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A vast and often inhospitable landscape, wild animals, frequent political turmoil; East Africa takes you out of your comfort zone and into a world of extraordinary experiences

Best for: Mountain gorillas

RWANDA Despite its horrific recent past, Rwanda is probably the safest and friendliest country in East Africa. It has great mountain scenery, is far cooler than the coast and, outside of the capital Kigali, still has some food and accommodation bargains for independent travellers. There’s a decent inland beach at Lake Kiva, and a number of pleasant day trips that take you out into the tea plantations and lush countryside. But the biggest single attraction has to be trekking through the Virungas in search of mountain gorillas. Unfortunately, although slightly cheaper to do than in nearby Uganda, the permits alone will still cost you hundreds of dollars.

What else? Everywhere you go in Rwanda there are Genocide Museums and Memorials. Many of the corpses have been covered in lime and left out for everybody to see their smashed-in skulls and severed limbs. They want you to see for yourself what happened – and it’s stomach-churning stuff.

Where to stay and eat The Discover Rwanda Hostel (discoverrwandayouthhostelkigali.com) is a popular base for backpackers in the capital, Kigali. It also arranges budget tours to some of Rwanda’s national parks. Outside of Kigali, some of the best budget accommodation can be found in church-run guest-houses that will also often provide good-value buffet meals.


Best for: Adventure sports

UGANDA Jinja, at the source of the Nile, has developed a reputation as the adrenalin centre of East Africa. As well as first-class white water rafting, there are plenty of other adventure sports and activities on offer, such as quad biking, mountain biking and bungee jumping. The health and safety standards are all up to international standards – most of these companies are owned and run by Westerners – but unfortunately the prices are also pretty much on a par with Australia or New Zealand.

What else? Slightly off the beaten track, the gorgeous Lake Bunyoni is worth a few days’ stay on the way to or from Rwanda or the Mountain Gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. 

Where to stay and eat Many independent travellers opt to stay at big hostels such as the Red Chilli Hideaway (redchillihideaway.com), on the outskirts of the capital Kampala, and then get free transport to Jinja when they book up their adventure sports. They also offer budget safaris to popular national parks such as Murchison Falls. For food, Red Chilli offers free shuttle buses to the nearest shopping mall, closer to the centre of Kampala; but most backpackers just take the easier option of eating at the hostel’s own budget restaurant.

 

Best for: Wildlife & safaris

KENYA Although Tanzania is also world renowned for its game parks, Kenya arguably offers the biggest and best variety of safaris on the planet. It is also still possible to find some more budget-friendly camping safaris, with a couple of nights out in the Masai Mara in search of big game, and another night at Lake Nakuru to check out the huge gatherings of flamingos. The best-value option would probably be to book up a budget safari through one of the large backpacker hostels in the suburbs of Nairobi.

What else? Kenya’s other big attraction is, of course, the beaches. Unfortunately, some of the hawkers to be found along many of Kenya’s most attractive beaches can be a little too persistent (“Where are you from?”, “Who do you support?”, “Lovely jubbly”...).

Where to stay and eat Owing to the staggering rise of property prices in central Nairobi, most of the decent budget accommodation has now moved out into the safer and more pleasant suburbs. If you wish to stay closer to the big city, then Kahama Hotel & Restaurant (kahamahotel.co.ke/bar.html) is walking distance from the main bus station and relatively good value.


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East Africa: Take a walk on the wild side
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