Stories to inspire: The best travel books about Africa

Something about travelling through African countries seems to demand pen is put to paper. From colonial-era experiences in East Africa and epic trips around the continent to accounts of the author’s own country, there is a plethora of books available about this vast, diverse continent. Each of these top travel books reveals a different perspective, whether it’s a foreigner looking in, or a citizen telling their own story. We’ve selected a few of the best travel books, offering a range of styles and angles, that we’d recommend reading. Learn about Africa’s history, meet its people, and be inspired to explore some of the continent for yourself.

Kenya is well-documented in travel literature. Credit: Serian the Original, Kenya.

Green Hills of Africa

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway helped to define an era of travel in Africa and his name is often used to describe the 1930s style of safari. This non-fiction book tells of his time in East Africa, where he spent a month with his wife. For those interested in the history of safari and its roots in East Africa, this is a great book by a superb author.

Hemingway’s name still defines 1920s/30s-style safaris. Credit: Cottars 1920s Safari Camp

Dark Continent My Black Arse 

Sihle Khumalo 

South African Sihle Khumalo journeyed from Cape Town to Cairo by public transport and wrote about his experiences in this refreshing take on travelling through Africa. As an African, Khumalo’s perspectives are often different from the many European travel writers who have written about Africa.

Cape Town
Cape Town: the start of Sihle Khumalo’s journey. Credit: Craig Howes, Cape Town Tourism.

Around Africa on my Bicycle

Riaan Manser 

Manser documents his 36,500-kilometre bicycle ride through 34 countries, in his attempt to be the first person to circumnavigate Africa on a bike. It took him over two years and revealed to him the best and the worst of this enormous continent.

Cycling through Africa. Credit: Flickr user jbdodane.

Out of Africa

Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

Karen Blixen used a pseudonym to publish Out of Africa, now one of the most famous stories about Africa. The book is autobiographical, remembering her 17 years on a coffee plantation in colonial British East Africa (now Kenya).

You can visit the locations of the film Out of Africa. Credit: Angama Mara, Kenya.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Whilst this isn’t a travel book, it does provide insight to Malawi and the struggles the country has experienced. Malawian William Kamkwamba was inspired to build a windmill when he read about them as a boy. Everyone in his village thought he was crazy, but Kamkwamba was determined. He pursued his ambition even through a terrible famine that gripped the country, eventually succeeding in creating a windmill out of scrap parts he found, bringing his family electricity and water, two luxuries in an extremely poor country. His story is an inspiration to anyone who has a dream.

Lake Malawi
A fisherman on Lake Malawi. Credit: Lars Plougmann, Flickr.

An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants

Daphne Sheldrick

Dame Daphne recently passed away, but her legacy lives on in Kenya, where she and her husband David, who worked as a warden in Tsavo National Park, made names for themselves protecting the elephants and wildlife of Kenya.

Bill Bryson’s African Diary 

Bill Bryson

Bryson brings his trademark wit and humour to this tale about his time in Kenya. He donated all the royalties from the book to CARE International, the anti-poverty projects of which he visited during his trip.

Bryson travelled to Kenya to visit the projects of CARE International. Credit: Sasaab.

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart

Tim Butcher

Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher set off on what many saw as a dangerous and ill-advised expedition following 19th-century explorer Henry Stanley’s journey along the Congo River. Butcher’s trip saw him travel 4,000 kilometres through Congo, eventually emerging on the Atlantic Ocean coast.

Congo River
The Congo River. Credit: Antoine Moens de Hase, Flickr.

Long Walk to Freedom 

Nelson Mandela

Not a travel book exactly, but Mandela’s famous autobiography is an important read for anyone visiting South Africa. It helps to explain the country’s recent history and shed some light on the trauma of apartheid.

Robben Island
Robben Island Museum. Credit: Cape Town Tourism.

The Shadow of the Sun

Ryszard Kapuściński

From 1957, Polish journalist Kapuściński spent nearly 30 years living in various African countries, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria, living with all kinds of people, from authority figures to rural villagers. His experiences provide glimpses into how these countries have developed and the problems they have faced over the past decades.

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

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