Traveling to Africa you will find A multitude of choices await
The mystique of Africa is something quite incredible, even for someone like myself who lives here. There is something quite seducing about it. It has a distinctive personality. a feel, a smell, unlike any other place I have traveled to on earth.
Africa is a continent that is so massive and encompasses so many countries, territories, climates and cultures, it is a world in one. To explore it will ignite your sense of adventure.Traveling to Africa will be the best thing you have ever done!
I guess I could be accused of bias as I am born and raised on the continent of Africa. But, Africa is a place I am immensely proud of. I believe I live in one of the most awesome places on earth…
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, this is a region I know well. I am an African by birthright and my home continent has a rhythm and powerful force that I struggle to explain.
It is a special place and fires up the imagination with scenes of great adventures and dangerous endeavors. Of all the destinations of the world to travel to, this is definitely one of the top 10!
Yes, Africa has a savagery to it. It’s beauty is wild, untamed and unforgiving. From the scorched desert sands to the tropical jungles.
The magnificent mountains and the windswept, restless Atlantic or the calmer idyllic Indian Ocean. This is a continent that offers everything to everyone.
To try and feature every country and place in Africa would require a massive website on its own. I will, however, offer an overview of some of the places I have traveled to in Africa and share with you a few ideas for the bucket list.
One aspect to Africa is the diversity of the place. Traveling to Africa, you will find that any preconceptions you had are most likely way off target. Africa is not just bush and wild animals. There are parts to it that are totally different, both in culture and their biodiversity.
Naturally, as I live in South Africa, I will start here. Again, this is an overview. As time goes on, I will post more geo-specific articles with suggestions and places to see. But most of all, I want you to get a feel of the continent and then, hopefully decide to get traveling to Africa asap!
South Africa. The Rainbow Nation. The Worlds Newest Democracy
Okay, this is dangerous territory for me. As a resident of this land, I could wax lyrical for months about South Africa. I will try and keep it brief.
First question I am usually asked about South Africa are the politics…So let’s quickly get that out the way. Having lived as a child through the apartheid years, I have first hand knowledge of this darker time. If you would like to learn more on this subject , see my article about growing up as a white kid in South Africa.
At any rate, we have emerged from that forgettable era. And, like a toddler taking its first steps, we are clumsily finding our way among the adults in the room . Our political elders; nations that have been around for hundreds of years, at least tolerate us now.
We gurgle rather than speak in a coherent economics and political voice. We may even seem a little strange. Our leaders indulge in bratty greed and naivete. But, we are a toddler and we shall find our way.
But, I can say with zero doubts, we have a beautiful playpen in which we live. South Africa wants to meet you. You will find us a friendly and welcoming people. We are proud of our country and what we have. And we have a great deal.
Is it safe? That’s the next question…
We come in peace. Look, the one thing I promised myself when writing about any subject was that I will not whitewash anything.
As is my nature, I am direct and honest and call a ‘spade a shovel’. In other words, whatever I state will not be guided by misinformation in order to facilitate happy talk.
Certainly we have had bad media coverage regarding crime. Our statistics are pretty appalling. We do live in a more guarded way then those who live in Europe or the US.
Our houses are surrounded by high walls and security fencing. We have a crime problem, of that there is no doubt. We also have corruption.
Will you be taking your life into your hands to visit? No. It is not the wild west or something like Columbia or Mexico during the Cartel wars.
You will find South Africa a civilized, first world and modern country , mixed with third world aspects. There are places you will not want to visit. There will be areas that are no-go areas. As with areas in London, Chicago or any other big city on earth, you would be smart not to venture in those. Same applies.
Any hotel or local will advise you. Just like most travel advisories in most countries, you would not be stepping out of your accommodations flashing valuables and wearing expensive jewelry. Be cautious but not paranoid is about the best advice I can give you.
The amazing variety of sights and things to do in South Africa
Now, let’s talk about the majority of things that are incredibly nice about the continent and South Africa. Happily, there are plenty of things that will override any misgiving you may have about traveling to Africa.
2,800 km of beach and coastline that lap up both oceans of the South Atlantic and the Indian. We have the #1 voted most beautiful city to visit in the World namely, Cape Town. We have a dramatic escarpment, desert, plains, mountains and the African bush as our essential geographical ingredients. We are the 6th most diverse nations with a staggering 20 000 species of plant life.
Whales and dolphins swim in view within our seas. Fish eagles fly guardian above our heads and the nightfall brings the creatures of Africa into full voice.
We have modern cities and infrastructure with monkeys and smaller wildlife that co-habitat with us in some suburban areas.
There is the world famous Kruger National Park and many luxury nature reserves , home to the Big Five. Wide flowing rivers with dramatic waterfalls and gorges that feed our thirsty earth.
Eight World Heritage sights are available to visit. And we have a climate that gives us days of warming sunshine and mild winters.
We have Africa all in one and we are waiting for you to see it. South Africa manages to capture all these elements within its borders. You have the Cedarberg and Drakensberg mountain ranges, the iconic Table Mountain of the Western Cape, the desert of the Karoo, Cape Point where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet in a crash of snarling, swirling surf.
You will discover the plains of the Orange Free State, the cosmopolitan cities sprinkled about the entire country, and the gorgeous Winelands of the Cape.
All this, along with the golden beaches and great surf on the east coast. Along with the magnificent bush everywhere in between, housing game parks and lodges that offer up the Big Five.
The climate is excellent for those who wish to head south for winter and enjoy the hot South African sunshine.
There are a few ways you can make this trip. If flying from the US, Delta fly direct from Atlanta, but it’s a long flight. Trust me, I have endured it many times. 15 hours!
Nowadays, I choose a stop in Europe. Amsterdam is my ‘breather’ where I rest up a few days and soak in some European hospitality. It takes the edge off.
Of course 15 hours is not the end of the world, but it can feel like it is the end of the world in economy. There are other options with 2 stops which are cheaper but the flight/travel time then gets longer.
You can also fly out of JFK. Coming out of Europe is much simpler (and shorter). Due South without any major time lag. I fly KLM usually, daytime flight in the AM and arriving in Johannesburg in the evening.
How long should I stay?
When I am asked, I always recommend that you look at least a 14 day trip, ideally 21 day stay here in South Africa. Taking into account that you may have had a long flight, you want a couple of days to get into the time zone and rest up a little.
If you want to experience some of what I talk about here by way of sightseeing, it will require some time.
Traveling to Africa can be relatively inexpensive
Not necessarily one of the cheapest countries to visit, South Africa certainly can offer the savvy traveler some real bargains.
The airfare is the costly portion, However, once here, the local exchange rate is currently extremely favorable against the Euro, Canadian dollar, USD and British Pound.
Great places to stay can be found for a very reasonable price and the day to day shopping will be a treat for those in the retail state of mind.
The food is excellent and relatively inexpensive compared to Western Europe, Canada, and the States.
Highlights of Places to Visit in South Africa
- Cape Town
- Garden Route
*Keep away from those big international travel websites as their prices are extremely inflated. My suggestion is to hook up with a local operator and get a good deal.
- The Karoo
- The Cradle of Mankind
- Kruger National Park
- Sun City
- The Wild Coast
This is a really good (and short) video that will help paint the picture of the South Africa I speak of….
I truly hope you will consider a visit to South Africa once things get back to ‘normal’ after the pandemic crisis. If you would like further advice, feel free to contact me in the comment section for any questions or send me an email at email@example.com. No, I am not a travel agent or agency. I am, though, happy to advise.
Traveling to Africa for a safari
Obviously, Africa is most well known for its wildlife, If you are wanting to have a safari, there is an abundance of options open to you in various African countries.
Firstly, if you want to take it it all in, start with tracking the Big Five across the scorched Savannah plains. Soak in the outstanding wilderness.
Of course, seize the opportunity to take in the dusty thuds of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra in a hoofed spectacle. This is the Great Migration across the vast plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya.
The sight is breathtaking and, believe me, after witnessing this, life will take on a different perspective for you. There is no ways you can walk away untouched by what you saw.
With the largest biodiversity on the planet, East Africa’s perfection is granted. As a safari destination, it is home, to not only an abundance of wildlife and superb game reserves, but also the famed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Baobabs litter the escarpment like upside down tree fossils as elephant roam lazily by. You will positively fall in love with this beautifully exciting and mysterious Eden. I did.
However, I would suggest you hurry up. On a more sobering and depressing note, the natural heritage we enjoy here on the continent is shrinking.
The predicted loss of wildlife since 1970 to 2020
But there is an urgency to see this wondrous place. The Western world influence has brought with it a degree of sanitation, in the sense of ‘civilization’, blunting the wildness of an untamed continent.
I want you to see the Africa I grew up in. It is still there, but it is shrinking. The more people who witness this wild beauty, I hope the more will be aware how important it is to save it from extinction.
Other countries to consider visiting when traveling africa
Here’s a selection of some of my own experience destinations within the continent. As I have mentioned, the continent is vast and each country can offer you something completely different. Beach holidays, camping, adventure sports, luxury resorts, 5 star hotels….it’s all here.
Spice things up in Zanzibar
Once you have had your senses overwhelmed, by the sheer enormity of wildlife seen, time for a beach break on gorgeous sandy beaches. Right here on the island of Zanzibar, a sunny respite may be in order.
A part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is a member of the “Spice Islands”. This includes the island of Pemba, along with fifty other mostly uninhabited islands in the surrounding waters.
Consequently, here you can indulge in sailing on the traditional local dhows, world class water sports, including deep sea fishing, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing and windsurfing.
Or you can simply relax and watch the boats float by as you sip a cold refreshing something. Listen to the melodic voices of the fisherman singing as the sun dips its orange blaze in retreat of nightfall.
This is highly recommended for those seeking to escape and find refuge in themselves and the environment.
Zimbabwe a place in which Africa shows her majestic self
My birthplace, Zimbabwe. It still maintains a mild hint of colonial style living in areas that are diametrically opposed to the poverty and wilderness that harbors within the borders.
Sadly, this once was a fertile land. I recall my father always telling me that “Rhodesia-“, as it was once known, “..was the breadbasket of Africa”
Whilst the agricultural degradation and struggles of the people are indeed tragic, the country remains stoic in its hospitality and tourism.
As a result, the natural environment is used for river rafting, kayaking which are popular water-sports to be enjoyed.
Mana Pools, a stunning wildlife reserve, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, earned due to it’s superlative natural beauty and bountiful wildlife. T
his especially along the Zambezi rivers edge and flood plains. Here is where you will see herds of elephant, lazing hippos and the Nile crocodiles gather at sunrise .
I would also recommend Hwange Natural Park as it is another must see for a wide array of wildlife species.
Naturally, the Victoria Falls takes center stage as tourist attraction #1. Impressive is an understatement. This immense sheet of water falls 335 feet to the pools below at a rate of 1088 m3/s (38,430 cu ft/s). A visit here and to the neighboring Zambia are 100% my choice of vacation to Zim.
Tread the fertile red earth of Rwanda
Explore the “Land of a Thousand Hills,” Red soiled Rwanda offers the now famous mountain gorillas which you can trek in the bamboo forests of the Virunga National Park.
Hike the volcanoes as you clamber up the mountains of the ancients or go camping at the shore side of Lake Burera. Enjoy the African bustle of the Kigali markets. I found that Africa is distinct in this country. You cannot help but feel her everywhere.
Then, as was my ritual, soak it all in with a cold beer as you watch the locals go about their daily lives. Here you can enjoy a nation of coffee and tea plantations, the beautiful Lake Kivu, fringed with lush scenery
Tourist facilities are a bit spotty in this part of the world, to be honest. In Kigali you will not have any issues as the facilities are adequate, the same applies to other major towns. Where you will run into challenges are in the rural areas .
For the most part, forget about WiFi coverage and accept that many areas do not have electricity. Also, if backpacking, bear in mind that during the dry season, water may be scarce.
The genocide of 1994 remains a dark stain on this otherwise beautiful land and herein lies the misconceptions and fear of travel to Rwanda. Traveling to Africa brings with it doubts about security so it is important to consider these…
Safety in Rwanda
Surprisingly, travel in Rwanda is considered to be generally safe. Street crime with muggings and theft is not uncommon, though. The political relationship with the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo is not good, so any travel close to Burundi or the DRC border is not advisable. Military incursions do occur and the situation at the borders is volatile.
“The Warm Heart of Africa” - Malawi
This is how the African destination for wildlife enthusiasts, birders, backpackers, and hikers refer to Malawi. And with good reason. I can honestly say that some of the nicest people I know are Malawians. They are a friendly and cultural population who live with and for many, alongside a tropical inland sea named Lake Malawi.
Lake Malawi is a remarkable lake,. It is stocked with the most diverse amount of fish species than that of any other lake in the world. Lake Malawi is the dominant geographical icon in this happy land, making up about 20% of Malawi’s surface area.
Certainly, ornithologists will adore this place. Moreover, wildlife fans will enjoy one of Africa’s highest populations of hippos.
Botswana - Water Soaked Delta and Dry Desert
Botswana is teeming with wildlife. Considering that this small country is roughly the size of the state of Texas, 40% of the land is designated to national parks and wildlife reserves.
The stillness of the bush can be most enjoyed here. Nature is in charge and takes the cue. The game lodges are generally high end and talented bush pilots will navigate you to some of the most remote areas within this magnificent natural theater of wildlife.
If you are planning to drive through Botswana – do it in the winter months. In summer the mud is molasses thick and you can easily get yourself stranded.
You should be a good driver, well experienced in handling a 4×4 and have the ability to negotiate all road conditions and off road conditions.
Camping in Botswana is the only cheaper viable option, however it is not that easy to just pitch up tent. You need to book a camping site with the DWNP (Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks) or with a private operator.
Make sure that all your bookings are made prior to leaving for Botswana.
The country provides some of the best wildlife experiences anywhere in the continent. With the world famous Chobe National Park, Okavango Delta and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, sightings of a wide variety of species is assured.
These include bat-eared foxes, caracals, crocodiles, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs. Additionally you will see giraffes, rhinos,hippos, zebras and lions.Add to this the antelope, with species of kudu, and impala. Certainly, the flamingos are there to be seen as well.
Literally thousands of flamingos in a mass of a pink hue at the Makgadigadi Pans. For a bountiful gift of nature experience, this little nation has it all.
Namibia - Land of Desolation, Salt and Sand. The Beauty of Nothing and Everything
Traveling to Africa for a desert?Why on earth would Namibia rate as a great destinations in the world? Because it has an indescribable beauty that no words could justify nor substantiate.
Imagine a place of shifting desert sands, salt pans, scorching heat and a coastline littered with the wrecks of ships.
This is Namibia. Stretch your imagination further and consider that in this harsh environment live Kalahari and Namib desert hardened plants and animals.
These include desert Elephant and black Rhino. The surprise for most visitors here is the abundance of African wildlife, including the big 5. Safari’s, kayaking and so much more adventure awaits.
It is not like the Sahara, parts of it are, other parts are just fiercely arid. However, within those harsh thorn bushes and determined grass, lurks an impressive collection of wildlife.
The coastline offers testimony to the hazardous waters of the Atlantic, aptly named the Skeleton Coast, with a haunting collection of skeletal remains of ships that once sailed proudly.
Adding to the dramatic setting, this coastline is normally enshrouded by fog mist that rolls in off the sea.
It is a place to be seen and not to be told of. It truly is the beauty of nothing and everything.
Swakopmund is a charming town, showing its German heritage with a mix of Africa,. It sits on the coastline, offering all the first world amenities of restaurants, cafes and stores.
The city of Windhoek offers the traveler a great selection of both urban and desert lifestyle and habitat.
The Dark Continents Jewel is Uganda
Uganda is a country spoken less about in the tourist circles than most. It is a large enough territory of 93,072 sq miles with a diversity that certainly offers the inquisitive explorer plenty to investigate.
Once a British territory, Uganda gained self determination in 1962 and went on to have a somewhat disastrous existence since.
The east African nation has suffered a military coup, a vile military dictatorship in the form of Idi Amin, eventually ending in 1979. 1980 saw disputed elections and a consequent war lasting 5 years that eventually brought the current President Yoweri Museveni to power in 1986.
Uganda travel is about mountain gorillas, but that too is sad. Many of these fine animals are slaughtered for bush meat or in crossfire. All this adding to the woes of the Ugandan people.
The Lords Resistance Army in the North has made awful insurgencies over the past 20 years. Uganda has been as much in the stranglehold of destabilization as being geographically landlocked. Fortunately, the current President has overseen a comparatively stable country in recent years and Uganda would not be a bad choice for a world destination if you stay in the safe areas..
This is a spectacular part of Africa, with huge biodiversity. Forests of dense bamboo, the largest lake to be found in Africa – namely Lake Victoria, snow-capped mountains, breath-taking waterfalls… it a secret paradise. If, like me, you enjoy your adventure than look no further.
Plenty of activities to be found for just about any active recreational traveler. Boat rides, hiking, white water rafting, tracking the chimps, and game drives.
Of course, tracking the highly endangered mountain gorillas. Additionally there is the cultural interaction to flavor your experience as an African visitor.
Any travel planning to Africa or regions therein, requires good research. You really need to check on the visa requirements, malaria areas, stability of the country you intend to visit and learn about the customs of the country. Africa has a large Muslim community that varies from hard-line traditions to more relaxed ones. LGBTQ community should take very special note on gay-friendliness of countries
Marrakesh, Morocco – Ancient trade ritual and civilization
Morocco offers the traveler a whole new perspective. Colorful, vibrant and noisy.
Traveling to Africa does not only mean watching animals and going on safari. The further north you go, the more the culture and feel of the continent changes. Morocco was long held as a personal goal to experience.
Growing up, I had read about the spice routes and trade, fantasized about the idea of desert, camels, market places and experiencing a culture very different from my own. I had to do it! So, I eventually did.
Culture shock 101
Look, honestly, a visit to Marakesh is not restful. The constant assault of traders, the bustle and the seemingly organized chaos can leave you breathless. It is not India New Delhi crazy, but it has it’s own distinct bustle.
The Medina is the place to be. Right in the heart of the old town, you can really sense the pulse of centuries old trade and lifestyle. The evenings are filled with a carnival like atmosphere, the main square populated by tourists, locals and groups of performers, story tellers, snake charmers and dancers. It is an assault on the senses.
The mornings in the Medina begin early with the Muslim call to prayer emanating from loudspeakers sprinkled all over the old town and beyond. Certainly, it is a profound experience and you can truly feel like you are inside the culture.
The options for a more restful experience might be the luxury hotels outside of the old town but, for me personally, I think that’s a sanitized and somewhat clinical option that offers limited authenticity to the experience.
My girlfriend and I stayed in an Airbnb right there, in the Medina. Getting to the address was an education. I had kids leading me down alleyways and frankly, I thought I would be mugged.
I left my lady outside a store where I figured she would be safe and I followed the kids. I guess too many movies and nightmarish visions of alleyways in the framework of westernized sensibility of Muslim countries had me ignorantly paranoid.
I would classify a stay in Marrakesh as an adventure holiday that requires the ‘full Monty”, i.e. simply embracing it all. Especially, the food, the Medina, and the entire culture. The Riads ( means garden but it is applied to converted town houses/hotels built round a central courtyard).
There are plenty of these traditional accommodation areas all around the Medina but it is best to do some thorough research on the Net to find a good one. The more ‘comfortable’ the lodging, naturally the more expensive it is.
Cash is king in Morocco and certainly Marrakesh. Credit cards, even for accommodation can be an issue. The Euro is the best currency to have and the exchange areas are the one place that I found to be 100% honest with no commissions charged and a rate that was in keeping with the going rate of the local currency of the Dirham to Euro
Things to do in Marakesh:-
Marrakesh itself has plenty to offer and you can easily spend a few days amusing yourself in the actual Medina
- el-Fnaa is the central square. This is a great starting place to head down the cobweb of alleys that provide you with stalls of spices, nik-naks, materials, silver and a plethora of strange and unusual things. The Souk (marketplace) is truly an all consuming activity.
- Koutoubia Mosque – considered to be one of the finest Mosques in the world. A beautifully proportioned structure with an impressive history to be told.
- Bahia Palace – Beautiful architecture with gorgeous gardens and areas. Ceramic tiles cover the walls as you walk from one section to another, taking in the Palace Harem area , large courtyard and central area. The Palace is an impressive place that is worthy of your time. The current Royal family are know to use the residence occasionally/
- Saadian Tombs – A fascinating walk through an area of rememberance. Morocco was ruled by the Saadi Dynasty for a little over a century from 1554 to 1659 . Sultan Ahmed el Mansour ordered the tombs built as the burial ground for himself and his descendants. (Make sure you hire a guide outside the Tombs. They are not expensive and will provide a short but very helpful history and explanation of what you are looking at. It really is interesting).
- Menara Gardens Beautiful green oasis to relax and get away from the bustle. See the olive trees, palm orchards, and fruit trees. The local population are still active in this area where they tend to the fruit trees and draw water that is believed to bring good luck, from the streams. The original gardens were created back in the 12thcentury by the then Almohad ruler, Abd al-Mu’min.
There are actually a lot more places to see and things to do in the Medina and outside of Marrakesh. My recommendation would be to stay here for a maximum of 4-5 days and then move on. Staying any longer may feel a bit too intense.
Morocco, as a country will provide many other more sedate and enjoyable locations however, Marrakesh is a must do purely for the experience and immersion into the culture.
Images of Africa
Africa offers a multitude of choices from desert, savannas, wetlands, mountains, lush green valleys and so much more. The cultures will transport you to places you have never witnessed or imagined before and the thundering pulse of this continent will leave you breathless. Africa breathes a life force unlike any other destinations or places you may have visited before. Africa is totally unique. As I have said: Traveling to Africa will be the best thing you have ever done!