Africa is an incredible continent that offers countless unforgettable experiences.
Whether a helicopter safari or a hot air balloon ride is your thing, Africa has something for everyone. From meeting native tribes to tracking endangered species, take a look at our pick of the top 12 things to do in Africa.
Ultimate bucket-list experiences, so here they are: the nine things highest on your wanderlust lists.
1. WITNESSING THE SERENGETI MIGRATION, TANZANIA
Perhaps, when the Masai called this place ‘Serengeti’ – the place where the land goes on forever – they weren’t simply talking about the landscape. It is one of the few places left on earth where humans have not made an indelible mark, where wildlife roam comparatively freely, unrestricted by park divisions and national highways (the Serengeti National Park is the Serengeti’s only wildlife reserve). Golden dawns and warm, dusky evenings epitomize East African days, each filled with so many sightings of lions and leopards, birds and elephants that its easy to become blasé. While the park’s high concentration of predators is something to be marveled at, it is the yearly migration of 500 000 wildebeest and 250 000 zebras for which the Serengeti is most famed, the largest mammal migration on earth.
2. PADDLING A MOKORO THROUGH THE OKAVANGO DELTA, BOTSWANA
Gliding through the clear waterways of the Okavango Delta in a narrow mokoro, engulfed by the melodies of squealing insects and chortling frogs, is the stuff that nature lovers’ dreams are made of. Painted reed frogs with round-suckered feet and delicate markings hang tightly from narrow reeds. Long-stemmed blue water lilies rise to the surface like brown, slippery snakes. Vultures drift in the dusty, blue Kalahari skies and fish eagles perch on high branches above your head. Beyond the reed beds are islands thick with sycamore figs, scraggly umbrella thorns and baobabs and through it all the thrilling promise of scaly predators and bone-crunching hippopotami. Navigating the waterways by mokoro is not for the feint hearted but it is the best way to see the delta, unprotected and unrestricted.
3. CLIMBING KILIMANJARO, TANZANIA
Most of us with a taste for travel and adventure hope to climb at least one of the world’s great peaks. Mount Kilimanjaro is hailed as one of the most enchanting of the Seven Summits, thanks to Tanzania’s natural beauty, abundance of wildlife and uniquely African feel. Although beautiful, the climb is grueling (how to beat the pre-Kilimanjaro jitters). Reaching the top is as much about your body’s reaction to extreme altitude as it is about fitness. At such extreme heights (the peak is almost 6000m above sea level) your lungs and muscles start to crave oxygen, reducing climbers to slow lumbering movements. No amount of training can prepare you for such oxygen deprivation and it is the overcoming of this physical pain that makes summiting so rewarding. Reaching the top renders feelings not easily described so while you may look to other climbers for inspiration, this is one bucket list item that must be conquered to be appreciated (read more: sitting on top of Kilimanjaro). If you’re not adamant on ticking the “highest mountain in Africa” box, you might want to consider neighbouring Mount Meru instead. It’s just as beautiful with fewer tourists and a smaller price tag.
4. ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES AROUND THE VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE
Dubbed the adrenalin capital of Africa, Victoria Falls is a hub of adventure activities, giving visitors the opportunity to tick more than one box over the course of a single day. Arguably the most riveting of the adventures is white-water rafting the Zambezi, widely regarded as one of the greatest whitewater rafting experiences in the world (we recently went whitewater rafting on the Zambezi with Bob Skinstad). Some crazies tackle the rapids by body-board, an option that should be practiced with utmost caution. If going up against a two-meter wall of surging water doesn’t do it for you, opt to stay dry at Victoria Falls. You can zip-line from one side of Bakota Gorge to the other, bungee jump face first into the rainbow-dappled spray of the nearby falls or jump feet first into a bridge swing. Ironically jumping feet first can be more terrifying than diving but that’s a matter of personal preference. Then there are helicopter flips, microlights, lion walks and abseiling. To wind down, sip G&Ts on a sunset cruise along the calm stretch of the Zambezi above Vic Falls.
5. OVERLANDING FROM CAPE TOWN TO CAIRO
British explorer Ewart Grogan was the first recorded man to traverse the length of the African continent, making his way by train and foot from Cape Town to Cairo in 1897. He survived wild animals, disease and exhaustion to prove to the father of the woman he loved that he was a worthy suitor. Modern day travellers follow in his intrepid footsteps for much the same reason, to learn what they’re made of and – hopefully – earn their overlanding stripes. Thankfully this now-famous route is completed with more ease than it was in Grogan’s day. Anyone with time to spare and a 4×4 can include this epic voyage on their bucket list with every expectation to one day cross it off. For most South African wonder-lusters, it is the ultimate expedition, an once-in-a-lifetime adventure across our dusty, bureaucratic, breathtaking continent.
6. GORILLA TRACKING IN RWANDA
A decade or so ago this is a mission that few would have been willing or able to make thanks to Rwanda’s war-torn past. But today this is a country that seems to be putting its past behind it. One indication of this is the complete banning of plastic bags in the country (Rwanda in photos). They are not given out or sold at supermarkets and you are not allowed to bring any into the country. As a result the streets – that once ran with blood – are now clean, a symbolic gesture that, although small, is indicative of a country on the mend. Of course it’s not just clean streets that have come to epitomize Rwanda but the promise of mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park (check out our top 10 tips for gorilla tracking) . Gorilla trekking can take up to eight hours and the going isn’t always easy but when you consider that there are less than 800 of these resplendent beasts left in the wild, eight hours and a few bug bites is a tiny price to pay. Although you’re not allowed to touch the gorillas, you sit mere metres away from them, an experience that will leave your heart racing.
7. DESERT WANDERING IN NAMIBIA
As our close neighbour, Namibia is one of those rare dream destinations that is reasonably accessible to most South Africans. A two-day drive over the border and you could be falling asleep under a blinding blanket of stars surrounded by nothing more than the sounds of slowly shifting sand and crickets singing their evening tune (top 10 things to do in Namibia). There’s a wealth of desert-wandering options in Namibia, one of which is the Namib-Naukluft National Park, just a day’s drive from Springbok in the Northern Cape. It’s home to Deadvlei’s famous petrified trees and the mammoth Dune 45. Sit atop the dune and watch as the Namib’s simple yet rich colour palette spring to life or, if you have a 4×4, beat the shuttle crowds and head straight to Deadvlei for sunrise. If you get there early enough you’ll enjoy perfect solitude as sunlight pours into the clay pan, its illustrious trees casting long, charismatic shadows across the cracked floor. A little further north of Namib-Naukluft you’ll hit the NamibRand Nature Reserve, internationally revered for its dark skies and stars, and to the far north Etosha National Park, one of southern Africa’s most acclaimed wildlife sanctuaries. Namibia is scenically spectacular and relatively affordable so if it isn’t on your list, add it now (and read about how to do Namibia on a shoestring).
Reader Ian Dickinson says, “Namibia appeals to me for its vast open spaces, magical landscapes and amazing wildlife. I would love to head on a road trip from dorp to dorp taking in sights along the way. The Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, Windhoek, Walvis Bay, the Skeleton Coast and Etosha National Park would all be on the itinerary. I’d definitely check out Kolmanskop – the eerie ghost town has a lot of photographic and spiritual appeal. I’d also plan to take in a bit of 4x4ing on the dunes as well as sampling the local Germanic-influenced beer … the latter not preceding the former of course!”
8. STANDING AT THE BASE OF THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA, EGYPT
We grow up knowing about the pyramids. They’re like another family member, stitched into memory and as familiar as a sibling. Combine this longstanding relationship with the hype that surrounds these historical wonders and you’d expect the real-life encounter to fall a little flat. But it doesn’t (5 unmissable things to see in Egypt). No degree of anticipation could render the pyramids of Giza anti-climatic so they remain on every bucket list, clichéd as it may be. The stories you here about the Egyptian tourist trade are true. You can’t take two steps without being pestered by a salesman or colliding with a package tourist. But all this is forgotten when you’re standing at the base of the Great Pyramid, the oldest and largest of the three pyramids. At nearly 140 meters high and more than 4500 years old it is both ancient and gigantic, a double blow that no photograph or history book could ever capture.
9. VISITING MANA POOLS, ZIMBABWE
The novelty of an unfenced wilderness park never wears off but there’s something special about one’s first time and Mana Pools National Park (top tips for visiting Mana Pools) is one of the finest first time dates. Most of the park’s game is concentrated along the Zambezi River among forests of winter thorn and ana trees. Great herds of elephants are often seen at the water’s edge, as well as island-hopping buffalo and waterbuck. The high concentration of game means predators abound, especially wild dogs, lions and hyenas. Camped along the river you are treated to primo wildlife sightings from the comfort of your deck chair.
Nyamepi Campsite is the main campsite with hot water showers, flushing toilets and neighbouring campers but there is a selection of more remote camps where your only neighbours are of the roaring, growling variety. You might not see a lion at Nyamepi but hippos and elephants will wonder a stone’s throw from your tent and when night falls the hyenas circle your fire in search of food. Though you might sleep badly, your thoughts will be wondrous and excitement levels high.