What you need to know not only before you go, but before you even start thinking about going!
To start our journey together I want to share an African proverb: The people sailing in the same boat share the goal.
When one thinks of Africa, the vision is that of beauty, wilderness, wildlife, exotic peoples, romance and so much more. Throughout history Africa’s people, its struggles and above all else its overwhelming beauty have created a romantic vision of a spectacular, yet mysterious continent. Since those first western explorers landed on its shores in the late 1800’s, Americans have been fascinated and drawn with wonder and intrigue to this diverse and complex land. Even today the stories and pictures that come out of Africa paint a picture of an untouched place where its people live as they have for centuries, a place where the wildlife is abundant and untamed and a place of conflict and opportunity…yet there is so much more than superlatives can describe and a ton of adventure vacation packages to discover when looking into a trip to Africa.
There is a saying in Africa…. It applies to planning your first trip as well: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Once you have your mind made up that you will visit this great continent, set aside the time to “study up” and educate yourself on at least the basics. The following is just an idea and an outline of things you might want to consider and how to get started eating that elephant called Africa.
The Continent and the Five Regions of Africa (This is One Big Continent)
Of our seven continents on the planet Africa ranks number two in size, second only to Asia. With its 11,677,791 square miles (give or take a few) you can fit all of Europe and South America within its footprint. In fact you could fit the United States something like five times within its coastlines. That is one large land mass. As you start thinking about the “where” keep this in mind…Picture talking to a distant relative in Europe and your response when they suggest they want to come visit for two weeks and they would like to see Maine, New York, Florida, Arizona and the California coast. You would quickly let them know that just isn’t possible! Now magnify that times five and well, you get the idea.
Africa and its 58 countries are broken up into five distinct “regions”:
o North Africa
o West Africa
o East Africa
o Central Africa
o Southern Africa
North Africa is typically considered dry and arid. It is made up of eight countries or territories and not frequently thought of as a “Safari” destination. Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara make up North Africa. North Africa is separated from the rest of Africa by the Sahara Desert to the South. These countries create a stronger connection to the seafaring countries of Europe more so than their southern neighbors.
West Africa is bordered on the west and south by the Atlantic, to the north by the Sahara, and to the east (roughly) by Mount Cameroon to Lake Chad. West Africa makes up roughly one-fifth of Africa and includes Liberia, Senegal, Togo, Niger, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria, just to name a few of the eighteen countries, commonly considered West Africa. With the vast majority of its land mass as plains at less than 300 meters above sea level, it is considered “semi-arid”.
***East Africa is where we really start talking “safari country”! This region consists of nineteen countries and territories most commonly known for Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique, Madagascar, (although these last two are often referenced as Southern Africa), again just to hit the highlights. When talking “safari” Eastern Africa typically means Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Its stunning and scenic geography, dense vegetation and high peaks (Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya to be a name dropper), as well as Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world should be “must-sees” in anyone’s book. It should be no surprise why the fabled Big Five (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard) can be found here.
Central Africa (considered by most to be a “Republic”) is considered the “core” of the continent and includes the countries, regions or states of Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. This is a land rich in African history as well as minerals. Despite its significant mineral resources (gold, uranium, diamonds, etc.) the Central African Republic remains one of the poorest countries in the world and among the ten poorest countries in Africa. It should be no surprise that in no small part to the mineral wealth and the geographic “core” location, Central Africa has been a coveted territory by both African and foreign governments for centuries.
***Southern Africa (not to be confused with the country of South Africa). Southern Africa is the southernmost region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. Within the region are numerous territories, including the Republic of South Africa (a successor country to the Union of South Africa); nowadays, the simpler term South Africa is generally reserved for the country in English. In the UN scheme of things, Southern Africa is made up of five countries: South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia (my favorite), Lesotho and Botswana. When we think or hear Africa, we are often hearing about Southern or even South Africa as it is a region rich with history, development, opportunities and struggles. South Africa stands out as the dominant economic superpower of the region. It can also “rival” East Africa with its wildlife opportunities.
(*** Regions commonly associated with safaris!)
Read Part 2: Visiting Africa 101- Part 2
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