Accommodation advice

Having sampled some of what Africa had to offer in terms of accommodation, both camping and the ‘hotel’ kind, these are our observations which we hope will be helpful to prospective clients of the various institutions…

Hamman Lif campsite, Tunis: Tricky to locate, but ok, with western toilets and running water in taps but showers leave something to be desired. Bit of a stoney dustbowl, it did at least have large trees for shade. As a place to stay after coming off the ferry from Genoa it was fine, and still staffed despite our 1am arrival, having spent too much time getting lost trying to find it.

Hotel Jasmin, Nabeul: A lovely, green site with olive trees to camp under and lots of cats for company, it has comparatively fantastic ablutions with western loos and lovely hot showers.

Hotel, Ben Guardane: We only found this after riding out of town, towards the Libyan border, and then turning around to ride back in again, realising we’d left town. It’s on the right, not far from the edge of town, and the staff were very accommodating about our need to secure the bikes close to reception. They even provided us with a olives to nibble on. The showers were as per usual a bit dirty but nevertheless worth using after a hot day’s riding. Western toilets too, and running water in the basins.

Arkno Tours Villa, Tripoli: We were pretty much conned into staying in this rather lovely but very expensive overnight stop by the tour company which both runs it and provided us with our guide. We had planned to travel the few ks more out to Leptis Magna, where you certainly can camp, but were very tired when we arrived in Tripoli, and were therefore easily persuaded to spend the night; later discovering that it would cost US$60 – the most we’ve paid for a night’s rest on the trip so far. However, at no extra cost we also got all our clothes washed, were escorted to the nearby internet cafe and had a very enjoyable conversation with the receptionist chap who’d previously worked at the Tobruk cemetries, was from Ghana, and told lots of interesting stories.

Camping in the desert in Libya: Our guide chose the spots, which for the most part were just off the road and out of direct earshot of the main traffic. However, his one choice, of a site on a virtual rubbish dump outside the town of Ajdabiya left something to be desired, and with the deep sand in and out was a nightmare for Cathy who dropped her bike and broke the left mirror off on her exit. Make sure your guide understands your site selection criteria before you camp and you should be ok.

El Lido Hotel, Marsa Martouh: We found it a bit tricky to find, as the main entrance is around the corner from the main road which we came in on. However, locals know it, and can show the way. A drab brown building, it has lifts that don’t quite meet with the floor, leaving a dangerous step on or off. But it was cheaper than most, and perfectly adequate for our needs. No hot water, or secure parking, but we left the bikes in view of the 24 hour reception and felt tucked away enough not to worry about them too much. Not the cleanest, but we’ve stayed in worse.

Motel Salma, Cairo: Not a ‘motel’ at all, but the only place that does camping in Cairo, we were rather grateful to have a cheap stay but later found out that we could have done a lto better for just a little bit more in one of the city’s many cheap hotels. The campsite itself is a dustbowl, with few trees and completely coated (as is most of Cairo) in a find combination of sand and dust that gets everywhere and isn’t pleasing. It’s also difficult to find, located behind a large block of flats, off the main drag, and behind a horribly polluted canal. The showers are directly over the toilets, which although western in style are not clean – partly because the water is so full of rust that there’re brown deposits everywhere that water drips, including in the basins and showers. This was awful, as it also turned our clothes and fingernails a horrible brown colour – and it took us some time to figure out that it was the water that was doing it. Salma herself was quite good to us, allowing us use of her personal laptop for internet access, at 1 euro per hour (cheaper than the nearby hotel’s rate of 44 egyptian pounds for half an hour!). We also enjoyed very good food here, cooked by Salma’s mother.

The Convent of the Virgin Mary, Asyut: This was a real find, and we were so pleased to be let in even though we’d arrived a few minutes to six pm and been told it was shut already. Some begging did the trick. We completed the long entrance up their twisty driveway which climbs up to the main buildings and were greeted by one of the fathers who  introduced us to a sister who gave us a tour of the cave church, the last thing we felt like after a hard day’s riding, but we felt it would be rude not to show interest. And it was actually quite interesting. They also very kindly stored our bikes away in a lock-up garage normally reserved for empty coke bottles! A lovely respite, with clean rooms and en-suite shower-with-loo combo that was at least clean if not hot. They very kindly also gave us warm, fresh ‘holy’ bread which with a tin of tuna became our dinner!

Camp Rezeiky, Luxor: Difficult to find, but trust the GPS when it sends you round the back of a petrol garage, this place looks like a paradise by comparison to Motel Salma’s. It is nice to have grass and a swimming pool, and we thoroughly enjoyed the local food dishes which we sampled the evening we arrived. However, the toilets are grim, the light switches black with dirt, and the staff not particularly friendly. Indeed, we had an encounter with one which left much to be desired, in that he followed Cathy into the toilets and actually stuck his head under the door to have a good look! When we raised it with management, and they investigated, we were told that he’d slipped on the wet floors and it was all a misunderstanding. Ja, and Steve Biko slipped on the soap in the shower!

The Nile Hotel, Wadi Halfa: A beach hut, not a hotel, it is nothing like the real deal which got flooded when the Aswan dam was built. Photos of the old building can be found in one of the local shops, and it looks fantastic, with colonial facade and gardens. This one is seriously beachy, without the beach. Constructed of wood, there’re cracks to let in moonlight, and the floors are just sand. However, we slept well here – probably ‘cos we were tired from the lack of sleep on the ferry. Just a short walk into town is a great restaurant where you have a choice of either fish or omlettes any time of the day or night.

Camping in the Sudan desert: We found several good spots along the way, including a couple along the banks of the Nile. Be careful of critters though – we had a scorpion at the first one. Also, the sand is dreadful for bikers, so be aware of this when choosing where to go.

Blue Nile Sailing Club, Khartoum: Less impressive than we’d imagined, with really stinky toilets, it’s still a great place to visit if not stay because it has on it’s premises the beached remains of Kitchener’s Malek, the ship sent to try and rescue General Gordon from his demise at the hands of the Mahdi. There is, at least, grass and LOTS of shade here, which we relished in the 45 degree heat. It’s right on the banks of the Nile, too, which is particularly atmospheric at night, especially when the opening of a nearby new bridge happens while you’re there!

Border hotel on Ethiopian side of Gallabat/Metema border, linked to the Roman Hotel (although it didn’t seem so when we were shown there): Shown here by everyone, we now believe it’s owned by the local customs official, and is a bit of a racket. At first site, really dodgey, it was one of those placed that grew on you, despite the red light in the room, and general sense that you’re probably staying in a brothel. The food was excellent, but the toilet the foulest we’ve yet experienced. Hold it in if you can and rather use the bush once you’ve left! Don’t even ask about showers – just stay dirty.

Misrak Pension, Gonder: Located between the Fogera Hotel and the mini-Fogera Restaurant, this little motel-style place allows camping at a reduced rate of 50-60 Birr per night. We loved it. Greenery everywhere, and with a very helpful ‘receptionist’ who also acted as our local tour guide and advisor, we had a fabulous time here and can really recommend it. Follow your nose to the top of the hill and you should find it.

The Seven Olives, Lalibela: We arrived in the dark, unusually for us, so had little choice and had been recommended this hotel as a place to camp for 60 Birr a night. However, the tough day’s riding and sense of humour failure which we were both suffering saw us opt for a room instead, at a slightly higher price of 22US$/night. The rooms were as you’d expect in Africa, and the shower was, once again, an open set up in the same space as the loo, but with enough room that you didn’t actually have to be standing with one foot in the toilet bowl! It was cold, but needn’t have been as we should have switched the heater on. We enjoyed some good food in the restaurant attached, and given what else we saw, I’d recommend staying here above anywhere else in the town.

Plaza Hotel, Addis Ababa: Havin had the Holiday Hotel recommended to us by someone in Lalibela, we tried it but found it was full, so they sent us to the Plaza where we stayed for two nights. Relatively expensive, but with very nice facilities (the kind of bathroom a westerner would expect and a spacious sleeping area as well as bar, dining room and lounge) we also found the management very pleasant and helpful, if a little on a different wavelength. They also helped us to organise a mechanic for the bike, though he wasn’t great. We decided to move across, though, to the Holiday, as it was both cheaper and had been recommended.

Holiday Hotel, Addis Ababa: The room was more spacious even than at the Plaza, but I’d say the bathroom was more basic. Still, with security on site, as was at the Plaza, we felt safe and slept well, which was all we needed. Would recommend it to fellow travellers.

Adenium camp site, Awasa: What a haven this place is. Beautifully greened up with flower beds and grass, it was a fantastic place to stay. Very homely and inviting. Also, we went to the lake which is nearby and had a most wonderful time watching African Fish Eagles. Only problem is that the owner, Jana, is looking to move, so it might change hands in which case things could change. Until then, though, it comes with 4 michelen stars from me!

Medina Lodge, Moyale: My advice? Don’t stay on the Kenyan side of the border. Stay at one of the first, nice looking hotels you see when you’re in Ethiopia, and cross in the morning. Of all the places we’ve stayed, this was most like a 1960s concrete block which could, if it was in Jhb, easily be part of the blocks housing migrant miners. I didn’t enjoy it at all, but I did manage a good night’s sleep, so if you’re desperate it might help to know it’s there. I would definitely NOT recommend it though.

Jungle Junction, Nairobi: Among the best places we’ve stayed to date, this bikers’ haven is a must stay stopover for anyone passing through. Our halfway point, it really allowed us to get all cleaned up and mentally prepared to tackle the remainder of our journey. We could fix the bikes (with the help of Chris, the owner, who also has a bike workshop on the premises), clean our clothes (or, if you’re feeling lazy, have them cleaned for you at very reasonable rates), swig beer back with fellow overlanders, stay indoors on our last night to avoid the rain (at a slightly higher ‘dorm’ rate – for which we got to sleep on the sofas) and generally chill out before we left. Only advice is, if you’re to take one of the matatu taxis, be on your guard. This is where we had our phone stolen, when ‘passengers’ used distraction tactics (i.e. urgent and hurried instructions to “put on your seatbelt, traffic cops ahead”) and in the process managed to swipe the mobile out of Cathy’s handbag.

Arusha: Sorry, can’t help. We had a wonderful time staying with friends on a coffee plantation. However, they did mention that lots of people got to BJs if they’re overlanding.

Tan-Swiss, Mkumi: Not officially a camping place, we stayed in the grounds and were provided with buckets of hot water to wash in. Not the best, and not what was originally promised (we were told that we could use one of the room’s showers, but it would appear that the owner found out about this and put a stop to it, understandably, as the rooms were full!). But still, we had a wash with warm water, which is more than we’ve managed in a lot of other places. The restaurant was pretty decent too, with reasonable food, if a bit slow on the service side of things.

Mbeya Green View Inn Campsite, Mbeya: Sign-posted from the main road, it took us a full hour and a half to find this place! We finally found it, next door to the Mosque on Chunya Road. Ask for this road, and the locals know where to point you. Don’t bother with the name as they didn’t get it.  It’s on the first dirt road to the right as you go onto Chunya Road.

Nkhata Bay: There are two places we went here – one we stayed at and one we were told to stay at. Big Blue Star, which recently changed hands, is where we landed up; but having seen it I would go with the recommendation we were given and rather stay at Mayuki Lodge. The latter is a bit further along a dirt road, but worth it as the people seemed a lot more friendly, the place looks better well looked after and the owner-manager(s) are, I’m assuming, not pubescent in their approach to running an accommodation establishment.

Carolina Lake Resort, Senga Bay: Nice enough, we camped here but you can also hire chalets. The experience would probably have been even nicer if we’d not been nabbed by a ‘guide’ who could scent a needy tourist a mile off and who we landed up following for two hours in search of a internet cafe to check for an urgent email. Wishing to sell us his wares, he also made a tidy profit by determining the charge-out rate that the only internet cafe in town was to charge us, a full 500% higher than anywhere else in the country! That said, this resort is to be recommended. Just be careful of any touts.

Mabuye, Lilongwe: Formerly known as Kiboko camp, this is a very nice place to stay indeed. Well equipped with an internet cafe as well as library, bar, restaurant, chalets and green grass for campers, we have enjoyed it a lot.

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