touring | east africa - riding the slow train to dar es salam
'6 countries, 10,000 km's & a day late. we made it'
east africa. Its been a dream of mine for a long time to take one of the most amazing train journeys of the world. the tazara line from zambia to tanzania. a journey of over 3,000km that takes in some of the most spectacular scenery from the deserts of zambia to the vibrant highlands of south tanzania. after three days on the train, we moved on to the tropical paradise of zanzibar before taking in sights of the highest mountain in africa, kilimanjaro. from the tropical forests to the metropolis of nairobi then on to uganda where i took in the tranquillity of africa's largest lake, lake victoria. finally, i arrived in rwanda where i came to see the majestic gorillas in the mountain of this phenomenal country.
zimbabwe (country no: 83)
so technically not east africa but this is where my journey started. after arriving on a 27-hour bus ride from namibia i was glad to stretch my legs at the border. zimbabwe & zamabia have implemented a join visa program for ($50) you get unlimited border crossing between both countries for 30 days. make sure to take american dollars with you to zimbabwe for your whole stay as the currency is super unstable, never use use your bank card there.
after a day resting in the hotel the next morning i had booked a white water rafting tour with shockwave adventures. we set out early in the morning to the river your journey starts at the foot of victoria falls it amazing to see these magnificent falls in all there glory from below its hard to comprehend the power this waterfall has 500 million litres fall over the edge every day, you can really feel it in the water below. after navigating the rapids for a few hours we hit a big rapid & this is where i fell out with another guy into the river now its not super dangerous as the water is fast moving so no crocs here phew... scooped up by the backup canoe we where back onboard within a few seconds making our way to the end to the end of the rapids where we climb up what has to be the tallest embankment i have ever seen but wow what a view when you reach the top. it definitely a great way to experience what nature has to offer in zimbabwe.
so you are most probably thinking but is zimbabwe safe?? well, i can tell you forget all the media coverage of this country because in victoria falls you truly feel safe here its one of the most visited places in sub saharan africa. the people are super friendly & always welcoming they are truly appreciative of tourists coming to the falls as many of the jobs rely on tourism.
zambia (country no: 84)
a quick walk across the bridge with victoria falls to your left you will find yourself in the neighbouring country of zambia. since i already had the kaza visa that covers unlimited crossings between the two countries it was only a quick check in at immigration before board the free transfer bus from the best hostel in africa... yes jollyboys backpackers in livingstone has been continuously voted the top backpackers in africa.
livingstone is the adventure capital of zambia so while here i thought it would be fitting to get back in the air again & do some flying especially since we were so close to one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, victoria falls. i teamed up with batoka sky to take a flight over the falls, they actually gave
me special permission to take aerial images of the falls as its normally prohibited so a big thanks to the team. if you are looking for a special once in a lifetime experience then this is it, you truly feel like your a bird.
after a few days in livingstone, it was time to move onto the capital, lusaka. now this city is not normally on the tourist trail but as i had to buy my ticket for the tazara train here i decided to stay in the beautiful boutique latitude hotel located in the best area in the city where you will find all of the coolest restaurants like the wonderful mexican restaurant cantina. i have to say the hotel is truly something different its like you are living in a beautifully designed african home there is art & furniture from all over africa celebrating the ingenuity & artistic prowess of this vibrant continent. although this is not where my trans zambian - tanzania rail odyssey begins it is where you have to buy the tickets for the journey. at tazara house in the centre of the city you make your way the upper floor where you buy your ticket it's truly like going back in time, its around ($40) for a 48 hours train ride in first class crazy!!! make sure that you book a few days in advance as the first class fills up quickly. first class is a must as the classes below this are overcrowded and not very comfortable. first class cabins have four beds inside with reading lights & a fan for those hot middays. take a few snacks with you as the days can be long but they do have a bar & restaurant that serves up some great local meals including fish for around ($1.50) the beers start to run out as the days go by but for less than a ($1) a piece it a great way to meet up with some locals.
truly this is a trip of a lifetime i took the trip alone but met some aussie friends in the next cabin over. the train meanders slowly through national parks, the tanzania highland & then onto the coast and the megacity of dar es salaam. Make sure that you don't have confirmed plans as the train can often be late ours was 6 hours but i heard from a friend that he was delayed for 24 hours as the train derailed.
tanzania (country no: 85)
we arrived in the coastal capital dar es salaam at 10pm in the evening. fresh of the train we where greeted by the usual bunch of unsavoury taxi drivers that were charging five times the price of uber to our city hostel the slow leopard. I would advise that you always take uber here as i heard some personal cases of robberies from taxi drivers here, uber is the cheapest & safest way to navigate the city.
after a few days of rest here after the epic train journey, i took the 2h ferry to the island paradise of zanzibar.
there are a few ways to get to the island but ferry ($20) is the easiest if your staying in the city, if your flying in from somewhere else then the flight is around the same price.
arriving in the capital of the island, stones town it was reminiscent of marrakesh with the architecture & culture, do remember that zanazibar is a muslim island and this translates down into the amazing design of the buildings to the food. I arrived in the middle of the rainy season but the good thing about being in the city is the narrow streets that protect you from the majority of the rain. you'll find plenty of cool shops here selling local items & of course junk but one of my favourite places had to be the darajani market this is where all the locals shop its a super vibrant place to get some cool street photos of the locals & vendors.
now you don't come to zanzibar for the city life so it was time to head for the beach & as a backpacker, i took one the local minibus for less than a ($1) to the coastal village of paje. As we arrived to the coast the clouds started to part & i finally got my first glimpse of the crystal clear waters that surround this beautiful island. there are a lot of things to do on the island but most people come for the beaches & most of my time here was spent chilling with friends by the beach having a few beers at the wonderful ananda beach house set right on the beachfront, it's a great place to meet people & the wonderful marie will be happy to host you. one of the most extraordinary trips you can do is a day trip to swim with dolphins. most tourists i chatted to said it was the best thing they did in zanzibar and i can confirm that it is something truly special, looking the dolphins in the eye is really humbling you can see their is something special about these creatures.
one of the most beautiful & truly unique restaurants in the world has to be the rock restaurant on the east coast of the island. created by a group of italians that truly know how to provide great service & food. the setting of this restaurant has to be the most unique features of this place. when you arrive you have to take a small raft over during high tide and that's where the experience starts. I had a three course meal made from the finest local produce, the seafood here is some of the freshest you can eat in the world.
kilimanjaro; my next stop was to the highest peak in africa. i took a quick internal flight from zanzibar ($50) to the gateway of kilimanjaro, arusha. now arusha as a city is nothing to scream about its truly a gateway city for tourists wanting to visit kilimanjaro & the fantastic national parks. i was only here for a week so i wanted to explore the area surrounding Kilimanjaro. so your probably wondering did i climb the mountain?.. well the short answer is no. but it was actually rainy season so it's not advised to climb during this period but i did get to see the mountain in all its glory from what has to be one of the most unparalleled eco-lodges that i have ever stayed in kaliwa lodge. the lodge is located just on the southern edge of the kilimanjaro national park perched atop go a small valley in a tropical forest with the most amazing views of the mountain & surrounding area. the lodge offers a variety of excursions from climbing the mountain to local hiking walks to meet the villagers in the area & down to the river below.
the best way to get around in tanzania and africa, in general, is the local minibuses that go from city to city you can grab a few hour ride for less than ($2) a piece its a really interesting way to travel the vast expanses of tanzania meeting locals along the way. i headed back to arusha for a quick safari at the ngorongoro crater before heading to kenya, you can get a cheap 2 days safari for around ($200) including a quick visit to a masai village.
kenya (country no: 86)
crossing over from tanzania into kenya by local bus the immigration was surprisingly easy. the best visa on arrival to apply for is the east africa visa ($100) this gives you 90 to travel between kenya, uganda & rwanda with unlimited border crossing just make sure you have cash with you as like in most of africa card services are limited.
by this point i was actually rushing as i already booked my flight back to europe for the summer. i only had a few days in nairobi, now kenya is a truly beautiful country they truly have everything from mountains to coast but since i only had a few days i stayed in the capital nairobi. this is normally the jumping off point for most visitors to go on safari but it does have some cool places to stay & visit.
so let's dive into my time here.. first things first the accommodations range from super high end like the beautiful kempinski in the centre of the city to the place where i had the pleasure of staying.
giraffe manor located 20 mins outside the city is probably one of the most famous hotels in the world. set in a 1930's manor house is an all-inclusive hotel that has it owns giraffe park in the grounds where you will find some super friendly giraffes that come to the windows of the manor house while your eating. during sunny days the windows are open & you can share your breakfast with these majestic creatures its truly a special experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
kenya has some of the best food in africa from bushmeat to the highest quality seafood from the coast. one of the best restaurants in the city the lord erroll set in one of the fanciest areas in nairobi where you can find all the embassies & even the main UN office in africa. this fine dining restaurant with a michelin starred chef serves up some of the finest dishes in the city. i had the pleasure of visiting here one quiet evening where i met the new chef who decided to whip up some special dishes for me. from the starter to the main of lobster risotto & tasting platter of deserts i have to say it was one of the best meals i had in my time in africa.
uganda (country no: 87)
i took a crazy 12 hour luxury night bus 'well that's what they told me' from nairobi to the capital kampala. i have to say that a luxury bus in africa is not truly a luxury. the seats were falling apart, the rain was streaming through the windows & don't expect to get some sleep the bus driver has the music on full blast the whole night... but hey tia (this is africa).
kampala is a super chaotic city with a lot of heart & soul the people here are some of the friendliest people in the whole of africa. the easiest way to get around is with uber or an even faster way is to take one of the thousands of motorcycle taxis that line the streets, you can get around most of the city for around ($1).
i was excited to get to kampala as i was going to be one of the first people to stay at the newly opened latitude 0 in the hills above the city. the grand project by the latitude group has to be one of the most interesting hotels that i had the pleasure of staying in africa. this is not your typical hotel its truly like you staying in an african art gallery the amount art on display is unrivalled its a place that truly makes you smile every time you leave your room. it's not only a place to stay, with a cool collaborative workspace that's open to local businesses and guests it is a great way to meet & collaborate on projects.
kampala has a thriving nightlife that can be explored on a daily basis in the many different bars around the city. i have to say that if you are also a coffee lover then this region is one of the best places in the world to taste some of the freshest & most unique coffee that you will set your eyes on. forgot the starbucks frappes here it's about tasting the authentic black coffee and no one does it better than endiro coffee. they are even donating part of their profits into helping end child vulnerability in Uganda. its exquisite coffee and an even better cause.
leaving the hustle & bustle of the city my next spot was one of the most famous places in africa. lake victoria is africa's largest lake & the source of the river nile. less than 20 mins in a taxi gets you to the northern shore where the famous speke resort is located. this mega-resort has you covered for one of the most relaxing stays on the lake. from harbour view rooms to amazing restaurants & an epic pool its the perfect place to unwind after your time in hectic kampala. lake victoria is truly something special the evening sunsets are spectacular. i would recommend taking one of the boat trips that take you out onto the lake to discover the natural beauty of the area.
I have to give a shoutout to the speak apartments where i stayed on my last night before making my way to rwanda. located in the centre of the city these serviced apartments are a great way to feel like you are at home with full amenities in the apartment. onsite you have a luxurious pool, spa, gym and a great brazilian restaurant that has an amazing all you can eat fromlocally sourced meat. its a great place for a special meal and as it was my last night i decided to go all out.
rwanda (country no: 88)
once again i found my self on one of the crazy african night time busses. this time i travelled with trinity, one of the best bus services between kampala & kigali the capital of rwanda. i always try to take night buses and the 9pm departure ($10) was perfect as it got me to kigali around 7am the next morning.
most people know rwanda from the civil war during the '90's but since then rwanda has become one of the safest & cleanest places in the whole of africa and i could see that on my way into the city the infrastructure and lack of rubbish on the streets was surprising compared to all the others countries on this trip.
arriving into kigali the capital i decided to visit the genocide memorial as i only had a day here before heading out. this memorial truly touched me to my core especially the children's room where they depicted the stories of how some of the children where killed, i read one story of a young girl ariane 4 years old who was stabbed in the eyes & head it moved me to tears. this was just one story of over 1 million people who were slaughtered in 100 days during the genocide.
I can happily say that rwanda has now been totally transformed to become one nation & one people, they have one of the fastest growing economies in the world, low unemployment & a stable government. it truly shows the resilience of the people here to never forget but to move on from the atrocities of the past.
i came to rwanda to visit the gorillas. this is one of only a few places in the world where you can see gorillas in the wild. rwanda is actually the most expensive place to do gorilla trekking but they are taking the route of more responsible & sustainable tourism only taking a maximum of 8 people per troop to view the gorillas. it was an amazingly intimate experience with these magnificent creatures up close a true one in a lifetime experience that i will never forget.
gorilla trek africa is one of the leading providers of gorilla trekking in rwanda and while it may seem expensive you have to understand the government permit alone for each person is ($1500) per trip.
travelling in africa can be challenging but the personal & wild experiences that you have here are unrivalled in any other continent. the most common question I'm asked is, is if it safe? well, i can tell you that i never had any issues & i found people super friendly. you have to be mindful with where you are and about your money & gadgets but other than that it's a safe place to visit.
africa as a traveller/backpacker is not the cheapest continent compared with the popular destinations of asia its around double the price but the experiences here cannot be found anywhere else of the planet. budget properly and you will have the time of your life here.
⦿ budget ($25-35) a day.
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country travel tips
atm: fnb offers free withdrawals. make sure not to select the on screen conversion.
sim card: mtc is the best data provider. 3GB is ($4) for 7 days.
transport: car rental for long distance & intercape bus
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here