Notes & tips
See also border crossings.
- From Western Sahara to Dakar there are lots of police checkpoints. Be sure to slow down in plenty of time. Many of them now ask for your fiche, basically a piece of paper with all your details on it so they don't have to write it all down (saves time for them and you). See also Documents & visas. It helps if you speak a bit of French, but generally they ask where you're from, what job you do, and where you're going.
- Money: ATMs worked for us in most countries, but it's important to have cash for Nigeria, xx. High denominations ($50 or $100) get better exchange rates. Travellers' cheques seem to be difficult to change in most places.
- Parking in Barcelona is a bit of nightmare if you have a vehicle over 2.1 m as most of the car parks are underground. There's a good one just off Las Ramblas near Hotel Viena (GPS: N41 23 29; E02 09 53); E24 for 24 hours.
- There's a very good Land Rover dealer called Grip Motorsport, www.gripmotorsport.com on Enric Barges 17 (GPS: N41 22 55; E02 08 24). They provide the parts and the garage next door does the work - decent rates.
- Getting to Morocco: we took the ferry (roll-on roll-off) from Algeciras in southern Spain to Ceuta. It cost us E36 because there was a special offer on. Usually it would cost E115 for a car and two passengers. The crossing is only nine miles and takes about 30 minutes on the fast boat (two hours on the slow). Beware of all the hustlers in Algeciras (people try all sorts of scams to make you go to their ticket office). There are also ferries from Algeciras to Tangiers, but apparently it is more hassley arriving in Tangiers. Having said that, an option we would consider next time is taking the overnight ferry from Sete in southern France to Tangiers. It saves a day's driving and accommodation/fuel costs so works out quite reasonable.
- Driving: pretty easy (apart from in Marrakesh), watch out for donkeys, goats, camels in the road. Cars joining a roundabout have priority, unless there's a 'cedez le passage' (give way) sign. There's a good secure car park in Marrakesh (GPS: N31 37 32; W07 59 33) near the Koutoubia mosque and the main square - 25 dirham a day (compared to 100 dirham right by the square). Keep your fiches handy from Tan Tan Plage onwards.
- Food: tasty tagines and couscous. Lots of very sweet mint tea.
- People: friendly, but the women tend to keep themselves to themselves
- Police: generally very friendly, it helps if you speak French
- In Nouadhibou, Camping Baie de Levrier (GPS: N21 16 04; W14 42 09) can change money and organise insurance for you - probably not the best rates, but definitely hassle-free.
- In Atar, camping Bab Sahara (GPS: N20 31 09; W13 03 42) is a great place to hang out. The Dutch owner, Justus, can organise visa extensions (E10 for one month), but don't tell him we told you!
- In Nouakchott, Auberge Sahara on the road to Nouadhibou (GPS: N18 06 10; W15 59 49) is handy if you need to pick up your Mali visa - the embassy is about 2 km down the road (taxi 200 ouguiya each way).
- At the French embassy in Nouakchott, it's possible to get your Visa Touristique Entente, which covers Burkina Faso, Cote D'Ivoire, Togo, Benin and Niger. It costs E60 and seeing as we're only visiting three of those countries it seems cheaper to get them at the border.
- Driving: not many cars on the road except for Nouadhibou and Nouakchott.
- Food: not much variety and quite expensive as most of it is imported. Lots of Moroccan-style tagines/couscous; fish available by the coast. The French influence is evident in the tasty patisseries and baguettes.
- People: friendly, lots of offers of tea and genuine interest. Virtually all children ask for a 'cadeau' and can be quite persistent. Quite a few of the adults ask too (especially at checkpoints) but they don't seem too bothered if you say no.
- Police: generally very friendly and chatty; most will ask for a cadeau, which can easily be declined.
- A great campsite is Zebrabar (GPS: N15 51 54; W16 30 43), about 16 km south of Saint Louis, www.come.to/zebrabar. Camping is 2500 CFA per person (about £2.50). From here you can drive down the beach all the way to Dakar - details on the Zebrabar website.
- It's worth asking a bank to change some big notes into small notes as people often claim not to have any change, which wastes lots of time (sometimes they're just trying to get you to spend more).
- Driving: good paved roads with road markings and signposts - a lot more sophisticated than Mauritania. People seem to obey the road rules, suggesting there are hefty fines if you get caught doing something wrong. You can buy the Brown Card insurance here, which covers you for most West African countries (see Documents & visas).
- Food: tasty, much more fresh fruit and veg available
- People: a bit hassly around Saint Louis, but otherwise friendly. Most of the men speak French but quite a few of the women only speak Wolof.
- Police: generally friendly, except near the border areas. On arrival from Mauritania, they will try and sting you for anything so when driving make sure you have have all your documents handy (Carte Grise, driving licence, insurance etc), as well as two warning triangles, fire extinguishers and working lights. Be sure to wear your seatbelt.
- After the border from Senegal there is a ferry across the Gambia River to Banjul. Allow several hours for this crossing as the boats aren't very regular and get full quickly. Can't remember how much it cost but wasn't very expensive.
- Sekuta camping GPS: N 13 25 11/W 16 42 56, is a good place to stay if you have a car - all the facilities you need for overlanding.
- Driving: ironically, given the British heritage, they said they don't normally allow right hand drive cars into the country. It was no problem though, I think they were just looking for money. Allow plenty of time for the ferry crossing from Barra to Banjul.
- People: everybody wants to be your 'friend', and they also want an invitation to England...
- Police: friendly, apart from the 'drug squad', near the border areas. They will conduct a very thorough search of your car - always insist on going to the police station to pay any 'fines' and they will let you go.
- In Segou, you can camp in the carpark of the Hotel Independance (GPS: N13 25 49/W 06 13 28) for 3000 per person on condition that you eat in the restaurant. You can use the swimming pool etc.
- If you are trekking in the Dogon country, a good guide called Line (Lyn) can be found at the Hotel les Deux Caimans in Sanga (GPS: N14 27 48/W 03 18 16).
- Driving/police: very few checkpoints, mostly you are just waved through. Police were very helpful when sorting out our lost wallet.
- People: very friendly in the south with lots of waving; less friendly in the north. People also speak less French in the north. Note that greetings are particularly important in Mali and it's considrered really rude not to say 'Bonjour, ca va, oui ca va' at least a few times before asking whatever it is you want to know.
- Food: fairly basic, nile perch (capitaine) is a speciality and very tasty.
- In Ougadougou you can camp for free in the grounds of the Hotel OK Inn (GPS: N 12 21 07/W 01 30 50), about 6 km south of the centre. You can use the swimming pool etc but you are supposed to eat in the restaurant - the food is great. The Ghana embassy is at GPS:
- Driving/police: the roads are excellent and well maintained, but there are a few peages (about 200 CFA). In Ouagadougou there are thousands of bicycles and mopeds. Also, don't forget to look out for traffic lights. We didn't get stopped at any checkpoints. Any police/officials we met seemed very friendly.
- People: very friendly, a little bit wistful that everyone seems to be passing through on their way to Ghana!
- Food: plentiful fresh fruit and veg, Burkina is a good place to stock up.
- Driving: we heard that they don't allow right hand drive vehicles into the country, but we had no problems, possibly because we took a smaller border crossing. Pretty crazy driving in the cities. Accra traffic is terrible. The main roads are generally very good, although frustrating speed bumps around Kumasi. Note: Watch out for the traffic police. You're not allowed to go through traffic lights on amber - be particularly careful in Accra. On the coast road watch out for police with speed guns. We got caught doing 72 kph in a 50 kph area. They start by saying it's a 50 cedi fine and you have to go to court... but then say you can pay them 10 cedi on the spot. The best thing to do is empty your wallet except for a few cedis and say that's all your have. Apparently the locals pay 2 cedi, so up to 5 cedi should be okay.
- Pitstop - N05 34 10/W 00 12 19 - is a good Land Rover garage in Accra, run by Ian from England.
- Food: Heinz baked beans! Foo foo, red red, lots of fried plantain... Accra is a great place to stock up on food with Western style supermarkets - you can get pretty much anything.
- Green Turtle Lodge, near Dixcove, GPS N04 45 515/W02 01.272, is a great place to stay - you can camp right by the beach for next to nothing.
We basically transited these countries but both seemed nice, no problems, no particular recommendations. Lome traffic is quite hectic with loads of mopeds.
- In Abeokuta we camped at the posh Gateway Hotel GPS: N 07 08 02/E 03 21 00. Speak to the General Manager and make sure the reception staff know that you're camping for free (the reception staff tried to charge us a room rate); it seems they don't understand the concept of camping.
- In Abuja, you can camp for free in the Sheraton Hotel car park - GPS: N 09 03 47/E 07 29 08. They are used to overlanders and refer to you as 'tourists'. You're supposed to pay to use the pool (1000 Naira per person), but if you go to the office, sign in and make up a room number they'll give you a towel and be none the wiser.
- Driving: good paved roads but lots of traffic and some of the worst driving we've ever seen - lots of burnt out cars by the side of the road. The main roads are fast and people drive by luck rather than skill - particularly scary on the road up to Abuja; more chilled out in the east and north. Drive defensively and be prepared for people overtaking on blind corners. Note: despite having lots of oil reserves, there are still chronic fuel shortages - diesel in particular can be hard to find, so stock up at every opportunity and fill up jerries etc.
- Police: lots of police road checks with most determined to extort some money. Most are friendly and just ask for a present, but are easily distracted by questions about the map etc. You will come across the 'revenue collectors' - groups of young men with nail boards that they put under your wheels making it impossible to drive past; if you keep bombarding them with official paperwork they let you go. Traffic police - the worst we found; they hunt in packs and will try to find a problem with your car or your documents. We got duped into paying a US$10 fine to stop them impounding our 'illegal' right-hand drive car, but we should have insisted on going to the police station. It is corrupt, but there are plenty of anti-corruption campaigns to point out!
- People: larger than life, mostly very friendly with people and polite calling 'you're welcome' as you drive past. They are quick to get angry and quick to be friendly again. Nigerians are very proud of their country so flattery goes down well. Terrible at giving directions other than 'go straight'!
- Money: ATMs don't accept foreign cards, although we did see some with a Maestro sign (no Visa). US dollars are the preferred currency, but take big notes (50 or 100) as the exchange rates are much better.
- A good place to stay in Yaounde is the Presbytarian Mission (GPS N03 52 47/ E 11 31 21) as it's quite near the embassies. There's a big garden where you can camp and it's nice and peaceful, with a great bakery nearby. There are lots of rules though (you're supposed to pay for water, you can only use the toilet between 8pm and 6am etc).
- Driving: fewer cars than Nigeria which makes for easier driving, but still a bit mental in the cities. Hoards of taxis which stop and start without warning and weave in and out. Watch out for wheelclampers in Yaounde - it's a 25,000 CFA fine.
- People: very friendly, most are bilingual English/French. Very fond of alcohol and can get a bit lary in the afternoon.
- Police: we've heard there's a lot of corruption in Cameroon but experienced no problems. Found most of the police to be very friendly and most waved us through when they saw we were tourists. Out towards the east they wanted to check our documents thoroughly and see our warning triangles. Quite a few checkpoints outside towns or towards borders. It's important to carry identification with you at all times, so if you have to give you passport in at embassies get a photocopy certified at the police station (1000 CFA).
- Food: bakeries and patisseries galore! lots of fruit available and the most amazing fresh fish in Limbe and Kribi. European-style supermarkets for stocking up in Yaounde.
- people: more prosperous, friendly but more self-contained - don't seem to take too much notice of you, which is excellent for bushcamping. Less begging.
- Libreville is notoriously expensive; a good place to stay out of town is Auberge La Maree in Cap Esterias (20 km north). Lovely auberge by the beach + you can camp for free. About 45 minutes along a pot-holed road + not much there so stock up before you go.
- police: we've heard they can be pretty officious and will stop you for driving round in a muddy car (make sure the number plate is visible), also be sure to carry identification with you at all times. We were stopped a couple of times and had to show every document under the sun (including our British MOT certificate) but if everything is in order, no problems.
- lots of big French supermarkets for stocking up, but expensive. Great bakeries.
- In Franceville, we were allowed to camp for free in the car park of Auberge Apily, GPS S01 37 14/E13 35 53.
- Roads: there is only one decent tarred road in the country, from Owando to Brazzaville. If you take the Franceville route, the road from the Gabon border is a sandy track but good fun. The road from Pointe Noire to Brazzaville is apparently in terrible condition with lots of potholes. We also heard this road is dangerous with 'ninja' rebels, but met various groups who came this route without problem.
- Police: friendly and polite, no hassles or police checks; apart from our border crossing, no bribe requests. I think there are a lot more police checks along the Pointe Noire-Brazzaville road. Apparently they want to stamp your passport at each check, but you can ask them to stamp a piece of paper instead.
- In Brazzaville, you can camp for free in the car park of Hippocampe hotel, GPS: S04 16 24/E15 16 39, great Vietnamese restaurant. Near to the port if taking the ferry across to Kinshasa.
- For details of the ferry from Brazzaville to Kinshasa, see border crossings.
- the road from Kinshasa to Matadi is in excellent condition, peage 3200 CF.
- Convent at Kintanu, GPS: S05 07 26/E15 05 02 - great complex with huge church really tucked away off the road.
- Matadi - GPS: 05 49 54/E13 27 39. Note that there are two missions next door to each other. The sisters charge US$5 and you can stay in their pleasant courtyard; the 'brothers' charge US$15 a night just to camp in their car park, surrounded by truckers.
- police: again, really friendly and polite, no hassles.
- be a bit careful about taking photos in DRC - apparently anything is okay as long as it's not military or strategic. They weren't keen on us taking photos of the river crossing between Brazzaville and Kinshasa. Safest to ask first.
- the visa for Angola is the biggest problem - see Visas, however we made it through in five days.
- Police: friendly, we were waved through virtually every checkpoint without having to stop. One policemen was clearly drunk and asked us for a present - but he soon gave up.
- Roads: awful in places, perfect tar in others. There is a lot of work being done on the roads and they are constantly changing. Within a year or two they will all be smooth tar. Note that there are often long queues at petrol stations and not all places accept dollars.
Our route was as follows:
Day 1: Noqui-Tomboco = small stony track (5 hours). Tomboco-N'Zeto = graded piste (2 hours). We've heard that after rain the latter section can take up to 8 hours, so maybe we were lucky. Great beachcamp just south of N'Zeto - S07 18 02.4/ E12 53 01.2 - turn right down a sandy track just after the little bridge.
Day 2: N'Zeto-Caxito = torturous potholed tar (3.5 hours). Apparently the little white road down the coast is much better. Caxito-Luanda = good, paved road. Getting through Luanda took more than 4 hours, traffic is terrible. You can camp for free at either of the yacht clubs out on the peninsula. Several places to beachcamp south of Luanda down sandy tracks in quarry (S09 08 03.2/E13 01 38.6).
Day 3: Luanda-Porto Amboim = perfect paved road (3 hours). Porto Amboim-Benguela = good paved road (3.5 hours). The road from Benguela to Lubango is being worked on - the first 50 km is finished, after that it's a graded piste, but it will be soon completed. We camped just north of Chongoroi in a quarry (S13 22 14.8/E13 52 02.5). Note that the road south of Benguela to Namibe has been washed away - it's still passable but takes 2 days and involves lots of rock crawling. The road from Namibe to Lubango is supposed to be spectacular.
Day 4: Chongoroi-Cacula = bad road, potholes (3 hours). Cacula-Lubango = good paved road after Hoque (2 hours). Lubango-Chibia = good road (1 hour). Road is bad after Chibia - potholed tar. Bushcamped off the road behind some trees, just south of Cahama S16 19 35. 2/E14 23 09.9.
Day 5: Cahama-Xangongo = bad road, potholes (3 hours), very slow and bumpy. 50 km from the border the road turns into perfect tar again. Bliss! Note: the last fuel station is in Cahama (if heading to Rucana) or Xangongo but they're building a petrol station in Ondjiva. Note that the Santa Clara border shuts at 5pm.
- very refreshing after the rest of Africa: smooth roads, well-stocked shops, campgrounds, etc. also 4x4 garages. It gets a bit harder to bushcamp as most of the land is privately owned and marked off by fences, but the population density is very low so you can usually find somewhere.
- if you need any stuff for your car after the hammering it's taken in Angola, Oshakati is the place to go. Contact Andre at Cymot in Oshakati.
- police: we got asked to show our driving licences a couple of times. Also remember to buy the 'cross border permit' for your car at the border - costs N$160 (about £10 - there's a bank along the road from the border post) but you do get asked for it and have to hand it back in when leaving Namibia.
- great place to camp for a couple of days is on the Brukkaros volcano. It's a difficult track up to the campsite but you'll probably have it all to yourself. GPS: xxxx. Take all firewood and water as there's nothing up there.
- great campsite on the Trans-Kalahari Highway is El Fari Camp, www.elfari.co.za, GPS: S21 21 500, E022 08 900.
- Good place to stay in Maun...
South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland
- Sani Pass up to Lesotho is really worthwhile - very steep and definitely need 4WD. You can free camp anywhere in Lesotho and there are no fences. Watch out for speed cameras in the west of Lesotho. We got stopped but they let us off the fine (which was only 30 Rand anyway).