Given the size and diversity of the African continent, choosing just 15 destinations for this bucket-list was extremely defying task. Certainly, tourism should only depend on personal interests and preferences, but be inspired by these 15 choices of Africa’s irresistible, iconic and stunning discoveries.
A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right, the three largest are: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The three smaller pyramids in the foreground are subsidiary structures associated with Menkaure's pyramid.
Victoria Falls is defined by plunging, roaring water falling beneath a mystical veil of spray. The falls' indigenous name is "The Smoke That Thunders', and there's nothing quite like witnessing its power from one of the mist-soaked lookout points. Victoria Falls boasts the world's largest sheet of falling water, with over 165 million gallons flowing over the edge per minute during peak flood season.
Kenya's Maasai Mara is a wonderland of spectacular scenery, colorful culture, and unparalleled wildlife-spotting opportunities. The park connects to Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, and together, the two parks create the ultimate safari destination. This is your best bet for spotting the Big Five in a single morning, and for witnessing East Africa's famous wildebeest migration. In the Maasai Mara, hot-air balloon safaris offer a once-in-a-lifetime safari experience.
Africa is known as one of the best destinations for adventure travel and there are few greater challenges than hiking up the world's tallest free-standing mountain. Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro stands at 19,340 feet/ 5,895 meters and takes between five and nine days to summit. Incredibly, reaching Kilimanjaro's peak is possible for anyone with a good level of fitness, as the climb doesn't require specialized climbing equipment or expertise. However, altitude sickness can be a problem for would-be hikers, and pre-climb training is recommended.
The island of Gorée lies off the coast of Senegal, opposite Dakar. From the 15th to the 19th century, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. Ruled in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French, its architecture is characterized by the contrast between the grim slave-quarters and the elegant houses of the slave traders. Today it continues to serve as a reminder of human exploitation and as a sanctuary for reconciliation.
Bioko Sur is generally much wetter than Bioko Norte and nowhere is this truer than in Ureca. This southern coastal village receives a record-breaking 10,450mm of rainfall per year, making it the wettest place in Africa and one of the wettest in the world. The beaches around Ureca are breathtaking, composed of black volcanic sand. Here you will also see the waterfalls of the Eola River, dropping out of the jungle and straight on to the beach. It is also possible to hike east to the turtle-filled beaches of Moaba or west to the BBPP Moraka Beach Camp, and then onwards into the Luba Crater itself. The jungle in this area is filled with wildlife, including many of the endangered primates that Equatorial Guinea is famous for.
The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau approximately three kilometres (2 mi) from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil's Peak to the east and by Lion's Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town. This broad sweep of mountainous heights, together with Signal Hill, forms the natural amphitheatre of the City Bowl and Table Bay harbour. The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end of the plateau and is marked by Maclear's Beacon, a stone cairn built in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear for trigonometrical survey. It is 1,086 metres (3,563 ft) above sea level, and about 19 metres (62 ft) higher than the cable station at the western end of the plateau.
The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited until the 15th century, when Portuguese explorers discovered and colonized the islands, establishing the first European settlement in the tropics. Ideally located for the Atlantic slave trade, the islands grew prosperous throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, attracting merchants, privateers, and pirates. The end of transatlantic slavery in the 19th century led to economic decline and emigration. Cape Verde gradually recovered as an important commercial center and stopover for shipping routes. Incorporated as an overseas department of Portugal in 1951, the islands continued to campaign for independence, which was achieved in 1975.
In two words: mountain gorillas. This lushly forested Ugandan national park is one of the best places to visit in Africa if you want to see these gentle giants – the world’s largest primate, weighing in at up to 200kg – in their misty mountain homes. Staring into the liquid brown eyes of a giant silverback is undoubtedly the highlight of almost all visits to Bwindi. But it is also an excellent place to see forest dwellers such as yellow-backed duiker, L’Hoest’s monkey and a full 23 bird species endemic to the Albertine Rift, among them the gorgeous African green broadbill
- When to visit Bwindi: Gorilla tracking runs all year, but the drier months of June to August and December to February are best.
- Where to stay: Each of the four gorilla-tracking trailheads is served by a selection of upmarket and midrange lodges.
The archipelago off the coast of Tanzania is semi-autonomous, and it is a truly unique destination in Africa. Zanzibar boasts an interesting blend of architecture, and you’ll find Arabic, Middle Eastern, Moorish and Indian styles represented in its cities. There are many world-class beaches to choose from, and Zanzibar also boasts a very vibrant and well-preserved history. Be sure to spend time in the capital city of Stone Town, home to several fantastic museums and the 17th century Old Fort.
Probably the most historically and architecturally interesting city in all of Mali is Djenne. The city served as an important element of the trans-Saharan gold trade, and it is still a regional hub thanks to its impressive weekly market that gathers residents from all the surrounding areas. By far the most amazing landmark in the city, however, is the Great Mosque, which is the largest mud brick building in the world. The Islamic Mosque dates back to the 13th century, although it wasn’t officially completed until 1907.
The second largest game reserve in Namibia is the Etosha National Park. It was created around the Etosha salt pan, which many animals gravitate to. As a result, the national park is a spectacular spot for seeing wildlife. Be sure to bring along binoculars, because you’ll be able to see zebras, springbok, lions, giraffes, elephants and more. Three rest camps are designated for visitor accommodation, allowing you to see these amazing animals 24/7.
The city of Lalibela in Ethiopia is known as a city of pilgrimage. Lalibela boasts 11 monolithic, rock-cut churches, each of which is fascinating to explore. Most residents are Egyptian Orthodox Christian, and most of the churches were constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. If you only have time for a tour of one church in Lalibela, make it Bet Giyorgis, which is shaped like a cross and carved entirely from rock in a spectacular fashion.
While Merzouga is a small village, it is a popular destination for travelers in Morocco. Located in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga is surrounded by enormous sand dunes known as the Erg Chebbi. Much of the local population is Berber, a group that is traditionally nomadic. If you visit, you can join a camel safari into the dunes to see the traditional Berber lifestyle. In addition to checking out the nomadic desert lifestyle, you can try birdwatching in the spring, when a wide range of birds migrate through the area.
The second largest of the tropical islands that make up the Seychelles, located in the heart of the Indian Ocean, is Praslin. The island is dotted with a few luxury resorts, but the two main attractions on the island are Anse Lazio and the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve. Anse Lazio is a gorgeous beach with clear water and amazing opportunities for snorkeling. The Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve is a palm forest that is preserved and serves as the home to countless reptiles and birds, including the very rare Seychelles Black Parrot.