With Africa in the limelight thanks to the 2010 World Cup, there is no better time to visit this magnificent continent and check out some of its hotspots.
In the spirit of “ubuntu” – the African tradition of sharing knowledge and wisdom – Michael Theys from AfricaFreak.com reveals his top five African attractions!
1. Marrakech, Morocco
This incredible North African city is full of history, with rich Arabic and French influences thrown into the mixing pot with uniquely Moroccan flavours making it a huge draw card and a great place to start an African adventure.
A sightseeing tour of the ancient citadel is a perfect entrée to discovering what makes Marrakech so special and no visit is complete without taking in the sights and sounds of Djemma al Fna Square, which comes alive as the sun goes down with snake charmers, henna artists and hagglers selling a dazzling array of goods adding to the atmosphere and the heady aroma of traditional Moroccan fare from the many restaurants which line the square filling your senses.
A shopping trip to one of the many souks in the old “Medina” is also an absolute must, as is an outing to the nearby Atlas Mountains and the beautiful Jardins Majorelle. Whether it’s for a few days or a week or two, Marrakech is truly magical. Find flights to Marrakech
2. On Safari
No longer the pastime of the rich and famous, the modern African safari (which means ‘journey’ in Swahili, the language of East Africa) can be tailored to suit all budgets and tastes.
Whether it’s super five-star exclusivity you want or a backpacking adventure through the last remaining pockets of wilderness, a safari is the best way to reach out and touch Africa.
The most basic safaris are geared towards those who don’t mind bumpy roads, camping and dusty terrain.
Known as overland safaris, they take groups of people into the African hinterland on large truck-like vehicles on a journey of discovery, making camp along the way with largely two-man dome tents, basic camping gear and marvellously wholesome al-fresco meals.
Other overland operators offer backpacking accommodation in hostels or small, rustic campsites, providing all the camping gear, meals and refreshments along the way.
Further up the scale, tented bush camps and safari lodges offer all-inclusive rates and throw in two or three game activities each day, making sure that guests really experience Africa in an up-close and personal way.
At the top end of the scale, luxury lodges offer the traditional, colonial safari experience, a la ‘Out of Africa’ and Hemingway-style, complete with four-poster beds, luxury linens and haute cuisine in the middle of the Bush.
Destinations are all-important when it comes to safaris, because at the end of the day it’s all about game-viewing and the magnificent African animals.
The endless plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya are jointly home to the largest animal migration in the world as vast herds of wildebeest and zebra move through them in search of fresh grazing every year.
Likewise, the famed Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has its own, unique eco-system. Amboseli, in Kenya, is famed for its elephants and is positioned beneath the iconic snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro.
Further south on the continent, the majestic South Luangwa, incredible Lower Zambezi and awe-inspiring Kafue National Parks in Zambia offer superb safari experiences. Add to these Etosha in the desert nation of Namibia, Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and South Africa’s Kruger National Park and you have a fantastic menu of top African safari destinations to suit everyone.
3. Climb Kilimanjaro
Not for the faint-hearted, the challenge of climbing Africa’s highest peak is nonetheless one of the continent’s top attractions for the active.
This incredible mountain is located in Tanzania and is a dormant volcano that is 5895m above sea level, making it the largest freestanding mountain in the world. Naturally, this attracts adventurers from around the planet eager to make it to the top.
A variety of specialist tour operators offer packages to climb “Kili” which include guides, accommodation, meals and basic equipment. Climbing tours kick off in the town of Kilimanjaro, which is at the foot of the mountain, home to its own international airport and a short hop from the capital of Dar es Salaam and the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Ascents take around three to four days, and descents another couple of days. You make camp at dedicated sites along the routes to the summit which vary in degrees of difficulty.
If you can overcome the altitude, weather and exhaustion, the reward at the top is well worth it. The scenery on the way up is breathtaking. But the top is beyond words when you view your surroundings from the roof of Africa.
4. Ballooning in the Serengeti and Maasai Mara
Not quite as adventurous as climbing Africa’s highest peak, but nonetheless an amazing African experience is hot air ballooning in both the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. The oldest form of flight, ballooning trips begin pre-dawn as you are taken to the launch sites, and watch the massive balloons fill with hot air before you climb into the marvellous basket and gently rise over the majestic plains, silently and gracefully.
The scenery is breathtaking as the plains open up below you, fringed by hills and outcrops of rock. And because you move with the wind, the journey is still and incredibly peaceful, affording you the chance to view the huge herds of animals like wildebeest and zebra, as well as giraffe and elephant and a range of gazelles and antelopes. You can even spot lion hunting or, if you are lucky, cheetah.
Your pilot is in constant touch with the ground vehicle, which follows the path of the balloon and is invariably there waiting for you when you land a couple of hours after take-off. A champagne breakfast tops off this incredible experience.
5. Zanzibar Island
The icing on any African trip is a visit to the best kept secret in the Indian Ocean: Zanzibar Island. This historic and strategically important island off the coast of Tanzania is steeped in culture, being a former Arabic trading and slave post, and has some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in Africa.
The marvellously old and atmospheric Stone Town was once the capital of East Africa’s slave trade and an important trade base for the spice industry. It is also the birthplace of legendary rock star Freddy Mercury, late frontman of Queen. Moorish influences blend perfectly with African culture and traditions on Zanzibar, which to this day is a centre for the spice trade.
A variety of hotels, lodges and resorts line Zanzibar’s beaches, offering accommodation for all budgets and activities which include diving, snorkelling, wind-surfing, water-skiing and parasailing. Dhow trips can also be arranged out to some of the outlying islands, where picnics are offered on sand-spits and deserted beaches.
Whatever your holiday choice, Africa is alive with possibilities, so don’t miss out!
Michaël Theys, AfricaFreak, the African Safari Guide. For more information on any of these African adventures, and more, visit: AfricaFreak.com