Hello, my name is Kesi. I’m an Ivy League graduate student who quit my job on Wall Street to travel the world. Welcome to my Africa travel guide!
I planned to take a one-year break but my journey transformed into a 5+ year nomadic lifestyle. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, went to uni in Philadelphia and lived in NYC – so I was a Tri-state girl born and raised.
My love of travel increased after I graduated from university. I went on a five-week backpacking trip through Southeast Asia with two of my best friends. This trip was my first time backpacking and it was amazing and inspiring to meet so many people who traveled the world long-term.
After I returned from Asia, I still had one month before I started my job. So I immediately booked a three-week solo trip to Europe. From these solo adventures, it became clear to me that travel was an integral part of my life.
Falling in Love with Africa
Africa is my favorite part of the world to travel. It’s a disservice to reference Africa as one entity because it’s 54 diverse countries with a lot to explore. A common mistake is to refer to Africa as a country, instead of a continent!
I want to encourage more people to view Africa as a travel destination because there is beautiful scenery, diverse cultures, unique wildlife and epic adventures. As a Black American, I feel a special connection traveling on the continent because I know my ancestors came from here.
East Africa is a fantastic place to start. One of the reasons I love this region is because the locals speak English. For example, I could be in a village in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania and still have meaningful conversations. These dialogues allow for immersive cultural experiences.
Another reason I love Africa is that it’s always an adventure. Life is different from Western standards. I find it refreshing to see people who aren’t uptight! Kids are out running on the streets without parents worried about someone abducting their child – like how people fear in the US.
Or if something is broken, instead of complaining, you find a way to make it work. When I was in Mozambique, I learned that vans can fit more people than ever thought! Also, the music brings joy. I fell in love with afro-beats which made for fun nights out. There is so much that I love about Africa.
Visiting 12 out of 54 Countries
My plans are to return in 2021 to the Seychelles (if COVID doesn’t mess up my plans) and then to have two months backpacking freely in Africa. I’m not sure which destinations I’ll visit but I’m thinking about Madagascar or Benin. It will all depend on which country has its borders open to tourism.
Favourite Place: Lamu Island
Lamu Island in Kenya is my number one spot. If I had unlimited flights, I would go there once a year. Lamu is a charming destination and what makes it special are the locals who live there. It’s a tiny island and I was only there for a week but by the end of it, I felt like I knew everyone.
I would walk through the old town and bump into friends. Everyone had a nickname like: “Mr. Crab the fisherman”, “Shark the guide who might be a little shady” or “Rasta Man with the dreads”. So I would walk the streets and go, “Hey Shark! How are you?”. The locals were hospitable and funny.
Mr. Crab the fisherman even cooked my friend and I a full seafood feast with crabs, octopus, calamari and more for free! It was magical. My heart is still in Lamu Island and I can’t wait to return to say hi to my friends.
Future Hotspots: Uganda & DRC
Uganda is a country that is definitely up-and-coming! I feel that Uganda is underrated as it’s such a beautiful country. Plus, you can visit gorillas there. The gorilla population has slowly increased because of conservation efforts. Therefore, I envision Uganda to become popular from 2021 onwards.
Bwindi National Park has experienced a gorilla baby boom. There’s never been more incentive to visit the park. Another place that should be on your radar is the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC has a bad reputation because of safety concerns but it has some amazing activities.
Biggest Challenge of Africa
Public transport can be a challenge, depending on the country. The infrastructure is not the best in many countries with very bumpy roads. When you ride in a car, you’ll hear the term “African Massage” because you’ll get a massage from bouncing up and down from the bumps.
Also, Africans are creative and know how to squeeze as many people as possible into a van. So be prepared for some exciting rides. You can always hire a car or private driver but part of the adventure of traveling in Africa is taking public transport. Trust me – you won’t regret these adventures!
Finding the Best Cuisine in Africa
The local food and cuisine in Africa can be amazing if you know where to go. Ethiopian cuisine, for example, is terrific and a highlight of the country. I was so happy with every meal in Ethiopia because the cuisine is unique and filled with lots of flavor. I even tried raw beef there which I enjoyed.
When I was in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – I was surprised by how much I liked the food. I never heard much about African cuisine before traveling there and didn’t have expectations to be a foodie while backpacking – but the dishes were flavorful and I loved eating around the continent.
Mozambique also has a cool food scene because of the Portuguese. There are some great hot sauces (peri peri), seafood and matapa (a type of creamed spinach)! Overall, the food in Africa will surprise you by its quality.
How to Travel through Africa
How you travel through Africa will depend on which country you visit. I’ve done organized tours, independent travel, flying, public transport and hired private drivers. How you get around all depends on your preferences too.
Independent travel is possible but it might get lonely if you are solo, since there isn’t a big backpacking scene. Most foreigners I met were either volunteers or missionaries – which is why I want to encourage more people to actually TRAVEL in Africa and spend their dollars in the local economies.
I think joining a tour is a great way to travel through countries like Uganda where you have to drive everywhere. It’s hard to drive in Uganda on your own. Hiring a private driver would be expensive and so joining a tour makes sense. If you are short on time, flying within countries is affordable.
For example, in Ethiopia, if you fly with Ethiopian Airlines you get discounted domestic flights. I try to travel by bus as much as possible to help lower my carbon footprint but sometimes flying is the only way.
Cherished Memories in Africa
One amazing moment in Africa was when I couchsurfed in Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda. My host picked me up in his canoe and it took four hours to reach his home! It was a fantastic way to see the lake and experience village life.
My host built his own house and made an efficient home equipped with solar electricity and a small farm for all the grocery needs. I love immersing myself in a new country and learning about different ways of life. I never expected to canoe for four hours to reach someone’s home but there I was!
Need to Know Before you Go
The first thing to know is the required visa information for your passport. In many countries, you can get visas on arrival and so it’s handy to travel with USD to obtain the visa. Also, make sure you have an updated vaccine list since many countries require you to have a Yellow Fever certificate.
Health insurance is a must! I recommend Allianz Travel Insurance since they cover all countries in Africa. Finally, be prepared to embrace a bit of chaos. People can be late, travel plans don’t always go as expected, there might be some crazy driving but relax and go with the flow.
“This is Africa” is a common phrase used to accept the inconveniences of life that happen while being in Africa. Thanks for reading and enjoy!