Where to go in Africa
Make the most of your time
Where to go in Africa is largely defined by what you’re there for. If you’re on safari, you’ll head to East or Southern Africa, flying into the nearest international airport before transfer by road to your lodge or camp. North Africa is about archaeology and vibrant culture – all reached in three to five hours from the UK and traversable by foot, train and road while there. Well-kept South Africa has an easily navigable network of roads with breathtaking views to break up long journeys, and West Africa, a heady mix of colourful culture and ancient tradition, requires patience – you can visit multiple countries in a single trip, but the roads are notoriously poor, so your transfers will take time.
A destination so deeply ingrained in our perceptions of history, culture and civilisation, Egypt has taken on an almost mythical quality. It is the world’s oldest tourist destination and is a land of unparalleled landmarks that shows no sign of waning; the Great Pyramid of Giza is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing and is testament to Egypt’s timelessness.
Definitely not a drought-ridden desert awash with famine, Ethiopia is a truly otherwordly country of inherent religion, rock-hewn churches, ancient tribes and unusual endemic wildlife. Contrary to Sir Bob’s Christmas number 1, it is a country where rain and rivers do actually flow, nourishing the land and resulting in lush forest and carpets of wildflowers. Trek in the mountains, past surreal flora and endemic wildlife.
Known to bring people to tears, the experience of sitting with a mountain gorilla and realising just how human they are is one that will never leave you. Primate permits in Rwanda and Uganda are precious – you’ll only get an hour with the incredible creatures before you, but the impact is huge and private to every person. Share in the infectious knowledge of your highly trained local guide is half the fun.
Africa's highest mountain, Kili stands at a staggering 5,895m. Choose from several routes across its barren slopes up to the ice fields and three volcanic cones at its summit – finally reaching its highest point, Uhuru or Kibu Peak. Over 20,000 people attempt the climb each year, but it’s a formidable challenge and, ultimately – for those who do reach the roof of Africa – an intensely rewarding one.
Madagascar stands alone to the east of Africa, in the Indian Ocean. A country with a deep-rooted and very spiritual culture that parted ways with mainland Africa over 160 million years ago, its people – the very musical descendants of seafaring Borneans, Polynesians and East Africans – are as unique and intriguing as its flora and fauna, much of which can be found nowhere else on earth.
A huge swathe of undulating grassland that extends through Kenya’s sparse southwest, the Masai Mara is probably the world’s most renowned national reserve – not least because it’s the main stage for the Great Migration, an annual pilgrimage for some two million wildebeest and zebra that spill across it from June-Oct. Wildlife abundant year-round, it’s home to lions, eles and buffalo too.
Morocco may only be a three-hour fight from the UK, but it is worlds apart – a rainbow of raucous colour and intriguing Islamic and Berber history, it is as enlightening as it is entertaining. The red and ochre walls of Marrakech, the Rose City, contrast beautifully with the dramatic white of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and every town has a vibrant medina or souk packed full of heady spices and shopping.
The home of township tours revealing diverse native cultures; terrific tiny wildlife like sidewinder snakes; and Etosha National Park – where elephants, jackals and giraffe all jostle for water – Namibia is a big and beautiful country with a very small population. Its Kalahari and Namib Deserts are iconic, rewarding early risers and committed hikers with phenomenal views of dunes stretching for hundreds of miles.
The Okavango Delta originates in the highlands of Angola and has been shaped over thousands of years. Winding its way through swamps, sands, and forested islands, it is a waterhole of enormous proportions that floods life into Botswana and is home to huge herds of elephant, 121 other mammal including lions, buffalo, antelope, and over 440 species of bird. The best way to see them? In a dugout canoe.
Roman ruins in Tunisia
With a chequered past that includes capture by Romans, vandals and Arabs, the lost city of Carthage dominates a large hill in the Gulf of Tunis and is an impressive archaeological site. Scant and scattered, you’ll walk a fair bit for your rewards, but atmospheric finds include the acropolis of Byrsa, an amphitheatre and the Antonin baths; the Carthage Museum is worth a look too.
Serengeti National Park
Just a whisper of the word ‘Serengeti’ is enough to give a safari lover goosebumps. The extensive savannah traversed by millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle throughout the world’s greatest annual migration is the stuff of African legend. All about the Big Five, it is big enough to house all sorts of lodges and camps and you can safari on foot, on a game drive and even by bike.
The Garden Route
South Africa’s Garden Route is a 1,000km-long stretch of coastline that extends from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and its garden description doesn’t really do it justice. Really, it’s a playground of mountains, forests, lagoons and wildlife; all snug under a gorgeous Mediterranean climate with lots of easily accessible adventures from kayaking and surfing to mountain biking and canopy tours.
The spectacular Victoria Falls is known locally as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’, which means ‘the smoke that thunders’, and just one look at it confirms why. Twice the height of Canada’s Niagara Falls, the raging waterfall is a mile-long sheet of gushing water and truly one of the Earth’s greatest spectacles. To see it from either Zimbabwe or Zambia is to really feel the full force of its power.
West African culture
Less about wildlife and far more about colourful culture and deep-rooted tradition, West Africa is a cluster of smaller countries. Most tours combine a few, so you can discover the traditional clay hut villages of Ghana’s Dagomba people, delve into the mysteries of voodoo at Ouidah’s annual festival in Benin, and lose yourself in the costumes, music and stories at Burkina Faso’s Bwa Mask Festival.
Travel times in Africa
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main destinations in Africa.
- Nairobi – Masai Mara: 45mins by plane, or 6hrs by road
- Dar es Salaam – Zanzibar: 90mins by boat
- Dar es Salaam – Selous Game Reserve: 6hrs by road
- Addis Ababa – Gondar: 1hr 10mins by plane
- Gondar – Lalibela: 10.5hrs by road
- Johannesburg – Kruger National Park: 4.5hrs by road
- Cape Town – Winelands: 1hr by road
- Antananarivo – Ranomafana: 7hrs by road
- Windhoek – Sossusvlei: 5hrs by road
- Windhoek – Etosha: 6hrs by road
- Marrakech – Essaouira: 3.5hrs by car
- Tangier – Fez: 4.5hrs by train