Mention Africa, and for most people it immediately conjures up images of leopards stalking a herd of zebra on the
Serengeti, crocodiles wallowing in muddy rivers, and brightly painted warriors with spears and animal fur clothing.
Of course there are areas with all of these things… but not many as most people imagine.
In reality, Africa is a huge continent that is impossible to pigeon-hole into any particular style or category. From the
ancient pyramids in the north, to Table Mountain in the south, it is a fascinating, intriguing, and above all, welcoming
For all its amazing scenery and unbelievable wildlife, it’s the people that make Africa what it is. Fiercely proud and
strong they may be, but they are warm hearted, unendingly cheerful, and have an amazing ability to see the bright side
of everything. Everywhere you go there will be singing and dancing at the first sign of a foreign face. They will offer you
there last morsel of food as a gesture of friendship, and sleep outside to offer you their bed.
For large parts of Africa, poverty, hunger, and disease, are sadly the norm. Without the unquestioning support and
assistance of the huge number of charities, missions, and other non-governmental organisations, the already dreadful
mortality rate would be unthinkable.
There are also areas where it’s still not safe to travel, because of civil wars, insurgencies, bandits, and the like. Slowly
these seem to be reducing in number, and countries that were once absolute no-go areas are now slowly seeing a return
The north of Africa is wholly different to that south of the vast Sahara Desert. To begin with it has been home to
intelligent, civilised, trading nations for thousands of years. Travel along the Nile through Egypt, and you will see evidence
of these ancient civilizations all around. The sandy streets are lined with bazaars and markets, camels are still a main
form of transport outside the cities, and the busy coastal towns along the Mediterranean are mostly well versed at
South of the desert, it is a very different story. Communities are thinly spread, have little infrastructure, and often seem to
live with few differences to the way they have for centuries. The land is arid, with rocky outcrops, and few areas that can
be successfully cultivated.
The coastal countries of western Africa are far greener, being fed by large river systems heading to the Atlantic.
Central to southern Africa, across Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia, has huge areas of
undeveloped bush land, and some areas of dense jungle, with a fairly even spread of small towns and villages. This is the
area where you will find the best of the large wildlife parks, mostly well managed with the tourist and ecologist in mind.
South Africa is the most popular destination of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a landscape that ranges from game reserves, to
mountains, and rich coastal resorts.
Throughout the continent, the forces of nature have created some monumental natural landmarks. The most outstanding
of these has to be the Great Rift Valley, which stretches for 3,500 miles from Mozambique to Syria. As it passes through
Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda, it’s edges are marked by dramatic cliffs towering out of the plains.
Sitting astride the Kenya-Tanzania border is Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. At almost 6000m it towers above the
Atlas Mountains in the north, and the Drakensburg Mountains in the south. Great rivers such as the Nile, Congo, and
Niger, are a lifeline to those along their valleys, and the Zambezi attracts visitors with their camera, as it flows over the
mighty Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border.
Africa is compelling, captivating, and exciting. Scientists believe it to be the origin of the human species, which maybe
explains its un-natural power to make you feel at home, even if you’ve never set foot on African soil before. Spend any
amount of time there and it really gets into your blood, making you want to return again and again.
Africa is not only home to the earliest elements of the human species, it is also the oldest land. While the rest of the
planet has been shifting around, the vast majority of African soil – or rock to be strictly accurate – has been in place for
the last 300 million years.
The first signs of early man began about 2 million years ago somewhere in east Africa, although it wasn’t until around
150,000 years ago that they developed into the ‘modern’ man that we would recognise today. Slowly they began to
spread north to the Mediterranean coast, and around 100,000 years ago the first of them began to leave the continent
and settle in the Middle East. From these humble beginnings our planet became inhabited in the way we see today.
There is evidence that farming with crops and cattle was already in existence across northern Africa as early as
0,000 BC. At that time the Sahara was still a green and fertile area. By 2000BC, however, the climate had begun to
change, and slowly the population moved south away from the increasingly barren lands of the north.
These groups began to link up forming one large tribe called the Bantu. But these were no primitive or unskilled peoples.
They were adept at agriculture, and had mastered the art of iron smelting. As their numbers spread, so did the area of
land they occupied, until by about the 4th century AD they covered most of Africa.
Of course this was by no means the first really civilised African society. That honour goes to the Egyptians, who were a
well established, sophisticated, trading society, as far back as 3000BC. Their power and dominance brought them great
wealth, helped them develop a written language, and gain an understanding of astronomy and mathematics. It also, later,
bought them many enemies who sought to steal these prizes for themselves.
Further south, in what is present day Ethiopia and Sudan, was the kingdom of Askum. Home of the legendary Queen of
Sheba, this is also apparently where the mysterious Ark of the Covenant is supposed to be hidden, waiting for a real life
Indiana Jones to come and reveal it. The Askumites ruled these lands, and some of southern Arabia, for many centuries.
They traded with Egypt and with the Bantu along the coast of East Africa, and were a remarkably civilised society. They
had their own coinage and language, substantial buildings, and a well developed agricultural and manufacturing industry.
From the 3rd Century they became a Christian kingdom, following the Orthodox Church.
As the Egyptian power began to suffer at the hands of many invaders, there began to appear voids in the Mediterranean
trading markets. In the 6th century BC, Carthage was taken over by the Phoenicians, who began to develop strong trading
routes across to Europe. They were a well developed nation, and ruled this area until the Romans decided enough was
enough, and destroyed Carthage in 146BC. For the next 800 years North Africa was a constant battleground, until the
Arabs finally took control in the 7th Century AD.
South of the Sahara, both east and west coasts developed successful and highly profitable trading empires. In the east,
the rulers of the many small kingdoms in present day Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique, were trading with nations as
far away as China, way back in the 7th century. On the west coast a succession of empires traded gold and salt, mined
in the Sahara, and transported overland to the coast by camel. They became fabulously wealthy, and at their height held
land from Niger to the Atlantic coast. They were organised, civilised, and even built centres of learning in cities such as
In the 15th century all this changed, when the Portuguese began taking over the lands along the east coast, and Morocco
invaded the gold trading kingdoms in the west.
Around the same time, the Europeans began to develop the slave trade. Slave trading was not new to Africa, having been
a mainstay of the trading with the Far East and India for centuries. But it was the huge numbers, many sold for profit by
warring tribal leaders, that was different this time. It’s estimated that over 20 million Africans were taken as slaves for
either America or Europe, with many dying on the tortuous journey, or on the capture missions.
All this time the interior of the southern half of the continent remained a complete mystery to the rest of the world. But in
the 19th century, with the thirst for discovery and knowledge, a flood of explorers began to delve deep into uncharted
areas. Following the great rivers, or travelling across inhospitable and dangerous plains, these were brave men who had
no idea what they would encounter. But it opened the way for the insane rush to grab territories, known as the ‘scramble
for Africa’, in which the major European powers all claimed whatever area’s they could in the hope they would yield
precious resources. The boundaries set in those years, are mostly those that shape the continent’s political map today.
The colonisation of these lands meant Africa had been changed from a rich, proud, trading continent, to one of forced
labour, harsh punishments, and subservience, in a little over 500 years.
Following the Second World War, the move towards independence for African states has seen many of them returned to
self-rule. Sadly though, the prosperous past, and much of their wealth, seems for many to have been lost forever.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to arrive on a cruise ship, or are planning to cross by ferry from Spain to Morocco, the
only real way to arrive in Africa is by air.
The majority of flights are from Europe, although there are links from North America, Australia, and the Far East. The
African airlines tend to offer cheaper fares, although can sometimes be less reliable and with less sophisticated aircraft.
It’s also worth checking if your flight is direct, as its quite common for flights to route via one or more other cities to
maximise profitability, and that can add several hours to your journey.
If you’re travelling to one of the areas popular with tourists – Egypt, Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, Gambia, and South Africa
– its worth checking out the charter airlines. They often have seats available in excess of those used for the package
holidays, and are generally less expensive than the scheduled airlines.
Visa requirements vary from country to country, and depend on your nationality, and reason for visiting. Some must be
obtained in advance, and others can be purchased on arrival. Wherever you plan to travel in Africa, ensure you check the
relevant embassy website well in advance, and follow the instructions for your particular circumstances.
Airports in many African countries can be fairly basic, even those that serve capital cities. Allow plenty of time for
connections if you have an onward flight or travel arrangement booked.
Africa is, for the most part, a cash society. Credit and debit cards can be used in some of the major cities, tourist
resorts, and modern hotels, but it is never guaranteed, and you should always have other means of payment. Local
circumstances can also dictate refusal of card acceptance, for example power cuts are a regular feature of many
countries, and during these times they cannot process card payments.
The best use of your card is for drawing cash at ATM machines. Most airports and main cities have these, and they will
generally be the way of obtaining local currency at the most favourable exchange rate.
Haggling is a way of life in Africa. Fixed prices are rare, and everything is worth only what people will pay. For most
travellers coming from nations where bartering is unusual, it can be quite nerve-wracking to begin with, but you’ll soon
become accustomed, and even enjoy it. The trick is to decide how much you want to pay to begin with, and start with
an offer much lower. The seller will laugh, and make a ludicrously high counter bid, and so it goes on. Its always done
in good humour, and becomes almost like a game. But take a moment to think, as its easy to get drawn in to haggling
over small amounts to get to the final agreement, only to realise afterwards that if your were to convert the amount you
disagreed over to your own currency, it would represent a couple of the smallest coins in your pocket! It’s also worth
remembering that you are on a pricey foreign holiday, and they almost certainly need those few coins much more than
Each country has its own local currency, so if your touring it can be an annoying necessity to keep changing it as you
cross borders. American dollars are widely accepted, although be prepared for rip-off exchange rates in many places.
It’s hard to generalise when dealing with such a vast continent, but for the most part shopping in Africa falls into two
main categories. There are the modern, western style shopping centres, which are increasingly appearing in major cities
and tourist areas. And there are the endless market stalls, small shops, and roadside sellers, that range from the
reasonably well stocked store, to those which are just a rickety table beside a dusty road selling a few items of home
grown produce. Each country has the obligatory range of items aimed at the tourists. Some can actually represent good
value for money, especially in central and western Africa. It’s also worth exploring the markets and local shops, as many
bargains can be had compared to western prices.
Eating and Drinking:
Of course each region has its own everyday and speciality foods, but wherever you go in Africa the chances are you will
come across all manner of culinary delights that you are not familiar with.
From Kenya to the Cape, maize based meals are the mainstay, often formed into a kind of dough. Fish is also widely
used, both from the sea, and the many rivers and lakes. Rice is common throughout the continent, and fruit is also much
used in sub-Saharan Africa.
Many tourist areas offer ‘traditional’ local food at special evenings. In truth, there is often little traditional about them, but
whether they are offering you ground sheep’s eyes as a condiment in Tunisia, or roast crocodile in Kenya, it makes an
interesting addition to the cuisine you have sampled.
Hygiene is not always a high priority in Africa, and in many cases not a priority at all. Local stomachs are hardened to
the conditions, but bear in mind that yours is probably not, and eat accordingly.
Tea and coffee are commonplace wherever you go, but vary in quality. As a rule of thumb, in the old British colonies tea
s better, and elsewhere the coffee has the upper hand. Fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola are also easily obtainable in
even the most remote places. Fruit juices are widely available, and local beers also feature in most areas.
South Africa has a quality wine producing industry, and in West Africa, palm wine is the local speciality.
One tip, which, depending on your point of view, may or may not be useful. Alcohol apparently kills bugs, so alcoholic
drinks are probably the safest in Africa!
Africa is home to just about every disease known to man. If that weren’t enough, there are countless reptiles, insects,
spiders and mammals, that would like a piece of you. That’s the bad news. The good news is that as long as you are
sensible, and take adequate precautions both before and during your stay, you can minimise these risks to an
Most areas advise vaccination against several diseases before you travel. Your local health centre will have the up to
date information on the particular destinations you are planning.
Never drink local water straight from the tap. Either use bottled water, or as a last resort boil the tap water first.
Use a good quality insect repellent, and a mosquito net when you sleep. Age-old tips such as banging your shoes
upside down before putting your foot in them in the morning are probably of little value, but you never know what might
have crept in during the night. If nothing else it keeps you alert to the possible dangers around you.
Keep an eye on where you’re walking, especially away from the towns and cities, and if you are in an area of wildlife
follow the game ranger’s instructions exactly.
Finally, ensure you are well covered by a medical travel insurance, so that you can call for help should the worst happen.
The majority of Africa is no more dangerous than anywhere else on our planet. Areas of the big cities can be unsavoury
after dark, as they can anywhere, and many have regions where it’s probably not advisable for outsiders to venture. But
in most of your everyday travels you should encounter little to worry about.
Keep your money and valuables safe. Cash should not be kept all together on your person, and money belts are a good
Depending on how you look at it, getting around in Africa is either a nightmare, or an adventure to be cherished. But
every journey should be seen as a chance to experience even more of this diverse, fascinating, and scenic continent.
There are so many ways to travel in Africa, that it would be impossible to list them all. Riverboats, camels, bicycles,
minibuses, canoes, and horses, all have their place alongside the more common means of reaching your destination.
You can grab a hot air balloon ride across the Massai Mara, hitch a lift with a truck driver across Uganda, or simply buy
an old car for peanuts, and blend in as you drive yourself about.
Greater distances, without doubt, are quicker by air. In most countries there are many smaller airlines that will fly you to
remote airstrips, almost like an air taxi. These can be quite exciting, as they are often in small aircraft that fly much
ower than the commercial airlines, and allow you to see a good deal of the landscape from a few thousand feet.
Perhaps the best experience is by train, especially if you are not too concerned about the time. It can be a somewhat
limited service, particularly in central and western Africa, and timetables are rarely adhered to. In the north, and in South
Africa, trains are of a reasonably modern design, and fairly reliable. Anywhere else it can be something of a lottery, and
you could well find yourself on carriages left over from the days of the old empires. Breakdowns are not uncommon, but
you don’t need to worry, as help or another train will usually be along in a day or two.
Travelling by road is much the same price as train, far more convenient, but infinitely more dangerous and uncomfortable.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that to drive a taxi, minibus, or coach, almost anywhere in Africa, you need to have
lead filled boots and ambitions of becoming a racing driver. Everything is frantic, the roads can be full of pot holes, and
you are likely to be thrown around as the driver dodges chickens, bicycles, and all manner of other moving targets. If
you’re not into this kind of adventure, the best option is to take a taxi, and make it clear to the driver before you set off
that you want to travel slowly, to take in the scenery, or take photos.
Another option, which is quite common, is to hitch a ride with one of the many long distance trucks that ply the main
highways. This can be a great way to understand more about the local peoples, and experience Africa the way the
Africans do, especially if the journey will take you more than a day.
Car hire is available in most countries, and can be very expensive, but it is the best way by far to explore any area you
wish in your own time. Be aware that fuel, or rather the lack of it, can be an issue, as shortages can be sudden and
There are a limited number of tours from the main centres, which can be very useful ways to visit a particular place or
tour an area. They are usually a little on the high side for price, but do take a lot of the stress out of planning alternative
Of course sometimes the means of travel is the highlight of your trip. Cruising down the Nile through Egypt, or taking a
trip on South Africa’s Blue Train, can both be greatly enjoyed. For the truly adventurous there are overland expeditions
using old army trucks that will bounce you from Morocco to South Africa, taking several weeks to complete the journey.
They will not be the most comfortable, but are a great way to witness the ever changing scenery, and you really will be
able to say you’ve seen Africa.
With a population of around 11 million, swelled significantly by tourists each year, Cairo is a busy, chaotic city, that is
capital not just of Egypt, but of the whole Arab culture. It’s a city where you never feel absolutely safe, and you have to
keep your wits about you if you’re to avoid the many well used con tricks aimed at the tourists.
But with such a long and complex history, it’s also a city that oozes atmosphere, and begs you to delve deeper into the
bustling streets and bewildering bazaars.
The Downtown area, close to the Nile is the busy commercial centre. It also houses the Egyptian Museum, which has a
mass of highly prized and interesting artefacts, but little in the way of information or organisation. Buy yourself a guide
book at the entrance, to make sense of it all, and be prepared for a few shocks when you come to the unwrapped
remains of the mummified bodies. The golden treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamen’s are the museum’s centrepiece.
For the original medieval city, head to the area round the Midan Ataba, just inside the city walls. Here you will find the
ancient Al-Azhar Mosque, and the grandest of the old bazaars, Kahn-al-Khalili. Be careful of the many ‘guides’ who loiter
around the perimeter, and offer to show you to the best places, or help you find exactly whatever you are looking for.
Most will take you straight to the stalls of a friend or associate, and charge you for the privilege.
From here you can explore the old city walls, with the Victory, and Conquest gates, dating from the 11th century. The
Citadel was built about 100 years later, and houses some small and not very impressive museums. But it’s worth visiting
for the superb views across the city.
The Nile flows serenely through the city, dividing and rejoining to form an island, Zamalek, where you’ll find the less
seedy hotels, and some pleasant restaurants.
On the west bank is the area of Giza, with the more upmarket of the tourist shops. Here you’ll be offered the hand
woven silk rugs, and fine Egyptian cotton goods.
This is also where you’ll find the road to the Pyramids called, presumably to aid the travellers, the Pyramids Road.
Around 10km from the city centre, on a flat area of the desert that is fast being approached by the spreading city, are
the reason most people come to Egypt. The 3,500 year old Great Pyramid, and its two smaller neighbours, stand
guarded by the most recognisable symbol of the ancient world, The Sphinx. If you want the experience of going inside
any of the pyramids, you need to arrive very early, as tickets go on sale at 8am and are tightly restricted in numbers
The area around the pyramids and the Sphinx can get unbearably busy in spring and autumn, and unbearably hot in
mid-summer. You will also be constantly pestered by unofficial guides, peddlers of tacky souvenirs, and offers of donkey
or camel rides. Don’t let that put you off though, try and stay long enough to witness the nightly sound and light show,
and just gaze in awe at the greatest man-made wonder of the African continent.
Luxor and The Nile, Egypt
The Nile is the longest river in the world, meandering its way along the Great Rift Valley exactly as it has done for
centuries. Take one of the many cruises along it and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d slipped back in time, as
there are seemingly endless tombs, temples, and relics of the past. All along the banks traders will try and sell you
things, throwing samples up to the ship at every opportunity.
The ancient city of Thebes was built 4000 years ago, as the capital of the ‘New Kingdom’. Modern day Luxor has now
swallowed it up, and now bears the brunt of the thousands of tourists who come to marvel at the ancient monuments.
On the west bank was a vast City of the Dead, where huge monuments were raised to honour the Pharaohs. The much
heralded Valley of The Kings, including the tomb of Tutankhamen, is the principal magnet for travellers, but there are
many more amazing sights if you have the time, a good pair of shoes, water, and a map. Queen Nefertari’s tomb in the
Valley of the Queens is superb, and the Funerary Temple of Hapshepsut is exquisite.
Don’t dismiss Luxor itself either. The breathtaking Luxor Temple, the Avenue of the Sphinxes, and the Temple of Karnak,
all deserve some time.
Red Sea Coast, Egypt
If you’re planning to visit Egypt’s Red Sea coast, do it soon, before its becomes completely swallowed up with concrete
hotels and shopping centres. Most come here for a relaxing holiday, long sandy beaches, reef diving in the warm waters,
or as part of a two centre holiday after you’ve spent time by the Nile.
The main resort of Hurghada is bland, impersonal, and lacking in charm. But travel to the south and the smaller resorts
of Marsa Alam, and the ancient trading port of Al-Quseir, are far more agreeable. With an Ottoman Fortress, and the
best diving areas, this is the place to be.
Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Morocco’s capital of the south, Marrakech, is a city you don’t so much visit, as experience. A heady concoction of
bustling souks, jostling street traders, smoky pavement café’s, wonderfully mysterious smells, and distant Arabic music,
all surrounded by a ten mile long fortified city wall. This is North Africa exactly as you would imagine it to be.
In the evenings it becomes a giant carnival, as all manner of exotic street entertainers appear, lines of aromatic foods are
on offer, and musicians vie for space amid the crowds of revellers.
Looking down over the city is the 200 foot high minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, one of the cities principal landmarks.
Marrakech also makes the perfect starting point for a trip into the High Atlas Mountains, just a couple of hours away by
coach. There are many standard trekking routes, from the simple to those for experienced adventurers only. Longer tours
afford the opportunity of meeting the mountain communities that have lived here for generations.
Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco
With a pleasant breeze from the Atlantic coastline, tree lined avenues, and a relaxed atmosphere, Rabat is a perfect
coastal resort in which to be based for touring the surrounding area. The Kasbah des Oudaias occupies a commanding
position overlooking the river estuary, and protects the 12th century mosque within its walls. The ornate 44 metre high
Tower of Hassan also dates from the 12th century, and should have been taller had the sultan who ordered its
construction not died before it was complete.
Across the river, Oued Bou Regred, is the neighbouring settlement of Sale, with its impressive city walls and far more
dated appeal. South along the coast you will find Casablanca, which is now a busy, crowded, and somewhat grubby
shadow of its former self, but not without appeal. The walled Medina, and the mosque of Hassan II are both worthy of
If you thought you had to go to Egypt to see pyramids, think again. Those in Sudan may not be quite as immense as the
more famous ones north of the border, but they have just as much appeal without the hassle of huge crowds and tourist
Sudan is a newly emerging destination for the more adventurous traveller, following years of unsettled times. The south
is still not totally safe, and is best avoided until the peace deals have had time to mature. But the north is perfectly
secure, and has some amazing scenery around the Nuba mountains, a wealth of ancient monuments along the Nile, and
some of the most welcoming people in Africa.
The capital, Khartoum, is built on the confluence of the White and Blue Niles, and you can actually tell the two colours if
you stand on the White Nile Bridge and look at the point where they join.
The city itself is not as stunning as Luxor, or Cairo, but does have a busy cosmopolitan feel, and an interesting old town
area. As a base to see the country, it excels, as all transport infrastructure is centred here.
A few miles to the north is the exotic Royal Cemetery at Begrawiya, which dates from the 2500 year old Meroitic
Pharaohs. Visit the inside of the pyramids, and witness the ancient hieroglyphics in the antechambers, or wander
around the remains of the old Royal City nearby.
Gulf of Hammamet, Tunisia
With one of the most developed tourist industries in Africa, this stretch of the coast between Nabeul and Sousse is
pretty much all given over to hotel complexes, golf courses, and marina’s. Although Tunisia does have a long and
illustrious history, much of what is offered for the planes full of package tour passengers is a semi-manufactured ideal of
North African life. ‘Traditional Evenings’ generally involve being bussed out to large marquees in the desert, were you’ll
have a westernised version of couscous, and suffer belly dancers and jugglers. Try any genuinely traditional Tunisian fare,
and you’ll probably be reaching for the water, as they tend to throw on the hot spices at every opportunity.
The best way to see the real Tunisia, and it is worth seeking out, is to travel independently using the reasonably good
local busses and trains. Tunis itself, with a labyrinth of busy streets inside the walled medina, is a curious and
fascinating city. The ruins of Carthage, destroyed by and then rebuilt by the Romans, after it had stood proudly for a
thousand years, are just outside the capital.
At the southern end of the Gulf of Hammamet is the old walled city of Sousse. As a port and resort, it’s one of the better
places to base yourself for trips to the south.
A little known destination as far as tourists are concerned… and that is its beauty. It’s fascinating, bizarre, and with a
wealth of adorable beaches along the coast, and rich wildlife in the north. It built an amazing fortune on the back of the
slave trade, and there is a memorial to them on the darkly named ‘Point of No Return’. Take a trip to Lake Nokoue, and
see the villagers of Ganvie who live in small huts built on stilts way out in the lake, or head to the stunning scenery of the
north to swim in the pool at the bottom of the Kota waterfall. Set aside a day for the Pendjari National Park, which has
elephants, hippo’s, big cats, and baboons.
Benin was the home of voodoo, which is still practised today. Not the stuff of novels and movies, but the real – if bizarre
– religion. The Fetish Markets are full of animal heads, bats wings, and the like… a perfect souvenir for the mother-in-law.
At just 30 miles across, and 300 miles long, its something of a mystery how so much is crammed in to the tiny West
African country of Gambia. Beautiful beaches, quality hotels, and picturesque fishing villages line the coast. The capital,
Banjul, has a bustling port, and typical African market. Inland there are national parks, wetland areas, and the Gambia
River, with its colourful and noisy flora and fauna. Take a trip in a canoe through the mangrove swamps, where a fashion
parade of the worlds most colourful birds will parade before you, and crocodiles will watch lazily from their siesta on the
If you’re looking for an ‘Africa in one hit’ kind of trip, this could be the answer.
With miles of palm lined white sand beaches, glorious national parks, and the ruined fortifications of the slave trade era
adding a touch of reality, Ghana is a surprising, safe, and easy country to visit. It’s a solidly religious mixture of the old
and the modern, where you’ll find people chatting on mobile phones whilst making offering to the gods.
The southern half of the country is divided by the world’s largest artificial lake, more than 200 miles in length, created by
damming the Volta River in the 1960’s. To the north is the Mole National Park, Ghana’s largest. Organised,
accompanied tours are the only way you are permitted to enter, but there is a wealth of wildlife including elephant,
wart-hogs, and inquisitive groups of baboons.
Ghana is a country that loves its music, especially around the times of the Odwira Festival. The cheerful, ever smiling
population will burst into song, clap their hands, and begin dancing around at the slightest of opportunities.
The coastal areas are popular for the beautiful beaches washed by the warm waters of Gulf of Guinea. Those closer to
Accra can get busy, but you don’t have to travel far to find delightfully empty regions, where you’ll share a paradise
shoreline with just a few friendly fishermen mending their nets, and the obligatory loud reggae music. At Cape Coast you
can see the restored castles and colonial buildings from the days when the slave trade made Ghana a rich country. It’s a
good place from which to travel a few miles inland to the Kakum National Park, where you’ll need your head for heights.
It’s a wildlife park for the tree tops, and the breathtaking Canopy Walkway links a succession of high viewing platforms
with some exhilarating rope bridge crossings.
A land of rivers, deserts, and slowly decaying cities, built at a time when Mali was the centre of one of the world’s richest
empires. The trade in gold and salt mined in the Sahara bought untold riches to the land for a thousand years, until it
was invaded by Morocco in the 16th century.
Most of the main centres are along the Niger River, which traverses the country. From Bamako, with its bustling markets
and unending street music, to the gateway to the Sahara at Timbuktu, this is a land like no other in Africa. Along the
river route are gems such as Djenne, with its amazing mosque – officially the largest mud built building in the world. In
the south, along the hundred miles of the Bandiagara escarpment, is Dogon country. Now sadly becoming quite touristy,
it’s a land with timeless appeal, friendly people, and villages little changed in centuries.
Not exactly overrun with tourists, but certainly somewhere that may be in the near future. Nigeria has put the troubled
times behind it, and is an exciting, lively land, which spreads from near desert in the north, to lush green tropics in the
The capital, Lagos is a busy but relaxed cosmopolitan city, with a host of top restaurants, nightclubs, and a genuine
The country is blessed with some glorious national parks, especially at Yankari, and Calabar, with its primate
Travel to the extreme south western city of Oshogbo, to marvel at the Osun Sacred Forest World Heritage Site. A
wander through the exquisite ancient shrines and monuments, sculpted to honour the Yoruba goddess Osun, is one of
Best known as the finishing point of one of the world’s great car rallies, Senegal’s capital, Dakar, is a perfect blend of
new and old. Noisy streets, hooting car horns, and the sound of market traders advertising their wares, give way to night
clubs, hotels, and miles of pure white sandy beaches as you extract yourself from the captivating city centre.
Evidence of the French colonial past is everywhere, but Senegal is a nation looking towards a bright future, and the
modern art galleries, vibrant music scene, and all inclusive hotel deals, are attracting a new generation of travellers.
For those wanting the old Senegal, though, it’s still easy to find. The colourful markets, colonial architecture, and old
town around the medina, are still intriguing and charming.
Another of Africa’s newcomers to the tourist’s map, Gabon has plenty to offer the adventurous traveller. True the
nfrastructure is very much ‘work in progress’, and it can be very expensive, but the reward for perseverance is one of the
most exhilarating, unspoilt landscapes on the continent.
The white sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast are replaced with tropical rainforest as you head inland. Continue along
the raging river valleys of the Ogooue and it’s tributaries, and you will be aghast at the deep canyons, mountains, and
more varieties of plant and wildlife than you ever thought possible.
The capital, Libreville, is a fairly typical West African city, with little of particular note. The real beauty of this country is
in its coastline, and the impressive areas of protected land.
The Loango National Park, on the coast, has the somewhat surreal sight of elephants and hippos wandering the beach
amid turtle breeding grounds, whales and dolphins in the ocean, and baboons in the bush. At the Reserve De La Lope,
the scenery is one of rolling hills, bush, and thick rain forest, where elephants, primates, and herds of buffalo are
common. Further inland the Ivindo National Park is an even more dense, and far less disturbed rainforest, which is home
to large numbers of animals and birds in the most natural of habitats.
Mombassa and the Kenya coast
Kenya is one of the longest established tourist destinations in sub-Saharan Africa. With beautiful beaches washed by
warm waters from the Indian Ocean, colourful coral reef’s swamped by equally colourful fish, and hundreds of square
miles of savannah teaming with wildlife, Kenya is the Africa of school books and movie sets.
The historic port of Mombassa has been an important trading city since the 12th century. Today it’s the main centre of
coastal Kenya, with its airport bringing in tourists from around the globe. Like much of this coastline, it has been
constantly attacked, invaded, and defended, giving a strange mixture of architectural influences ranging from Arab, to
Portuguese, to colonial British. Its not a city that demands a lot of your time, although the 16th century Portuguese Fort
Jesus is impressive, and the old town area, with its markets and weaving network of tiny streets, has a lot of charm.
Most people base themselves in one of the many beach resorts – Lamu, Malindi, Watamu, and Diam, are all interesting
– and take trips to the main attractions from there. The historic side of Kenya’s tourism is not well promoted. Coastal
forts, such as the one near Malindi, can lay semi-overgrown and almost unvisited because few people realise they are
there. The emphasis is on the wildlife, and particularly trips to the game reserves and national parks. That is fully justified
when you can watch unforgettable sights such as the wildebeest migration, or a pride of lions protecting their new born
cubs from predators. Organised trips from all the coastal resorts are long, expensive, but totally unmissable.
Don’t forget to sample the wildlife closer to your hotel too, though. That which lies a few metres below the sea. Diving
and snorkelling is widely available, immensely rewarding, and relatively inexpensive.
The tiny country of Rwanda, nestled right in the centre of this great continent, is best known for two reasons. The tragic
troubled past, and the glory of the mountain gorillas.
The country is now safe and stable, and visitors are made very welcome. The past is not hidden away, however, and the
Memorial Centre in the capital, Kigali, has a blatant and horrific reminder of the genocide of 1994.
Rwanda today is wholly different. With pleasant beaches on the shores of the crystal clear lake Kivu, huge colonies of
monkeys and chimpanzees in the tropical Nyungwe Forest National Park, and of course the northern mountains with its
famous gorillas, its becoming increasingly popular. The Parc National Des Volcans is nestled close to the border with
Uganda, and is, as the name suggests, a collection of volcanic mountains. If you’re planning to go gorilla tracking you
must book in advance, and get a permit. Numbers are tightly controlled and it’s far from cheap. But the experience will
live with you forever.
The spice islands of Zanzibar, or more accurately the two islands of Pemba and Unguja, have developed an almost
legendary aura which attracts travellers often for no other reason than the name. Most head for Unguja, where the old
capital of Stone Town has an inviting maze of tiny streets in the old town area. It can be dangerous to walk alone here at
night, so be aware, but in daytime the street markets and unique architecture make a casual meander in the sunshine a
time of relaxed enjoyment.
Outside the main town, the coastal villages are lined with pure white sand, palm trees, and clear pearl blue waters.
Diving and snorkelling trips to the coral reefs are popular, and you can watch as traditional dhows are built in the centre
Of course, you can’t visit Zanzibar and not take an excursion to the spice fields. Coaches leave regularly from Stone
Town, and usually offer a lunch as well for a reasonable cost.
Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The northern extremities of Tanzania are dominated by the vast Lake Victoria in the east, and the snow capped Mount
Kilimanjaro towering over the border with Kenya to the west. In the centre are the endless plains of the Serengeti National
Park. No wonder this is such a magnet for tourist, photographers, wildlife experts, and climbers.
The Serengeti offers probably the best wildlife experience on the planet. It is invaded far less by photo hungry tourists
than its Kenyan rivals, and its sheer size and variety of animals mean there is always plenty to see. If you’re going
between December and April, head to the southeast area of the park to witness the best of the migration, for May to July
the area near the Grumetti river in the west is the site of the wildebeest river crossings, and for the rest of the year base
yourself in the northern end of the park.
Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa, and it is possible to trek all the way to the summit with little experience and
no expensive climbing gear. However this should only be attempted if the weather conditions are right, and you are fully
prepared and equipped. The Kilimanjaro National Park Headquarters, in Marangu, will give you maps, information, and
assistance, and can even hire equipment to you. You cannot climb unescorted, but guided groups are frequent and
friendly. Allow about 6 days for the most popular treks.
Hot, dusty, frantic in places, and with scenery to die for, Uganda is a kind of edited highlights of Africa all in one
country. Great beaches along the lakes, river trips on the Nile, vast desert plains with sporadic mountain outcrops, and
lush green rainforest, tall mountains, and amazing wildlife.
The capital, Kampala, sits in a nest of mountains, on the northern edge of Lake Victoria. It’s busy and litter strewn, with
few tarmac roads, and fewer places of interest. Small airlines, used mostly to ferry around the charity and mission
workers, will offer you cheap seats to some of the more remote and interesting places, especially those towards the
Rwandan and Congolese borders. Its here you’ll find the Bwindi National Park, with the mountain gorillas in the
‘Impenetrable Forest’, the impressive Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile, and the eerie ‘Mountains of the Moon’ at
Tourism in Uganda is in its infancy, and the northern areas are still best avoided, but it’s a beautiful, friendly country,
and shouldn’t be discounted in your travel plans.
Botswana is something of an anomaly amongst African nations, in that fortune has actually smiled on it. Soon after its
independence in the 1960’s, extensive diamond deposits were discovered. The resulting income has transformed the
country into a stable and efficient economy, which has led to a modern efficient infrastructure around the main areas of
population. However, away from the cities, it is largely open savannah, and the sand of the Kalahari Desert.
Roads in this area are not well maintained, and are relatively few and far between. To travel here is difficult and
expensive, but the pay off is the unique scenery, abundant wildlife, and friendly people. The Chobe National Park, near
the Zambian border, is the best known. Here you can find not only the ‘big five’, but also take a trip along the many
rivers and witness zebra, wildebeest, and antelope, amid colourful bird life, and beautiful scenery. Book the organised
trips in advance, as they can get busy though.
Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
Mozambique is one of a number of African nations who have thankfully put the bad times behind them, and are now
making serious strides to developing a tourism industry. And they have the perfect location to do it. Hundreds of miles
of inviting beaches, some of the best diving and snorkelling in Africa, game reserves, national parks, and the mighty
The Bazaruto National Park includes the stunning archipelago, with serene white beaches, gently swaying palms, and
clear turquoise waters secreting a world of coral and multicoloured marine life below. It’s a divers paradise, and with
more budget hotels beginning to locate here, no longer the preserve of the rich.
A beautiful land of striking scenery and plentiful wildlife, Namibia is a developing nation as far as tourism is concerned,
but with huge natural resources to back it up. The coastline along the South Atlantic includes the infamous Skeleton
Coast, where the desert meets the sea in a rocky coastline interlaced with enticing sandy coves. Often shrouded in
mist, sailors for centuries have come to grief here, giving it a reputation as a ship destroyer. It’s a legend borne in truth,
as the rusting shipwrecks along this coast would seem to prove.
Inland there are vast national parks, with roaming wildlife including zebra’s, springbok’s, eland’s, sables, and white
rhino’s, amongst others.
For something different, if a little strenuous in the searing heat, try a trek through one of the world’s largest canyons,
along the mighty Fish River. Its stretches for around 100 miles, and at the highest point the sides are over 500m high.
Cape Town, South Africa
South Africa is the most visited of all the sub-Saharan countries, and with good reason. With a modern, westernised
culture, sophisticated infrastructure, and good transport links, it appeals to visitors nervous about the less well
developed African countries.
Cape Town’s stunning setting, combined with its reputation as one of the world’s great places to visit, has drawn
millions to marvel at the iconic Table Mountain, visit the prison and Nelson Mandela Gateway on Robben Island, take a
cruise out into the South Atlantic, or just sit back on the waterfront and sip some local wine.
The flat summit of the mountain is easily reached by cable car, and the views from the top are unforgettable if it’s clear.
Unfortunately it does often have the ‘tablecloth’ on, the local name for the cloud that can hug the summit. Go early in
the day, or on a clear cloudless evening, for the best views.
The city has a good cosmopolitan feel, with a choice of inviting restaurants serving locally caught seafood. Bars and
nightclubs bring the city alive at night, and the open, airy feel helps preserve the relaxed feel.
Cape Town is also a great place to start a South African tour, taking in such highlights as the Kruger National Park and
the Drakensburg Mountains.
Zambia and the Victoria Falls
A deceptively large landlocked country in Central Africa, Zambia is friendly, warm, and generous. The people seem
unendingly cheerful, bursting into song at any opportunity, and with much handclapping and whooping which is both
captivating and annoying when you don’t know the reason.
The main places of interest are well spread, and travelling around Zambia is both time consuming and unreliable.
The best area is in the south, along the Zambezi River that forms the border with Zimbabwe. The Lower Zambezi
National Park boasts elephant, hippo’s and an abundance of other animals and birdlife. The scenery is stunning as it
slopes down to the river, so take a river trip to get the best panoramic views while you watch the animals drinking.
The Victoria Falls, named in honour of Queen Victoria, have been amazing tourists since David Livingstone first told the
world about them in the 1850’s. “On sights as beautiful as this, angels in their flights must have gazed”, he wrote.
There is no doubting that they are an awesome sight, whichever direction you view them from. It’s possible to walk
across the top through the river itself at certain times, or take a boat trip past the wallowing hippo’s to get drenched
with spray at the base. They are truly one of the most stunning sights in the whole of Africa.