It was Richard Mullin who said ‘The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.’
An accurate observation as wherever you step on this bright continent you’re met by magnificent landscapes, wilderness, precious wildlife, diverse culture, rich tradition and the history of the nations who play host to visitors wanting to get dust under their feet and be inspired by the unique experiences on offer. Africa is unlike any other part of the world, and everyone should visit it at least once in his or her lifetime. These are 10 reasons why.
The Swahili word safari means journey, or to travel, and an African safari provides an opportunity to see wildlife in its natural surrounds, as well as to journey into oneself and be reminded of the magnificence and vulnerability of nature. The main attraction for most remains the sighting of the Big 5; lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo, which are most commonly found in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Yet each area unlocks access to the animals that occur there.
In Botswana’s Chobe National Park elephants come down to the water in great numbers to drink, on the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania the annual migration of wildebeest and zebra brings rise to their thundering hoofs, while Namibia’s barren deserts are known for elusive Springbok and Gemsbok. Rainforests in Uganda and Rwanda are home to the protected gorillas and Madagascar delights the naturalist with its exceptional wildlife.
Did you know? There are over 1100 different species of mammals in Africa and over 2600 species of birds.
Must See Landmarks
Of all the beauty that is Africa, there are a few must-see places that stand out above the rest. Table Mountain in Cape Town is a showstopper and whether you are hiking to the top or going by Cable Car, no visit to the city is complete without reaching the top. Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as the highest point in Africa, sees thousands of hikers summit its snow-capped peak each year, some on a pilgrimage, others chasing a once in a lifetime adventure.
Known as the Smoke that Thunders and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls cascades with full force into a deep crevice at the meeting point of Zimbabwe and Zambia, shooting spray 400 meters into the sky, attracting countless visitors who watch in awe. Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano located inside the Virunga National Park in DR Congo is responsible for 40% of Africa’s historic volcanic eruption and is home to the world’s largest lava lake, both sites to behold.
Did you know? Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
Walking the streets of the African cities you visit will excite you, but a walk in the wild is one of the best things you can gift yourself, be it in Zambia, South Africa, Kenya or Madagascar. Offering a deeper understanding of how ecosystems work, you’ll be enchanted by the little things. How acacia releases bitter tannins into their leaves to deter a giraffe from overfeeding; that termites build massive underground cathedrals to control temperature and the rich reward of sitting quietly observing the game in their natural habitat.
Popular places for walking safaris are the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, hiking with Masai warriors in Kenya’s private Masai Mara concessions and exploring deep in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve on foot with your guide. In South Africa, the Kruger National Park’s Northern Pafuri region where South Africa meets Zimbabwe and Mozambique remains one of the most popular areas.
Did you know? An African elephant can walk as much as 80 kilometres a day in search of food.
African landscapes will delight in every way, but water-based experiences are not to be overlooked. Dhow sailing in the Qurimbas Archipelago off the northern coast of Mozambique with just the stirring of the sails and local fishermen for the company is as real as an African sailing experience can get. Opt to island-hop off Madagascar’s Nosy Be or soak up the sun on Kenya’s East Coast.
Other significant water experiences include Mokoro or dugout canoe trips in the Okavango Delta. Known as ‘the jewel of the Kalahari’, this is on every safari enthusiast’s wish list and when you get there, you know exactly why. The unique oasis and important wetlands is home to 2500 species of plants, 65 fish, 20 herbivores and their predators and more than 450 species of birds.
Did you know? There are 54 recognised States in Africa; of them all but 15 have shorelines.
People and Culture
The African culture is so rich and diverse that it not only changes from one country to another, but the individual countries themselves are made up of numerous different tribes and ethnic groups. Art, music, food and oral literature are used in preserving tradition and the different tribes take pride in their distinct customs.
Among the most famed is the Masai in Kenya, the Owahimbas in Northern Nambia, the Zulus of South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal and the traditionally nomadic San Bushmen that have always been called the Kalahari home and left their mark of their history on rocky overhangs. Cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg are cosmopolitan and Westernized, yet the distinct feel of Africa is ever-present in the people that inhabit them.
Did you know? Traditionally the Masai wear red to stand out in the bush as a precaution against wild animals?
The magical combination of bush and beach will complete any African itinerary and allow you to include authentic coastal living and marine exploration into your trip. The Eastern and Southern African coastlines are the place to be, with activities such as snorkelling and scuba diving in some of the best coral reefs in the world, morning strolls, watching the sunset and hours spent in or on the water.
South Africa’s Western Cape offers the sun seeker mostly desolate beaches with silky white sand, while Mozambique and her islands, Zanzibar, glorious Seychelles and inviting Mauritius to serve as excellent warm water options be it for a family holiday, honeymoon or romantic wedding you’re after.
Did you know? The African coastline is 30 500 km in length.
Whatever your preference of activity, be it time off the grid in a remote wilderness location, or the adrenalin rush of rock climbing; hiking or shark cage diving, there’s a place in Africa with your name on it. Gorilla trekking in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains remains a bucket list activity for most. Off-road safaris in trans-frontier parks, seeking out rock art in the Cederberg, tracking wildlife on foot in National Parks, bungee jumping at Bloukrans on South Africa’s Garden Route, taking a side-car tour to Cape Point, exploring cities by bicycle and enjoying whale watching by boat, are all popular options.
Did you know? Every evening mountain gorillas build a new nest to sleep in, even if it is only a few metres from the nest they used the night before.
Only in Africa
As much as the world beckons, there are some things you can only do in Africa.
- Walk the Avenue of the Baobabs between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in Madagascar, an impressive row of trees that live up to 800 years old and reach startling heights of 30 meters.
- Drive Through The Kingdom In The Sky as Lesotho in well known, taking time to appreciate waterfalls and the majestic mountains.
- Explore the 900-year-old rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela’s New Jerusalem in Ethiopia.
- Swim in Devil’s Pool above Victoria Falls, with the drop to the Zambezi an arm’s reach away.
- Hot air ballooning in Namibia’s Sossusvlei for an aerial view of the red dunes, white saltpan and Deadvlei.
- Follow the mass migration and thundering hooves of wildebeest and zebra from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara.
Did you know? The marabou stork has the largest wingspan of any bird in the world, with the record 4m.
Cape Town at the tip of Africa is where one finds a melting pot of culture and flavours, a place where strong International influence is matched by delicate Cape Malay infusions and traditional African fare is served alongside handcrafted products sourced from the grower. The Cape Winelands boasts award-winning restaurants and estates, large and boutique can be toured with our Sommelier on Board.
Beyond that, each country has its own style of cuisine. Piri Piri chicken and freshly caught crayfish in Mozambique, bunny-chow in Durban, Kapenta with sadza in Zimbabwe, German charcuterie and sausage in Namibia and delicious Injira in Ethiopia. Wherever you find yourself, food is part of the culture of sharing, and attentively prepared meals will delight the avid foodie.
Did you know? The staple food in Rwanda and Uganda is green bananas and not maize.
An opportunity to do good things
Let us guide you to a few select programs that allow you to volunteer and give back to the communities that you visit. Either way, fill your suitcase with educational supplies in the spirit of Pack with a Purpose, plant a tree to combat the carbon footprint of your flight with Greenpop and support local products and craft producers rather than shop for imports.
Did you know? That Africa is a destination to suit all pockets and budgets; you’ll be surprised by how affordable accommodation and meals are. Also, you don’t have to choose only one of the above, we can design the best routing to include your selection from our list of favourite things.
** This first appeared on the Eye See Africa blog.
** Read more of my Freelance Writing work here.
** Pics are mine, except for the elephant at the top, which was sourced.