With its stunning diversity, mesmerizing wildlife, and myriad landscapes, Africa offers intrepid travelers some of the most unforgettable experiences on the planet. Here are a few of our favorite spots.
When travelers who have not yet visited think of Africa, they tend to think of negative news coverage and cliche safari experiences. However, those that have been will testify to the continent’s diversity, its awe-inspiring vistas, and its warm welcome. More and more travelers have taken the plunge and visited Africa, if not for safaris in the likes of Botswana and Tanzania, gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda, or visits to Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley, then to the vibrant cities of South Africa and the country’s world-class winebelts.
Here, we’ve given would-be Africa visitors a tiny taste of the destinations and adventures that are waiting for them.
Located in Eastern Africa, and one of the most popular African countries for tourists, Tanzania continues to thrill safari travelers with its diversity and up-close-and-personal wildlife encounters. Make for the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, a favorite Africa conservation area and home to mountain retreats like The Highlands and andBeyond’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, or to the expansive splendor of the Serengeti, site of the annual Great Migration and home to elegant safari camps like Olakira Migration Camp (home to amazing new Stargazing Tents), Sasakwa Lodge, the recently redesigned Sabora Tented Camp, the Mara River Tented Camp, and Serengeti Under Canvas, a spectacular mobile tented camp at the heart of the Southern Serengeti.
At almost 15,000sqkm, the Serengeti is much larger than Kenya’s Maasai Mara and offers travelers the chance to leave the tourist throngs behind and find their own piece of Africa. For a truly memorable Serengeti safari experience, spend a few days at multiple camps in different parts of the park, from the boulder-strewn northwest to the broad prairies of Grumeti, to the banks of the mighty Mara River, all of which offer captivating game drives led by experienced guides and are best visited during The Great Migration.
The Great Migration is a truly once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounter, as 1.5 million wildebeest, 300,000 zebra, and countless antelope gather their young for the long journey from the Serengeti’s vast grassy plains north to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve in search of seasonal grazing. These vast herds, which can be seen from both the ground and the air, cross raging, crocodile-infested rivers, and expansive savannahs where lions and cheetah lie in wait during an annual pilgrimage that’s been described as the “Greatest Show on Earth”.
The best time to experience the Great Migration is between January and February, during the calving season, when large numbers of young draw predators from far and wide, ensuring spectacular wildlife spotting throughout the Serengeti.
When it comes to the ultimate safari experience, it’s hard to go past the 1,500sqkm Maasai Mara, a truly remarkable ecosystem that extends into neighboring Tanzania, where it’s known as the Serengeti. Of course, the major drawcard here is wildlife, especially during the Great Migration. Travelers are drawn to the region during the migration to see the wildebeest cross the Mara River, and to see predators track the herds during one of the most remarkable encounters of the living world.
To ensure you’re positioned perfectly for this amazing phenomenon, book ahead for safari lodgings like one of the Maasai Mara’s Governors’ Camps, which include the original Governors’ Camp, the Little Governors’ Camp, and Il Moran. These camps offer a luxurious base from which to explore the Maasai Mara during the migration, whether it’s on a traditional game drive with an experienced guide, on a titillating walking safari, or during an early morning hot air balloon safari, during which you’ll soar over the migrating herds and enjoy a spectacular bird’s eye view.
Alternatively, andBeyond’s stunning Bateleur Camp (above) is a beautiful retreat that was recently renovated and which offers travelers a chance to meet local communities who live in relative harmony with the wild residents of the national park.
Perfectly suited for travelers who have already enjoyed the contemporary safari experience and are looking for that next challenge, tracking highland gorillas in East Africa’s mountainous paradise of Rwanda is the ultimate wildlife encounter. The Land of a Thousand Hills, a landscape of brooding volcanoes and dense primeval jungles, is home to both mountain gorilla and golden monkey communities, both of which can be encountered on guided walking safaris through the primordial jungle.
Depart from the capital Kigali for Parc National des Volcans, Volcanoes National Park in northwest Rwanda, where acclaimed zoologist Dian Fossey studied the region’s dwindling bands of mountain gorillas. You’ll track the communities with experienced guides, spending an hour with these critically endangered and often-elusive primates before returning to your accommodation for a late lunch. There’s also a chance to trek the Dian Fossey Hike to Karisoke Gorilla Research Centre, a voluntary research project, with opportunities for great bird watching and golden monkey encounters along the way.
You’ll be rewarded for your efforts up those steep hills with newly developed luxury accommodation that includes Wilderness Safari’s Bisate Lodge, a resort-cum-gorilla education center designed by Nicholas Plewman Architects. Located in a natural amphitheater at the heart of an eroded volcanic crater and home to just six sublime ensuite rooms, the lodge is a short drive from Park Headquarters, where mountain gorilla hikes depart and offers visits to the Iby’wacu cultural village; the twin lakes of Buhondo and Burera; and the lava tunnels of the Musanze Caves.
Alternatively, the new One&Only Gorilla’s Nest is a luxurious hideaway located in the foothills of the Virunga Volcano Range that boasts luxurious accommodation, a signature restaurant, and an indulgent spa to help soothe those post-hike aches and pains. Extend your visit to Rwanda with a visit to the new One&Only Nyungwe House, which is located beside the 101,000-hectare Nyungwe National Park, home to black-and-white colobus monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, and more than 275 bird species.
One of the most coveted African destinations for the year ahead, Namibia offers travelers an ever-changing landscape of desolately-beautiful coastline, undulating dunes, and enthralling wildlife. From the more than 1,000 shipwrecks that punctuate the Skeleton Coast (below) to the north, a region known by the Bushmen of the interior as “The Land God Made in Anger”; to the rolling seas of sand that form the Namib Desert; to the fascinating ghost towns of the Sperrgebiet diamond belt, Namibia has something for every intrepid traveler.
Several safari companies operate in Namibia, offering everything from self-drive and guided road trips through to chartered aircraft itineraries that offer additional flexibility. Many guests like to take day trips to the ghost town of Kolmanskop; view the Grand Sand Sea and the Skeleton Coast from the air by helicopter or light plane; and explore Fish River Canyon, the largest in Africa. Also, be sure to make time to dine on the region’s best seafood at Pelican Point at Walvis Bay on your way to stays at stunning Sorris Sorris Lodge, andBeyond’s desert-wreathed Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, home to some of the best stargazing in southern Africa, and Wilderness Safaris’ Hoanib Skeleton Coast, from where you can explore the shipwrecks and seal colonies of this remarkable coastline, as well as the floodplains of the Hoanib River.
Already one of the most captivating landscapes in Africa, the beauty of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, known as the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’ has earned it a place on the list of Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, as well as Unesco recognition. The Okavango Delta is a network of canals, swamps, marshes, salt islands, and wetlands in the north of the country that plays host to a plethora of wildlife, which is drawn to the region by the annual floods.
Safari-goers will be able to delve into an ecosystem of over 22,000sqkm that’s home to 200,000 large mammals, as well as countless bird and fish species, ensuring Botswana’s best elephant, hippo, lion, and leopard viewing. The annual flooding, between May and October, breathes life into the Delta, offering captivating wildlife viewing, especially during its peak between June and August. All you have to is decide where to base your explorations.
A new favorite Africa escape, the Delta boasts wet, dry, and mixed camps. The activities of wet camps embrace the region’s flood plains, channels, and aquatic ecosystems; while dry camps offer year-round game drives and Big Five spotting. Mixed camps offer the best of both worlds for time-starved travelers, with daily boating, driving, and walking safaris.
Guests are assured a great experience by combining both wet and dry camps to get a true sense of this remarkable destination. Wet camps include andBeyond’s Xaranna Camp, famed for its walking safaris and sunset champagne cruises; Wilderness Safaris’ stunning Jao and Chitabe camps; and the newly re-opened Belmond Eagle Island Lodge, one of the region’s most luxurious, which recently-launched half-day or full-day helicopter and horseback safaris, ideal for Africa veterans looking for a truly unique way to take in the beauty of the Delta.
For a more conventional dry camp experience, try andBeyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, a magnificent safari camp located on a private concession adjacent to the wildlife-rich Moremi Game Reserve. Set in a cool forest canopy of wild palms and gnarled fig trees, this flagship lodge blends seamlessly with one of Africa’s most breath-taking landscapes. Andi f you’re only in Botswana for a few days, andBeyond Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp is a great mixed camp option, offering a remote and wild game viewing as well as access to the intricate network of channels and lagoons of the Delta.
Wherever you go, you’ll be able to spend your days exploring the islands formed by the floods by horseback; soar above the interlacing waterways by helicopter; or take to the water in a traditional makoro dugout canoe for a different perspective on grazing herds, before returning to luxurious tented accommodation, fine-dining, and perhaps a massage under the stars.
From game parks within reach of the capital city to world-class winelands, surf breaks, and a captivating dining scene, South Africa lives up to its name The Rainbow Nation, and is a great first step for safari newbies, combining world-class game reserves like Kruger and Phinda with whale watching, wine tasting, surfing, driving holidays, and visits to the eclectic communities of the Cape Peninsula.
Many game reserves in South Africa can be enjoyed as a day trip, although there’s nothing like spending the night to really immerse yourself in the destination. Check out fascinating retreats like andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, which is made up of five lodges, all set in remarkably different ecosystems; Singita Sabi Sands, set in one of the country’s most popular wildlife sanctuaries; Boulders Lodge in Sabi Sands, Lion Sands Game Reserve, and Karula Camp in the Kruger.
Of course, the great thing about South Africa is that there’s much more to do than just game drives. Be sure to visit the acclaimed winelands of Western Cape, another favorite Africa destination, where you can start your adventure in Stellenbosch, with a tour of the Franschhoek Motor Museum, home to vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles dating back over 100 years, including Rupert Murdoch’s own vintage collection. You can even borrow one of the museum’s beautiful saloons for a tour of local wine estates, including a tasting at Anthonij Rupert Wine Cellar’s Terra Del Capo tasting room, Waterford Estate, or Boschendal Estate, one of the oldest wine producers in the New World.
Back in the city, check-in at one of Cape Town’s newest houses of slumber, The Silo, a boutique hideaway housed in a former grain silo that now plays host to the inspiring new Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Alternatively, Ellerman House offers some of the most luxurious accommodation in the country, as well as stunning Southern Ocean views.
If you prefer a slower pace, the coast between Cape Town and George, part of the acclaimed Garden Route, offers one of the most picturesque road trip routes on the planet, as well as a host of coastal hamlets and restaurants to explore along the way.
A truly spectacular emerging African destination, Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island, and one packed with adventure and unique wildlife. The island split from the Indian Peninsula 88 million years ago, allowing for unparalleled biodiversity, 90 per cent of which is endemic.
Most travelers are drawn to Madagascar in search of lemurs and some of the island’s best lemur viewing can be found at the luxurious Anjajavy l’Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux property nestled at the heart of its own private coastal reserve. There’s also the opportunity to explore the spectacular Andasibe National Park with a local primatologist, who will offer insight into the park’s 11 lemur species, including Madagascar’s largest lemur, the indri.
There are many ways to explore Madagascar but due to lacking infrastructure, air safari itineraries remain one of the most popular ways to explore this remarkable island paradise; by using private air charters, travelers can scour the destination in as little as ten days, avoiding the delays that hamper commercial flights, or countless hours spent driving on long, bumpy roads that quickly deteriorate in the wet season.
Another favorite Africa destination that’s increasingly finding itself on travelers’ bucket lists, Ethiopia is a destination that has endeared travelers for generations. Ethiopia offers a very different African encounter, with soaring highlands, a rich, complex culture, and the opportunity to step back in time to the continent’s first people.
There are many ways to explore Ethiopia, but be sure to sample the country’s ancient coffee culture with a traditional coffee ceremony, which involves processing raw, unwashed coffee beans into some of the finest Joe in the world. Watch as your host performs the ceremony by burning incense to ward off evil spirits before positioning a traditional jebena clay coffee pot over hot coals. Green coffee beans are cleaned over the fire before being roasted in a wok-shaped pan, releasing a strong coffee aroma that’s essential to the ceremony. The beans are ground in a mortar called a mukecha, and the coarse grounds are then added to the now-boiling water in the jebena, before being served in handle-less ceramic cups by your hostess. Each round of strong black coffee comes with a separate bunna tetu or blessing; one for the spirits, one for the hostess, and finally one for those who drink.
A journey to Ethiopia feels like a chance to step back in time and whether you’re headed to Lalibela, a town known for its rock-cut Christian churches, including Bete Giyorgis and its nearby Mount Abuna Yosef; Gondar, home to Fasil Ghebbi castle, Kuskuam Palace, and the Debre Berhan Selassie church; or Aksum, where ancient ruins include the tall obelisks of Stelae Park and St. Mary of Zion church, you’ll always find wonder and a warm welcome.
Ethiopia’s eclectic capital Addis Ababa is also worthy of your time; be sure to visit the Addis Ababa Museum, where striking photo exhibitions detail the country’s often turbulent history; Trinity Cathedral and Museum; the vibrant Merkator Markets, the largest in Africa; the Menelik Palace, once the seat of power of Ethiopia’s emperors; and spend some time with ‘Lucy’, the remains of a 3.2-million-year-old humanoid, at the national museum. Finish with lunch at the Makush Art Gallery to get a taste of Ethiopia’s traditional and contemporary architecture.
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