A GUIDE TO AFRICA
10 Things to Know Before Visiting East Africa
East Africa is home to incredible wildlife, bucket-list safaris, picture-perfect beaches and bustling urban life, which makes it the perfect vacation destination.
A trip to East Africa means you can explore tropical forests, while the days away on the Swahili coast, journey through the savannahs of the Serengeti, and discover thriving cosmopolitan cities.
Whether you’ve booked your ticket or are still deciding, here are 10 things to know before visiting East Africa.
1. It’s not a country
Despite tour operators, such as ourselves, and other tourists, referring to East Africa as a single entity, it is not a country. East Africa is in fact made up of 6 countries, namely Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Kenya. Each of these countries is completely different with unique histories, cultures, traditions, languages and customs. You would not be impressed if a visitor to your country referred to you as a completely different nationality, so make sure not to paint the area with the same brush!
2. There is more to it than safaris
East Africa is home to the big guys of the safari scene – the Maasai Mara, Serengeti and gorilla trekking. These all top many bucket lists around the world. But there is more to East Africa than seeing the Big Five – sun tan on the beautiful beaches of Kenya, hike volcanoes in Rwanda, and explore the buzzing cosmopolitan scene of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.
3. Practice photo etiquette
As with most of Africa, it is a paradise for photographers with fantastic shots around every corner. However, it is important you do not exotify the people that live there. Of course, snap away on safari game drives or shoot every breathtaking sunset, but avoid photographing local people without their permission. We doubt you would walk up to a stranger in your own city and photograph them, so we suggest following the same principle when travelling in East Africa, or in fact anywhere in Africa!
4. Look for hidden gems
Many of us when we travel get caught up in seeing the tourist traps. But as we are sure you know, there is a lot to gain from getting off the beaten track and getting into the nitty gritty of a country. Of course, do not pass up the chance to hike with mountain gorillas if that is your lifelong dream and we will never deny the satisfaction of seeing all Big Five, but look for the hidden gems too. Go swimming with whale sharks on Tanzania’s Mafia Island, go monkey trekking, kayak on Rwanda’s magnificent Lake Kivu, explore the ancient streets of Lamu in Kenya – delve deep into the unique magic of East Africa.
5. Avoid the rain!
Visiting during the rainy season will be a literal damper on your holiday! The rainy season varies from country to country, and despite making for a cheaper vacation, it will make it difficult to enjoy your trip. Here is a quick breakdown of each East African’s rainy season:
- Rwanda: March to May, October to mid-December
- Kenya: April to June, a few weeks in November and December
- Tanzania: March to May, October to November
- Burundi: February to March, September to November
- Uganda: March to May, October to November
6. It’s easy to get around
Easily traversed borders and visas for most countries, and plentiful flights and buses make East Africa a great destination for diverse and easy travel. You can easily explore many of East Countries and should take advantage of this ease of travel to enjoy several of the regions wonderful countries.
7. It’s got a great culinary scene
East Africa is a global melting pot which means it serves up a multitude of culinary delights. There are East-African-specific traditions infused with Arabic, Indian, British, Chinese, Belgian, French and German flavours and cuisines. Don’t fear limited food options! The region will is no short of mouthwatering, diverse and delicious dishes.
8. Don’t assume the worst
East Africa has featured in many a film, and unfortunately, the depictions are not always the most positive. You’ve likely seen stories of famine, dispute or civil war. This is not the case, do not assume even one you encounter is poor or starving, East Africa is not homogeneous, and the films only depict snippets and segments of life there.
9. The cultural scene is great
Some of Africa’s best artists and musicians call East Africa their home. Rwanda’s art and photography is increasingly on the rise. Zanzibar has an unparalleled artistic tradition. Kenya is home to some fantastic bands. In between safaris, beach getaways and mountain trips try to catch a live show and visit galleries and museums, it’s worth it!
10. Much of it is cosmopolitan
When you think of East Africa, you’re likely to envisage vast savannahs, Mount Kilimanjaro and dreamy safaris. Of course, you wouldn’t be wrong – this is what the region is famous for after all. However, city lovers will be glad to hear that East Africa’s countries are home to some of Africa’s most thriving cosmopolitan cities with excellent art, culture, food and music. Explore Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura, Kigali, Kampala or Nairobi and experience another wonderful side to Africa!