ACCORDING to Gunnar Garfors, the world’s youngest hobby traveller to visit all countries, five of the 15 most difficult countries to visit are in Africa. Factoring for visa availability, security and transport, he lists Somalia, Libya, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea and Angola as among the “worst” tourist destinations.
Right up there with the infamous Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, it seems that only Somalia and Libya receive a comparable amount of negative media coverage and rarely cause raised eyebrowns for being such bad holiday destinations. On the other hand, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea and Angola are perceived by most as “normal”, stable countries, though perhaps slightly off the beaten track. It is therefore more surprising these three countries are in the top three of the most difficult countries to visit. Why?
Equatorial Guinea – the penny crusher
This tiny oil haven state, set to host Africa’s biggest football tournament, fits with the definition of a “resource curse” nation. Being the 24th largest oil exporter in the world (right behind Indonesia) and sending out 319,100 barrels per day, the country’s economy is heavily reliant on crude and therefore exposed to market volatility.
Human rights abuses, military coups and one of the strictest regimes globally gives Equatorial Guinea something of a reputation. US citizens do not require a visa, however other nationals have a long shopping list to put together. They need to provide two passport photos, a bank statement noting a minimum of $2,000 in the account, and proof of a wide number of vaccinations, including smallpox, cholera and yellow fever.
What’s even more discouraging is that Equatorial Guinea is also one of the most expensive countries in Africa. Most basic hotels are in the range of $75 -$300 a night, while a simple lunch (excluding drinks) will cost upwards of $20.
Why would anyone want to visit Equatorial Guinea given the rather daunting prospect of getting there and an overpriced stay?
Well, for one thing the country’s wildlife is full of endangered primates and rare nesting turtles. The country ranges from sandy beaches to lofty mountains and humid savanna, and its biodiversity is vast. This region has the second largest rainforest in the world, only second to the Amazon.
It is also home to the Rhinoceros Viper, once the most expensive reptile species on the European market. Despite the popular perception that gorillas are only found in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea has many too, along chimpanzees and mandrills. Taking photographs is however heavily restricted and you will need a permit for your camera, so prepare yourself for either spy-like discretion or memory snapshots.
Eritrea – the admin struggle
The September 2014 American travel warning states as follows: “The US Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Eritrea and strongly recommends US citizens not travel to the country since there is increasing possibility US citizens will not receive the requisite exit permit from Eritrean authorities.”
Eritrea, one of the most secretive countries in Africa, has never had a foreigner friendly score, ranking as the only country below North Korea in the press freedom indicator. Despite filling the visa application as meticulously as humanly possible, it may still be bound for rejection without justification. Re-application is possible, but considering that each process takes between 6-8 weeks, most tourists give up, even the more patient types.
Obtaining the visa though does not mean free and careless travel around the country. All visitors, if keen to explore further than 25 kilometres outside of the major cities, must file for a special permit, obtainable via a 10-day administrative process; once again, you may be unsuccessful.
So what’s in Eritrea to offset the nightmarish administrative battle? Quite a lot actually. The capital Asmara is one of the best preserved collections of colonial architecture. The clean and calm city streets are packed with unique Art Deco villas and public buildings, as well as styles ranging from the Futuristic to Realist, the likes of mansions resembling sailing ships.
For the active holidaygoers hiking, climbing and mountain biking are popular day activities outside of Asmara, which lies at a high 2,360m above sea level. For the more historically inclined travellers, Eritrea offers a number of incredible top archeological sights: Nakfa, Matara, Qohaita and a fantastic Black Assarca Shipwreck diving site.
Angola – the snob hurdle
On the top rung of the least friendly places to visit in the world is Angola. This is strange, considering there is no on-going war and travel is not difficult compared to, say, Nauru, in the Pacific Ocean, which only operates one airline (ranked 13th on the list). The thing is, Angola is scrupulous in stopping any unemployed (or sometimes simply “not rich enough”) travellers from job hunting in the country by sticking to a harsh visa regime and inflicting currency restrictions upon entry and exit.
A number of supporting documents are necessary to obtain a permit of stay, many of which are not mentioned on the official website, which was last updated over 10 years ago. This seems to be done on purpose. In addition, the Angolan government requires an invitation for anybody coming into the country and a passport with at least two blank pages.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against travel to many Angolan states, in particular Cabinda, Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul- the territories collectively responsible for most oil and diamond production. Forbes magazine, along with more technical surveys such as the Mercer Cost of Living survey (2014) and ECA International measuring the costs of living for expats, rank Angola’s capital Luanda as the most expensive city in the world. Indeed, the price of a bottle of Coca-Cola in Luanda is about 457 Kwanza, equivalent to almost $5. In comparison, in Spanish Valenzia, the same bottle is valued 61% less. Other items are expensive too: a standard daily lunch menu starts from $25, while a pair of leather shoes fetch $200.
Angola does have its upside. A number of interesting museums in Luanda, such as the unique Museum of Slavery, may cheer up the tourist a little, offering one of the few value for money entertainments. As a major outlet for slavery, Angola still has many breathtaking forts, some dating from the 1500s, which can be seen scattered along the country’s 1,600-km coastline. The animal lovers will be thrilled to visit Kissama National Park which boasts a population of the very rare black palanca antelope only found in Angola.
And fishing in the country is as good as it gets, especially at Kwanza River, which has a few top notch lodges for the intrepid fisherman.