries you just get the latter. Out in the sticks, where there are very few or no sealed roads, ancient buses tend to be very crowded with people, livestock and goods; these buses tend to stop frequently, either for passengers or because something is broken.

Small minibuses take up the slack in many African transport systems. All too often they are driven at breakneck speed and rammed with nearly 30 people when they were designed for 18 (there’s always room for one more), with a tout or conductor leaning out of the side door. The front seat is the most comfortable, but thanks to the high number of head-on collisions in Africa, this seat is called the ‘death seat’: how many old bus drivers have you seen? (If you do see one, be sure to choose his bus!) These minibuses are known by different names across the continent (matatus in Kenya, dalla-dallas in Tanzania, tro-tros in Ghana, poda-podas in Sierra Leone), names that are, confusingly, pretty interchangeable for shared taxis and bush taxis. Minibuses usually only leave when very full (a process that may take hours), and will stop frequently en route to pick up and set down passengers. Minibuses are also the favourite prey of roadblock police, who are not averse to unloading every passenger while they enter into lengthy discussions about paperwork and ‘fines’ that may need paying.

Shared taxis are usually Peugeot 504s or 505s or old spacious Mercedes saloons (common in North Africa). They should definitely be considered where they are found (which is not everywhere). Your average shared taxi is certainly quicker, more comfortable (if a little crowded) and less of a palaver than taking a bus or minibus, although many shared taxis are driven by lunatic speed freaks. They cost a little more than the corresponding bus fare, but in most cases once the vehicle has filled up (usually with nine to 12 people, packed in sardinelike) it heads pretty directly to the destination without constant stops for passengers. You should expect to pay an additional fee for your baggage in West Africa, but usually not elsewhere.

‘Bush taxi’ is something of a catch-all term and is used slightly differently across the continent. Basically, a bush taxi is any multiperson mode of public transport.


Africa’s internal air network is pretty comprehensive and can save you considerable time and hardship on the roads; certainly flying over the Sahara, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the often chaotic and difficult Chad and southern Sudan is a good idea. Some airlines are first-class operations; others are about as reliable as a chocolate fireguard. Check flight details carefully (many tickets are flexible), but be prepared for delays, cancellations and bureaucratic pantomimes, especially when travelling on state-owned enterprises. Don’t expect to be put up in a four-star hotel should your flight get canned.

If you’re serious about taking a few African flights, consider sorting it out when booking your main ticket. Any half-decent travel agent should be able to book a host of ‘add-on’ African flights and possibly find fares that allow a little flexibility. These add-ons are often sold at a discount overseas, so forward planning can save you a small fortune.

To give you an idea of what to expect, here are some sample fares for transcontinental travel:

Accra–Addis Ababa US$1100

Cairo–Tunis US$560

Casablanca–Dakar US$430

Casablanca–Johannesburg US$660

Dakar–Bamako US$170

Dar es Salaam–Johannesburg US$400

Johannesburg–Maputo US$150

Nairobi–Dar es Salaam US$280

Sample fares for domestic travel include the following:

Bamako–Timbuktu US$180

Cairo–Aswan US$175

Dar es Salaam–Zanzibar US$55

Johannesburg–Cape Town US$75

Nairobi–Lamu US$170

Air passes

This section is something of a misnomer. All products purporting to be Africa air passes are just cheapo deals on domestic and transcontinental flights available to travellers flying into Africa with certain airlines. These schemes operate on a tailor-made basis – routes are usually divided into price bands or sectors and you pick ’n’ mix to make an itinerary. Most schemes are fairly limited and usually dictate that your flights include an arrival or departure at one or two hubs. The airlines mentioned in this section won’t always offer the cheapest flights into Africa, but if you’re planning to take a few African flights some ‘air pass’ schemes offer great value in the long run – the best offer savings of well over 50% on domestic and continental fares.

The ‘air pass’ scheme run by Star Alliance ( allows flights on South African Airways to 25 destinations across Africa if you fly in on a member carrier. Oneworld alliance ( has a similar scheme called Visit Africa.

Air Namibia ( offers a southern African pass in conjunction with its international flights to Namibia from London and Frankfurt. The Indian Ocean Pass run by Air Seychelles (, Air Mauritius ( or Air Austral ( allows for great exploration of Indian Ocean countries, including Madagascar. It offers travel to limited countries in mainland Africa including Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa.

KLM ( offers aPassport to Africa, which hooks into the African network of Kenya Airways. It allows for between three and 12 African flight coupons in combination with intercontinental travel on KLM, Northwest Airlines or Kenya Airways.


Cycling around Africa is predictably tough. Long, hot, gruelling journeys are pretty standard, but you’ll be in constant close contact with the peoples and environments of the continent and get to visit small towns and villages that most people just shoot through. In general, the remoter the areas you visit, the better the experience, but you’ve got to be fully prepared. A tent is standard issue, but remember to ask the village headman where you can pitch a tent when camping near settlements in rural areas.

Steel steeds can be rented across the continent in tourist areas. Prices vary: you can pay US$2 to hire a cheap, Chinese bone-shaker or over US$7 for a half-decent mountain bike.

Touring bikes aren’t the best choice for Africa, a continent not exactly blessed with smooth tarmac roads. Adapted mountain bikes are your best bet – their smaller 660mm (26-inch) wheel rims are less likely to be misshaped by rough roads than the 700mm rims of touring bikes, and mountain-bike frames are better suited to the rigours of African travel. Multipurpose hybrid tyres with knobbles on their edges for off-road routes and a smooth central band for on-road cruising are useful in Africa, but your tyre choices (along with the types of components, number of spares and the like) should depend on the terrain you want to tackle.

You may encounter the odd antelope or zebra while cycling, but motorists are more of a threat to cyclists than rampaging wildlife. Cyclists lie just below donkeys on the transport food chain, so if you hear a vehicle coming up from behind be prepared to bail out onto the verges. That said, many of Africa’s roads are pretty quiet. Be very cautious about cycling in busy towns and cities.

The heat can be a killer in Africa, so carry at least 4L of water and don’t discount the possibility of taking a bus, truck or boat across some sections (bikes can easily be transported).

The International Bicycle Fund (IBF; has a handy guide to cycling in Africa by country, although information for some countries is limited and out of date.

Money & costs in Africa

Contents • Costs • Money


Africa can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. Travelling around like a maniac is going to cost much more than taking time to explore a small region slowly and in depth.

The actual cost of living (food, transport etc) varies around the continent, and travellers commonly blow big chunks of their budget on car hire (US$30 to US$150 per day), internal flights, balloon rides, adrenaline sports, organised safaris or treks (at least $100 a day in East/southern Africa), and diving or language courses.

Africa is thought of as expensive among some budget travellers, but you can still scrape by for under US$20 per day. If you’d like a few more comforts (such as an in-room shower), reckon on US$30, plus a slush fund of, say, $100 a month for unexpected expenses. Beyond that, the scope for spending money is limited only by your bank account or your credit limit…


In many African countries, inflation is high and exchange rates unpredictable. Although prices in dinars, shillings, rands, kwachas, pulas or whatever may rise from month to month, exchange rates normally keep pace, so what you pay in ‘hard currency’ (eg US dollars or euros) remains pretty much the same. However, it’s important to remember that prices invariably increase.

Along with email, the automated teller machine (ATM) is the greatest invention for travellers since the aeroplane. Instead of having to take enough money for your whole trip, you can draw local cash as you go with a credit or debit card.

Charges are low and exchange rates are usually good.

The downside for travellers in Africa is that although numbers are on the rise, ATMs are still located mostly in capitals and major towns, and even then not in every country. What’s more, due to dodgy phone lines, they frequently malfunction, so you’ll still need a pile of hard cash or travellers cheques as backup.

Always keep your wits about you when drawing money out, as ATMs are often targeted by thieves. Try to visit them in busy areas during daylight hours, and stash your money securely before you move away.

Credit cards

Credit or debit cards are handy for expensive items such as tours and flights, but most agents add a hefty 10% surcharge. It’s therefore usually cheaper to use your card to draw cash from an ATM, if they exist. If there’s no ATM, another option is to withdraw money from a local bank using your card, but be warned –this also incurs a charge of around 5%, and can be an all-day process, so go early.

Before leaving home, check with your own bank to see which banks in Africa accept your card (and find out about charges). If you’re on a longer trip, and travelling in an area with decent internet access, you can pay off your monthly card bills online. Debit cards generally have no monthly bills (if you have money in your account, of course), so are less hassle for longer travels.

Throughout Africa, cards with the Visa logo are most readily recognised, although MasterCard is also accepted in many places. Whatever card you use, don’t rely totally on plastic, as computer or telephone breakdowns can leave you stranded. Always have cash or travellers cheques too.

Exchanging money

You can exchange your hard cash or travellers cheques into local currency at banks or foreign-exchange bureaus in cities and tourist areas. For cash, bureaus normally offer the best rates, low (or no) charges and the fastest service, but what you get for travellers cheques can be derisory – if they’re accepted at all. Travellers cheques are more readily accepted at banks, but while rates may be OK, the charges can be as high as 10% or 20% –plus you’re often looking at a good half hour of queuing.

Travellers cheques

Although ATMs are handy, they sometimes don’t work. Cash is widely accepted and gets good rates, but cannot be replaced if lost. That’s where travellers cheques come in. They can attract poor rates and slow service (and in some countries are not accepted at all), and are often a pain to deal with, but they do have a major advantage of being replaceable.

When exchanging travellers cheques, most banks also check the purchase receipt (the paper you’re supposed to keep separate) and your passport, so make sure you have these with you when you go to change your cheques. You can sometimes pay for items such as safaris and activities directly with travellers cheques, but most operators add a surcharge –usually 10%, but sometimes up to 20%, because that’s what banks charge them.