Lonely Planet, kill your West Africa guide

Dear Lonely Planet, for the love of god and all that is sane in travel, stop publishing your West Africa guide. And while you’re at it, maybe you should just scratch all your guides in Africa. You see, the problem is that they’re bad; very bad, yet you keep publishing them and we as suckers actually believe that they’re worthwhile to buy. Well, this being April Fool’s Day, I vow to be fooled no more.

The first instance I encountered where things didn’t seem to be all they could be was in Ghana. Last year, I was relying on the Lonely Planet maps while traveling around. They caused me to not only become Lost in Kumasi, but pretty much lost everywhere. The scale on them is horrendous and since traveling to other places, I’ve found them to be just as inaccurate, such as in Mali. Can’t you guys rip off stuff from Google Maps or Michelin or something? I worked at a travel book publisher over a decade ago and saw the stoners with BAs in geography “making” the maps. It wasn’t that difficult. Do better or don’t do at all.

Then of course there was this latest trip to Mali. Lonely Planet, you bent me over and reamed me hard as all your bus timetables are wildly inaccurate. Three hours from Bamako to Segou? Yeah, right. Let’s try six. I know exactly what happened, which is that your guide writers went to the bus stations, asked the times, and took them as gospel as they were undoubtedly traveling by car to actually be able to get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time. Except, you can’t do this. The bus stations adamantly lie about their times and you have to verify these things. You quite obviously don’t and as it was, this formed the basis for countless dead hours that led in to days of lost time.

These are my immediate experiences with the guide. Given that Côte d’Ivoire has been labeled as scary and under constant threat of war/rape/child slavery/herpes, it’s made it very easy not to include in a West Africa guide despite the fact it’s one of the wealthiest and most happening countries in the region. Other fellow travelers I met had used the guide for Guinea though and found it to be worthless in regards to reliable information.

How does this happen? Well, there’s the issue that Africa is exceedingly expensive to travel in and you don’t give your authors enough of a stipend to travel, so they cut corners, like Thomas Kohnstamm. Whether fact or fiction you got well-chided for this. Then there’s the issue that Lonely Planet is an Anglophone company based in Australia. West Africa is mostly Francophone and there seems to be a good deal of communication breakdown for those covering it. As a result, Petit Futé and Routard sorta beat the crap out of you in this region. Hell, even the Anglophone (and seemingly much lower budget) guidebooks from Bradt are better and in regards to the Mali guide, spot on.

Lonely Planet, it almost seems that you don’t care about West Africa in which case, just stop. Maybe stick to East Africa or South Africa or other places that you seem to want to fund proper research in. But man, you’re really hosing a lot of tourists and leaving them open to no end of trouble with this bound bucket of poo that you call your West Africa guide.

11 Replies to “Lonely Planet, kill your West Africa guide”

  1. Seen as Ivory Coast is so dangerous, the writer given the hapless task of updating the Ivory Coast section of the West Africa book was given ‘one week’ to do the work and told ‘don’t leave Abidjan or Bassam as it’s too dangerous’. At this same time, the Petit Fute writer was here four about 10 months and write an excellent guide (for an appallingly small sum of money).

    1. Great, thank you … I’ve moaned as well, the LP guide is terrible, what makes it even worse, the French edition of W.Africa leaves OUT Cote d’Ivoire!

      With the Cote d’Ivoire writer using snippets from people who know the country well; I got rather annoyed when I realised where my information was going to be used having found out from John (above) that outside of Abidjan was off-limits for the writer; who then decided to ‘tone down’ the security risk! Makes a mockery of LP books, which were a great read & source of invaluable information in the past!!

    2. Oh yeah, I can’t remember if I had heard that from you, or someone else, or multiple people. It’s really quite ludicrous. I mean seriously, writing a report from a main central city about places they haven’t been via second hand information. Who do they think they are, an African NGO?

    3. I have to slightly disagree. Being I found LP quite useful in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Senegal. Sure some roads have gotten better since it was written, but overall, I don’t find it irritating to have to check bus schedules I read in any given guide. And even when I check, it remains up to my coach driver to either stick to the schedule or get stuck in traffic.

      Misconceptions don’t irritate me, they just make me laugh. I think we should all read travel guides with a grain of salt. These are mostly Westerners rushing to all corners of the country, and miserably failing to hide their identity as a mainstream travel guide writer. The result being they are treated with presents and have no clue about the real cost and burden of travel for us nobodies. We expats on the other hand take our time to learn and understand the countries we live in. We should take these guides as a starting point, and advertize them as such. And we should pride ourselve every time we manage to prove the travel writers wrong with our experience.

      These guides are not exhaustive, they’re not 100% accurate, and should be advertized as such. Whatever critics you might voice, these guides help you make sense of the situation in a country at the time of writing. And this answers to Kira’s comment. You can’t read LP WestAf in 2010 and take its security provisions for granted. Security is one of the fastest evolving stuff in our countries, together with food prices.

    4. @Hudin, have we met??? Love your pictures of Jacqueville!

      @Seb – if LP refused the writer to leave Abidjan area due to security, why ‘tone it down’ – why not (as with many publications) have an intro saying find out before you go as the situation changes daily/weekly especially in the case of Casamance, Senegal

      LP using other people’s knowledge and selling it on as their own without having any intention of visiting the place is not on in my book. A bit like I think it was the Colombia LP version where the writer didn’t even go there!!!

    5. Kira, I don’t think that we have. I assume you’re based in Abidjan? I’m up in Abengourou, but I do come down often to Abidjan given that that really is the heart of Côte d’Ivoire and Abengourou is well, “tranquil”. Glad you liked the photos. I’ve really been quite lax in taking more of Côte d’Ivoire while here. Happens when I live in a place as opposed to visiting I guess…

    6. @Kira I don’t think people should rely on LP for their security information. Such intro saying find out before you go as the situation changes daily/weekly should be a standard disclaimer they apply to all their publications IMO.

    7. @Kira, wasn’t this Colombia fake business a hoax? I thought LP cross checked and found he actualy lied pretending he made it all up.

    8. Seb, I do agree with Kira in that if you are writing a guide and don’t actually visit the places you’re writing about, then you’re breaching the trust with your readers. That’s probably the bigger issue above and beyond posting any security warnings.

    9. @Hudin, no we’ve not met, I love Abengourou, was there in January 2009, heard more from our mutual friend in Babi – JCJ … apparently you’ve met

      The guide situation, well to me LP is going down the drain & not just in W.Africa apparently. I no longer have an extra 1kg in my pack and take everything at face value on the ground, the only reason I took a guide was for a room & the maps but even those can’t be trusted anymore – sad state of affairs!

    10. Thank you very much for this..LP really sucks for Africa and many other places..I have been telling the people to go out of the LP route as well..Independent travelling is becoming LP travelling!!

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