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Top backpacking destinations in East Africa

The countries of East Africa are home to some of the most diverse geography and plant and animal life in the entire continent.  The geography is stunning and somewhat extreme, including the tallest mountains on the continent, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya; Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world; and the second deepest lake on earth, Lake Tanganyika.

Cheap air flights are available into most of the larger cities in East Africa such as Nairobi, making all the countries of East Africa very accessible to backpackers and budget travelers.

Land of superlatives: Tanzania

Tanzania is one of the most popular countries in the whole of Africa, home to Mount Kilimanjaro, the Islands of Zanzibar, the natural wonders of the Serengeti, Lake Victoria and the wide expanse of the Ngorongoro Crater.  As well-traveled as the country is, it is still easy to get off the beaten track and enjoy some rarely-seen sights, including Lake Manyara National Park, the Usanbara Mountains and Tukuyu, and the underrated climbing alternative to Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Meru. The fifth-highest mountain in Africa, Mount Meru is a shorter trip than Kili, less expensive and more scenic.  Another beautiful and little-traveled area is the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. Rich bio-diversity, rare species and several hiking trails are all found there and are accessible from nearby Mikumi.

Malawi’s “Calendar Lake”

Landlocked Malawi is home to the beautiful Lake Malawi, known as Lake Nyassa in bordering Tanzania.  The lake is very popular with backpackers, offering up warm golden beaches and accommodations to suit the most meager of budgets.  Cheap, compact, beautiful and stress-free, Malawi is a great spot for backpackers.

The lakes and plains of Kenya

Kenya is nearly synonymous with safaris and the “big five”, and while the country is home to the Maasai Mara and its iconic plains and animals, there is more to Kenya than simply big game.  The lakes of the north, Turkana and Nakuru, are well worth the trip if only to see the millions of flamingoes that call these waters their home.  The oldest town in Kenya, Lamu is a great place to stop-off and unwind and has been recently discovered by backpackers.  Transportation is primitive, the sounds of motors replaced by the melodic crash of ocean waves.  Another cheap alternative to Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya can be climbed easily with a guide’s assistance, though casual climbers rarely attempt to scale the jagged peak.

Journey back to the past in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a truly unique country, seemingly steeped in the past.  In fact, it truly is in the past compared to the rest of the world.  Having never adopted the Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia is seven years behind the rest of the world.  Home to one of the world’s great ancient empires, the Aksumites, it is also home to some of the oldest Christian communities in the world.  The medieval architecture of Lalibela features churches literally carved from the rocks.  Ethiopia is an ideal backpacking route, with plenty of interesting food and culture, friendly people, rustic towns and breathtaking scenery to satisfy a wide variety of travelers.  As an added plus, the altitude of the country decreases the risk of exposure to malaria significantly.

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