Exactly 133 days after arriving on the African continent we were sadly saying our farewells. Cape Town had been our arrival city and was now our departure point back to Europe and the US. We both agreed that we could have spent another few weeks here! Other than the first month which I spent alone training for the Cape Epic mountain bike race the two of us took in lakes, mountains, beaches, markets, and countless national parks, met people who spoke Swahili, Kinyarwanda and Chichewa to name but a few, and had many moments that emotionally drained us. This was an epic trip covering nine countries in the southern and central regions of an amazingly diverse continent, a continent where at first we were wary of its people and past troubles, steadily realizing that we were far safer and more welcome here than many other places we had visited over the past six years. We were in Uganda and Swaziland for only a few days, Malawi and Namibia for a few weeks, the rest somewhere in between.
The only part of our itinerary that was planned were the South Luangwa safaris in Zambia and the mountain gorillas of Uganda – we prefer not to schedule anything in advance but being on a budget and our desire to experience some very popular attractions meant we needed to sometimes have a plan. The rest we simply winged and hoped for the best.
Cape Town, where it all began on February 25th
Sometimes we flew, sometimes we rented a car, but more often than not we hopped onto cheap buses and made it from A to B crammed in just as the locals do – if they can do it why can’t we, and it’s an extremely cheap way to travel. We found one-way flights within countries to be very reasonable, for example $85 each to fly from Durban to Cape Town or $130 to get from Windhoek to Katima Mulilo in Namibia. In contrast we paid almost $400 each for a return ticket from Lusaka, Zambia to Kigali in Rwanda with a one-way ticket from Blantyre, Malawi to Johannesburg coming in at $240 each!
With car rental I always find it to be cheating; enjoying the freedom and relative luxury when we’re meant to be on a budget and traveling like backpackers. However it definitely allowed us access to places that would otherwise have taken lengthy bus trips – other than Intercape all other companies tended to have erratic African schedules which would have caused Andrea to lose precious time off from work. Car rental worked well in Namibia where we toured the country, beginning and ending in Windhoek, similarly in Botswana where we rented a 4WD for a week safari, and finally South Africa/ Swaziland where the one way fee wasn’t too hefty . Most of the time we were heading in a single direction which made car rental exorbitant, then with road conditions and local driving customs factored in it made sense to stick with public transport as much as possible.
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Africa route map; red for flights, blue for overland
… and then there were the ultra cheap options for local travel, such as moto’s and bicycles, the latter being disgustingly cheap. In Rwanda we utilized moto’s, pretty much hairdryers with a slightly larger engine, for anywhere we wanted to go that was more than a few mile walk. We even used them fully loaded with backback and daypack to depart out of Kigali airport. Bicycles weren’t so much on our agenda, mostly as we felt guilty about paying so little for a manual mode of transport. Yes, this is wrong as we could have just payed double if we felt so bad about it! Boats were really just a means to an end, to get to accommodation or to enable us to do lake tours.
We had planned on only doing one safari destination, Zambia’s South Luangwa, but ended up hitting big animal parks in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa, with a quick drive through one of Swaziland’s predator-free reserves. The excitement of big game drives never wore off, each being different from the previous, each offering something that the others didn’t – we witnessed lions mating within minutes of entering Etosha, giraffes standing in the road refusing to move for us, buffalos that looked like they would charge us at any moment, lions that strolled by the car that I could have petted through an open window, a vervet monkey that almost made it into our open car window as we stopped to observe it, bellowing ear-flapping elephants that were not impressed with us, and countless colorful birds.
As well as wildlife safaris we invited ourselves into local villages, not the tourist riddled cultural villages, but rustic looking places that we would be passing by. Sometimes people were dismayed but they were always welcoming, always smiling, and almost always accepting of being photographed. I even think that some of the people we photographed throughout Africa had never seen themselves before and found it amazing when shown the image on the camera – ideally we would have liked to print the photos off and hand them over, obviously not possible but occasionally we did promise to mail them.
Giraffe book ends
National Park Info
Etosha National Park – self drive by car, camped in the park
Namib-Naukluft National Park – self drive by car, camped in the park
Chobe National Park – self drive by Toyota 4wd, rooftop camped in the park
Volcanoes National Park – guided hike, stayed at Garden Place Hotel & airbnb in Ruhengeri
Nyungwe Forest National Park – guided hike, stayed at Nyungwe Guest House in the park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – guided hike, stayed at Bakiga Lodge in Ruhija
South Luangwa National Park – guided safari, stayed at Flatdogs Camp & Nkonzi Bushcamp
Cape Maclear National Park – hiking & kayaking, stayed at Thumbi View Lodge
Liwonde National Park – guided safari, stayed at Liwonde Safari Camp
Mulanje National Park – guided hike, stayed in mountain huts
Table Mountain National Park – hiking & mountain biking, stayed in Cape Town
Kruger National Park – self drive by car, stayed at Kum Kula Lodge in Hoedspruit
Our biggest concern prior to arriving in Africa was Internet, extremely important due to Andrea working whilst on this leg of our RTW trip. We were optimistic that all would be good in South Africa and the big cities but in between we had no idea! As usual we decided that our top priority after arriving in a new country was purchasing a SIM card, more often than not our primary source of Internet connectivity – it was definitely better than WiFi access in most locations. Prices varied drastically with a gig in Swaziland stinging us for $18 and almost 7 gig in Zambia coming in at a lowly $15. Speed was typically good enough for Andrea to work and generally coverage was better than we had expected. As of May 2018 SIM cards were not available in Uganda due to corruption and crimes related to the lack of user registration! Luckily we only planned on staying a few days for the mountain gorillas.
Bottom line for Internet is that coverage was better and faster than we anticipated but as soon as we were on the open road things fell apart pretty fast. South Africa was fairly good everywhere but we found that the further north and the more remote we got the worse things became. Pretty much the same wherever we’ve traveled so no real surprises. Coverage will only get better as smart phones are everywhere.
SIM Cards & Coverage
Carrier: Vodacom, Usage: 8GB, Cost: $36
Carrier: MTC, Usage: 3GB, Cost: $35
Carrier: BTC, Usage: 1GB, Cost: $14
Due to our limited time in Zimbabwe we chose not to purchase a SIM card
Carrier: Airtel, Usage: 6.7GB, Cost: $15
Carrier: MTN, Usage: 16GB, Cost: $37
SIM cards not available due to corrupt usage
Carrier: Airtel, Usage: 10.5GB, Cost: $27
Carrier: Swazi Mobile, Usage: 1GB, Cost: $18
Top Ten Accommodation
Caprivi Mutoya Lodge, Katima Mulilo, Caprivi Strip
Shametu River Lodge, Divundu, Caprivi Strip
Airbnb, Victoria Falls
Entusi Resort & Retreat Center, Lake Bunyonyi
Yambi Guesthouse, Kigali
Flatdogs Camp, South Luangwa
Gavin Opie Safaris, Nkonzi Camp, South Luangwa
Rissington Inn, Hazyview
Kum Kula Lodge, Hoedspruit
With something for all budgets we had no problems finding places to lay our heads. Airbnb was the platform we used the most which typically offered us shared accommodation with access to a kitchen, followed by hotels.com and booking.com for the times we couldn’t find the latter. Budget safari options are harder to come by but traveling at the very beginning of the season saved us a fortune – we found that even cheap, at least by safari standards, lodges were more than luxurious enough for us. Flatdogs Camp and Gavin Opie safaris in Zambia being prime examples. Many times the accommodation we chose was extremely quiet, if not empty, another great reason for being off-season. There were very few times we would have chosen differently.
Now that we’ve been back for a couple of months and having the time to reflect and look at countless photo’s it’s certainly made us realize what an amazing experience we had. The classroom in Ruhija, Uganda we sponsored has now been completed and the children have relative luxury for learning, countless elephants have been slaughtered for their ivory in Botswana, Virunga National Park in the Congo is off limits due to kidnappings, and we’ve so far not gone down with Malaria or Bilharzia. Africa is certainly a continent with mass corruption, greed, and poverty but still full of amazing and happy people with a lot to offer.
Arrival: Barcelona -> Cape Town, Carrier: Condor, Cost: $609.99 pp
Departure: Cape Town -> London, Carrier: Emirates, Cost: $353.69 pp
Feb 25th – July 7th 2018
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