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The Cairo - Cape Town Highway sounds like a very interesting route to discover Africa by car. The Wikipedia web site says that some parts are still not finished. So my questions are:

  • Is this highway passable from the start to the end with a normal car?
  • Are there dangerous regions that I have to cross?
  • How should I prepare for such a trip compared to a trip in Central Europe?
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up vote 12 down vote accepted

I'll answer your first two questions:

Technically, the road can be done with a normal car, but practically it can't. Too many bad patches, particularly between southern Egypt and northern Kenya or Uganda.

That same stretch is also the most insecure. People are kidnapped, robbed and murdered on that stretch, though plenty, particularly locals, do travel the distance. To my knowledge, there is no passable road from Aswan, in Egypt, to wadi Haifa, in Sudan, which means you have to travel along the coast of Sudan up to Port Sudan, west to Khartoum and then on to Juba, from where you can get to Uganda. This route will allow you to steer clear of Somalia and northern Kenya, which is the most volatile area in this region. Well, as long as Sudan and South Sudan don't start bombing each other again. From Uganda south, the route is passable with a regular car without a problem.

But, still, you will struggle getting visas for Sudan and South Sudan. And (November 2012) I've been told by several sources that Khartoum to Juba (or vice versa) could take one to two weeks due to lack of scheduled public transport.

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Wish people without experience wouldn't give advice as if they do. The roads are fine, Sudan visa is easy to get from Aswan (border town with Sudan). – Sam Sep 24 '15 at 18:52
People cycle it.… – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 19 at 4:05

As an aside, I would HIGHLY recommend "Swahili for the Brokenhearted" by Peter Moore. An Aussie travel writer (who I was fortunate enough to meet and hear speak at a travel show in London) he went overland from from Cape Town to Cairo, and the book would give you a great insight into what you might expect. Africa is VERY different to Europe, including several unstable regions.

As MastaBaba points out, Sudan (and now South Sudan) is probably the dodgiest area on a direct route from Cairo to Cape Town. The book shows just how hard it was for him to get his visa - it's an ongoing issue throughout.

The Long Way Down is a TV series about Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman who travel the route on motorcycles. They had fixers, a support crew, and still had lots of problems.

However, it's an incredible continent, and assuming you finished it successfully, would have some of the best experiences and adventures. It's a trip I'm actually considering myself as well for next year...

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No offense, but isn't this a comment as opposed to an answer? – MastaBaba Aug 23 '12 at 21:50
I don't think so? I was using these examples to demonstrate that it is indeed possible (answering first question), has dangerous parts (Second part of question) and that the book and tv show would give an insight into how it differs from travel in Europe (third part of question). Having read and watched them myself, I often refer to them when people ask me about travel in Africa - I've done some, but not into the interior much. – Mark Mayo Aug 23 '12 at 21:53

Grant you, this is about 20 years out of date now, but Michael Palin basically travelled this route in Pole to Pole. He shows what the roads are like, if as the Wikipedia article suggests is still unpaved, in Ethopia, and by the end of the hour in the documentary, you truly feel what its like to progress through the mud.

Sudan is also likely to still be in really bad shape.

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These info are depreciated. Things have greatly changed since. International charities have built road all the way. You can now cross the continent North to South without stepping out of the asphalt. And each year secondary road are asphalted. Cf my answer bellow. – Guillaume Combot Jul 20 '15 at 7:23
As you said, 20 years out of date and just from a TV show... Fortunately travelling the route in question is a breeze – Sam Sep 24 '15 at 18:49

Of course it's possible, people do it every week every year. Last year I even cycled it (

Is this highway passable from the start to the end with a normal car? Yes. The vast majority of cars in Africa are very old, so your 'normal' car will be fine.

Are there dangerous regions that I have to cross? Northern Kenya was dangerous, now it's safe as there's a heavy police presence and they're building a new road which means lots of workers around.

How should I prepare for such a trip compared to a trip in Central Europe? Take a supply of dollars and make sure you don't have an Israeli stamp for entering Sudan. Otherwise just take some patience and all will be a great adventure.

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Presumably now South Sudan would be the place of concern... – Mark Mayo Jan 20 '14 at 10:30
@MarkMayo South Sudan is far away from the route in questions so no worries. The route goes south east from Khartoum towards Ethiopia. – Sam Jan 20 '14 at 11:37

Info from 2010 : If you stick on the main road you will find asphalt road nearly all the way. Each metter from cape town to the tanzanian kenyan border is asphalted (though Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambic), you will be amazed (road have been financed and build by international charities). You will only do few hours in dirt tracks in the whole trip.

So from the Tanzanian border to Naeroby you will find a dirt road, but you don't need a 4x4 to go there, if you drive slowly (might be wise to avoid the rainy season though, but even, no big deal, it's an highway).

You will then find asphalted road going north Kenya, but then the first (and only) tricky passage from Kenya to Ethiopia, few kilometers. Westerners usually regroup to pass these kilometers in convoy, you just need to pass between tribal fights. These tribal guys might seem impressive, (they have Kalachnikovs) but not that dangerous (you will find is this latitude cultures that value honor, unlike the south where they tend to value more money).

You won't have difficulties finding other westerners travelling, along this long road is a highway of tourist. (You will see all the way these rich guys with their amazing 4x4 over equipped and ready to cross the martian desert !)

I don't know about asphalt in Ethiopia, but it doesn't look the big deal but... you might be stoned all the way by kids and teenagers, and insulted all the way, sometime by adult (a local Ethiopian custom).

As long as you are not islamophobic and the kind of arrogant-westerners North Sudan will be your easiest part. North Sudanese were the most friendliest I met on his road (from cape town to the western culture). They are extremely poor but if you come from the south they will be the first African to see in you something else than a dollar with legs (they don't beg), and to don't try to take advantage of your misfortune —which, coming from the south will seem incredible. (Some tourist find this country difficult because they can't buy these people dignity, impose their culture or use their financial power to do whatever they want. The westerner touristic standard "disco, alcohol, cheap sex & drug" is more difficult to find in this country than most other African countries). These guys are also corrupted, but less than in the south.

You will need to take the ferry with your car from Wadi Halpha to Aswan (no choice, it's forbidden to go by land).

Egypt was (and still is) a dictatorship and a military state, you may have to bride policemen and army to make it through the thousand check points you will face (might be dangerous for westerners since we currently support and arm dictatorship and terror). But asphalt all the way up.

((Uganda is asphalted until its border with south Sudan, but south Sudan is a place you want to avoid: bad road, aggressive people, weapons, tribal war, bandit, anarchy. ))

Globally your biggest difficulty won't be the road state at all (you could do it with any cheap city car, easy, even passing through secondary roads, dirt tracks are not that bad, even at rainy season. Look at some picture on google to see Africans cars/buses!). Your biggest difficulty won't be either about these exotic stories you might have heard about Africa (lions and stuff) but the people(✲), and your skin color —if you are white (or "whiter"). People will assume you are incredibly rich, or just richer than them, (just because of your skin pigmentation) and will try all the way (bellow the Sahel) to take advantage of you (even the richer than you). It's not the big deal if you are rich and ready to bride all the way up (or down) but it might cost you a fortune (literally) on backshish depending on your patience and commercial skills. And by doing so so you make the life of the following guys difficult.

Using local transportation will be definitely much less troublesome much much cheaper (especially the visas!), even if you use (relatively) luxurious way to travel. Local transportation seem (to me) also much safer, and much much less troublesome because you will waste much less time to deal with the African corrupted bureaucracy and you will, at least avoid being extort by military and policemen —among others— who will carefully watch you from every corner to "fine" or "tax" you for anything they might think on the moment you will pass.

(✲) Bellow the Sahel: remember that there is "nothing wrong" since things happens for a reason. These people were (and are still) living very differently few years ago (their social system), and thus think very differently. If you plan to do something more interesting than just driving from one touristic attraction to another and step out of your car without trying to run away from locals, you will find within social interaction the most impressive things you will ever see. But be prepare for a huge and tough (and fascinating) psychological gap. If you cross Africa to hunt for cliches (such as wild life), you might be disappointed —unless you pay for it.

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It looks like it is feasible. If you want some advice straight from the horse's mouth, have a look at this blog called "Runterwegs". I don not know if these people have been and are following exactly the highway you have in mind. But roughly speaking it should fit. At least, the countries traveled are the same.

Unfortunately, the blog is in German, but that should be no problem for you ;-).

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