The author of the DESTINATIONS travel project Dmitry Lukyanchuk told the EcoTourism EXPERT about the benefits and risks of traveling around the African continent.
Nothing to be afraid of in Africa
- You have traveled through the length and breadth of Africa. However, it is no secret that for most of the Russians, traveling to the African continent, except such popular destinations as Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco, are still perceived as extreme tourism. What African countries are best to start discovering the African continent, and what countries should be saved for last?
- Namibia is the most suitable country for ‘beginners’ who start traveling around Africa. Travelers can feel the full flavor of Africa in this country. It is important, they can do this in relatively comfortable environment and safely.
Namibia has the beautiful Etosha National Park with a wide variety of stunning fauna, and the level of arranging the tours about the National Park is rather high. There are dunes, deserts, prairies, wild jungles in the country. Namibia boasts the Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa and the second in the world after the Grand Canyon. Its dimensions are truly impressive - about 160 km long, up to 27 km wide and almost 550 meters deep. The Fish River is the longest one in Namibia. It overflows its banks at the end of summer and turns into a number of long narrow pools during the rest months of the year. There is an Ai-Ais thermal spring area in the Fish River’s downstream.
The northern part of the country is inhabited by the Himba tribes, indigenous people who are quite accustomed to the interest from tourists. And, most importantly, their welcoming ceremonies are not ‘staged’. These indigenous people live their own authentic lifestyle and adhere to their traditional customs and rites. But at the same time, they are open and friendly towards tourists. In addition, Namibia has good roads and hotels.
South Africa is also suitable for ‘beginners’; it is an economically developed country with a large number of national parks. The only thing is that it is not so safe in the country and there are areas where tourists should not go.
Kenya and Tanzania are also among the countries good for ‘beginners’, and it is interesting to go on a safari to watch wild animals in these countries and enjoy the time on the island of Zanzibar. I would also add Ethiopia with its wide variety of landscapes, volcanoes and geothermal springs to the list of the African countries most attractive for tourists where it is easy to travel. Various traditions and cultures can be seen in the country, for example, it is interesting to get acquainted with the lifestyle of the indigenous tribes living in the Omo Valley. In addition, Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian countries. There are very ancient churches in the country, one of which, according to legend, houses the Ark of the Covenant. Another important advantage is that Ethiopia is also quite safe for tourists.
But the Central African Republic with its mountain gorillas and the Congo with its Virunga National Park should be saved for last. These countries are difficult in terms of travel, tourism is not developed in these countries. The mentality of locals is strikingly different from the mentality we are used to. The locals look at the strangers with suspicion in these countries and, sometimes, they are not friendly. South Sudan, one of the most interesting and challenging destinations in Africa, also is among this group of countries. However, if you have proven experienced guides, it is quite possible to travel in the country. I would say that this is a ‘country with a number of peculiar features’ for travelers.
Traveling like walking a tightrope
- Was the trip to Somalia the most dangerous during your African journey? What risks await tourists in Africa, and what is the best way to knock angles off a travel problem?
- The trip to Somalia was indeed the most dangerous one. It is dangerous, in principle, to be in this country because of its criminal situation; this has nothing to do with tourism. There is a constant war between the local tribes, and travelers simply risk finding themselves in the zone of a terrorist attack or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Locals can also kidnap a tourist for ransom: they believe that a white traveler’s relatives will pay good money for him or her, and their families will be able to live comfortably with this money for a long time.
Except Somalia and the areas where military operations are underway at the moment and a traveler can become a hostage of local people and under siege from circumstances, I would say that the main risks are connected with petty fraud and theft. To avoid these, you need to get a local experienced guide. It’s best if your guide is a person with whom any of your friends or acquaintances have already traveled. In addition, almost every country has trustworthy agencies that can help organize every trip. When choosing an agency, of course, you need to rely on ‘word-of-mouth advertising’.
In addition to fraud, in some countries, using cars that really ‘fall apart’, as well as bad roads and the absence of any traffic rules pose danger. Most often, these problems are also resolved thanks to experienced local guides.
All the colors of the black continent
- How to behave the right way with local residents and how to prepare for a trip to Africa?
- First of all, it is important to avoid any conflicts. Situations are different, you should always try to respond positively. Even if anything doesn’t work out, you should smile and you shouldn’t be aggressive under any circumstances, even if anyone, for example, shouts at you for any reason. Remember, they take you as a stranger, and if you offend any of them, the entire local community will start defending their local person.
But, to be honest, such problems arise extremely rarely. In 99% cases, people are positive, sociable, and open. In this sense, Africa is probably the most ‘extroverted’ continent. Of course, a tourist is an opportunity for any local to earn extra money and they are eager to render a piece of service. But the locals are friendly, enjoying life and they ‘charge’ everyone with positive energy.
Only those who have never been in Africa are afraid of traveling around this continent. There are not more infections there than in the popular countries of Southeast Asia, and travelers can easily get the necessary vaccinations now. Certain stereotypes about Africa are created by the media that often build up an exaggerated image of extreme traveling conditions. Videos are very helpful in this regard. In addition to reading travel forums, in most cases, you can find videos of the routes you are interested in and get an idea about your future trip - in colors and faces.
I would like to say that having visited the African continent once, you will want to come back to Africa over and over again. This is the so-called ‘African affection’. Africa gives simple emotions, unique energy, it is a constant festival and there are the most sincere and open children in the world. Every time I come here, I feel some enthusiastic drive and a surge of energy.
Notes for ecotourists
- You have visited almost all African destinations. What African countries would you recommend to ecotourists?
- Botswana is ideal for ecotourism, but this destination cannot be called cheap. Travelers can visit several national parks in this country where animals are practically not afraid of humans and even allow the tourists to touch them. I was in the Chobe National Park, a home to the largest elephant population on the continent. The largest concentration of wild animals in the world is in this place. The authorities monitor the environment very strictly and ensure compliance with all animal welfare standards.
No less interesting in Botswana are its mysterious rock caves with prehistoric paintings and the Bushmen villages, where the primitive tribe lifestyle has been preserved. All this is combined with a fairly high level of service and safety, and the local population is friendly to tourists.
As for the beauty of the national parks, I liked Zambia best of all with its huge variety of fauna and a minimum number of tourists. Finally, Mozambique is a treasure trove of pristine tropical beaches and a very beautiful marine national park where the richest underwater world can be seen. There are few resorts in the country, since this place was an area restricted for tourism for a long time due to the civil war. If you haven’t been to these countries, I highly recommend you to travel there, but observing all necessary safety rules.
Photos courtesy of D. Lukyanchuk