Last update: 7/8/22 | July 8th, 2022
Africa is a massive continent known for its exotic animal encounters, dramatic landscapes, world-class beaches, and rich cultural traditions that vary from region to region. It’s a continent few explore in-depth (there are 54 countries here after all), yet one that always seems to captivate anyone who visits.
Stretching over 30 million square kilometers and home to over 1.2 billion people, Africa is a vastly diverse landscape — both geographically and culturally. Most world maps end up distorting the continent’s true size, leading many to underestimate just how big it is (contrary to what a Mercator map shows, Africa is actually 14 times larger than Greenland!).
Clearly, there is a lot to see here.
Where many countries in Africa do have their struggles, there are also many places where tourism is booming. Whether you’re looking for an intrepid budget backpacking experience or a more luxurious safari getaway, you’ll be able to find it somewhere on the continent.
But how do you get around while you’re there?
To help you plan your next adventure, here’s everything you need to know about traveling Africa — no matter your budget!
Overland Africa Safari Tours
Overland safari tours are organized package tours of Africa. They are the easiest way to see the continent, catering to more short-term travelers who want to see Africa without a hassle. If you’re a little intimidated about traveling Africa on your own, this may be your best option.
Overland tours are more expensive than doing things yourself, but food, transport, and accommodation costs are all included. You can usually find a wide variety of options as well, from basic backpacker tours to more luxurious options. Small group tours will be your cheapest option, though private tours will also be available (though much more expensive).
These tours are generally perfect for people who don’t want to plan and research a trip and/or travelers who want to minimize hassle while they’re there.
If you’re specifically interested in animal safaris and seeing the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino), South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, and Tanzania are some of the best places for safaris in Africa.
Traveling by bus gives you an opportunity to be a part of other passengers’ everyday lives. You’ll get the opportunity to learn about how the locals get around and experience a more authentic way of traveling the continent.
It will require a bit more planning, but it’s an affordable way to travel. Plus, you’ll get the opportunity to converse with the locals. You’ll find that people will go out of their way to make sure that you, as a visitor, are comfortable and safe as possible.
Public buses will usually cost between $3–$30 USD depending on how far you’re going. More often than not, they are used for city travel or inter-city journeys where there is a good network of sealed roads. These buses are generally comfortable, safe, and spacious.
Countries or regions that have fewer or no sealed roads will usually have much older buses that frequently break down and are overcrowded. You’ll want to make sure you plan ahead, secure your valuables, and expect delays.
For these trips, make sure that all your valuables are stored on you/within reach and not in your luggage that’s checked below or above the bus. While thefts are rare, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.
How many people do you think you can fit in a minivan? Africa is the place that defines the limit to that answer. Just when you think they couldn’t possibly fit another person in, they have them stand on the windowsill outside the van.
While this may not be the most luxurious method of travel, it’s definitely a memorable one — and an affordable one, too! Minivans are an incredibly cheap way to get around and are usually taken for journeys up to six hours long within a country (or to a neighboring country). Unless you’ve pre-booked a journey with a company, most minivans don’t leave until they are full, so jump on one that looks ready to go and avoid waiting for hours until it fills up.
Like public buses, prices are cheap. Expect to pay anywhere from $1-20 USD depending on how far you are going.
More people tend to hitchhike through Namibia and South Africa rather than other East African countries. And hitchhiking in Central Africa is not recommended.
While hitchhiking does bring some risks and challenges, it’s an easy way to get around if you’re flexible and on a budget. If you hitch from the side of the road, it’s best to wave your hand up and down instead of sticking out your thumb as sticking out your thumb is often considered rude in Africa.
Chances are you’ll get a good mix of locals and travelers picking you up. While it’s not necessary, giving your driver (if they are a local) a tip is never a bad idea. Just be sure to use common sense and take precautions if you’re hitchhiking.
Generally, I’d suggest you have some hitchhiking experience before doing it in Africa. This isn’t the best place to try hitchhiking if you’ve never done it before.
For the most up-to-date tips and advice, consult Hitchwiki.
Hiring a car will put a dent in your budget, but it will give you much more flexibility. If you’re heading out to a game reserve, make sure you know which game parks you want to go to and where the best viewing areas are so you can plan accordingly and cut down on fuel expenses.
In addition to renting a car for safaris, another popular option is to rent a car to drive the beautiful Garden Route, a popular and scenic stretch of the South African coast. Car rentals from South Africa can be found for as cheap as $35-55 USD per day, especially if you book online.
For the best deals on rental cars, use Discover Cars
If you are planning on long-term travel in Africa, you may even consider buying your own 4WD to tour the continent in. South Africa would be the best place to find a vehicle to purchase. You can also look for a departing traveler ready to sell their vehicle.
When planning your African travel adventure, carefully consider your budget, itinerary, and safety interests before making your transportation decisions. While public transport is cheap and authentic, it’s generally uncomfortable and less safe than other options.
Hiring or buying a car is the more expensive choice but will give you greater freedom as well as maintain an authentic experience. Overland safari tours will be expensive and less authentic but will give you an all-inclusive package and the greatest sense of safety.
But no matter how you get around Africa, you’ll definitely find the experience unforgettable!
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip?
Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.