Highlights of Africa
Victoria Falls, Zambia & Zimbabwe
The mighty Victoria Falls is worth crossing the continent for, whether it’s to laze in the aptly named Devil’s Pool (take the precarious walk, literally out across the top of the falls to this natural infinity pool, to see what we mean) or to get active with all manner of adventures from white-water rafting to bungee jumping within sight and sound of the falls, known locally as ‘the smoke that thunders’. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place, not to mention one of the most awe-inspiring sights on the continent.
Follow a white-robed pilgrim down a dark passageway, hear the hypnotic thud of a muffled drumbeat, smell the sweet aroma of incense and emerge into a sliver of daylight just in time to see a priest in royal robes, holding a cross of silver, enter a church carved into and out of the rust-red rock. Lalibela is a place of pilgrimage where the buildings are frozen in stone and the soul is alive with the rites and awe of Christianity at its most ancient and unbending.
Wildlife on the Masai Mara, Kenya
The sweeping savannah of the Masai Mara, studded with acacia trees and cut through by the occasional red-dirt road, is the perfect theatre for the world’s most spectacular display of wildlife. Gangly giraffes, ambling elephant herds and skittish zebras are just some of sights you’re pretty much guaranteed to see. The drama is at its most intense in July and/or August, the start of the tragicomic wildebeest migration, when vast numbers of the hapless animals fall prey to rushing rivers, pacing lions and scavenging hyenas.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango in Botswana is an astonishing, beautiful and wild place. Home to wildlife spectacles of rare power and drama, the delta changes with the seasons as floodwaters ebb and flow, creating islands, river channels and pathways for animals that move this way and that at the waters’ behest. No visit to the delta is complete without drifting in a traditional mokoro (dugout canoe). Exclusive and remote lodges are an Okavango speciality, and self-drivers can find outstanding campsites in the heart of the Okavango’s Moremi Game Reserve.
Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania
Whether it’s your first visit or your 50th, Zanzibar’s Stone Town never loses its touch of the exotic. First you’ll see the skyline, with the spires of St Joseph’s Cathedral and the Old Fort. Then wander through narrow alleyways that reveal surprises at every turn. Linger at dusty shops scented with cloves; watch as kanzu -clad men play the board game bao; admire intricate henna designs on the hands of women. Island rhythms quickly take over as mainland life slips away.
Medinas of Fez & Marrakesh, Morocco
Ancient meets modern in the medinas (old, walled city-centres) of Morocco, and those of Fez and Marrakesh sit at the top of any traveller’s list. Narrow alleys hide centuries-old riads restored into fabulous guesthouses, while the delivery man outside unloads his donkeys while chatting on his mobile phone. Fez is the oldest of the two, with celebrated mosques and the longest and most-winding streets, while in Marrakesh all paths seem to converge on the Djemaa el-Fna square, which springs to life daily with 1001 nights’ worth of attractions.
Kalahari Landscape & People, Botswana
There is something about the Kalahari. Perhaps it owes its unmistakable gravitas to its sheer vastness; Africa’s largest protected wilderness area is a place where the San inhabitants once roamed free and still guide travellers out onto their ancestral lands. The presence of black-maned Kalahari lions doesn’t hurt either. Whatever the reason, this is not your average desert; it’s home to ancient river valleys, light woodland and surprising concentrations of wildlife around its extensive network of salt pans. And then there is the silence of the Kalahari night…
Etosha National Park, Namibia
There are few places in Southern Africa that can compete with the wildlife prospects in extraordinary Etosha National Park. A network of water holes dispersed among the bush and grasslands surrounding the pan – a blindingly white, flat, saline desert that stretches into the horizon – attracts enormous congregations of animals. A single water hole can render thousands of sightings over the course of a day – Etosha is simply one of the best places on the planet for watching wildlife.
Walking Safari in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Strolling through the bush single file with a rifle-carrying scout in the lead, there’s no Land Rover engine sounds, no obstructed sight lines and no barrier between you and the wildlife, both predator and prey. Animals scurry in the underbrush upon your approach, which means the focus is on the little things, including a CSI -like investigation of animal dung. Even simply sitting under a tree looking over a plain filled with munching grazers is an opportunity for a quasi-meditative immersion in the park.
The towering red dunes of Sossusvlei rank among the most beautiful desert landscapes on earth. They’re also one of the more improbable: the sands originated in the Kalahari millions of years ago and are now reclaiming land from the sea. The valley is dotted by hulking dunes, and interspersed with unearthly, dry vleis (low, open landscapes). Clambering up the face of these constantly moving giants is a uniquely Namibian experience, and as you survey the seemingly endless sand sea that surrounds you, you’ll feel as though time itself has slowed.
Cape Town, South Africa
Sitting in the continent’s southwest corner, Cape Town is one of those places that travellers don’t want to leave. The city is heavily peppered with fine restaurants, theatres, museums and galleries; the suburbs boast encounters with penguins, seals and baboons. The coast caters to beachgoers, surfers and photographers with its white-sand beaches and craggy ocean-sprayed cliffs. And sitting amid it all is the ever-visible form of Table Mountain, a hub for adventure activities including hiking, climbing, mountain biking and abseiling.