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Africa: one continent, fifty-four countries, five UN regions, and a million experiences. But just how easy is it to travel around this vast, exciting continent as a visitor? The answer is that it is a lot easier than you might think.
To make sense of Africa in this whirlwind tour, the most logical way to approach it is via the five UN regions and examine each in turn. That isn’t to say the countries in these regions all share the same characteristics, but they often have a lot in common, including visa policies. As such, it’s a handy way to group the continent with the biggest number of nations. Read on to learn more ahead of your visit here!
Getting In: The countries of the southern coast of the Mediterranean are easily the most accessible to a European traveller, or an American or Australian, who might be approaching Africa from this direction.
Flight time from some South European capitals to some North African ones is just a couple of hours, and chances are if you’ve only ever been to one African nation, it could well be one of these.
It’s a bit of a game of two halves though. Some of the countries are really easy to access. As such, European, American, Canadian and Australian tourists are among the many nationalities that can get a Visa on Arrival in Egypt, while the same nationalities can enter visa-free to Morocco or Tunisia. It’s no coincidence these are the three countries in North Africa that have the biggest tourist numbers.
Getting into Algeria, Sudan or Libya requires more preperation and would need a pre-arranged visa from an embassy.
Getting Amazed: As you’d expect, some of the major tourist attractions are in Egypt, and no traveller will be unaware of what this incredible nation has to offer.
But did you know that Sudan has its own pyramids at Meroe which are even older? Or that the Roman ruins in Libya’s Leptis Magna are amongst the best in the world? Or that you can get to the real Star Wars sets that were built over forty years ago in the Tunisian desert?
Getting In: With almost twenty countries, the densely packed and densely populated region of West Africa is probably one of the most unexplored for travellers. This is partly down to the sheer number of borders, and partly down to the more closed visa policies.
Most of the countries here ask for embassy visas in advance. Equally, though, the countries with the stronger tourist economies offer Visas on Arrival (Senegal for Aussies and Kiwis, Togo to most international tourists), or no visa at all (The Gambia for pretty much everyone).
Also, a few of the other nations like Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea have recently introduced an electronic eVisa system for many visiting nationalities, all of which signifies the region is opening up.
Getting Amazed: If you’re a beach lover, you’ll be stunned by the experiences available in places like Sierra Leone or The Gambia. If you’re a culture vulture you’ll love the diversity within these nations, let alone between them. If you’re a history hunter then the forts of Ghana or the ancient cities of Mali and Nigeria might be what tempt you.
Getting In: Expect to apply for an embassy visa in advance for most of the countries of this region. That said, a few countries here, such as Rwanda, offer Visas on Arrival at the airport.
Getting Amazed: As most of the region speaks French, you’ll have a much broader experience in Central Africa if you can speak it too. Nonetheless, in every country you can find English guides and accommodation.
Expect to be offered a lot of animal watching, with species varying between countries. Or be the first Canadian or Australian you know ever to have got to a sun-soaked beach near the equator!
Getting In: Kenya and Ethiopia are the major airport hubs, and most journeys here take in these countries. Visas are usually not necessary for some destinations like Madagascar and Uganda, while even South Sudan now offers an electronic eVisa.
Getting Amazed: If you’ve never seen the Indian Ocean, then make sure you do. It’s probably the most beautiful in the world. Whether you’re experiencing it from the idyllic island nation of Seychelles, the stunning beaches of Kenya, or the sun-kissed jewel of Mauritius, you won’t be disappointed.
For those looking for more active holidays, then why not try hiking the highlands of Ethiopia, or watersports on Lake Victoria? And don’t dream of experiencing this region without encountering animals. Lions, zebra and giraffes are common in huge parts of Tanzania and Kenya, or you can encounter gorillas in the mountains and volcanoes of Uganda.
But if you really want to see species that are found nowhere else on earth, then the isolated but welcoming island of Madagascar is probably the place for you. This has a richer selection of unique animal species than anywhere else on the planet.
Getting In: This region is really easy to enter. For dozens of nationalities, you’re visa-free for South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, and can get a Visa on Arrival in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Most of the borders in this region are simple to go over, and if you’re planning to cross a few by road in Africa then this is probably the place to do it.
Getting Amazed: South Africa’s national parks are international draws for a reason, while the Victoria Falls brings visitors to both the Zambia and Zimbabwe side.
But if you want to experience the real wild Africa, both in terms of animals and scenery, then you can take your pick of most of the nations here and you won’t be disappointed.
Namibia and Botswana have fewer tourists but much more affordable experiences than South Africa, so it really depends what sort of African adventure you desire.
After all, Africa is a big continent with big dreams, beautiful cities and a big sense of adventure!