Africa: Books and Maps

A trip to
Africa involves some planning even though many destinations have packaged tours. Nonetheless, with the aid of books and/or maps, you'll find that you can arm yourself with information that will make your trip more unforgettable and enjoyable than if you didn't educate yourself. You can also better prepare for your trip with these books before spending lots of money and being committed to your trip.

Below are books and maps that we've used. We've also included other books in the literature that may help you find what you need. The list is by no means complete, but hopefully it is enough to get you going on your quest to inform yourself on your travels.


Southern Africa (Lonely Planet): We've been fans of Lonely Planet guidebooks for their thoroughness and organization. They make for great resources when you're just starting out your trip planning, figuring out which local restaurants to go to, studying detailed maps, and even finding budget accommodations. I also like their writeups on culture, the environment, politics, and history. In the case of Southern Africa, they covered most of the highlights of each country (especially those we cared about for our trip like Zambia and Zimbabwe). We also paid attention to South Africa and Botswana even though we didn't end up going there (yet). Their write-up on Victoria Falls was pretty thorough and their section on the history and politics of Zambia was pretty much on the money. As for lodgings and food, even though we were committed to our packaged tours (Vic Falls was the exception), it was nice to compare their notes with our experiences.

East Africa (Lonely Planet): Going into the East African countries of Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, there was lots we didn't know about. However, we used this guide to get a better idea of what to expect as we went on our safaris. I think the book also helped us plan our Uganda leg of the trip with more confidence as well. The maps were good, the writeups were thorough as usual, and the photos gave us ideas on how we can take our wildlife photos. In any case, we'd recommend this book even though maybe they couldn't provide as much detail as say a book more dedicated on a specific country would be. Still, it was an invaluable resource for pre-planning and for trip execution.

Egypt (Eyewitness Travel): It seems that Eyewitness Travel Books do an excellent job with destinations that involve lots of archaeology. This was certainly the case with Egypt, and it even was central to Julie catching lies or misinformation being told by tour guides (like when we missed Islamic Cairo and insisted the tour operator fix the problem, which they did to their credit). Plus, their drawings gave us even better ideas on what to look for regarding each temple or ruin we visited. Indeed, this book probably got a little more use than our Lonely Planet book on Egypt.

Egypt (Lonely Planet): Prior to our trip, Julie used this book extensively to pick out the kind of packaged tour she wanted in addition to other Internet research. In their usual style, they've been thorough with their writeups regarding tourist attractions, but I personally enjoyed their writeups on history and politics. Their writeups on Egyptology was also entertaining (especially when we had to wait at the airport) and added a little more depth to what we were witnessing on our tour.

Swahili (Teach Yourself): I spent about 5 months pecking away while commuting on the train using this book to pick up as much Swahili as I could absorb. The CD that came with it was listened to every day I was in the car. For the most part, I was able to hold my own when conversing with locals but only if they were patient and went slow. The book is actually quite aggressive in their lessons and you'll find yourself flipping pages over and over again as you struggle through it because the author goes very fast and sometimes skips places that could've used explanations. Nonetheless, you'll be pushed and if you persevere, you'll be able to start reading signs and even pick up tid bits of what locals are saying to each other. Since this is the only book I used for Swahili, I can't compare it with anything else.

Nonetheless, the end result is I went from being clueless about the language to having some clue. Moreover, in non-Swahili-speaking countries like Zambia and Egypt, I saw some correlations from Bemba (Zambia) to the Bantu-oriented part of Swahili while I saw correlations from Arabic (Egypt) to the Arabic-oriented part of Swahili. I could even make out words in Swahili I thought came from Portugese and Indian. This bit of insight helped me to appreciate the role of Swahili in East Africa and in trade as well as the cross-culturalism that has occurred.

Guide to Little-Known Waterfalls of Zambia: This self-published book was only available in Zambia, but it was highly recommended by several locals upon learning our passion for waterfalls. We didn't use this book for any planning or trip guiding (after all, we were on a packaged tour), but it was a nice keepsake and fun read to give the reader a better flavor for the diversity of waterfalls and scenery in this country - especially it's untouristed regions. The funny thing was that we either met some of the contributors to this book or some of our guides/proprietors knew the authors! Small world!

Victoria Falls: This 83-page booklet was given to us by our editor for our New Zealand Waterfalls book project Joel Grossman. After visiting the falls, I looked at this booklet and saw all sorts of nuggets about the history, geology, flora, and fauna. The eerie thing about the book was that it was written with a Zimbabwe bias, which kind of sheds some light on how that country was the preferred base in the past before Robert Mugabe took over. As far as I'm concerned, this book is excellent and educational and each time I read through it I'm learning more about the area while appreciating more deeply the sights and sounds of the one and only Victoria Falls.

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Zambia Traveller's Map (Macmillan): Digital topo maps are hard to come by in Africa so we bought this 1:2.2M scale map because they had latlong information (good for scanning and importing into GPS software for trip logging) and it was far more detailed than all of the junky free maps we had received during the trip.

Tanzania Traveller's Map (Macmillan): Because we didn't go waterfalling in Tanzania, this 1:2M scale map didn't get as much use as say for Zambia or Uganda. However, it was nice to pick this up and see the places where we've actually gone as well as get a better sense for distances and place names.

Uganda (Nelles Map): This 1:700k scale map provided all the detail and latlong information we desired so we could track where we've been as we dumped our GPS coordinates and this map into the GPS software. It had all the waterfalls we cared about and it showed some of the roads we've been on. But other than post-processing our trips, this map didn't get any use during the safari since our driver had his own map we consulted (which happened to be this one but older).

Kenya Traveller's Map (Macmillan): This map didn't get a whole lot of use until after we came home and tried to see where we've been. It also had maps for the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa even though we really didn't need them.

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