Africa Advice

Posted by on Jan 11, 2007 in India, Pre-Trip Planning | 11 Comments

I am still soliciting any advice on Africa, including Egypt and Jordan, for my next leg. You guys know what I like, so let me know if there’s somewhere I just can’t miss. As for animals, giraffes, zebras and hippos are my top 3 so the big cats will just be a plus.

At the moment it’s looking likely that I will fly from Mumbai to Amman, Jordan in February. I’ve been quoted around $265 for the one-way fare, not bad. From there I will head to Egypt and then either fly or overland South. It figures that Bush would pre-bomb the areas on my itinerary. He’s always ruining my vacations with his “war on terror.” Doesn’t he realize that “the axis of evil” has the most interesting sites to see?

11 Comments

  1. Jim
    January 11, 2007

    Hey, here’s some advice for Egypt. I spent three weeks there in September.

    First off: It’s a fabulous country with lots of great things to see. The only downside is that you have to put up with Egyptians. Bargain for EVERYTHING. Wear loose fitting clothes that cover everything or else you’ll get tons of harrassment like you seem to be getting in India, only worse. And be ready for lots of people asking for tips – “baksheesh” – for doing everything from giving you directions to saying hello. Also, people will lie to you about everything. It’s quite annoying and you’ll be glad to leave Egypt after 2-3 weeks.

    As for things to see, if coming overland from Jordan your first stop will be Dahab. Dahab is great if you like to snorkel or dive – it’s some of the best in the world. From Dahab you can also climb Mt. Sinai, which is torture since you have to go by tour, and they all leave in order to get to the top by sunrise, so you hike up the mountain from like 2-6 am. It’s worth it though, to say you climbed Sinai!

    After Dahab you’ll probably want to do the Nile thing. Go from Dahab too Luxor for the Valley of the Kings and Queens – a day or two is plenty. Then take the train to Aswan for Abu Simbel. Aswan is nice and relaxed, too, compared to Luxor and Cairo.

    Now the best part – when leaving Aswan, MAKE SURE YOU DO IT BY FELUCCA!!!! This was the best part of my trip to Egypt. A felucca is a tiny little traditional sailboat. Hotels get together groups of 6-8 backpackers to sail down the nile for 2 or 3 days, most of the way back to Luxor. It’s so much fun just sitting and lazing on the boat, chatting, playing cards, swimming (it’s safe!), etc. Good times indeed.

    After cleaning up after the felucca, head for Cairo – lots to see and do. The best part is the Egyptian Museum. I spent a full day there and I typically hate museums. The pyramids/sphinx are cool but kinda disappointing. If you go there yourself, don’t let your taxi driver tell you that they are closed for lunch, or whatever, because he is trying to see you an expensive camel/horse trip instead. I recommend Hostel Luna in Cairo. Cheap, safe, air-con, and great location.

    One last thing – Egyptian food is awesome! If you want to splash out on your last night in Cairo, try Sabaya restaurant in one of the fancy hotels. It’s a world-class dining experience for about US$10.

    Have fun!!!

  2. Stacy from WA
    January 12, 2007

    Luckily for you… I happened to be reading my “Africa on a Shoestring” book last night.

    A German backpacker I met said her favorite place in the world is the Serengeti. East Africa is the spot for animals, but I’m sure you already know that.

    Lake Malawi is the place to relax along with everybody’s favorite– Zanzibar.

    I don’t think Sudan is issuing visas to individuals anymore– just to package tourists. They have an embassy in Cairo though.

    (You should try to find a copy of “Dark Star Safari” by Paul Theroux. He writes about his overland trip from Cairo to Cape Town. Easy to read and touches on current social issues in Africa.)

    Ethiopia and Mozambique are destined to be the next “it” Africa spots. Ethiopia probably already is though. Some people loved Ethiopia and others hated it. Maputo, Mozambique can be easily reached from Johannesburg.

    West Africa is all about music and culture. The standard overland route is Ghana, Bukina Faso, Mali and Senegal or vice versa. Most people say skip Timbuktu– it takes forever and a day to get there and is disapointing once you get there. Every traveler’s blog I’ve read about Timbuktu gave it a miss. There are cheap flights to and from Europe for Dakar. Might be a good place to end…

    The most stable Central African country is Cameroon. The books I’ve read make this place high on my “Africa” list because it’s so different not on the tourist map. But, I believe it is expensive to get there and away. All the neighboring countries are too dangerous to overland.

    And last but not least… take a lot of patience.

  3. kev
    January 13, 2007

    Lesotho, inside of S Africa, is very, very nice. Not too many tourists, good infrastructure, empty beautiful parks. You’ll want a rented car, but it’s an easy drive from Jo’burg. S. Africa is very nice, with world class parks, but the racial tension can be cut with a knife, and Lesotho has nothing of the sort.

  4. Megan
    January 13, 2007

    Jim,
    That sounds like a good plan.How did you get from Dahab to Luxor? I assumed I had to make a stop in Cairo at the beginning. Did you go out to any oasis in the West?

    Stacy,
    I took a peek at the shoestring book… what do you think? It seems like not a lot of info for each country. Obviously, it’s hard to fit a whole continent in. Right now I’m thinking about getting individual guidebooks, maybe Egypt, East Africa and then Madagascar…

    Kev,
    Do you rate Lesotho over Swaziland. Of course, Swaziland sounds much cooler!

  5. kev
    January 13, 2007

    Lesotho is much, much better than Swazi. Swazi is quite dense and has malaria throughout the eastern half. It’s also quite a bit richer and better developed than Lesotho. On the other hand, I only went around the northern half of Lesotho and didn’t visit the capital, whereas I spent most of my time in Swazi near Maseru and Mbabane, both of which are indistinguishable from SA.

    I’m sure bits of the countryside are nice, and there’s a decent way into Mozambique via Swazi, but I think 2-3 days would be enough to see everything you want to see.

    (The one plus for Swazi is that the tourist bus lines connect it to the rest of SA, which is not really true of Lesotho. It’s probably possible to go to Lesotho w/o a car, but I certainly wouldn’t want to do it. Actually, the same goes for SA and maybe even Namibia – you’ll save more taking your own car to the national parks versus paying for all the ridealong safaris. I just looked at Avis real quick, and they rent Nissan Almera (unpowered, but not terrible) for $28/day on 30 days + and $36/day on 14-30, all in, so it’s not too expensive; I’m sure even better deals are available. The roads are also quite good throughout SA).

  6. Jim
    January 13, 2007

    To get from Dahab to Luxor, you can take a bus-boat-bus combination via Sharm-al-Sheikh that doesn’t go via Cairo first. This is what I’d recommend if you’re going to be flying out of Cairo, saving Cairo for last to avoid backtracking. Of course if you’re going to overland to Sudan, go to Cairo first, then end in Aswan.

    As for the oases, no I personally didn’t go to any. I was short on time and had to decide between that and Dahab. I met some people who went and said they aren’t that special, and from pictures I saw of the supposedly most beautiful one (Siwa), I tend to agree. If you’re going to Jordan, you’ll see Wadi Rum, which will be way better and give you your desert fix.

    And trust me, you’ll be ready to leave Egypt after two or three weeks. I think Dahab, the Nile, and the oases might be too ambitious, and your travel attitude might be permanently soured after such an experience. Egypt is really a hassle – it’s legendary in fact.

    Another thing I forgot to mention – if you have the money, I recommend taking the Abela Egypt Sleeping Train between Cairo-Luxor-Aswan. It’s about 3x as expensive as the local train but sooooooo much more comfortable. Especially as a single woman, you might want to consider it.

    Feel free to ask more questions!

  7. Bonnie
    January 14, 2007

    Hi Megan – since you will be in Jordan of course you will not miss seeing Petra, which I think should be one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s fairly easy to travel south from Amman (I recommend going thru Madaba, a town famous for its beautiful mosaics) by bus or private taxi – try to travel along the older but more scenic King’s Highway. You will want to spend at least a few days exploring around Petra to see the amazing Nabatean structures and maybe do a side trip to Wadi Rum as well.

    From Petra, it’s a easy bus ride to Aquaba where you can take a ferry to Nuweiba on the Sinai Peninsula. Yes I agree you should visit St. Catherine’s monastery and arrange to climb Mt Sinai to see the sunrise but you DON’T have to do a tour, just agree to have a local guide you — there are lots of young friendly kids around who would be happy to. Bring clothes with you for top though, it’s cold! I haven’t been to Dahab (hear it’s good) but don’t bother with Sharm – really caters to the jet-setting types.

    Then from Dahab or Sharm, it’s not difficult to get to the Egypt mainland and no, no need to go thru Cairo (I believe you can go via Hurghada). I enjoyed Luxor, the Valley of the Kings and really liked Karnak. Cairo was a lot of fun especially the old market and the Museum and pyramids of course are a must (climb inside/around the Great Pyramid if you can). Yes you get a lot of “hassle” in Egypt but isn’t that all part of the fun and adventure of travelling??

    As for Africa, have you considered southwestern Africa — Botswana and Namibia?? Wonderful animals (loads of giraffes, zebras, hippos AND cats) and some of the most awe-inspiring sand dunes around.

  8. Iain
    January 14, 2007

    I left the Middle East not long ago (I’m now in Kerala, we’re travelling in opposite directions). Go to Syria! I travelled through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Israel and Syria stands out. Not too many people make it to the country an Syrians are pleased you thought past all the bullshit and gave their country a chance. They’re all exceptionally friendly, and travelling as a woman alone shouldn’t be a problem. You’ll be invited to drink too many cups of chai: I had a week in Damascus and had to squash the “sites” into my last two days, I was too busy drinking chai.

    I’m South African. Mozambique is a good tip, it’s is still partly “undiscovered”. This does, unfortunatley, come with non existent roads and some testing public transport. If you make it to Kenya, go to Lamu. It’s much like Zanzibar but smaller, gentler. The bus ride (when I went you needed a military escort) is also much fun.

    Avoid Egypt! Except for the Felucca I’d rather have been anywhere. The Egyptians take tourists for granted: you’ll be given wildly different prices for everything, sometimes on different days at the same shop, harrassed endlessly and have to move about in ridiculous convoys, with taxi drivers gesticulating at watches, telling you to hurry through an enormous temple in 30 minutes.

  9. Stacy from WA
    January 15, 2007

    Yep, the “Shoestring” book is good for exploring where you want to go and look at countries you wouldn’t have normally thought of. I think it’s a good idea to get area specific books– why carry around the extra weight of countries you’re not going to go to anyway…

  10. Megan
    January 15, 2007

    Thanks for all the help, guys. My main reason for going to Jordan is to see Petra. I just really want to see it. I peeked in a guidebook in Mumbai and does anyone think I would be missing a lot to head straight down from Amman to Petra and Wadi Rum? There seems to be some stuff to see in-between that could be done quickly.

    It’s good to see that I can go to Cairo last, although I won’t have an onward ticket and probably would prefer to buy it upon entering Egypt for 3 weeks or one month later rather than hoping there’s seates left on a fliht in 4 days.

    I will admit: I have never, in my life, rented a car. I can’t imagine renting one in Africa. Plus, no driver’s liscence either. I didn’t bring it along. We’ll see.

    Jim, my travel attitude is permanently ruined from India. I have stopped listening to people at all because if I do I will go insane. There’s just too many questions. I yelled at a guy for asking me if I wanted a taxi today. The thing is, I walked past and said no and he followed me for a block asking about the taxi!

    Syria is on my list and I cant say I didn’t think about starting there instead of Jordan… but I had to draw the line somewhere. I want to do a middle east trip sometime in the future and Syria will definately be included. I think going through Turkmenistan and Iran out to the sea would be excellent.

  11. Andrew
    January 18, 2007

    Hi Megan, I’ve been silently following your travel since your last RTW trip… Brings back memories of travelling and lots of things to look foward to in Central Asia!

    I would agree with most of the Egypt advice above and suggest not skipping out on Dahab. Nice place to relax/snorkel/dive but from what I hear these days, its become quite the mecca for single dudes… Hehe Careful! When I was there, it was not required to have a guide or tour for the Mt. Sinai hike. It should be a cakewalk now that you’ve hiked across the highest mountains in the world… Luxor is nice, and the train from Luxor to Cairo (and vice versa) is pretty cheap and safe.

    As for other countries, Ethiopia is amazing and not to be missed. I was only able to hit the Northern-Circut (Lalibela-Aksum-Gondor-Barhir Dar-Addis) but have heard good things about some of the areas in the south.

    Kenya is a bit like Egypt in the sense that they “mine the tourists”. The parks are awsome if you put your blinders on and focus solely on the animals. Some of the bigger parks are overrun with European tour groups though. Which no matter how cool the animals are, is a bit frustrating…

    Malawii is another not to be missed, very laid back and friendly people. Not as many people harassing you for $$.

    Lastly, I have just returned from Madagascar (roughly a month spent on the island – all spent in the Northeast) and you could spend the rest of your trip just there. Most of the national parks are all in their infancy (at least where we were) and do not get alot of visitors (under 4-5 people a day). Most areas of the Northeast are lacking in tourists but are also lacking in infrastructure… Mediocore food in most places, but amazing landscape, topography and wildlife

    Andrew