As the globe’s second largest continent, Africa holds untold secrets, wonders, and treasures that are as old as time itself. There’s something truly evocative and magical about unravelling the stories behind things like the pyramids, majestic waterfalls, imposing mountains, dry deserts and animals in the wild. With its 54 countries surrounded by oceans and seas, Africa is one place in the world that will leave your soul touched and uplifted.
While creating a finite list of places to visit in Africa seems futile as it easily spans pages upon pages in something like a Rough Guides book, my hope is that this post will be the inspiration and launching pad for your very own journey. Some of these 13 stunning spots are obvious while others are off the beaten path but regardless, these are places that you will have to cross off your bucket list.
1. Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe
The sheer size and power of Victoria Falls is what makes these waterfalls a “must-see”. You may have seen the power of Niagara Falls but these falls at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe easily double the flow.
The locals call it “Mosi-oa-Tunya”, which literally translates to the “smoke that thunders”. The calm Zambezi River plunges into chasm 100 feet down and plumes into a wall of mist and roars with authority like you’ve never seen before.
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2. Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania
I’ve been to Indonesia’s Mount Bromo and climbed up to the caldera but even that is peanuts compared to the enormity of the world’s largest volcanic crater. Created when a volcano at the same location exploded 3 million years ago, it caused the land to collapse 600 meters.
Now, the 260 square kilometers of plains is a conservation and sanctuary for over 25,000 wild safari animals which makes it an incredible place to see Africa’s big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros), and more.
3. Okavango Delta in Botswana
As one of the world’s largest inland deltas, the water is fed from the high waters of Uganda which flows into the plains of the Kalahari Desert before emptying into open land and floods the savannah as it tries in vain to reach the Indian Ocean.
Many call the Okavango Delta Africa’s last Eden. The delta is the natural life force of all the wildlife in the region, thus creating a massive oasis to explore. Fly into the town of Maun and from there go from camp to camp to different regions of the delta to enjoy mostly water-based safaris.
4. Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Rising 5,895 meters high, Mount Kili is Africa’s highest peak. Easily on top of most people’s bucket list (including mine), every year many make the pilgrimage to climb the barren landscape of the mountain to reach the twin summit. It’s no easy task but for those that do make it to the top to watch the sun climb above the clouds, there’s an immense sense of accomplishment and serenity.
What makes the area even more attractive is the fact that the area around the base of the mountain is home to some of Africa’s best wildlife parks and reserves. This makes it incredibly easy to combine both experiences together.
5. Sahara Dunes in Morocco
The Sahara is mostly impassible due to its unfriendly climate and frequent sand storms. Lucky for you, there is an access point to the desert from the northern edge of Morocco in the town of Zagora that is more friendly than others.
From here, take a camel safari into the dunes, camp out for the night, and let the local Saharawi men entertain you with drums and singing around the campfire while gazing at the stars.
7. Wildebeest Migration in Kenya and Tanzania
Welcome to the greatest wildlife show on earth. This mass migration might just be the most incredible sight you’ll ever see. Every year, several million wildebeest, and hundred thousands of zebra start from the south of Serengeti in Tanzania and follow the rain towards Kenya’s Maasai Mara. In that process these animals have to survive attacks from crocodiles in the water and predatory beasts in the fields.
The migration itself actually occurs all year round as the herds are constantly moving according to the ever-shifting climate. That being said, the famous crossing where wildebeest have to cross crocodile-filled rivers occurs from July to August.
8. Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Virunga Mountains is a chain of volcanic mountains that share its border with Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
A visit here will give you a chance to have a close encounter with the highly endangered Mountain Gorilla. The dense rainforest at the slopes of the Virunga Mountains is the last home to this species.
Another stunning sight in this park is the Nyiragongo Volcano lava lake that spans two whole kilometers wide.
9. Lake Malawi in Malawi
Lake Malawi is one of the largest lakes in the world and was recently recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Centre. Its incredible bio-diversity is comparable to the Galapagos and contains 13,000 species of tropical fish – more than any in the world.
If you are a diver, look no further than this tropical paradise.
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10. Cape Town in South Africa
With Table Mountain, Cape Town is South Africa’s most urban and civilized city. To those that call it home, they call it “Mother City”.
Start your morning with a bit of mountain hiking, hit some surf by early afternoon, feel the pulse of the street markets and then find yourself sipping a glass of wine and having a world-class meal as the sun sets.
11. Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya
Looking for that iconic shot of swaths of flamingos filling your frame? Lake Nakuru National Park is the home to a congregation of one million flamingos making it easily one of the best places to watch these pink birds.
Aside from flamingos, the park is also home to rhinos, buffalos, jackals, lions, and many more species of birds.
12. Sossusvlei Namib Desert National Park in Namibia
Sure you can hike mountains but have you hiked a massive sand dune? The exhilarating climb to the top of Sossusvlei provides extraordinary views of the plains below and the Deadvlei, a ghostly expanse of white clay littered with camelthorn trees.
Sossusvlei is a clay pan in the Namib Desert formed by millions of years of movement material moving between the Orange River to the Atlantic and back.
13. The Great Pyramids at Giza in Egypt
This really needs no introduction. As one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, these pyramids in combination with the Sphinx are perhaps the most iconic landmark in Egypt. Built between 2700-2500 BC, these 4500 years old tombs are a marvel to see in person. The largest of the three was built by Pharoah Khufu (also known as Pharaoh Cheops) and was constructed with 2.3 million limestones each weighing 2.5 tons.
During this age, pharaohs bodies were mummified and entombed safely in a pyramid with his most coveted treasures, comfort items, slaves, and animals to accompany them to the after-life.
While Egypt has gone through some political turmoil in recent years, the region is safe as long as you travel smartly. Look for the most affordable and robust travel insurance coverage for whatever you might encounter in your adventures.
When planning a trip to Africa, one of the most important pieces you’ll need besides hotel and flight is travel insurance. You never know what will happen when you’re on the road and you want to make sure you are covered. Thing is, travel insurance doesn’t have to be expensive. My current multi-trip coverage only cost $97 CAD with 10 million coverage. I was so surprised what I was able to find on Kanetix.ca.
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Featured image via Flickr luciecamp