RTW Budget Update: Africa

We’ve shared our RTW budget along with an update for Europe, but now it’s time to take a look at where our money went in Africa. Can you guess how we did? Can you guess? I bet you have your suspicions.

Part 1: Major Transportation

  • Estimated Expense: $1,000
  • Actual Expense: $1,615
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$615

Transportation in Africa is difficult to plan, sometimes dangerous, and uncomfortable. Outside our interesting train ride, we found ourselves hiring private transportation on many occasions rather than the public transportation options that the locals choose to partake in. If you’ve ever seen a dala dala in Zanzibar, you’ll understand why.

So the taxis, 1st class bus tickets, and private shuttle on our safari from Livingstone to Joburg cost quite a bit of cash. Throw in another $625 to rent a car and pay for gas all around South Africa and we’ve got one major budget issue. So next time (when we’re pricing out the cost of renting a 4×4 for our very own self-drive safari), we’ll have to keep in mind spending a little more money in the transportation department will be worth it.

A dala dala in Zanzibar

Part 2: In-Country Costs

  • Estimated Expense: $4,200 (35 days at $60 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $5,218
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$1,018

But just like before, we have to account for the fact that our budget was based on a different time period spent in Africa. We spent a day less in Africa than originally planned and we should fudge the numbers to account for that.

  • Adjusted Estimated Expense: $4,080 (34 days at $60 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $5,218
  • Adjusted Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$1,138

We had to change our way of thinking a little bit in Africa. Across Europe, it’s easy to spend your days strolling through city streets, observing the architecture or people watching. You could do this in Africa if you’d like as well, but you’ll miss out on the whole point of traveling to Africa. Everything is activity-based. And all of those activities have western-style pricing. With some even explicitly priced in US dollars or Euros instead of the local currency. So in order for us to go on game drives, a river cruise, swim at the top of Victoria Falls, take a surf lesson, or ride an ostrich we had to spend the money to do so. So key point on money while traveling through Africa: research your must do activities long beforehand to include in your budget. Our mistake was we just showed up and figured it out as we went.

True Cost for Eastern / Southern Africa: $77 / day / person

A zebra and her foal at the Khama Rhino Sancturary
A zebra and her foal at the Khama Rhino Sancturary

Zanzibar for the Backpacker: Paje Beach

photo10-beach-pano

White sand beaches and a few dashes of spices and culture provide an ultimate island paradise. Zanzibar was our first stop in Africa. A sheltered prelude to five weeks in Africa, but an introduction to local foods and people. Many make Stone Town their first stop in Zanzibar, but why do that when you’ll find the hustle and bustle of crowded dirt alleys and frenzied street markets and shops all across Africa. The real reason to go to Zanzibar is to relax on a quiet beach. Grab a drink, lay in the hammock, soak up some rays, eat, sleep, repeat.

How to relax on the beach in Zanzibar
How to relax on the beach in Zanzibar

But when we started looking for accommodation, I found rates much higher than I expected with most places hovering around the $300 / night range. Crazy. So I dug deeper and found the east cost of Unguja (the main and largest island of the two islands of Zanzibar) littered with more affordable accommodation. So that’s where we went and boy were we happy. If you’re considering a trip take a look at a few of these backpacker hotspots.

Paje

Paje became our home away from home for 7 nights. The beach has several accommodation options within 1km of each other so if you don’t like having a plan just show up and negotiate a price. A few highly rated, popular spots:

Early morning sunrise
Early morning sunrise

This beach is pristine with the closest thing to a nuisance are the immigrated Maasai trying to sell you things from their over-the-shoulder ‘shops’ or the kids who will drink all of your water, thirsty after splashing around in the water. During some parts of the year this is a haven for kite surfing with several outfitters along the strip willing to charge you western dollars for rentals and/or lessons.

During low tide, the ocean nearly disappears turning what seems are miles of water into a fine, sandy mud. When this happens the locals come out to fish or tend to their seaweed farms. But be careful! Stingrays hide underneath the sand and if you’re unlucky a nasty sting will leave your leg numb and you’ll have some difficulty walking for a few days. This really did happen to a girl while we were there and a local was left sucking the poison out of her foot and crushing up some of the ‘local medicine’ (some sort of plant) to provide some anesthetic to the area.

One of the many seaweed farms along the coast
One of the many seaweed farms along the coast
A stranded boat during low tide
A stranded boat during low tide

Around Paje

There are several other beaches around Paje that are also popular with backpackers. Most notably: Jambiani and Bwejuu.

Jambiani

Just 6km down the coast from Paje, this sleepy fishing village can offer a little more privacy if your budget allows. The top rated places I looked at are running $10 – $20 higher than Paje for comparable digs.

  • Jambiani Whitesand Bungalows (single $50 / double $70)
  • Dude’s Guesthouse (double $50)
  • Ndame Beach Lodge (single $50 / twin $75 / double $95)
  • Jambiani Guesthouse (twin $50)
  • Zanzibar Fairytale Guesthouse (double $70)

Bwejuu

3km north of Paje and practically in walking distance (sharing the same beach) is Bwejuu. We didn’t get a chance to visit, but one traveler noted that you could spend your days there watching the palms trees sway without speaking a word to anyone else.

Train Tracks Across Africa

Trains bring about a sense of wonder, more so than the car or the airplane. It’s the thing about the pace of travel, the sound of tons of steel heaving over the earth, the getting to see the in between that is lost on the air planes’ wings and the cars’ paved roads. It’s the freeness to move about, to stretch your legs, to succumb to the rhythm of the wheels, to be spirited away into yesteryear, to feel the wind in your hair. Trains are magical man-made caterpillars. In the case of the train, the journey is the experience. This four day train trek took us through the African bush, rural villages, and the wilds of the animal kingdom. It was wild alright.

Danger and Despair in Dar es Salaam

Dar Es Salaam City Scape

Before I begin this story, I would like to tell my mother that we are safe and nothing remotely dangerous occurred to us while we were in Dar es Salaam. Please don’t worry.

And we continue – before we arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I read a post on a Lonely Planet forum where someone described her experience of getting kidnapped and robbed while in Dar es Salaam. I of course assumed that she was not taking the proper precautions – be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk alone at night, don’t obviously flaunt money or valuables, use common sense. All the types of things that living in a city like Chicago we’ve learned to do without thinking.

But then we showed up in Zanzibar. A young couple showed up a day or two after us and shared their experience of getting kidnapped and robbed as well. The story sounded all too familiar. Exactly as the Lonely Planet post described:

You get into a taxi and someone jumps into the passenger seat immediately or a few minutes down the road. The doors have childproof locks so you cannot get out and the driver doesn’t let you when you tell him you want to leave. It’s dark and you start going down quiet, unfamiliar streets. A van pulls in front of you and a few more guys get out. They threaten you and tell you exactly what is going to happen next. They are going to drive you around to a few ATMs. You’re going to take out the maximum amount from the ATM – 400,000 Tanzanian Schillings (~$240) at most. They’ll continue to take you around until your account is dry or they’ve felt they’ve gotten enough out of you. If you cooperate, you’ll go home safely. Don’t ask what happens if you decide not to.

A few different guys will take turns driving you around to each ATM. Some will be nice and friendly and try to talk to you. Others will be completely quiet. Once they’ve drained your account, you might get lucky and they’ll give you a few bucks of your own cash to catch another taxi home. You won’t get robbed in that other taxi, because they all work together. You’ll keep all of your valuables in your bag, because cold hard cash is much more valuable.

When you file a police report, if you show no scuffs or scrapes from a beating, the police won’t help. All they got was money and your dignity, but you walked away unharmed.

These taxi drivers call themselves the “Little Mafia” and they operate all around Dar es Salaam.

At our hostel over the next five days we heard more stories of what happened to people in Dar. One guy showed up with two black eyes after taking a beating. I didn’t hear the details of this, but I had to assume the mugging went wrong when he put up a fight. Another couple showed up trying to find a computer to check their email as they had lost their computer, phones, and camera after being robbed in Dar.

Three different stories of being kidnapped or robbed or beaten or all of the above in just a matter of days. So I dug a little deeper and found more stories of recent events on the US Embassy website:


Monday, September 16, 1930 hours: A white Toyota with tinted windows, driving on the wrong side of the road, conducted a vehicular bag snatch on a U.S. citizen in front of the Colosseum Hotel on Haile Selassie. Fortunately, she wasn’t injured.


Monday, September 2, 1930 hours: Several U.S. citizens went to dinner at Osaka restaurant. They walked down Chaza Lane towards Touré Drive, looking for a bajaji taxi to take them home. As they neared Touré, they were surrounded by four men who hit one victim over the head with a bottle and the assailants stole an iPhone, BlackBerry, and a few thousand Tanzanian Shillings. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.


Wednesday, August 14, morning: A young man apparently under the influence of drugs smashed the side view mirror of a U.S. citizen’s vehicle when she was stuck in downtown traffic. A nearby police officer refused to pursue the man.

Saturday, July 12, 2330 hours: An expat woman left a Msasani bar and took a bajaji taxi home alone. The driver stopped on a dirt road and pushed her out. A van immediately pulled up and several assailants raped and robbed her.

There are several more stories like the above of incidents that occurred to US citizens. But while at our hostel we were the only Americans there. It’s impossible to know how many tourists leave Dar es Salaam with empty pockets and a wounded ego.

This is how we made it out of Dar es Salaam unscathed:

  • We paid some extra cash to stay at a reputable business class hotel.
  • This hotel came with the perk of a free shuttle to pick us up from the ferry from Zanzibar. A well dressed man had a sign waiting for us when we arrived at the terminal. If you do not have someone waiting for you it’s a madhouse of taxi drivers trying to get you into their cab. This is what a real cab should look like and it’s worth it to do a proper inspection:
    • a white car with a white (never yellow) license plate
    • a colored stripe running laterally on the side panels of the vehicle
    • a number inside a circle on both passenger doors.
    • specific windshield stickers, namely: a valid insurance certificate, TRA sticker indicating maximum number of passengers, a motor vehicle license certificate, a municipal council parking stand sticker
    • make sure the driver’s I.D. matches the name of the car registration and taxi licenses.
  • We hired a porter from the hotel to walk with us to the grocery store for our first walk about town so we could get our bearings and gauge the situation.
  • When we walked alone, I walked without my daypack, Kristin without her purse, no ATM card, little cash, and we walked deliberately- to our destination and back and that was it.
  • We ordered dinner in and went nowhere at night.
  • We had the hotel choose a taxi for us for our trip to the train station.

Overly cautious? Maybe. But we made it through Dar es Salaam safely. I say, it’s worth the extra few bucks.