The Africa Book: Learning About this Amazing Land
I'm not sure when my obsession started, but for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to go to Africa. Like many travelers, one of the main drawing points for me is the opportunity to see the wildlife in their natural habitat. I can only imagine what it's like to drive through the Savannah and come across a group of giraffes or a herd of elephants.
More than just the wildlife, I would love to experience the cultures of Africa. I attended an African drumming circle once and it was so much fun. The circle leader was so enthusiastic that it was impossible to not enjoy yourself, even for someone who's relatively shy, like me. The drumming circle gave me a taste of first hand African culture, and I would love to experience more if it firsthand.
Several years ago, I received The Lonely Planet's The Africa Book for Christmas. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Actually going to Africa is a ways off for me, but this book is a great way to learn more about Africa in the meantime.
The Africa book gives a wonderful overview of the whole continent. It starts off with a brief introduction about its history and future. Of course, with thousands of years and dozens of countries, the history is far from complete. However, it creates an effective image for the reader as they begin perusing the book as a whole. It also includes a timeline with major historical events to give a further background on what has shaped the continent and its people. A two-page map that shows each country and its capital. While the map is nothing that can't be found elsewhere, it is convenient to have right in the front of the book to help the more geographically challenged of us.
"Africa at a Glance" is in the first few pages. It gives a quick summary of some of the most important destinations if you're planning a trip. Included here are the oldest man-made feature (which is not the pyramids, as you might think. It's actually a 1.8 million year old stone circle.), most beautiful trek (the 41 km Otter Trail in South Africa), and the best cup of coffee (Ethiopia). These are the details that can help plan the trip of a lifetime.
The next few pages take you through some of the most popular journeys Africa has to offer. Between all the possible itineraries, most of the continent is covered. There are, of course, areas of Africa that simply can't be easily seen. So much of it is devastated by war and there are some countries that aren't safe for tourists. However, there is still an endless list of places to see and if you're looking to squeeze as much into a short time as possible, these recommended journeys are worth investigating.
Most of The Africa Book is dedicated to the individual countries. They are divided up by region (North Africa, West Africa, etc.) so that they are easy to locate. (There is also a table of contents at the front and an index at the back.) Each country is given several pages, giving the reader the highlights. You can learn a bit about the country's history, culture, and landscape, along with major tourist attractions and activities and the trademarks of the country.
One of the highlights of the book are the amazing photographs. Each country has several photos highlighting its most beautiful and interesting aspects, including some full page photos. The images of the unique scenery and mosaic of cultures are hard to match and I have yet to see any other book that offers such wonderful visual accompaniment.
The back of the book rounds out your experience with pages about the themes of Africa, the music and culture, and the wildlife. Find out what the most popular activities are (including rock climbing and trekking), learn more about how music is the basis for many cultural traditions, and discover the best places to see wildlife up close (and truly in the wild).
If you're planning a trip to Africa, you certainly need to buy some official travel guides. However, if you're not sure where to start, The Africa Book is a great way to narrow down your wish list. If you're not planning a trip (or if you're like me and still dreaming about it for sometime in the future), The Africa Book is a phenomenal resource for learning about this fascinating continent. There is such a rich history and so many diverse cultures, it's impossible to get bored. Its also a very "low commitment" book in that you can read just a few pages at a time, then put it away for another day. I would certainly recommend The Africa Book to anyone interested in learning about the world or for someone who hopes to one day travel to this remarkable land.
(Background image is from Public Domain)