Africa is a place that overwhelms you. The vibrancy, the colours, the calm, the life and the tastes all combine to assault the traveller with waves of invigorating energy.
It is unlike any other place on Earth and leaves you forever changed.
Getting to Africa, or planning an African trip, can also be overwhelming.
The size of the continent, the vastness of the experiences on offer and the modern day information soup that is the internet all combine to leave most keen visitors bewildered by choice.
Choice is great, but too much can be paralysing and may see that dream African trip slide from “let’s go this year” to “let’s go one day”.
It doesn’t have to be hard.
Firstly – and this should go without saying – choose an African expert to organise your trip. This isn’t a weekend away in Bali, this is something that requires a greater level of expertise and first-hand knowledge to make sure you get the experience you’ve been dreaming of without disappointment or difficulty.
The first question you’ll need to answer is which area of Africa best suits you.
There are two main areas for most tourists visiting Africa – the East and the South. (For simplification, we are going to forget that Egypt, Morocco and the like are in Africa and focus mostly on trips involving some safari).
Resist the urge to do both the East and South. It’s possible (anything is possible) but we are looking at an area covering a similar distance from Melbourne to Singapore. If Europe is a multi-holiday destination then Africa, which is much larger, should be also.
East Africa is iconic Africa, an area with famed places like the Serengeti and large open grassland savannah. This grassland supports large herds of animals meaning your time on safari is spent driving across this savannah looking for all you can spot.
Considering the Serengeti ecosystem is the same size as Belgium and a lion is about the size of a bicycle, that can mean a bit of driving. Although the roads are rougher (and known locally as the “African massage”) and the driving can be a major part of the trip, it is a feeling of exploration and excitement.
East Africa also offers opportunities to see the mountain gorillas or spend some time relaxing on the beaches off the coast at places like Zanzibar.
Southern Africa is about diversity. The animal sightings are incredible, particularly in the private reserves of Kruger or in Botswana.
As the bush is thicker, animal sightings are much closer and much more reliable, although without the same scale of the mega herds. You’ll see less per sighting but you’ll see them more often.
Combine these safari experiences with the stunning Cape Town, the famous Cape Winelands, the luxury trains of the Rovos or Blue Train or the natural wonder of Victoria Falls and you can see the attraction of this area.
The easiest way to decide is to ask yourself, “Ignoring the animals, what else would I like to do in Africa?”
If Victoria Falls or Cape Town pop up, Southern Africa seems to be the best bet. If the gorillas or Zanzibar come to mind then East Africa might be the choice.
If there is one thing driving you to go to Africa, such as a book or movie set in a national park or featuring an African character that you’ve been dreaming of, then make sure you take that into consideration as well.
Once this has been done, you will need to think about budget. Africa has a range of options for all budgets but you will need to have an idea of a budget you are comfortable with in order to best get the trip that suits.
After all, Africa is a place where you can have an entire holiday for $2,000 or spend more than that per night. An easy way to frame it is “What is my price ceiling” or “How much is too much?”
Lastly, resist the urge to plan the entire thing before you speak to an expert about it.
If you are trying to work out how to piece the entire trip together with connections, flights, prices and contrasting accommodation, then, like encountering an elephant on the road you are trying to drive down, you may stop dead in your tracks.
You wouldn’t design your dream home without speaking to an expert early, why try to do it with travel? If you don’t, you may end up with your kitchen in your bathroom and a toilet on the roof. Sure, it may occasionally be cheaper, but really? Is this what you wanted?
Use the knowledge you acquire from brochures as inspiration and speak to an expert about those points. This may help you to get all your African ducks in a row and make sense of the details.
Fellow travellers who have been to Africa are great to inspire you about the destination, but take their advice with a grain of salt – they have often only visited parts of the continent and so are limited in
their experience. This may not suit what you personally hope to achieve.
So, to recap, a few points.
Speak to an expert. They do every day what you dream of every day. Experts like Bench Africa have been doing this sort of thing for more than 50 years. East or Southern Africa? Apart from the animals, what else appeals? What’s my budget? How much is too much? And most importantly, what am I waiting for?
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