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I’m writing this personal update from Angola in Central Africa where I have just arrived. I have only been in the country for less than an hour yet I have found myself:
Missing my pre-arranged transfer due to the time change in the flight and having to barter with a taxi driver.
Refusing a lift with a lady who claimed she was a taxi (call me over cautious but I prefer to get into a registered taxi than with just anyone).
Standing my ground with the boss of the taxi driver that I chose to take after he agreed to 7,000 and his boss then demanded 10,000 Angolan Kwanza (£23).
I have arrived at the hotel to the receptionist telling me that she cancelled my room because I wasn’t at the airport when my transfer arrived. After a big sincere apology I am finally settling into Angola, a country which is recently opening its doors to tourism after experiencing four decades of an on/off civil war.
Rewind two months and I had arrived in Ghana in West Africa as a vulnerable solo traveller. If you had seen me you would have honestly thought that I had never travelled alone before. If truth be known I was scared of going to this African region solo. It was completely outside of my comfort zone, very culturally different and I was literally stepping into the unknown.
Now as I have flown back to join the end of the original trip that I had booked (read this post for my African itinerary), I feel as though I am a totally different person arriving in Africa. I have stepped into a different persona and feel immediately empowered and as though “I can do this.”
Gone is that scared woman who had no idea what to do in Africa to someone who is confident and assertive. I couldn’t be any different and yet again, it is part of the transformation that travel brings.
The view from outside my hotel in Luanda
I wanted to write this post to reflect on the changes that solo travel brings; of the unfamiliar that changes to a weirdly comfortable familiarity. The reality is that you’ll never going to be 100% prepared no matter how much planning you do beforehand, how many people you speak to who have personally been there or how much reassurance you get from supportive groups such as the Girls about the Globe Facebook community.
As with anything, you learn from actually doing it, from being there, from making moment to moment decisions that allow you to make your own mistakes and grow.
Travel is a voyage of personal discovery and it makes you step up. No matter how much you want to be in your comfort zone it whisks you out and plonks you into uncertainty. Admittedly it can differ from country to country. A weekend in Rome may not have the same challenges that Central Africa may bring but working out how to get around, how to converse without speaking the local language and how to spend an evening alone can be just as daunting.
The colourful Thomson Art House in Luanda
So, I am writing this post to reassure you if you are a scared solo traveller that it’s okay to be overwhelmed by your trip, no matter whether it’s a long weekend away or you’ve sold everything and are planning a one-way trip around the globe. The anxiety and doubts are equally as measurable. But, remember that each trip is a stepping stone.
That empowering feeling of “I’m doing this!” is addictive. Yet it can only be experienced by stepping up and getting out of your comfort zone. I am now in country 126 yet I am still experiencing the transformation that solo travel brings. My nerves have changed into ones of excitement and I feel ready for Africa. If I am still travelling solo then honestly, anyone can.
Bring it on world!
P.S. I hope this post has inspired you to travel solo. I'd love to hear your comments on whether solo travel has empowered you. If you need some advice and reassurance that you can travel solo don't forget to join our Facebook community x
As I stepped of the plane, I relished in the ease of walking through immigration, of the need to not have to show my yellow fever certificate, or have to queue for my eVisa or to wait with the anxiety about having to answer questions in the hope that my visa would allow me into the country. Compared to the other countries I had just travelled to in West Africa, Senegal was a breeze.
Rewind just one week before and Senegal wasn’t even on my radar. I was meant to be in Cameroon heading through Central Africa on a tour but life had had other plans for me and after being rejected for a Cameroon visa in Cote D’Ivoire I found myself with no other option but to go home.
Always one to see as much as I can, there was no way I was just flying home defeated. Instead I found myself booking a flight to a visa-free Senegal which was technically ‘on the way’ back to the UK. With the promise of Africa’s tallest statue and a pink lake, this was a country I was finally excited about travelling to.
Arriving in Dakar, the capital felt so different to the countries I had just been to. It was more developed than Ghana, Benin, and Togo and seemed so much more civilised than Cote d’Ivoire yet it still kept its rich West African culture amongst the modern buildings and giant monuments that had transformed this cosmopolitan capital city into one of arts and innovation.
After 5 days of exploring this African city (reduced by two days thanks to a cancelled flight), Dakar had restored my faith in West Africa and had ended my trip on a more positive note.
If you are planning your Senegal holidays, here are my favourite things to do in Dakar as a solo.
Things to Do in Dakar
1. Gorée Island Senegal
As the most visited place in Senegal, Gorée Island is also the most educational. This island of less than 2000 residents holds a history of suffering and is home to the ‘Door of No Return,’ playing an important role during the centuries of slave history.
A UNESCO site since 1978, Gorée Island had a unique positioning. It had a convenient position, was easy to defend, and was a safe harbour to the West Indies. All of these factors made it a prime spot for the slave trade in Africa.
Slaves were bought to Gorée Island and held in cells for 3 months before leaving through the ‘Door of No Return;’ some choosing to throw themselves into the water and drown as the only alternative from a life of slavery. Whole families were brought here then separated into cells for the women, men and children.
Taking a tour inside one of the remaining slave houses tells of the suffering they had to endure, packed into cells with shackles around their feet and barely no room to move. It’s heartbreaking to hear what happened inside la Maison des Esclaves, just one of many on the island.
The Door of No Return
Historical, educational and extremely moving, Gorée Island is unlike any other island I had visited. It’s a twenty minute ferry ride to the island from the city. Sit on the right-hand side for the best views of the island as the boat comes in.
2. African Renaissance Monument
Dakar is home to the tallest statue in Africa, the African Renaissance Monument, a striking example of twenty-first century Africa to celebrate Senegal’s independence from France.
Standing on a hill 100 metres tall, the statue dominates the coastal skyline. There are approximately 200 steps to climb to reach this bronze masterpiece where you can go to the top of the crown and get panoramic views of the city.
Taller than the Statue of Liberty, this 49 metre high statue is controversial with locals believing that the figures aren’t a true representation of Africans.
The idea of former president, Abdoulaye Wade, the statue was built to bring tourism to the city. It now lines his pocket with 35% off the revenue going to the ousted ex-president. But you don’t have to pay to see it. You can just climb the steps and not pay the entry fee to go in. Just be careful if it’s a windy day as I nearly lost my flip flop at the top!
3. Explore Dakar City
If you like architecture then Dakar has some interesting buildings to see. With a rich heritage the city is very cultural and has a number of cultural places to visit. The Museum of Black Civilisations is a museum that represents the cultures and histories of Black nations. Only recently opened the museum shows the story of the slave trade and the communities of Africans in America.
Inside the Musee Theodore Monod d’art is the largest collection of West African artefacts. From drums to African clothing you can learn more about the culture and diversity of this region’s tribes. The descriptions are also in English as well as French so it’s easy to follow. The National Gallery of Art is perfect for Arty Girl about the Globes or you can visit the National Theatre which is less than a decade old.
Being a peninsular surrounded by water means there are some great views of the coastline and what better place to build a mosque than right by the sea? The Grand Mosque is definitely an impressive site with its green and white tiled roof and large minaret against coastal views.
The Cathedral of Dakar is another beautiful religious building. Built in 1929 it is adorned by four angels on its exterior. It’s also known as ‘The Our Lady of Victories Cathedral’ and was built on top of a Muslim cemetery.
There are monuments all around the city such as the Gate of the Third Millennium which symbolises Senegal’s entry into the twenty-first century and represents unity and hope.
One moving monument is the Place du Souvenir, a memorial to the Joola ferry disaster in 2002. One of the world’s worse maritime disasters which resulted in 1863 lives lost.
The colonial train station
The main square in the city is Independence Square where you can see old colonial buildings such as the Chambre of Commerce. Another example of architecture from the colonial times is the train station which was built in 1885 with pretty facades and a giant clock.
When you've seen enough buildings and are ready for some local interaction head to the popular fishing market where you can see (and smell) the daily catch from 5pm. If you love arts and crafts then head to Soumbedioune Market for African carvings and statues.
Another popular market where you can buy anything from a pair of shoes to African-style tops is the Sandaga Market, the biggest of the markets in Dakar where each store is owned by the Senegalese. Students come here to buy books and the market is a daily hive of activity.
The sights are quite spread out so it’s easier to get a half-day tour which also includes the African Renaissance Monument.
4. Pink Lake Senegal
Referred to as the ‘Dead Sea’ of Africa because of the salt content, the Pink Lake (Lac Rose) is 45 minutes outside of Dakar so you’ll need to hop on a bus or take a tour to get there.
Even the drive there takes you away from the modern buildings in the city and offers a lens into real Senegalese life where horses are used for transporting goods, and unemployed youths are selling by the road side.
The best time to see the pink lake is when the sun is shining. The pink colour is due to the algae that lives in the freshwater. Approximately 1,000 people work here. The men load the boats and the women unload and pile up the salt.
It takes 70 bags to fill a boat and the men can be working up to 4 hours for one boat. Because of the high salt content in the water men smother themselves in shea butter for protection (which you can buy everywhere in West Africa) and work just three days a week.
The salt takes 3 days to change from the grey colour when it’s removed to white after being iodised. The lake is managed by the villages that surround it and you can interact with the local ladies and their children as they all make friends with you to buy their souvenirs. Plan your visit here between 12pm – 3pm when the sun is shining to see the lake at it’s pinkest.
5. Meet the Fulanis / 4-Wheel Drive
From the pink lake you can take a 4-wheel drive through the sand dunes to visit a traditional village and interact with the locals. The 4-wheel drive was an experience in itself. Holding on tightly to the rail above me I could hear myself shrieking and laughing as we bounded over sand dunes as I was flung around.
Passing camels (just for the tourists) and different coloured sands, we sped across to the village of Beunoba, to meet the Fulanis, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders who since the 1973 drought have set up home near the lake and live in stone buildings instead of huts.
As the only visitor in the village, I met the stand-in chief and was escorted around the village with children waving at me and running up to have their picture taken. There are 450 people living in the village; the majority children.
The tour money goes towards the village and helps the children who once had to walk 3 kms to school and now have one built in the village. I can’t tell you what a privilege it was to visit the Beunoba village and what a hair-raising and exhilarating drive it was back to the lake.
6. Buy Senegalese Art
Being an avid collector of statues from around the world, I was in my element in Senegal. This is the place to collect any kind of artwork you can think of from pictures created out of different coloured sands from around the country, to those made from glass.
Watching the sand paintings on Goree Island
Gorée Island is a great place to see the artists creating the coloured sand paintings. You can buy them from the studio where you saw them being made. Other art stalls are decorated with giant tapestries in vibrant reds in true Senegalese style.
Visit Soumbedioune Market, the largest art and craft market in Dakar for African carvings and statues and if you’re not into artwork then you could take home a large colourful basket instead (just check your hand luggage restrictions first :))
The colourful baskets being made at Soumbedioune Market
My Senegal Holidays
I travelled to Dakar as a solo female traveller and booked my tours through Sunugal Tours and Travel. My local guide Oumar picked me up from the airport and took me straight to the Pink Lake. I spent the next 24 hours being taken around the city and learning more about Senegal and its history. Oumar was really knowledgable and I immediately felt at ease. I definitely recommend taking a tour with him especially if you are coming here alone.
Being overwhelmed by the children who wanted to have their picture taken with me!
Is Dakar good for solos? I think it’s a good starting point to West Africa (if you can get by in French). It feels safe for women travelling alone and is more comfortable than other West African cities. You also don’t attract the attention that you get in Ghana for example.
Have you been to Dakar? I'd love to get your thoughts below…
Ferris wheels, a mini Opera House, and peacocks. This wasn’t the Georgia I had imagined as I arrived on the Black Sea Coast but then again this coastal resort wasn’t typically Georgian. Having travelled through Georgia for ten days I had arrived at my final destination in this emerging country.
As much as I love cultural places (which Georgia is), arriving in Batumi felt like a breath of fresh air. It was vibrant, fun and tacky and I instantly fell in love with the place. If you are travelling to the Georgia Black Sea and wondering what to do, here are my top things to do in Batumi as a solo:
Ali & Nino Statue
Love seems to be a theme that runs throughout this exciting city which is a mecca for party dwellers and Russian tourists during the summer months.
My first love is a small monument that is tucked away along the promenade, but the largest declaration of love is Ali and Nino, a statue of eternal love and understanding amongst different nationalities. It depicts the love story of Ali, a Muslim boy from Azerbaijan and Nino and a Christian girl from Georgia. The 8-metre moving statue is based on the book by Kurban Said and is even more beautiful at night against Batumi’s skyline.
The Alphabet Tower is a clever design that resembles the structure of a DNA molecule. What’s even more impressive about it are the letters of the alphabet which snake their way up to the top of this impressive structure. The Georgian alphabet is one of the 14 ancient alphabets in the world.
Once you’ve counted all the letters (tip – there are 33!) you can pay to take the lift and go to the top where there is a swanky restaurant and bar offering unrivalled views of the city. The food here is incredible and so cheap. It’s 135 metres high and my favourite thing to do in Batumi!
Walk Along The Batumi Promenade
Palm trees line the 7 km long boulevard along the waterfront with restaurants offering sea views as you dine.
New buildings fuse with old derelict architecture to create a unique city that will have you whipping out your camera every few minutes. From the Oriental-style Summer Theatre to the Colonnades – tall Italian-style pillars that act as the gateway to the waterfront (apparently they were bought from Italy in the 20th century). The buildings are so cool here that even the McDonalds won Building of The Year Nomination in 2013.
Another very cool design is the Wedding House at the main entrance of the boulevard. It looks similar to a white dolphin with tall glass windows. Apparently it’s open 24 hours a day for those who want to pop in and get married for the mere price of £42. Bargain!
For more Italian architecture Fountain Neptune stands in front of the Batumi State Theatre. It is said to be a copy of Giambologna’s fountain in Bologna. Who needs to go to Italy!
If you want to know the time and sample the local grape vodka (the chacha), head to the 25 metre Chacha Tower for a free shot. (high season only). The Astronomical Clock also tells the time as well as the position of the sun, moon phases and the meridian.
Take a stroll around 6 May Park where you can try your hand at boating across the lake, screaming to your heart’s content on the amusement rides (okay they aren’t really that scary), or just watch the fountain instead.
There’s also free Wifi along the promenade so you can Skype your family back at home and take them along the promenade with you.
Listen to Music at Piazza Square
Although you may be in Georgia, Piazza Square doesn’t feel very Georgian (hence the Italian name “Piazza”) It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most visited places in Batumi with its stained glass and mosaic art. The Piazza complex that surrounds the square is a good spot to dine with a choice of cafes and restaurants. If you’re in need of some company this area has live music and gives you the chance to mingle with the locals who come here for a drink and a bite to eat.
Just a short walk from Piazza Square is Europe Square, another European-style square which regularly holds concerts and other nightly events to keep you entertained. In this square stands the statue of Medea to show the close ties between Georgia and Europe. The Statue of Medea is a main character in Greek mythology who helped the Argonauts steal the Golden Fleece. The princess holds the fleece in her hand.
For another spectacle at night head to where the Ferris wheel is for the dancing fountains, one of the main attractions on the boulevard. They do exactly what they say they do from 20:00 every evening they dance as the fountain turns into a laser show.
Get Some Nature at Batumi Botanical Garden
If you have time visit the Batumi Botanical Garden, just a few miles outside of the city. It is one of the biggest gardens in the countries in the former Soviet Union and has fantastic views of the coastline from the clifftop. Established over a century ago the garden is seven hectares of many varieties of flora divided on the legendary gardens of Babylon. Amongst the magnolia and cypress you can see date palms and bamboo. Take minibus number 31 to get here.
Watch The Locals
If you rise after the sun has come up you’ll spot the fisherman hooking their daily catch. In the afternoons you’ll see old men playing chess and if you wander around in the evenings you’ll catch the party dwellers or gambling tourists wanting to try their luck at one of the resort’s casinos.
Shake Your Bootie at One of Batumi’s Night Clubs
Batumi doesn’t have an abundance of clubs but what it does have definitely attracts the party goers. Head to the beach-front and the Boulevard for clubbing that goes on until dawn.
Boom Boom Beach is one of Batumi’s top nightclubs on the beach which has its own pool. Then there’s Discorium Night Club which is huge and plays techno music (amongst other genres).
There’s Rai Karaoke and Lounge Club if you prefer to flex your vocal chords instead of your body or you may prefer to start your evening off at The Batumi Sea Station which was once one of the architectural symbols of Old Batumi with it’s white and blue exterior. Built in 1962, it is now one of the places to warm up for the evening.
Vinyl is an ideal place to mingle with the locals. This small vinyl-disc decorated bar (hence the name) is popular with locals and expats.
If you prefer somewhere a bit more laid-back the Black Buddha plays chill-out tunes so you can enjoy the gold and black decor with a drink in hand (and the black Buddha of course).
Even an old ship docked at the marina turns into a live music venue at night, it’s sounds can be heard above the commercial music of nearby clubs.
Relax on Batumi Beach
Being on the Black Sea means that Batumi has a coastline and plenty of beach to sit and relax on. The main beach is free and with 7 kilometres of it to choose from, you’ll definitely find a space for one. Most of the beach contains pebbles so if you’re looking for sand Ureci Beach is a black magnetic sand beach where locals come to heal from from its magnetic properties.
It is 50 kms from the city though so if you don’t want to venture too far out, Iveria Beach is one of the nicest areas to relax on and swim.
Once you’ve had enough sunbathing you can see the city from a Batumi Riviera cruise instead.
Take The Argo Cable Car
For a different view of the city from the Alphabet Tower head to Anuria Mountain for the Argo Cable Car. At an altitude of 250 metres, the mountain offers panoramic views of the city and the Caucasus Mountains which you can enjoy over a hot brew in the cafe. The ride only takes 10 minutes whilst you stare out at the views over the Black Sea.
Check Out The churches
“Churches!” I hear you cry. Yes, but being Batumi, they aren’t ordinary churches. In fact Batumi has churches, mosques, cathedrals and synagogues.
The Batumi Catholic Church of Holy Spirit isn’t like anything that you’ve probably seen before. It was built in the late 90’s and is located at the entrance of the city, not far from the port.
St. Nicholas Church is one of the most beautiful historical monuments in the city. It is a Greek Orthodox church and was built in 1865 during the Ottoman Empire.
The Virgin Nativity Cathedral is the city’s main cathedral, built in a Gothic revival style in the late 19th century. Then there’s the synagogue which was built in 1904. It wasn’t used as a synagogue during the Soviet period and only reopened again in 1998. The Ortajame Mosque was also unused during this era. It was originally built in the late 19th century as was the Armenian Apostolic Church which was originally a wooden church!
There are plenty of religious buildings to keep you busy and you don’t have to go inside them to appreciate their design or diversity but if you do enter you need to cover your head with a shawl. Don’t worry if you don’t have one as there are shawls at the entrances.
Other Things To Do in Batumi
For a place not that big there is a surprising amount of diversity here. You can rent a blue rickshaw, climb the white lighthouse, see a peacock, or just take a gentle stroll around the lake watching the reflections of the buildings ripple in the water.
And there are enough places to eat too. Drink a coffee in the Cafe Gardens, dine on an old wooden boat, or just wander in the new part of the city to find some Adjarian cuisine. You’ll find some cafes selling “tsom gamotslili,” a baked dish in a boat-shape made from cheese and dough. Georgian cuisine is delicious and I definitely recommend eating at the Alphabet Tower.
You can learn more about the oil pipeline and the development of the city at the Batumi Technological Museum and The Gonio Fortress is a only a 20 minute drive away too. Batumi really has everything.
Is Batumi good for solos? I give it 4 stars because I absolutely loved it. I felt safe and ran along the promenade in the morning for my morning jog past the fishermen. Although the majority of locals speak Russian, some also speak English too.
It’s mid-February and after announcing my next trip back in January, I find myself getting ready to fly back to England after only completing part of my trip. Sometimes life has other plans for us and you have to just give in and surrender to a change in course.
After not being able to get my Cameroon visa in London due to not having the correct paperwork, I tried again in Cote d’Ivoire and was refused. Having experienced West Africa bureaucracy it appears that slipping an official a bribe is the best way to get visas here.
As a woman travelling alone I obviously didn’t feel comfortable doing this or would even want to take part in something that I believe is unethical. Instead I went to the British Embassy for advice and was told that they weren’t really able to help. I was unable to fly to Cameroon to meet my friend and the next tour.
There are so many variables when you travel that you can’t always get it right but each place teaches you something different. After spending six and a half weeks in this African region here are my lessons learnt travelling to West Africa.
Mole National Park, Ghana
People and Interactions
Taxi drivers may be illiterate and unable to read maps. You need to know a landmark for them to know where you’re going (i.e. the name of a pharmacy that they may recognise).
Don’t expect customer service.
Don’t be friendly to the guys in Ghana. As soon as they have your number they will continue to call you or even turn up to where you are staying.
When locals start running and shout “just go,” you need to just go. This happened to girls I met who went to a nightclub and were told to “go” when the police turned up.
You will be stared at on the beach, especially in a bikini.
Don’t take pictures in markets without asking permission otherwise you may get a hostile response even if you aren’t taking pictures of people.
When a shop seller says “just come and take a look,” they will still pressure you to buy something.
It’s normal for a taxi driver to stop and ask several people for directions even when you’ve already clarified that they know where they’re going.
Asking for a price is a game. Expect to constantly have to barter for taxis.
Expect kids to shout out ‘white person’ in their local language when they see you.
You may get questioned as to why you’re not with a man and then be expected to be looking for a man there.
Don’t be surprised if a seller is asleep. If you want to buy something you may have to wake them up.
The Port of No Return, Ouidah-Plage, Atlantique, Benin.
Electricity can cut out sporadically. Take a portable charger with you to re-charge your phone or camera.
If you want comfort you have to pay for it and go for 4/5 star accommodation.
You may not get a sheet for your hostel bed and will have to use a sleeping bag liner or sarong instead.
Don’t expect hot water. You’ll also need at least two showers a day in Ghana / Benin / Togo / Cote d’Ivoire. It’s sweltering! The south of these countries are more humid and the further north you go the drier it is.
You get a better rate with € in some countries rather than US $.
Supermarkets are a rarity in Benin and Togo.
Restaurants – as we know them – are a luxury. Expect local ladies to be cooking on the side of the road.
Vegetarian doesn’t really exist. Check what meat you’re eating as it could be bush rat.
Keep all of your change. Change is like gold dust in these countries.
You can buy sim cards from street sellers and anywhere that you see a large colourful umbrella with the name of the phone provider. Just remember to unlock your phone before leaving home (unlike me!) otherwise sim cards won’t work.
For French-speaking countries you need French!
Airports want to see your yellow fever certificate. Leaving Ghana airport you may have your temperature checked before reaching the immigration desk.
Only take local buses in some of the countries if you don’t mind being squashed in like a sardine.
It can be cheaper to fly back to Europe than in-between countries in Africa.
Don’t book the cheapest airline (hello Camair-Co!) where you may have to wait at the airport for 6 hours to then be told that your flight is cancelled and to come back two days later to then find it delayed again! Check airline reviews before you book and go for a more reliable airline if you have the cash.
South African Airways are amazing!
Overlanding camping trips are not a holiday and can feel like a school trip. If you like independent travel you may struggle with the concept depending on the tour company.
Travelling in West Africa for longer than a month can be exhausting.
Grand Popo, Benin
Gin and Pastis are ridiculously cheap. You can buy bottles from £2!
Your hair will get fluffy. Take hot oil for protecting your hair against the humidity.
Don’t take a yoga mat for sleeping on whilst camping (it offers no support whatsoever but it is useful for yoga!)
Don’t expect to be able to jog anywhere unless you wake up very early before the 30 degree heat sets in, and not in a city where there may not be pavements.
Don’t swim in the sea along the coastline. The currents are really strong so you can only paddle. If you do paddle, children will try and swim up to you and touch you when you’re in the sea.
Safety & Bureaucracy
Expect to get stopped and fined on the spot if you’re driving.
Be careful visiting countries leading up to and during elections.
Check Foreign Office advice in case of any instability.
Book changeable flight tickets in case you need to make changes with the unpredictability of this region.
And most importantly – Embassy officials will make things up just to expect a bribe or throw a party on a Friday afternoon and not process your 24 hour visa that you paid for. Get visas in your home country before you go. Don’t be expected to be allowed into embassies either. I had to stand in a make-shift tent outside the embassy in the sweltering heat and wait for them to come out and check my paperwork.
Larabanga Mosque, Ghana (Photo by my friend Mark Thomas as my camera broke temporarily).
And finally… nothing will go to plan
West Africa is definitely one for the adventurous solo. It throws many challenges along the way and can be frustrating. As a British woman travelling alone there were several times when I had to remind myself that this was a cultural experience and to think of all the positives (believe me this was hard at times).
But West Africa has also taught me to be humble, has put me back in touch with what’s important and made me appreciate everything I was taking for granted.
Is Central Africa any different? I’ll soon find out as I fly back out at the end of March to join my friend for the last part of my African adventure (visa permitting of course).
Obviously this is just my experience of West Africa. Have you been to West Africa? I’d love to hear your experience of the region in the comments below, thanks x
Georgia is such an amazing country. If you’re looking for an emerging destination to visit then consider this European country. I visited Georgia as a solo in March 2018 and spent 10 days seeing the best of the country.
Listed below is my Georgia itinerary and the total costs of my trip. For a more comprehensive guide visit the Solo Travel in Georgia destination guide.
My first stop was Kutaisi in the west of the country. When you fly into Georgia you either fly into Tbilisi or Kutiasi. Kutasi is the airport for the low-cost carriers. I flew from Milan to Kutaisi with Wizz Air (as I was already on the road)
Kutaisi is the place to see the Bagrati Monastery, an 11th century monastery which is free to enter. It is situated on a hillside with great views of the river below. If you don’t mind walking it’s easily walkable from the city. If you have time, visit the Botanical Gardens that are nearby too.
There is also a State History Museum which was closed during the hours that I was there. It looks small but is one of the must-sees here. The city has some interesting monuments as you walk around. Make sure to see the red-coloured building near the market which stands out from the rest of the city,
You can do day trips from Kutaisi, such as the Okatse Canyon and Kinchkha Waterfall or see the Prometheus Cave, one of the countrys' natural wonders and just 20km from Kutaisi. The Gelati Monastery is a medieval complex a bit further out from the city so you’ll have to take a bus or taxi to get there.
I spent 2 nights here visiting the Bagrati Monastery and wandering around the city (which doesn’t take long). You can visit Kutaisi on a day trip from Tbilisi so you don’t need to stay here if you prefer to just stay in one place.
I stayed at The Kiev Kutaisi Hotel in the historic centre. It’s walkable to the Bagrati Cathedral and is an easy stroll from the picturesque river. The rooms are big and come with their own private bathroom. There is complimentary tea, coffee, wine and even brandy! As I was due to arrive in the early hours of the morning I requested a transfer with my hotel. My flight was delayed by 2 hours but my transfer was still waiting for me.
Prices from £19 per night for a double room with a private bathroom
From Kutaisi I took the train to Tbilisi. I booked my ticket with Tkt.ge. I was able to walk from my hotel to the train station. There is only one small shop at the train station and the trains leave from upstairs. I recommend buying your food and drink before you go. The train was an old Soviet train but I had the whole carriage to myself. It departed Kutaisi at 12:15 and arrived in Tbilisi at 17:15. The journey was very picturesque and although I felt inspired to write I also felt a bit nauseous at the end from the constant smell of oil.
I spent 3 nights in Tbilisi. I booked tours through World Sightseeing Tour (WST) and used the capital as my base.
On the first day I visited Vardzia, Rabati, and Borjomi. The tours were long but definitely worth it to see all these three places (and they are cheap). I was on a tour with Russian tourists but the guide translated the information to English. The only downside is that most of the tours only operate with a minimum amount of people so book as soon as you can so you don’t miss out.
On day two I explored the city. Buying a metro pass I headed for Freedom Square then walked to Rike Park where I took the cable car up to the Mother of Georgia statue. On the walk back down from the statue I met a local man whose family had been making and selling chicha (the local drink) for years. If you get a chance to buy it, definitely do.
Wanting to experience the Georgian nightlife (which has a big electronic music scene), I booked a bar crawl for $15. This included Georgian wine (which is seriously some of the best wine that I have ever tasted), local cheese, and a ready-made group of party-dwellers with whom to spend the evening with. I met the group at Fabric Hostel at 9pm and was taken around 3 bars before finishing at one of the city’s nightclubs.
the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi
With Georgia being known for its sulphur baths, I simply had to experience one. Abanotubani district is where you’ll find all of the egg-smelling baths ranging from budget to the more luxurious spa experience. Opting for the cheapest one, it was definitely an experience and came complete with people smoking inside – the no smoking rule hasn’t yet reached Georgia – so next time I would pay more for a more relaxing sulphur bath.
In the afternoon I took the steep walk to the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. This magnificent church is the third largest Orthodox Cathedral in the world, and the tallest church in Tbilisi.
As a side note – the food in Georgia is delicious and I recommend the eggplant, and peanut sauce which is delicious. I also found food from Yemen which was a first for me.
Georgia’s capital has a good metro system. You pay at the station for a token which allows you one single journey so buy a few in one go if you are planning on taking a few routes. Taxis are cheap and will cost you approx £1 from Marjanishvili Central to the Old Town. They also have minibuses called mashrutkas which are incredibly cheap. Just say the name of your destination to the driver or the other passengers as it’s not clear when to get off.
Accommodation in Tbilisi
I stayed at Hostel “Your Home” and I loved this hostel. It’s called Hostel “Your Home” because it literally feels like a home away from home. The manager is so friendly and will help you with tours or transfers. There is a communal lounge where you can hang out and watch TV with the other guests on the comfy sofas. They often share meals too.
The hostel is near a metro station meaning that it’s easy to get around the city and is close to many restaurants with different types of cuisine. The female-only dorm is really spacious with a large drawer under the beds to lock away all of your things. They provide towels for an extra charge and have a female-only bathroom too.
Prices from £7 per night for a bed in a 6-bed dorm room
My trip in Georgia was split into two parts. From Tbilisi I took the overnight train to Azerbaijan then back to Georgia for one night before taking a minivan to Armenia then return back to Tbilisi by another overnight train. You can read these posts below.
From Tbilisi I took the new train to Batumi. It departed at 8:00 and arrived at Batumi at 13:00 and was busy with families. The train station is just outside the Batumi marina so I needed to take a taxi from here to my hostel. I did pay over the odds so prepare to barter.
Batumi is so unlike any other region that I have seen in Georgia. It’s tacky, vibrant and fun and I call it Georgia’s mini Dubai as it has such a mix of buildings. The most impressive is the Alphabet Tower, a 135 metre building that resembles a DNA molecule. I spent an afternoon at the restaurant at the top admiring the views as daylight turned to dusk. The food and wine here was amazing.
I spent 2 nights here wandering around Batumi and along the palm-lined promenade passing by old men playing chess in the open, fishermen fishing in the early hours of the morning and some unique monuments. My absolute favourite is “Ali & Nino,” an 8-metre high sculpture symbolising eternal love. There’s also a small sculpture along the promenade called “My First Love.”
This city is so surprising with a peacock park, dancing fountain, and summer palace. They even have a replica of Bologna’s fountain in Italy called “Fountain Neptune.” If you visit in the summer months you may even see a music concert. I loved this Georgian city.
I stayed at Hostel Medusa in a female-only dorm room. I had the whole 6-bed dorm to myself. There was a kitchen to make tea and coffee and a lounge/dining area. I could also wash my clothes and hang them outside on the clothes horse. The rooms are clean and they have a female-only dorm room (which is pink). There is a 24 hour front desk and they provide a free breakfast to set you up for the day. Choose from a double room with a sea view or a bed in a 6-bed dorm room.
Prices from £6 per night for a bed in a 6-bed dorm room
Taxi from Batumi station to Batumi = £2.50 (10 Lari)
Hostel Medusa (2 nights) = £15
Self-guided walking tour of Batumi = £0
Alphabet Tower entrance fee = £3
Taxi from Batumi to Kutaisi Airport = £4.50
Food = £10 a day x 10 = £100
Total Costs for 10 Day Georgia Itinerary = £346
N.b. I flew from Kutaisi to Cyprus and haven't included my ongoing flight.
Is Georgia good for solos? Yes. It's safe and there are lots of tours you can do with a guide. The cities are walkable and both the local buses and metro system help you to navigate your way around. There is a language barrier which makes this destination more for the intrepid traveller if you do it all solo.
I hope that this post makes solo travel easier for you for Georgia. For more info check out the two related posts below. Happy travelling!
It’s 2019 and what better way to start the year than on a trip! When you are reading this, I will be sat on an overland truck making my way through West and Central Africa for 3 months.
Having been on an overlanding camping trip 5 years ago, I can honestly say that South Africa was a life-changing experience for me. I overcame my fear of insects (temporarily anyway), went on numerous safaris, and camped in desert landscapes. Will West Africa and Central Africa be the same? I imagine it’s going to be a lot rougher with even more bush toilets.
Both West Africa and Central Africa are known for their political unrest and tough terrain. This trip is definitely going to be challenging. Out of the 12 countries that I am planning to visit, eleven of them require visas which I am hoping to get on the road.
These countries aren’t destinations that I would have chosen to travel to independently but I will be solo for parts of Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and some of Angola.
So my itinerary for the next 3 months will go like this:
I’ll be arriving in Ghana solo and spending two night alone before joining the rest of the group in the city. Then from Ghana we travel to Togo, and Benin, before finishing in Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso has the most unique landscapes but this country has recently hit the news declaring a state of emergency in the north following extremist terrorist attacks. Hopefully it regains some stability very soon.
Cape Coast in Ghana was known for its slave trade and was the largest slave trading centre in Africa. The country also has some of the best beaches in Africa and attracts surfers to its first class waves.
Togo is a small country with bizarre markets. Benin has ruins and palaces from the Dahomeyan empire, and is the birthplace of voodoo so I expect this part of the journey to be a fascinating one.
Then I’ll be flying to Cote d’Ivoire, which is one of the safest countries in the region. Cote d’Ivoire has rainforests and beach resorts. They speak French so I’ll be brushing up on my French vocab before I arrive. I’ll be hoping to catch up on some blog posts, visit a project and do some guided hiking for the week.
From here I fly to Cameroon for a few days solo before meeting a friend. With a quick flurry of visas, I then start my next overland trip with Madventure. From Cameroon we go overland to Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo, and DRC, before leaving the group in Angola (they are continuing down to Cape Town).
Cameroon has beautiful beaches, mountains and jungles and a capital city with monasteries and galleries.
Equatorial Guinea has just opened up to tourists so this country is going to be extremely interesting seeing it in its infancy. We’ll be looking for gorillas which is a complete first for me, and seeing chimpanzees and elephants.
Gabon also has nature reserves and we’ll be trekking the rainforest searching for buffalo.
Both the Congo & Democratic Republic of Congo don’t have the best reputations for safety and we’ll be passing locals in Congo who haven’t seen tourists before. From Congo we’ll be crossing to the DRC by ferry.
Angola has a history of decades of civil war and is also only just opening its door to tourists. The country has a mini Grand Canyon with strange-looking rock formations as well as mountains and waterfalls. I’ll be learning more about the history of the ancient slave port of Benguela, the country’s most relaxed city.
Sao Tome and Principle
After a few days in Angola getting used to a bed again, I’m flying to Sao Tome and Principle with my friend for a few days. This island is its own country and unlike the rest of the countries that I am visiting on the trip, it doesn’t require a visa. Sao Tome is a volcano island with a jungle preserve which sits off the coast of Gabon. It looks absolutely stunning but there are issues on the island so I am hoping to visit a project to learn more about the way of life whilst I am here.
Then back to the UK. From April I am hoping to base myself in England and see what the rest of the year brings.
If you haven't yet made plans for your next solo travel trip then I've put together a list of the 2019 Solo Travel Destinations to inspire you. This diverse list covers countries in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. You don't even need to go far to explore one of these destinations. Chosen by solo females as the most recommended destinations for next year, I hope that this video inspires you for somewhere new.
Not only are the Scots friendly but they are surrounded in beautiful nature. Scotland oozes traditions and you don't have to be completely solo either as there are fun tour companies to take you throughout the country stopping at whisky factories and the Isle of Skye.
Scotland promises: Lochs, whisky trails, and plenty of kilts.
Georgia may not have been on anyone's radar before but it is definitely growing in popularity. It has ancient cave cities, monasteries and plenty of mountains to explore. It's also very cheap and has fantastic cuisine. From the Black sea coastal resort of Batumi to the winelands of Kakheti. The country is definitely one for the intrepid explorer.
Georgia promises: culture, monasteries, and mountains.
This gorgeous island in the Caribbean is part of the U.S with a Spanish flair. The island has a fusion of cuisine, plenty of salsa dancing and two additional islands: Culebra, and Vieques. You can spot wild horses, kayak in a bioluminescence bay, or just sunbathe on one of the World's best beaches. After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico needs tourism more than ever.
Puerto Rico promises: music, cuisine, and a Latin flair.
If you've ever wanted to dance the tango or eat an Argentine steak, head to Argentina. The capital, Buenos Aires is a vibrant city full of hidden gems. Then there's Cordoba, and the wine region of Mendoza, not to mention Patagonia – an area of glaciers, icefields and mountain peaks. Whether you want to party hard or fall in love with the scenery, Argentina is amazing.
Argentina can be described as: electric, passionate, and stunning.
Ethiopia is a very different country from the one we knew from the past. It's a beautiful country to explore with a unique cultural heritage and rich history. Palaces, castles and temples dot its terrain and add to its volcanic landscape. Visit Ethiopia before the masses arrive.
Ethiopia promises: history, rock churches, and a walled city.
Sri Lanka may not be on your radar but this country has lots to offer. Beautiful beaches, traditional fishermen on stilts, and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy are just some of its attractions. With three thousand odd years of history, eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, and a giant rock (Sigiriya Rock) for you to explore, Sri Lanka is definitely one for the cultural solo.
Sri Lanka promises: Asian mystery, Buddhist culture, and a timeless history.
It may be an expensive country to visit but it has to be on the bucket list especially as a destination to watch the Northern Lights. It's the perfect place to cruise through the most stunning fjords, go whale watching and learn more about Viking history.
Norway promises: fjords, Northern Lights, and breathtaking scenery.
Part of China, this stand-alone island feels as though it has its own identity. It's safe, has lots of nature to hike in and the people are incredibly polite. There are museums, hot springs and great scuba diving on the smaller islands as well as surprisingly gorgeous beaches. It's ideal for vegetarians too!
Taiwan offers: temples, hot springs, and adventure.
Known for the Big 5, South Africa doesn't have to be explored solo. There are many companies offering safaris but if you do want to be alone, explore the Q&V Waterfront in Cape Town and take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain for amazing views.
South Africa promises: tribes, safaris and plenty of nature.
Tashkent in Uzbekistan
With a new-found interest in the ancient Silk Road, Uzbekistan is definitely a destination for next year. It has good tourism infrastructure with high-speed trains along some of the routes, hotels in UNESCO World Heritage Cities, and it's cheap too.
Uzbekistan promises: ancient history, mausoleums and (of course) the Silk Road.
Are any of these of your list? Where are you heading in 2019?
Stunning mountains, ancient architecture and some of the best wine in the world – who can possibly resist a trip to Georgia. This European country was once part of the Soviet Union and is known for its culture, and snowy Caucasus Mountains.
Tbilisi is the capital and you could easily spend a week here, dining at different restaurants, having a sulphur bath or just walking around. The city is a blend of new and old with futuristic-looking structures weaved within its landscape. It's the perfect place to base yourself and venture out on day trips.
After spending five nights in the Georgian capital, here are my favourite things to do in Tbilisi:
The Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi
1. Have a Sulphur Bath
If you’re ready for some pampering then the sulphur baths are calling. Tbilisi is known for its sulphur baths and healing mineral qualities. The Abanotubani district is where you’ll find baths ranging from budget to the more luxurious.
Sink into one of the hot baths before being rubbed down on a hot slab by a masseuse who exfoliates your skin. The finale is back in the bath soaking your body until the hour is up. I definitely recommend trying a sulphur bath to unwind before the end of your trip. Be warned though as people can still smoke inside.
Take a walking tour of Tbilisi
2. Take a Walking Tour
Tbilisi is quite a size and can be a bit overwhelming when you first arrive. You may not know where to go or how to figure out the metro. Taking a walking tour can be a good way to navigate your way around.
Once you’ve got your bearings you can then head back to the areas that you like such as Freedom Square, or the old town. Make sure you visit the old town on the hour to see the clock puppet show which springs into action as the clock strikes.
The Peace Bridge is one of the nicest sights in the city. It was opened less than ten years ago and connects both side of the river from Rike Park where you can relax in some nature and watch the world go by.
Get a birds-eye view from the cable car in Tbilisi
3. Cable Car Tbilisi
There’s only one way to see this city and that’s from above. For the best views of Tbilisi, take the cable car across the river for unprecedented views of the city. When you get to the other side you pass by artists and local sellers on the way to the Mother of Georgia statue, a monument from old Soviet times. If you want to purchase a souvenir from Georgia, I recommend buying it from here.
Instead of taking the cable car back across to Rike park, you could walk down instead. The picturesque stroll takes you past the castle and the zip line (great for the adventurous GatG). You may be fortunate like I was and come across a local seller who produces his own wine and Chacha , which you obviously need to sample on your way down.
You can combine your cable car ride with a wine tasting tour during a 4 hour tour of Tbilisi where you can learn more about everyday life and Georgian history.
You can’t miss this church. As the tallest in Georgia, its golden dome is easy to see from the city. The Holy Trinity Cathedral is the third largest Orthodox Cathedral in the world and is simply stunning. It was built in 2004 and symbolises “New Georgia.”
This 101 metre high building is part of a complex which serves as a monastery and academy. There are nine chapels in the complex. What makes this cathedral even more fascinating is that it was constructed from holy places. The soil came from Jerusalem in Israel and some of the rocks were sourced from the Sion Mountain.
It is a bit of walk to get to but is worth the hill climb there. Just follow the golden dome.
Sample Tbilisi's nightlife
5. Tbilisi Nightlife
Tbilisi is known for its vibrant nightlife and growing electronic music scene. This city is bursting with beats and the Shardeni nightlife district is where its at. If you want to sample its nightlife but feel a bit intimidated about going out in the evening by yourself then consider joining a pub crawl. These run from Thursdays to Sundays and are so much fun!
You get taken to a wine bar, then an underground bar where the shots come out before heading to one of the city’s clubs. The guide gives you lots of information about Georgia’s wine industry and you get to taste some local snacks too. It’s a great way to spend an evening if you're solo. Join the pub crawl here
If you prefer a more sophisticated way of sampling the country’s wine, book a wine tasting tour in Kakheti, the wine making region.
If you don't feel like carrying your bags all over the country then base yourself in the capital and take day tours from Tbilisi instead.
6. David Gareja Monastery
This monastery complex is said to be one of the most magnificent in the country. The church complex is within an impressive rock face with nearly everything carved out of rock. It was founded in the 6th century by a monk and you can wander around the 13 monasteries and see how the monks live.
If you are planning to travel overland to Azerbaijan, you may be able to tag it onto your itinerary as it is close to the border. The nearest village is Udabno then it’s a steep climb. Or take a day tour instead (but book in advance to ensure you’re guaranteed the trip). Unfortunately I was unable to see it as there needed to be a minimum amount of people for the tour which only ran on certain days.
Georgia is known for its mineral water and Borjomi is one of their most popular brands. Where better to try the healing properties than at the very source on a day trip to the resort town. Rich people once built their summer residences here including the Royal family. Inside Borjomi Park is the Palace of Great Duke and a house at the entrance with turquoise stones. Drink some of the water direct from the source (or buy a bottle) if you are feeling a bit run down and you will instantly feel healthier.
As Borjomi is located in the gorge of river Mtkvari more than 150 km from Tbilisi, you can combine a trip here to Vardzia, an old cave city on the bank of Mtkvari River.
This cave city site isn’t as old as David Gareja but it is just as majestic. Vardzia dates back to the 12th century and is an impressive complex of rock architecture. Construction of the underground cave fortress was ordered by Queen Tamar and it is thought that there were once 13 levels in this stunning city.
You can spend hours exploring the cave system and the little chapels. You can see everything including an old pharmacy and even an old wine cellar as you imagine what life was like back then. Inside the church is one of the only 12 paintings of Queen Tamara.
Mtskheta is one of the oldest cities in the country. Located at the point where the Kura and Aragvi rivers meet, Mtskheta is only 12 miles from Tbilisi. This city is so historical that its historical monuments are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Declared the “Holy City” it is home to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral where the robe of Jesus Christ is said to be buried.
This cathedral in addition to the Jvari Monastery are two of Georgias’s most important monuments of Christian architecture. Minibuses depart from Tbilisi Didube and take 40 minutes to Mtskheta or you can take a tour to learn more about this historical city.
The tour also includes a visit in Gori, an ancient city which was once part of the Silk Road. Gori is another of the oldest cities in Georgia. The tour also takes you to nearby Uplistsikhe so you can explore the secret tunnels of the fascinating cave system.
If your time is limited in Tbilisi and you would like to see more places, you may prefer to take this tour which goes to Mtskheta, Ananuri, Gudauri, and Kazbegi. This tour is longer and takes 14 hours but you also get to see the ski resort of Gudauri and the greater Caucasus Mountains. Kazbegi is also included and seeing the ancient Georgian Trinity Church and snow-capped mountains is definitely worth the trip.
You really do need at least a week here to see everything. Don't forget to build in rest days too as some of the day tours can be hours long. If taking tours feels a bit too much, treat yourself to another sulphur bath or just spend an evening in one of the restaurants trying local Georgian cuisine with a glass of Georgian wine instead.
Is Tbilisi good for solos? I give it 4 out of 5 stars. It feels safe and is relatively easy to get around with the metro. The language can be a bit challenging but you can take day trips with an English-speaking guide for ease.
There’s a saying that “If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you…”
Sometimes we become complacent in life. Whenever I am too much in my comfort zone I know it’s time for a change. What better way to change things than to set a challenge for yourself and raise money at the same time. So, in January I made a commitment – to trek the Sahara Desert for charity.
As November nearly approaches my Sahara trek is just one day away. Challenging ourselves pushes our boundaries, creates feelings of self worth and builds our self-esteem.
On 31st October I’ll be flying to Morocco and crossing the desert over five days with a caravan of camels. I’ll be camping in the world’s largest desert with no bathroom facilities, and sleeping under the stars. Trekking in the desert is not something that I have ever done so for the last 3 months I have been walking miles along the Mediterranean coast from Barcelona to improve my fitness levels.
But signing up for a sponsored challenge isn’t just about stepping out of your comfort zone physically, it’s about stepping out of your comfort zone by raising the money too.
I must admit that I was nervous about asking people to sponsor me. In the UK people always seem to be raising money for charities. I was worried about putting myself out there and bothering people.
But before I knew it, the target date was only a month away. I had to get outside of my comfort zone so I changed my mindset. After all, raising money for children in war zones was far more important than my embarrassment of asking. So I reached out to everyone that I knew to ask if they would sponsor me. I was blown away by the response.
War Child is an organisation that is close to my heart, but it isn’t a name that many know. Within two weeks I had hit my target and had received the most supportive comments. This in itself was a lesson.
The Sahara Trek
Being used to solo travel, apart from the nights before and after the trek, I’ll be joining a group of at least 12 other people all raising money for their chosen charities (and hopefully making some friends along the way).
If you don’t feel confident enough to travel solo, then taking part in a challenge is a great alternative. Not only are you doing something fantastic for a charity but you’re increasing your fitness and seeing a new destination at the same time; everyone’s a winner!
In April I challenged myself to surf for the first time. I can’t tell you how much anxiety I had before and on the trip, but by the end of the week, I had emerged as a beginner surfer and more confident in my ability in the water. Read my story here.
It doesn’t have to be for charity either; you could take part in a boot camp, a dancing holiday or an art workshop. These are ideal for those of us who travel solo as you can learn a new skill, build on existing ones, get fit and meet others at the same time. It also gives you a chance to bond with others and meet those who like the same activities as you. From yoga and surf camps, to 10 day meditation retreats, the choice is endless.
As for me, as you read this I’ll be nearly setting foot in the Sahara Desert, camping under the stars and getting used to bush facilities. So how can you challenge yourself? Set yourself a goal for 2019 and go for it!