An Intro Guide for Filipinos about Traveling to Africa
- Where is Africa?
- African culture is strongest in the East
- Top 5 popular African destinations for Filipinos
- Is it safe to travel to these countries?
- What’s the budget range?
- Visa Requirements
- When to go and how long should you stay?
- Travel Agency or DIY
- Best way to get there from the Philippines
- Why Africa over other mainstream travel destinations like Europe or Asia?
Where is Africa?
Africa is a continent just like how Asia is. Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda, etc. are all countries within the African continent just like how Philippines, Korea, Japan, and Thailand all belong to Asia. I’m stressing this fact because I’ve been asked questions by fellow Filipinos like “Is Africa close to Kenya?”.
Let it be known that my geography skills have only improved after years of traveling. Before that, I'm pretty sure I thought that Africa was a country.
For most Filipinos, the ultimate dream destination is Europe…. Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Santorini. These are the places featured in our top Filipino films starred by our top Filipino actors, hence, the ever more popular stigma these cities have among Filipinos.
Asia is famous, too, but since it has become more accessible and affordable because of the famous cheap flight promotions, Korean and Japan for example made a transition from being a “dream” destination to now an attainable “goal” in the travel bucket list. USA and Australia are other popular countries from different continents that Filipinos are visiting more and more too.
Africa, on the other hand, is still an unpopular destination for Filipinos to travel to. The closest knowledge we have of Africa is probably through the classic film, Lion King. And perhaps through the occasional exposure to National Geographic and wildlife TV channels. Still, most Filipinos will not deliberately choose Africa as their first-time travel destination and those who would consider going there would most likely have been to both Asia and Europe, which is okay and completely understandable.
African culture is strongest in the East
Morocco and Egypt are some countries within the continent of Africa, in the northern part. Kenya and Tanzania are part of East Africa and South Africa and Zambia are countries in the Southern part.
In my completely subjective opinion, the African culture, wildlife and scenery is strongest in the East. The Northern countries are, of course, awesome places to visit but the influence of the middle east is stronger there. Countries in the South such as South Africa for example is a now highly developed country with modern infrastructures.
So I would say that if you really want to have an authentic African feels, see African tribes with century-old traditions that still survive, see traditional houses, and see the Lion King come to life, East Africa is the place to go.
Masai Tribe can be seen and visited in both Kenya and Tanzania
Top 5 popular African destinations for Filipinos
There are a lot of countries in Africa that are safe to visit but like in other places, 1 or 2 countries stand out as more popular. Just like when one says Europe, we think of Paris, France or Barcelona, Spain. This is primarily because of the ease of travel, affordability, and media exposure. For example, Thailand is a very common Asian destination for Filipinos compared to Nepal. This is because there are more flights, and they are much cheaper. The same holds true for Africa.
So without further ado, here are my Top 5 picks:
|Country||What it’s known for||Best Time to Visit|
|Ethiopia||Famous for cultural sites||October to January when chances of rainfall is at its minimum|
|Kenya||Popular safari destination. This is where the movie, Lion King, is inspired from along with its neighboring country, Tanzania||Late June to October|
|Tanzania||Also a top safari destination. Famous for the Serengeti park where the Wildebeest Migration takes place. Also known for Mt. Kilimanjaro||June to October and December to March|
|South Africa||Known for safari, beach and sightseeing. Most famous country in Africa and presumed as the safest country in the continent being the most-developed||November to February, but the best time for whale watching is between July and November|
|Zambia||Famous for the Victoria falls that it shares with its neighbor country, Zimbabwe||Dry Season (May to October)- if you want to do the Devil’s Pool; Wet Season(November to April)- to see the waterfalls in all its glory|
Safari in Tanzania
Is it safe to travel these countries?
In general, yes. There’s a negative stigma about Africa because of ebola, racism, etc. but note that Africa is a continent. There are several countries in Africa that are perfectly safe to visit including the top 5 I mentioned. Each of these countries have tourism destinations that receive thousands of visitors from all over the world but there are also areas that are not safe. This is the same everywhere in the world. In the Philippines for example, the southernmost area in Mindanao is not a place you would go but Manila, Palawan, Cebu, etc. are all great places to visit. The same concept holds true in Africa.
Public bus station in the outskirts of Mozambique
City view of Kampala, Uganda
What’s the budget range?
It’s expensive to travel to Africa, period. The flights alone are expensive and in Kenya or Tanzania for example, a safari trip is all-inclusive and has to be booked via a tour operator. For example, a safari trip of 3 or 5 days include all permits, accommodation, all meals, tour guide and everything else. You cannot do your own safari in these places and unless you’re friends with Simba and know exactly where they hang out, you need a professional tour/driver guide who have years of training in spotting wildlife in a park so huge. The Serengeti park alone, the most famous park in Tanzania is almost the same size as Northern Ireland. In South Africa, you can do a self-drive (meaning you can rent a car and drive on your own) but the overall costs is not all that different and not all parks allow this set-up.
|Country||Tour Costs exclusive of flights|
|Ethiopia||You can book with a travel operator and get a 7-day tour for more or less USD 2000 per person. Otherwise, you can easily do a DIY and total cost will, of course, depend on your travel style. You can go as cheap as $50 a day inclusive of hostel, food, drinks and local transportation. Entrance to Lalibela churches is USD 50. If you add a trek to Simiens mountains, this could cost between $600 and $2000 for a 4-day trek.|
|Kenya||A 3 days safari in Kenya is around USD 350-500 per person (joining a group). All inclusive.|
|Tanzania||A 5 days safari in Tanzania is around USD 1000 per person (private vehicle). All inclusive.|
|South Africa||Travel costs in South Africa will entirely depend on the things you want to do and accommodation type you prefer. If you’re backpacking, you can get a dorm bed for about USD 15 a night or go camping for USD 6-10 a night. Luxury hotels and tented camps cost around USD 80-2500 or even more per night. Restaurant meals are priced USD 6-10, wildlife parks entrance average at USD 20, scuba diving at USD 35 per dive inclusive of gear, and shark cage diving cost around USD 125. You can also book with a tour operator to have a set budget covering all the things you want to do and places you want to see.|
|Zambia||To see the falls alone, entrance fee is around 30 USD. For the Devil’s pool, this has to be booked at least a day before and costs around 50 USD per person. In my case, I was staying in a hostel and they had free shuttle to the falls everyday, which I took.|
The good thing is that most countries in Africa, especially in the East, don’t require a visa prior to travel for Philippine passport holders.
- Ethiopia – visa upon arrival (50 USD, 30-day single-entry)
- Kenya – visa upon arrival (51 USD, single-entry valid for 90 days). You can get East Africa Visa also if you’re visiting Rwanda and Uganda
- Tanzania – visa upon arrival (50 USD except for American passport holders who are charged 100 USD; single-entry valid for 90 days)
- Zambia – visa prior to travel is needed but can apply online (no mailing of documents or physical presence needed; 50 USD for single-entry and 80 USD for multiple-entry)
- South Africa– visa prior to travel is needed. Visa processing fee: free if you’re staying for less than 30 days and Php 2,525 or USD 48 for 30 days and more; plus VFS Service Fee of Php 2,000 or USD 38 and an optional fee of Php 370 or USD 7 for the courier.
Read my Tourist Visa Guide.
When to go and how long should you stay?
In the table above are famous wildlife and top things to see and when. But remember that there’s always something to see and do regardless of which time you are visiting. Moreover, it’s actually nice to visit during the low season because there’s lesser crowd and the prices of tour and accommodation are cheaper.
So the first step is to pick the country you’re going to. Regardless, if you only have 4 days, you might as well go somewhere in the Philippines instead. One week is doable but still short so I would recommend a minimum of 2 weeks. This is because the fare is expensive, the flight will take hours and even overnight, and there’s visa costs, too, among other factors. Filipinos like to visit as many countries as they can even just for a day but this will not work in Africa… you need enough time to really enjoy it and get your energy and money’s worth!
Travel Agency or DIY
Any backpacker or group of friends with the right mindset and open-mindedness can easily do a DIY. But Africa is not Europe or Asia. The challenges are greater hence, it’s also more fun. For example, WiFi can only be found in limited areas and with limited connection. There are no buses or trains like in Singapore and there’s no “carinderia” in the parks during your safari. In most cases, a DIY means you have to rent and drive your own car, hitch-hike, and generally depend on a local for assistance especially on directions.
For those traveling as a family, or traveling with kids and elders, I would definitely recommend to book with a trusted travel agency or directly via a tour operator in the country you’re visiting. These packages include airport pick-up and drop-off so you don’t have to worry about anything. Just Google and read their reviews on TripAdvisor or I can also give recommendations.
African Safari via a Tour Operator
Best way to get there from the Philippines
There are no non-stop flights from the Philippines so cheapest way to Africa is through the Middle East (Dubai, Doha, Qatar). From there, it’s cheaper to fly to Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, etc. I suggest to book a manual flight to the Middle East (for example book a flight to Dubai via Cebu Pacific) and from there manually book another flight to your African destination. To Ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines has a direct flight from Manila with a stopover in Bangkok.
Why Africa over other mainstream travel destinations like Europe or Asia
A lot of people travel to see temples, museums, famous sights and landmarks. For me, this is too mainstream and after seeing a few of them, they all start to look the same anyway.
Going on a safari, for example, is a completely different experience. When you go on a safari, you see the wildlife much like how you see the marine world when you scuba dive. You literally visit the habitat of the animals on earth, where they live freely. The Lion King movie is fiction but the setting and the casts are all based on reality.
So if you go to Kenya or Tanzania, you'll actually see the real setting and meet the full cast of Lion King… or maybe even more.
If you’ve seen a couple of Asian or European countries, I think it’s time to take it up a notch and visit Africa this time. More than just the safari, and all the other activities, it’s about meeting another culture and if you’re luck too, meet new friends!
One thing’s for sure, your life will not be the same after this experience.
A friend from Uganda visiting me in the Philippines 🙂