East Africa Travel Guide
Central America is a land of volcanoes, lakes, jungles and coral reefs - everything an adventure-seeker and nature-lover can hope for. With a culture and atmosphere that is distinct from South America, it very much deserves an extensive exploration. What's more? Central America is the birthplace of some of the most famous ancient cultures in the world, the Maya civilization being the most prominent one.
Discover our travel tips, articles, and virtual tours for East Africa !
List of destinations in east Africa
East African Countries
Quick Facts About East Africa
- 11 countries (including tourism heavyweights like Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda).
- Tanzania, with its sweeping savannas, teeming wildlife, and the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro, is the largest country in East Africa.
- Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, stands as the smallest nation in the region but bursts with vibrant marine life and pristine beaches.
- Key geographic facts:
Great Rift Valley: One of the world’s most magnificent geological sites, the Great Rift Valley stretches over 6,000 kilometers from Ethiopia’s Red Sea region down through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and into Mozambique. It’s not just a remarkable natural trench; the valley hosts some of Africa’s most breathtaking lakes, including Lake Turkana, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Natron, each offering unique ecological habitats.
Lake Victoria: Shared among Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area and the world’s largest tropical lake. Beyond its size, it’s a life source for millions, offering fisheries and transport links between the countries it touches.
Highlands of Ethiopia: The Ethiopian Highlands, also known as the Roof of Africa, are a rugged mountainous region, home to the Simien Mountains National Park and the historic rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. It’s a region of great ecological and cultural significance.
Mount Kilimanjaro: Located in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. The journey to its summit passes through five unique ecological zones, from lush rainforest to arctic tundra.
Coastlines and Archipelagos: East Africa has a vast coastline along the Indian Ocean, boasting pristine beaches, particularly in Kenya, and Tanzania. The region is also home to idyllic archipelagos like Zanzibar, and Seychelles, each offering a unique blend of cultures and landscapes.
Somali Peninsula: Also known as the Horn of Africa, this peninsula comprises parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea. It’s a region of strategic significance and offers a blend of cultures, landscapes, and histories.
Diversity: East Africa is linguistically rich with hundreds of indigenous languages spoken. Kiswahili (Swahili) is widely spoken, particularly in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Colonial Influence: English and French are also spoken in many parts, a reflection of the region’s colonial history.
Spiritual Diversity: East Africa is a melting pot of religions, with Christianity and Islam being the predominant faiths.
However, indigenous beliefs and practices remain influential in many communities.
East Africa, A Region of Many Records
Highest Peak in Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania stands tall at 5,895 meters, making it the highest peak in Africa and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. Climbers from around the globe are drawn to its snowy summit.
Dallol Depression: Located in Ethiopia’s Afar region, the Dallol Depression is one of the hottest and most inhospitable places on Earth. With its colorful sulphuric landscape, Dallol offers an almost alien terrain.
Lake Victoria: As the largest lake in Africa and the world’s second-largest freshwater lake, Lake Victoria sprawls across Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. It’s also the source of the River Nile, the world’s longest river.
Rwenzori Mountains: Dubbed the “Mountains of the Moon,” the Rwenzori range straddles the Uganda-Congo border. It’s one of the few places in the African tropics with glaciers.
Diverse Language Speakers: East Africa, particularly in areas like Tanzania and Kenya, is home to people speaking numerous languages. Swahili, spoken widely across the region, is just one of over a hundred languages in Tanzania alone.
10 Handpicked East Africa Highlights
10 fantastic places and experiences in Eastern Africa, in no particular order.
- Masai Mara & Serengeti: These iconic African savannas, spread across Kenya and Tanzania, are famed for the Great Migration. Witnessing the vast herds of wildebeest and zebras on their annual journey, accompanied by predators, is an unforgettable spectacle.
- Climbing Kilimanjaro: Ascending the slopes of Kilimanjaro, trekkers journey through diverse ecosystems, from rainforests to alpine meadows, culminating in the arctic zone of its summit. The sunrise view from the peak is a sought-after experience.
- Dallol Depression: This geothermal field in Ethiopia is characterized by neon-bright sulphur deposits, acidic hot springs, and salt formations. Its alien-like landscape is a stark contrast to the lush Ethiopian Highlands.
- Rwenzori Mountains: Also known as the Mountains of the Moon, the Rwenzoris are a trekker’s dream. The range offers glaciers, lakes, and diverse flora and fauna, all set against the backdrop of its towering peaks.
- Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda: In the mist-covered forests of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, travelers can come face-to-face with the majestic mountain gorillas. This intimate wildlife experience is both profound and moving.
- Lamu Archipelago: Off Kenya’s northeastern coast, the Lamu Archipelago provides a blend of Swahili culture and pristine beaches. The ancient town of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcases Swahili architecture and history.
- Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela: In Ethiopia’s northern highlands, Lalibela is home to 11 medieval rock-cut churches. This “New Jerusalem” is an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area: In Tanzania, this area offers the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera. The crater floor is teeming with wildlife, from lions and elephants to rhinos and flamingos.
- Zanzibar’s Stone Town: The historic heart of Zanzibar, Stone Town is a maze of winding alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques, and grand Arab residences. Its rich history reflects the influence of Swahili, Persian, Arab, Indian, and European cultures.
- The Source of the Nile: Jinja in Uganda is reputedly where the Nile begins its long journey to the Mediterranean. Here, adventurers can white-water raft, kayak or simply marvel at the world’s longest river.
When to Go to East Africa
East Africa, with its diverse landscapes, boasts a variety of climates. Generally, the region has two rainy seasons: the long rains from March to May and the short rains from October to December. The rest of the year is predominantly dry, with temperatures varying based on altitude and proximity to the coast.
For Wildlife Viewing: The best time is during the dry seasons, from late June to October and January to February. These periods coincide with the Great Migration in the Serengeti and Masai Mara, making it an opportune time to witness this wildlife spectacle.
For Beach Getaways: Coastal areas, like the Kenyan coast and Seychelles, are delightful from November to March when the sea is calm, and the weather is warm.
For Mountain Trekking: June to September is ideal for climbing Kilimanjaro or exploring the Rwenzori Mountains, as the weather is drier and more predictable.
Traveling to East Africa
- General Awareness: While many East African destinations are safe for tourists, it’s crucial to stay updated on local news and advisories.
- Avoid Certain Areas: Due to ongoing conflicts and terrorism threats, some regions, particularly parts of Somalia and South Sudan, are currently unsafe for travelers.
- Health Precautions: Vaccinate against yellow fever, typhoid, and hepatitis A. Malaria prophylaxis is advised in many areas.
- Drink Bottled Water: Always ensure your drinking water is from a sealed bottle or has been boiled.
- Avoid Night Travel: In many parts, it’s safer to avoid traveling after dark due to poor road conditions and security concerns.
- Respect Local Customs: Dress modestly and be aware of local traditions and etiquette, especially in religious places.
- Secure Valuables: Petty theft can be a concern in crowded places.
- Local Guides: Employing a local guide can enhance your experience and ensure you stay safe in unfamiliar territories.
- Stay Connected: Always inform someone of your travel plans and regularly check in.
- Travel Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers potential health emergencies and evacuations.
Getting in and Around
- Major Airports: Jomo Kenyatta International (Kenya), Julius Nyerere International (Tanzania), Bole International (Ethiopia), and Entebbe International (Uganda) are among the major gateways.
- Domestic Flights: There are numerous domestic carriers like Precision Air, Ethiopian Airlines, and Kenya Airways, connecting major cities and tourist destinations.
- Buses & Matatus: These are popular for inter-city travel. Companies like Modern Coast and Mash Poa operate in several countries, offering a relatively comfortable ride.
- Train: The newly built Standard Gauge Railway between Nairobi and Mombasa offers a scenic journey.
- Tuk-tuks & Boda-bodas: In many cities, these provide short-distance transportation, but caution is advised due to safety concerns.
East Africa offers a plethora of accommodation options, catering to every budget. Luxury lodges and tented camps in game reserves provide a wild yet luxurious experience. Cities boast international hotel chains and boutique establishments.
For the budget traveler, guesthouses, hostels, and local inns are widespread. Prices vary, with luxury lodges in prime locations demanding premium rates, while budget accommodations in cities like Kampala or Addis Ababa can be very affordable. Always check reviews and book in advance during peak tourist seasons.