Top 20 Best Things To Do in Africa
Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.
When it comes to deciding what to do in Africa, there really is no limit to the possibilities. Wildlife is at the heart of so many experiences on the continent, from the great migration and the Big Five to tracking gorillas and swimming with great white sharks. But Africa’s incredible natural beauty is also more than just a backdrop to its amazing animals: climb its highest mountain, drift over the Masai Mara in a balloon or climb a Sossusvlei sand dune.
Whatever you do, it’s time to start making your own African bucket list and begin ticking off some of these activities. Get started with the following list of our top 20 things to do in Africa.
See the Great Migration
Wildebeest and zebra crossing the Mara River during the great migration
When it comes to wildlife viewing, there’s nothing to match the great migration. Every year, more than 2 million wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle pass through Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania and the Masai Mara in western Kenya. With so much food on the hoof, predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena are never far away. This is nature at its most dramatic, especially when the herds cross the Mara River where crocodiles lie in wait. There are times when the herds are so vast that the earth itself seems alive.
Balloon Safari Over the Masai Mara
Hot-air ballooning over the Masai Mara
Rise above one of the most beautiful savannah landscapes in Africa in a hot-air balloon. As the sun appears over the eastern horizon, the warm, golden light of morning illuminates so many picturesque scenes all across the acacia-studded grasslands. From high above the Mara, in stunning silence, even elephants and giraffes look tiny as you trace the paths of rivers and wildlife herds down below. It’s an experience unlike any other.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
There is no more soulful encounter in the natural world than getting close to a family of eastern mountain gorillas. Climbing through the dense forest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the company of an expert guide, you’ll hear these charismatic creatures before you see them. Habituated to your presence, the gorillas may include playful youngsters, gentle mothers and aunts and, of course, formidable silverback males. It really is the safari experience of a lifetime.
Climb Mt Kilimanjaro
Hiker at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro
Climbing Africa’s highest mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro (5,895m/19,340ft), is a major undertaking, but it could be one of the best weeks of your life. Enjoy the camaraderie of hiking with other climbers, leave behind the tree line, and head for the snows on the summit. Once you reach the peak, you’ll feel like you’re looking down all the way into the heart of Africa, and in many ways, you are.
Spot the Big Five in Serengeti National Park
Lion resting in Serengeti National Park
One of the truly great wildlife locations on earth, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is quite simply one of the best places to visit in Africa. This is an epic landscape where you can see the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) as part of your safari. You’ll see lots of other animals as well, and this might include zebra, giraffe and cheetah. But the Big Five still has an irresistible allure, and only the rhino is a difficult prize.
Bungee Jump at Mighty Victoria Falls
Bungee jumping off Victoria Falls Bridge. Source: flickr.com/photos/simonjackson/93780170
As you plunge toward the canyon floor more than 100m/328ft below where you leapt off the bridge, you may wonder what on earth you’re doing. Then the elastic tenses, holds and sends you floating upward once again with Africa’s most impressive waterfall not far away. There is no more exhilarating experience on the continent. And no better place to do it.
Hike up Table Mountain
Hiker's view of Cape Town from Table Mountain
There are taller mountains in Africa than Table Mountain, but none are more beautiful. The higher you climb, the better the views. From the summit, 1,086m/3,563ft above sea level, the views take in Cape Town, the South African coast and an ocean that extends all the way to Antarctica. It’s one of the best vantage points anywhere on the continent.
Snorkel With Whale Sharks at Mafia Island
Whale sharks are the largest living fish species on the planet, and snorkeling among them off Tanzania’s Mafia Island is definitely an African bucket list experience. You’ll be nothing more than a curiosity to these giants, so you’ve nothing to fear. But you have to remember to breathe: so extraordinary are these creatures that you might find yourself holding your breath in amazement.
Shark-cage Diving in South Africa
Shark-cage diving in Gansbaai. Source: flickr.com/photos/georginadavey/15232515087
There is no more fearsome predator in the world’s oceans than the great white shark. And you’ll understand this in the best way possible when you descend beneath the ocean’s surface with one or more of them. You’re safe in the cage, but even so: staring into the jagged maw of a great white is guaranteed to be a humbling, spine-tingling moment, and one of the rawest, most highly charged wildlife encounters you can have anywhere.
See Lemurs in Madagascar
The wildlife of Madagascar is utterly unlike anything you can see elsewhere, and lemurs are the undoubted highlights. From secretive indris and mouse lemurs to the gregarious ring-tailed lemur, the island nation’s forests offer one astonishing wildlife encounter after another. Some, like the ring-tail, are found across Madagascar. Others are endemic to just a small patch of forest. But they’re so enchanting that every lemur sighting feels like a real discovery.
Climb the Dunes at Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei sand dunes
The sand dunes of Sossusvlei, in Namibia, are like the desert sand dunes you dreamt of as a child. Part of the Namib, the world’s oldest desert, the dunes here combine perfectly sculpted ridgelines and gorgeous interplays of light and shadow with a sheer scale that can be difficult to believe. It is a world in motion, changing with the winds, and a breathtaking place where every dune is different. Or, put another way, it is one of the most beautiful places in Africa.
Watching Southern Right Whales in Hermanus
Southern right whale breaching near Hermanus
You never forget the first time you see a whale. Awe-inspiring in size and yet incredibly graceful, the southern right whale can be seen, very often up close, off Hermanus in South Africa from June to December. Like any wildlife encounter, nothing is guaranteed. But the sense of anticipation and possibility as you scan the seas for signs of life, followed by a southern right launching into the air not far away, is one of the most powerful animal encounters you can have on land or at sea.
Visit the Avenue of the Baobabs
Avenue of the Baobabs in Morondava
Close to the southwestern Madagascan city of Morondava, the Allée des Baobabs always inspires open-mouthed wonder. Whether turned golden or silhouetted by the setting sun, these towering and unlikely giants of the plant kingdom are Africa’s most beautiful gathering of this signature tree. Step back to take it all in, or get up close and admire each tree’s ample girth. From wherever you’re standing you’ll find yourself shaking your head at the beauty of it all.
Beach Time at Anse Source d’Argent
Boulders and palm trees on Anse Source d'Argent beach. Source: flickr.com/photos/160866001@N07/40437036663
Seychelles has numerous contenders for the title of the world’s most beautiful beach, but there’s none better than Anse Source d’Argent. Draped prettily around the western shore of the Seychellois island of La Digue, this beauty has giant granite boulders at either end, palm trees leaning out over a perfect arc of white powder-like sand, and waters that are both warm and buoyant. Paradise found.
Climb Le Morne on Mauritius
It can be difficult to take your eyes off Le Morne, which looms over the southwestern corner of Mauritius. Shapely and rising almost perpendicularly from the Indian Ocean shore, this Unesco World Heritage–listed mountain combines stunning looks with a soulful historical story. Climb to the summit, and the views that take in the whole island will (even more than the climb) leave you breathless.
Aerial view over Stone Town
Zanzibar lives up to its exotic name. This storied island off the coast of Tanzania has it all: gorgeous beaches, a fascinating history and exquisite Swahili architecture to name just three. With its laid-back tropical pace of life, wonderful food and the merest hint of spices carried along on the trade winds that still blow in off the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar has never lost its dreamy appeal.
Explore the Okavango Delta
Mokoro trip in the Okavango Delta
On any list of travelers’ favorite things to do in Africa, exploring the Okavango Delta is always near the top. This watery world is never the same from one year to the next, except that you’re guaranteed to see some amazing wildlife while you’re here. Whether you’re poling through a remote channel in a mokoro (dugout canoe) or staying in an isolated, luxury tented camp, the Okavango is one special place.
Track Rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater
Black rhino with warthogs in the Ngorongoro Crater
Of all the amazing African megafauna you can see on safari, it’s the rhino that can prove the hardest to spot. But down in the Ngorongoro Crater, one of Africa’s most dramatic land formations and something of a lost world for wildlife, black rhinos are doing well and are easily found. A day spent down in the crater is one of the best possible things to do in Africa. Seeing a rhino while you’re there is quite the bonus.
Meet Jane Goodall’s Chimps at Gombe
Jane Goodall and her team of scientists and volunteers have been studying chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in western Tanzania for more than half a century. Following in their footsteps by tracking human-habituated chimpanzees through the forest is an awesome wildlife encounter. Observing them up close will leave you marveling at how similar we really are to human beings’ closest animal relatives.
Spend Time With the Maasai
Maasai herders, Tanzania
Southern Kenya and northern Tanzania are the heartland of the traditional Maasai people. Spending time with a Maasai community or family is a precious window on modern African life. Co-existing with wildlife and holding on to their traditions wherever possible, the Maasai offer community visits, homestays and guiding services in a world where they’ve lived for centuries.
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