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Driving Across Africa: How to Take a Road Trip Like A Local

by Elaine Clara Mah

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When exploring a continent as vast and widespread as Africa, driving yourself around may just be the better option. After all, you might want to visit a few countries, including the ever-popular South Africa and mesmerizing Kenya.

This holiday season, if you’re heading to Africa, why not experience a different way of traveling instead of the usual flying that we are all so very used to? Rent a car, get your map out and navigate the roads of Africa! Not only will you be able to explore the expansive plains of the savanna, you will also be able to truly experience Africa like a local. While driving in a different country and continent may sound a little daunting, it will be the adventure of a lifetime! To make your driving journey that much smoother, here are some handy tips to keep in mind as you drive your way through Africa.


Get A Sturdy Vehicle

The most important factor to consider when self-driving in Africa is the type of car that you rent. While most roads in Africa are paved and well maintained, the chances of you finding yourself on a gravel or sandy road is quite high, especially if you plan to take the off-beaten paths. Many quaint towns across Africa are situated in the outskirts, away from the main highways, so be sure to factor this consideration in when renting a vehicle.

If you’re driving through South Africa and Namibia for example, a normal sedan car may suffice as the roads are generally in good condition. Even though you may find several portions of the roads in Namibia to be gravel roads, you will still be able to navigate through them using a sedan. However, if a Botswana safari trip is on your itinerary, do consider hiring a 4x4 vehicle, as only a quarter of their roads are paved. The rest of the roads in Botswana can be a little more than soft sand, making driving through them difficult, especially during the wet season.


Make Sure Your License is Valid!

Road signs














When driving outside of your home country, it is important to ensure that the government of the country that you are visiting recognizes your driving license. While certain countries accept country-specific driving licenses, the best way to ensure that you won’t be barred from driving is to acquire an international driving license before you leave. For US citizens, you can apply for an International Driving Permit with the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). This license is valid for use in all African countries.

Roadblocks are very common in most of Africa so be sure to have a valid driving license to ensure that your travels in Africa are smooth and without police fines!


Watch Out for Wildlife

Elephant crossing














Needless to say, when driving on the road you should be vigilant and focused. This is especially true when driving in Africa. Not only do you have to be on the lookout for oncoming cars or people, you also have to take extra caution so as not to hit any wildlife crossing the roads. Roads that run through rural towns may not be fenced, which means that wildlife, livestock and dogs alike may wander onto the road. Elephant crossings are a common sight in Kenya, as are oryx and antelopes on the roads in Namibia.

The wildlife are particularly active during dusk and dawn so do be careful during those times and, where possible, don’t drive at night as animal crossings become particularly hard to spot them.


Be on the Correct Side of the Road

Road guide for Africa
Image credit: Africa Guide

Are you used to driving on the left side of the road? If yes, it may be time to try the right side too as most African countries drive on the right side of the road! Before driving in any particular country, be sure of which side of the road that you are meant to be on. While most of the African continent drive on the right side, a small portion does drive on the left side including Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Additionally, do research the countries that you are planning to visit to learn their traffic laws. Some countries have specific laws for driving, including having hazard triangles and reflectors. Your car hire company should be able to tell you the do’s and don’ts on the road, but be extra sure by researching them yourself.


Allocate Plenty of Time and Patience

Road trip














The beauty of driving yourself in a foreign country is the ability to just enjoy the place without having to rush through each day. Here, in the comforts of your own vehicle, you have the luxury of time. So be sure to use it wisely. If you are planning to do a cross-country safari, allow at least two weeks. A Kenya Tanzania safari, for example, usually takes between 10 to 12 days. If you are looking to see far more beyond the national parks that Africa has to offer, add in a few more days to your travel.

Even the best equipped of us all will still find ourselves confused and lost in a foreign land, so do be patient when driving through Africa. Ensure that your car is well stocked with food and water for the long drives ahead and keep extra fuel in the back of the car for emergency purposes. 

Ready for your maiden driving adventure? Go on a self-drive safari in South Africa!

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