Why is travel in Africa expensive??

Africa, Africa with all its 52 countries, is more challenging than a difficult place to travel. I wrote about the process of attaining visas to travel between African countries for an African and the stress involved: http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/travelling-overland-in-africa-visas-and-border-crossings-20160712  However, once the visas have been attained, the actual travel is not cheap, to say the least. If you are in a hurry then paying more will get you to your destination faster.

I have had some experience travelling using public transport across the African continent, especially by bus. The bus is the most common form of transport for the everyday man be it for the trip back home to the rural areas or as a way to get to work, school and around. Travel around the continent is expensive if one decides to pursue flight as an option. In some instances that is the only option. For example, if I wanted to get from Abidjan to Mombasa, it would make sense to fly than to attempt to take multiple buses through the 10 plus countries between Ivory Coast and Kenya. A flight from Ivory Cost to Kenya would set me back $900 (R12 000)

My Map

A flight from Johannesburg to Kenya (return) will cost around $400 USD (R4 800), Lagos to Kenya $600 USD (R7 200), Lagos to Cairo $600 USD (R7 200), Johannesburg to Egypt $600 USD (7 200), Johannesburg to London $800 USD (9 600). A view of the prices and where these countries are in relation to each other paints an interesting picture. One would expect that if countries are closer to each other, then flights would be cheaper between those two countries. A flight from Lagos to Conakry, Guinea $1050USD is the same cost if you were flying from Johannesburg to Conakry even though Nigeria is closer to Guinea than South Africa. Looking at flights between countries that are neighbours and hence one expects cheaper pricing. Flights from Johannesburg to Harare $290 (R3 800), Lusaka to Zimbabwe $290 (R3 800), Kampala to Nairobi $250 (R3 300). Quite a bit to pay, despite the fact that these countries are relatively close to each other.

There are many wonders and beautiful places to see in Africa, but I used to wonder why my colleagues, friends and fellow African travellers, would rather seek the white beaches of Thailand, Bali and South East Asia. There are so many special deals to go visit these countries in the South East Asia, were an all-inclusive package of 1 week stay, plus flights can equal the cost of a flight to Guinea from Johannesburg. No wonder travel in Africa is deemed as being expensive at times. Some of my colleagues have travelled to countries like Guinea from Johannesburg, by having to fly from Johannesburg to France and then only into Conakry, Guinea due to a lack of direct flights. This was deemed a cheaper option than direct flights. I find this unbelievable, we are on the same continent, but one had to fly out to Europe to fly back in, such are the costs and convenience.

Rail is another form of transport that can allow one to see the landscape that countries have to offer. However, rail systems in most Africa countries are not known to be in the best of shape and are often plagued by misuse, failure to keep to schedule, old and out of service machines. However certain rail operators such as the Tazara line in Tanzania and Zambia operate on a regular basis and offer affordable tickets in comfortable settings for a close to a 2000km train ride through the plains, countryside, and mountains of the two countries. A first class sleeper ticket, with four bunks will set you $64, while a third class ticket will costs $29 for the Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Poshi trip. Despite this, you are guaranteed a magnificent view through parks in Tanzania and exposure the landscapes and scenery through Northern Zambia. Train tickets from Nairobi to Mombasa can be as cheap as $6 however, the state of the railway track and the amount of time it will take between points can be sore point for a traveller.


The Tazara Train, 2016 (Courtesy of Marta Vargas)


Despite all this, not all places in Africa, hold the allure for travellers and hence one has to take into account, the profitability, the state of infrastructure, the demand to go to these places as all these influences the cost of travelling in and out of these countries. Countries like Egypt, South Africa, Kenya see more travellers than countries such as Eritrea, South Sudan, Togo, Mauritania and this all has an effect on the availability of transport modes such as flights, and hence the cost.

Bus trips are relatively on the cheaper side and I have been witness to many a passenger enduring a 3 day bus rides from South Africa to Tanzania or to Zambia. For as much $50 (R650), one can find themselves on a bus from South Africa, crossing through Zimbabwe, Mozambique, heading to Malawi or Tanzania.

Despite this, there are upcoming airlines that have seen it make flying a cheaper option, the likes of FastJet, offer specials for flights from Uganda to Tanzania for as little as $50 at times. Operating popular routes such as Victoria Falls to Lusaka and into East Africa, they offer an alternative to the most traditional frills airlines. Hopefully, one day, we will see easier cross-border travel between African nations (once we get over the visa hurdle), but till that day, the question will still remain about the cost of travelling between African countries.


One thought on “Why is travel in Africa expensive??

  1. You raise a good point with regards to how costly it is to travel inter Africa. In a sense it may have to do with economic factors where due to lower traffic the cost of flying into some countries is high. That said, the pricing is the same as flying to European countries. When looking at destinations if price is not a differentiating factor some people may decide to travel to Europe over Africa. The FastJet’s of this world have made air travel cheaper which is pretty cool.

    I terms of other modes of transportation (rail, road and boats) I would say it would be cheaper to make use of these. But the infrastructure and networks need to be improved in order to enable this to be a viable option in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

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