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10 top practical tips for traveling to Northern Africa
10 min read
Updated on Mar 27, 2024

Northern Africa, with its mesmerizing deserts, ancient cities, vibrant markets, and rich cultural heritage, offers an unforgettable travel experience.

However, traveling to this region requires some preparation to ensure a safe, enjoyable, and respectful journey. Here are the top 10 tips for Africa travel, focusing on everything from packing essentials to sustainable tourism practices to help you get the most out of your trip to Northern Africa.

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Fortunately, our globe-trotting record breaker, Michael Zervos, recently journeyed through North Africa and shared some invaluable firsthand tips on what to do and what to avoid.

Tunisia, easily the best food in North Africa

1. Preparing your entry documentation for travel to North Africa

Traveling to North Africa is not just about packing your bags and digging out your sunhat, but also ensuring your paperwork is in order. To navigate the visa and entry documentation requirements smoothly we are here to help. We worked alongside Michael to ensure he had all the necessary visas before his journey began.

  • Check visa requirements: Start by verifying if you need a visa for your North African destination by visiting the country's embassy, consulate website or using our visa checker. Requirements vary, with some offering visa-on-arrival or eVisa options.

  • Gather required documents: Typically, you'll need a valid passport, photos, accommodation proof, return tickets –and sometimes – financial proofs or an invitation letter for business visits.

  • Apply early and follow up: Submit your visa application well in advance and monitor its status. Processing times can differ, and applying early helps address any potential issues promptly.

We currently offer visas for the following North and Northeast African destinations:

In cases where a visa wasn't provided by us, or when Michael required assistance with entry documentation for visas on arrival, entry and eVisas, we supported him by compiling the necessary information and informing him about the entry requirements. Additionally, he received extensive support from Untamed borders, – adventure travel specialists that help journalists reach inaccessible places.

Michael created an informative video for us, summarizing his experiences in securing visas for North and Northeast Africa, thanks to our valuable expert assistance.

Visa tips for visiting Libya

“A country that has recently opened a bit more to the public, with its new tourist visa,” says Michael. You can get it through tour companies or the Libyan Embassy in Washington.

“You have to send a letter to the embassy with your payment and other documents. iVisa helped with this, Untamed Borders also helped with about 12 different touring companies who will be guiding me through the more challenging countries.”

2. Essential packing tips for Northern Africa travel

  • Lightweight, breathable clothing: Northern Africa's climate can be hot and dry. Pack lightweight, breathable clothing to stay comfortable. Long sleeves and pants not only protect against the sun but are also respectful in conservative areas.

  • Sun protection: Any kind of hat to cover your head when out and about, sunglasses, and high SPF sunscreen are crucial to protect against the intense sun.

  • Comfortable footwear: Expect to do a lot of walking. Durable, comfortable footwear is a must for exploring ancient ruins and bustling souks.

Michael recommends Moosejaw

3. Safety precautions for traveling in Northern Africa

  • Stay informed: Before and during your trip, stay informed about the local situation in the areas you plan to visit.

“Contacting the countries embassy beforehand to check the current security situation is wise.”

  • Respect local laws and customs: Understanding and respecting local laws and customs can significantly reduce risks. Especially when it comes to taking photos of locals, always ask permission first.

  • Keep valuables safe: Use hotel safes and keep valuables discreet to avoid attracting attention. You could carry an emergency door lock with you as well, just like Michael does. You never know how good the security in your hotel will be.

Safety tips for visiting Tunisia

“In North Africa, and Arab countries, there is a general idea of trying to befriend a tourist, asking your name, where you're from, they always want to help you or show you something. Be careful when engaging with sellers, especially as there is almost always an ulterior motive.¨

  • Michael noticed this, particularly in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, so be extra careful when engaging with shop owners and having them lead you inside their property or business. You don't want to get cornered into buying something just for the sake of it.

Safety tips for visiting Libya

Companies will treat you like a king when you arrive

“Since the revolution in 2011, there has been a bad stigma around travel in Libya, but I had a very wonderful time,” says Michael.

“People were a little more cautious and skeptical but helpful. I was with 3 gentlemen at all times; one was a state-issued tour guide like in Iran or North Korea. Another was the main guide, who spoke great English and acted as a translator. The other guy was security. There was never any danger, and I never felt in harm's way.” Now tourism has opened again in Libya, you must visit with a pre-booked tour company, like Tidwa tours. Vouched for by Michael.

4. Cultural etiquette and customs to respect in Northern Africa

  • Dress modestly: In many parts of Northern Africa, modest dress is appreciated, especially for women. Covering shoulders and knees is a sign of respect.

  • Greeting etiquette: A handshake, not a hug, is common when meeting someone. Learn a few basic phrases in the local language to show respect.

  • Tipping: Tipping is customary in many places. Research typical tipping practices in your specific destination.

Top tip: “Local markets and tourist attractions can be aggressive, they might even grab you. Say no, be firm. They try to grab your hand often, and this can be very intruding for many people, especially women, so be wary and stand your ground” - Recommends Michael.

You need to exercise caution on who you photograph, not treating people like zoo animals. Your tour police or policeman will remind you who you can film.

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5. Northern Africa's food tips for travelers

  • Street food: Don’t miss out on the street food. It's not only delicious but offers a glimpse into the local cuisine. However, choose stalls that are busy and have high turnover.

  • Stay hydrated: Drink bottled water to avoid stomach issues and combat the constant heat and humidity.

  • Dietary restrictions: Vegetarians or those with dietary restrictions should research food options beforehand, as many traditional dishes are meat-based.

The best food in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and Libya

“In Egypt, the national dish is pasta-like, called Koshari, lentils, rice, chickpeas, and a spicy red sauce – it's great,” explains Michael.

“In Libya, all dishes are meat and veggie-based, with lots of rice. And, no alcohol, it's very traditional.”

“In Algeria, the food again is meat-based, couscous, stews with breads torn up and used as a sort of pasta.

“Finally, Tunisia, the best food in North Africa! The best blend of traditional and colonized. I took a food street tour with the biggest influencer in the country and his daughter. Similar ingredients from the same dishes as the other countries but prepared in different ways. Lots of cheese and always some kind of bread, fried or baked. All extremely delicious.”

In the mainly Arabic countries, people like to smoke shisha on the street to socialize, drinking locally infused tea or coffee. There's no alcohol; you can find it, but not often.

6. Must-visit destinations in Northern Africa

Check out some first-hand recommendations from Michael:

  • Egypt, Cairo: Of course, the Pyramids of Giza are an iconic symbol of ancient civilization. Getting a hot air balloon ride here is a beautiful way to experience the view. Don't miss the National Museum, the Egyptology Museum in Cairo, and the Citadel, which was built by Salah ad-Din, a fortress with a beautiful view of the city.

  • Morocco, Rabat: Rabat was very clean, stylish, and lovely. A mainly political center, with a lot of art and history, and a beautiful beach. The city has some of the nicest souks he has seen, full of high-end, raised-ceiling souks.

  • Libya: “Libya was outstanding,” says Michael. “There are 3 special places I visited: Tripoli, the Sabratha world-class Roman ruins, Leptis Magna Roman ruins, sitting on the Libyan coast, and Martyrs Square, one of the most important celebration spots in Libya.”

  • Algeria: “Algiers and Constantine - steeped in history with a clear Christian French influence evident in the architecture,” he explains “Both cities offer an abundance of sights and activities. Beyond Algiers, you can explore ruins and the desert, home to the Berber communities.”

A visit to the Fort of the Casbah in Algiers provides stunning city views alongside historical insights. In Constantine, the journey itself is remarkable, with a five-hour drive back to Algiers showcasing the region's beauty. Constantine features both natural and Roman-engineered bridges arching over a gorge, set in a picturesque landscape of green hills and rivers.

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7. Navigating transportation in Northern Africa: Tips for getting around

  • Public transport: Buses and trains connect major cities and are an affordable option. However, they can be crowded and slow.

“Morocco has an amazing public transport system” - Michael says after visiting many north and northeast developing African countries.

  • Taxis and rideshares: Always agree on a fare before starting your journey to avoid misunderstandings, but avoid normal taxis if you can. Use Uber or an approved rideshare app where you can, to avoid haggling.

Michaels top tip: “Uber in Egypt is good and very cheap – use it. Be careful crossing the street. People jaywalk, and you can and will get hit.”

  • Renting a car: Offers flexibility, but be prepared for different driving styles and conditions. Keep in mind that driving styles in North Africa can be quite distinct and are perceived as more aggressive compared to many Western countries, and road conditions vary widely from urban to rural regions.

Michaels transport tips for Morocco

“It's 40-45 minutes away from the port in Casablanca to the airport via train. It costs 5 USD, and you can go all the way eastward on the train, they're frequent, and it's easy, there is no reason why you wouldn't get the train. They do have Uber there as well, it's cheap and easy to get a driver.”

Michaels transport tips for Senegal

“Make sure to pre-arrange a taxi or transport service when you arrive, if possible. You can do this with your hotel. I got into a fight with the driver because he tried to charge me more after agreeing on a price. The only place I've seen meters in a taxi so far is in Morocco.

8. Health and wellness tips for travelers to Northern Africa

  • Vaccinations: Check with your healthcare provider or the CDC website, for recommended vaccinations well in advance of your trip.

  • Travel insurance: Ensure you have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies. Michaels prefered go-to insurance company is Genki who provide health insurance for Digital Nomads, and they're conveniently a partner of ours.

  • Avoid tap water: Stick to bottled water and avoid ice in drinks to prevent gastrointestinal issues.

Yellow fever vaccine for Egypt

“From start to finish, they will ask for your yellow fever card, and I didn't have it printed because it was destroyed with water in Chad.” Luckily Michael was allowed to pass with the digital version as an exception, but it's essential you have both printed and digital with you, just in case.

9. Language travel tips for exploring Northern Africa

  • Arabic is the primary language spoken across North Africa. Learning some basic phrases can greatly enhance your travel experience.

  • In many parts of North Africa, especially in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, French is widely spoken due to their colonial histories.

  • When language fails: Non-verbal communication steps in. Gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice can all convey meaning. However, be mindful of cultural differences in body language to avoid misunderstandings.

Fill me in

The languages spoken in North and North-Eastern African countries

Michael gives us his insights into handling languages spoken in Africa as an English speaker.

Tunisia - English is not frequently used. It can be difficult if you don't speak Arabic or French.

Morocco - Arabic and Moroccan Beber. Spanish, French, and English are also widely spoken, an impressive array.

Algeria - Algerian Arabic and Berber. French is widely spoken and used in media, culture, and education. Similar to Morocco, the younger generations love to learn and practice their English with tourists.

Mauritania - No one speaks English, it's French or Arabic.

Senegal- French and occasionally English in the airport. They also have their own different dialects that they speak. Cape Verde - Mostly Portuguese and Creole, very little English.

The Gambia They speak English, very decent, and easy to communicate with.

Guinea-Bissau - Portuguese, almost no English, you're very lucky if someone knows English outside of hotels.

Ivory Coast - The most developed of all the African countries in the region. English, French, and local dialects are spoken.

Liberia - English.

Libya - Arabic is the official language, and several dialects are spoken. English is spoken among the younger generation.

10 Weather and climate considerations for Northern Africa Travel

  • Seasonal variations: Northern Africa's climate varies. Coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate, while inland areas can be extremely hot in summer.

  • Best time to visit: Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are generally the best times to visit, with milder weather.

  • Prepare for desert conditions: If visiting desert areas, prepare for extreme heat during the day and cold temperatures at night.

And some final words from Michael about his own experience:

“Actually, North African weather is much more similar to Mediterranean climates like Southern Italy, Greece, and Spain. Temperatures fluctuate more seasonally. So it can get cool during the winter and warm in the summer, but never the extremes of either pole. The weather there is quite nice. It's when you get to Sub-sahara that it's miserable.”

Adhering to these travel tips for Africa will enhance your experience and promote respectful interactions throughout your journey in Northern Africa.

To read more about Michaels's globe-trotting adventures, just visit our Project Kosmos hub page.

  • iVisa is NOT affiliated with any government agency. This site does not provide legal advice and we are not a law firm. None of our customer service representatives are lawyers and they also do not provide legal advice. We are a private, internet-based travel and immigration consultancy provider dedicated to helping individuals travel around the world. You may apply by yourself directly on the various government websites. For government source information, please visit our product pages.
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