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.