Getting Around in West Africa: Types of Transport
Getting around in West Africa can be an adventure in itself. The region offers a range of transportation options, from motorbikes and taxis to buses and coaches, each with its own unique experience. While it may be daunting for first-time visitors to navigate the different modes of transportation, understanding the options can help make travel in West Africa a breeze. Whether you're exploring the bustling cities or venturing into the remote countryside, there's a transportation option that will suit your needs and budget. In this guide, we'll take a closer look at the various types of transportation in West Africa and provide tips for navigating the region's transport network.
A Guide of how to get around in West Africa!
Overall, the most affordable way to get around West Africa is by public transportation. Motorbike, keh keys, minibusses, and shared taxis are all common forms of transportation and are relatively cheap. However, be prepared for long journeys and frequent stops. If you're looking for a more comfortable way to travel, you can always hire a private car or take a flight.
Taxis are a common mode of transportation in West Africa, especially in cities. Bear in mind that there are no metered taxis, and most 'taxi's' in West Africa are just cars who will drive you somewhere for money. So, if you're planning to use taxis in West Africa, it's always a really good idea to negotiate the fare with the driver before getting in.
All taxi drivers will try and overcharge tourists, so it's important to have an idea of what a fair price would be, negotiate and confirm that the fare includes all tolls and petrol, so that you don't get any surprises during your trip. Also, make sure that it is a private taxi and they are not picking more people up along the way. In is generally safe to walk around during the day in most countries (between Senegal to Benin although you should do your own research before exploring) but it is always recommended to take a taxi when travelling at night.
You can always take a photo of the number plate and the drivers licences and send it to your hotel over WhatsApp. At each airport and boarder town you can buy local simcards with data so you can also always stay connected.
During my travels, I caught numerous taxis each day and never had any issues with safety. The roads are not always in the best condition and there are a lot of road accidents, so don't be shy to tell your driver to slow down if feeling unsafe.
Motorbike taxis, also known as okadas, achaba, going, inaga, are a popular and affordable mode of transportation in West Africa. They can be found in most cities and towns, and are often the quickest way to navigate through traffic. However, they can also be quite dangerous and accidents are quote common. It is important to always wear a helmet (although highly unlikely they will have one, let alone a spare for you), negotiate the price before getting on, and make sure the driver is experienced and licensed. Additionally, it is recommended to avoid riding on motorbikes at night, especially in less populated areas.
Tuk Tuk (know as a Kehke)
A Tuk Tuk, or Kehke in the region, is a popular form of transportation in West Africa. It is a three-wheeled motorized rickshaw that can carry up to three passengers (Although you can see more). Kehke is a convenient and affordable way to get around in busy urban areas where traffic congestion is common and the distance is not too great. It is also important to note that kehke accidents are not uncommon. Despite the risks, kehke can be a fun and unique way to explore West African cities and experience local life. Just remember to take necessary precautions and be aware of your surroundings while traveling.
Share taxis, also known as bush taxis or communal taxis, "car rapides" or "tro tros" are a popular mode of transportation in West Africa. These vehicles are typically station wagons or vans that are shared by several passengers, usually up to 9 or 10 people at a time. Share taxis operate on fixed routes and can be flagged down on the street or at designated taxi ranks.
While share taxis are often the cheapest mode of transportation in West Africa, they can also be the most uncomfortable. Passengers are packed in tightly, often with their luggage and goods, and journeys can be long and bumpy. However, share taxis are also a great way to meet locals and experience the culture of West Africa firsthand.
I always recommend getting to the taxi station or 'gare' early in the morning to find your ride, as that is when most departures are and each car will wait until they are full, so you don't want to be waiting in the heat of the day for hours when there are less passengers. It's important to note that safety can be a concern with share taxis, as they are often poorly maintained and breakdown, plus drivers are also likely to be fatigued and reckless. Once again, it's important to negotiate the price before getting into the taxi and confirm that it includes baggage, to avoid being overcharged.
Another tip is to always pay a little extra for the front seat! My first shared taxi experience was in a from Dakar to a town close to the Gambian border. It was a stinking hot day and I was the last spot, at the back and in the middle of a station wagon that had 3 rows of seats; 2 in the front, 3 in the middle and three at the rear.. I look at the seat an everyone in the car and said fuck that.. I will wait for the next and take the front seat! So, it cost me an extra 30 minutes and around $5 USD but it was definitely worth it for the 5/6 hour trip.
Also, if you are getting out of the share taxi early than the final designation, make you that you keep track. On this trip, I check my maps and we had past my stop but about 20 minutes, so we pulled over in the middle of nowhere and I had to get out then flag down another share taxi driving in the opposite direction.
Overall, share taxis can be a fun and adventurous way to travel in West Africa, but it's important to take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.
Minivans are a common way to move around in West Africa, for both short trips around town or longer distances between cities. They are more affordable option for travellers on a budget, that the cost of a shared taxi and can offer a chance to meet and interact with locals. The negatives are that the minivans can be quite crowded and uncomfortable, and they are stopping to collect guests for the entirety of the journey, so it's really slow! It is important to note that the safety standards may not be as high as in other parts of the world, so it is important to be cautious and aware of potential risks. It is also recommended to confirm the fare before getting in and the destination with the driver or other passengers to avoid any confusion.
Coaches, also known as long-distance buses, are a popular mode of transportation for travelers in West Africa. They are typically larger than minibuses and offer more comfortable seating options, making them a good choice for longer journeys. Coaches generally operate on fixed routes and schedules and are a reliable and affordable option for intercity travel.
In West Africa, there are many reputable coach companies, such as ABC Transport, STC, and GTSC, that offer services to various destinations within and between countries. These coaches are usually air-conditioned and equipped with entertainment systems, making the journey more comfortable and enjoyable. It is advisable to book your coach ticket in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure your seat. Also, keep in mind that the journey may take longer than expected due to traffic or unexpected delays, so it is best to plan accordingly and factor in extra time.
Ferry crossings are another popular way to travel in West Africa, especially between countries that share water borders like Senegal and The Gambia or Nigeria and Benin. The ferries are often used to transport goods, livestock, and people, and can range from small wooden boats to larger vessels with amenities such as restaurants and sleeping cabins. While ferry crossings can be a scenic and interesting way to travel, it is important to note that safety standards may not always be up to par, so it is important to research the company and vessel before embarking on a journey. Additionally, weather conditions can impact schedules and delays are not uncommon, so it is advisable to build in extra time in case of unforeseen circumstances.
Speed Boat Transfers
Speedboat transfers are a popular way of getting around in West Africa, especially in coastal areas. They offer a fast and convenient way to travel between islands and along the coast, avoiding the traffic and roadblocks that can often slow down other modes of transport. Speedboat transfers are available for both private and public use, and some companies offer scheduled services to popular destinations. Sea Coach Ferry from Freetown to Conakry for $100 USD or from Freetown Airport (Luigi to Aberdeen) for $45 USD. While they can be more expensive than other forms of transport, they offer a unique and thrilling experience for travelers looking to explore the region's coastline. However, it is important to note that safety standards can vary, and it is recommended to only use reputable operators with experienced and licensed drivers.
Flights are one of the most convenient and quickest ways to travel around West Africa. Many countries have their own national carriers, with Air Cote d'Ivoire or Senegal Airlines, and international carriers, with Kenyan & Brussels Airways being some of the popular ones. The international airports in major cities such as Abidjan, Lagos, Accra, and Dakar connect the region to the rest of the world. Domestic flights within the region are also available and can be booked online or through local travel agencies. While flight schedules can be unreliable, especially during the rainy season, they offer a comfortable and efficient mode of travel for those looking to cover long distances quickly. Check out our flights in West Africa travel guide for more information.
Overall, traveling by coach in West Africa is a convenient and affordable option for exploring the region's many sights and destinations.