When you think of Africa, you probably picture the ‘big 5’ leaping across the plains while you watch from astride a nearby elephant, perhaps followed by a tribal dance and a night listening to animals growl from inside your far-too-thin tent. If it’s wildlife you’re after, the sweeping plains of the Serengeti are an unmatchable draw, as are Rwanda’s playful (and exceedingly rare) mountain gorillas and the dense, unique animal life of Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater. But you’ll soon find Africa has so much more.
There are natural sites galore, such as Namibia’s Fish River Canyon, which evokes the natural drama of the Grand Canyon, or the cartoon-like sand dunes of the Namib Desert rising to 300-meter golden peaks. The watery curtain of Victoria Falls – known locally as ‘smoke that thunders’ – can be flown over by microlight, and you can even nervously swim just beyond the falls ledge on the Zambian side.
Modernized South Africa lets you dive with sharks, climb Table Mountain or experience the vibrant subcultures of the townships. The mud turrets of the Malian city of Djenne overlook a spectacular trading hub, and a nervous boat trip upriver takes you to the desert colors of vibrant Timbuktu, whilst In Mauritania the spooky shells of outdated fishing vessels draw photographers. Zanzibar’s white-sand beaches and seafaring cultural mish-mash are a massive chill-out draw, too.
North Africa has an entirely different feel. In Morocco and Tunisia you can haggle for spices in the dusty markets before sampling flavored tobacco in a shisha pipe, or explore the sands of the Sahara by camel. In Egypt the Pyramids and their evening light shows can be combined with diving in the Mediterranean and heady boat trips on the Nile.
In parts of Africa the poverty is overwhelming, with millions struggling to survive through famine, disease and war. Voluntary travel allows you to make your own small mark, and leave having learnt about yourself as well as your surroundings. Alternatively, you can try and see a continent in one shot, with half-year bus tours and lengthily overlanding popular amongst hardy Africa-loving travelers. Then again you might want to just slow down, relax, and soak up a continent that's own issues have left it drenched in can-do energy and community spirit.
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