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Enjoy travelling? Consider buying the Eyewitness Travel Guides of South Africa and Egypt

Arja Salafranca

Click on book cover to buy your copy now!
Series Title: Eyewitness Travel Guides
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
ISBN: 1405311150
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 408

South Africa: R200
Egypt: R190

Travel teaches you things, they say. It expands your mind, and your waistline if you’re not careful. Well, one thing I learnt on a recent trip to Spain is to take a guidebook. You can explore on your own, but by the time you’ve sussed a place out, it’s time to hit the road home. So, I say take a guidebook with you. You’ll know the opening and closing times of places, you’ll know which buses go where and save yourself time and endless phoning around.

But with a plethora of guidebooks available, it is hard to know which one to choose. However, two recently published guides in the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Series certainly impressed me. Touted as “the guides that show you what others only tell you”, these books provide a wealth of information and tons of colour photographs, maps and diagrams to show you the places. They’re bright, printed on high-quality glossy paper, and the photos certainly help to give a sense of what you can expect to see in the places you’re intending to visit.

The first, showcasing South Africa, is a fine book to press into the hands of friends or relatives visiting from overseas, as well as being a really helpful aid to locals wishing to explore parts of the country they don’t know too well. It starts with a chapter which introduces the country, detailing some of its history, presenting a portrait of the country from its literature and art to its diversity of people, game and plant life. This serves to give a general overview that I found both useful and interesting.

Each subsequent chapter is devoted to a different region of the country – Cape Town, The Western Cape East Coast, Gauteng and Mpumalanga and so on. Each region seems to be adequately described and researched. The main attractions are all listed, as well as tips for getting around. Looking up the Kimberley and Bloemfontein sections I found a wealth of information about places to visit, which is welcome indeed. Previously Bloemfontein was a place to drink a Coke while driving up from the Cape.

Going through the section on Gauteng, which is where I live, I found the following information: “Johannesburg is not a safe city to explore on foot and with its poor public transport system visitors are advised to embark on an organised tour.” Too true. No wonder the Canadian woman on the aeroplane looked at me sceptically when I told her where I lived, and remarked that I was brave indeed.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that the maps are marked out in colour – which makes them far easier to read than the black and white squares often reproduced in other guidebooks.

South Africa is truly a world in one country – as the tourist bureaux are so keen to remind us – and this is one guide that will be accompanying me on my future treks around this particular world.

I’ve never been to Egypt, but this guide certainly whets the appetite for a visit. From bustling Cairo, to the mysterious pyramids, to diving in the Coral Reefs off the Red Sea, to exploring the Western Desert and coming across a welcome oasis, Egypt certainly seems to offer the traveller much in the way of stimulation and interest.

There’s a section on the history of Egypt, and a portrait of the country, which was fascinating. With bustling Cairo being the main city, a large part of the book is devoted to it, and it certainly appears to be a huge place to explore. Most travellers will visit the pyramids, just outside of the city and visible in a beautiful sunset photograph taken of the city, but there’s a lot more to see. There’s Cairo’s central city, where the fascinating Egyptian Museum is located, Islamic Cairo with its mosques and Dervish theatre, among other attractions, the old city that encompasses Coptic Cairo, as well as a substantial section on the pyramids at Giza.

There’s also a lot to do around Cairo itself, such as visiting the Wadi Natrun area, where you can visit the monasteries, for instance, or peek in at the Birqash Camel Market: “Trade is briskest on Fridays. The sound of animals bawling competes with trader’s voices raised in haggling, and the smell is truly appalling.” Exploring further afield brings you to the Nile Valley, the Sinai, the Western Desert and the Delta and the North Coast.

As with the South African guide there is a comprehensive section on travellers’ needs that encompasses topics such as where to stay, with a list of hotels in a number of price ranges. There’s also a list of where to eat (with a wide range of photos of food dishes so that you know what you’ll be ordering), and a list of restaurants to choose from. Other topics covered include safety and security, transport, shopping (with pictures of what you can buy), sports and adventure options as well as entertainment, which does extend beyond belly dancing. A visit to a movie in Egypt sounds like an experience well worth taking part in. If you’re interested in a Nile cruise – and who isn’t – there’s also a section on how to go about it.

These guides are certainly in a class of their own. The information seems comprehensive and useful, and the colour photos, some of which are reproduced over two pages, are magnificent, and give a real sense of the place.

LitNet: 20 December 2005

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