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 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.

Wildebeest Migration Tours

Balloon Safari Over the Masai Mara

Hot-air ballooning 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.

Masai Mara Tours

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.

Bwindi Tours

Climb Mt Kilimanjaro

Hiker at the summit of 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.

Kilimanjaro Tours

Spot the Big Five in Serengeti National Park

Lion resting 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.

Serengeti Tours

Bungee Jump at Mighty Victoria Falls

Bungee jumping off Victoria Falls Bridge 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.

Victoria Falls Tours

Hike up Table Mountain

Hiker's view of Cape Town from 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.

Table Mountain Tours

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.

Mafia Island Tours

Shark-cage Diving in South Africa

Shark-cage diving in Gansbaai 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.

Madagascar Tours

Climb the Dunes at Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei sand dunes 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.

Sossusvlei Tours

Watching Southern Right Whales in Hermanus

Southern right whale breaching near 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.

Hermanus Tours

Visit the Avenue of the Baobabs

Avenue of the Baobabs in Morondava 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.

Avenue of the Baobabs Tours

Beach Time at Anse Source d’Argent

Boulders and palm trees on Anse Source d'Argent beach 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.

Seychelles Tours

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.

Mauritius Tours

Visit Zanzibar

Aerial view over Stone Town 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.

Zanzibar Tours

Explore the Okavango Delta

Mokoro trip in 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.

Okavango Tours

Track Rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater

Black rhino with warthogs 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.

Ngorongoro Tours

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.

Gombe Tours

Spend Time With the Maasai

Maasai herders, Tanzania 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.

Maasai Village Tours

By Anthony Ham
Australia AU

Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.

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