Did David Attenborough’s dulcet tones and team of crack cameramen leave you hankering for an African adventure? Well, it’s a big continent – you might need to narrow down the options. From revitalised big cities and lakeside lounging to island expeditions and elephant-filled rivers, we’ve picked out 10 African destinations to visit this year. Wildlife, architecture, music, Saharan splendour… we've got them all in our top 10 African highlights for 2013 package...
Words: David Whitley
Downtown Jo’Burg was once a dead zone, but entrepreneurs and artists are pouring in to give it an edge for all the right reasons. The Maboneng Precinct Arts on the Main is the current poster child, becoming a creative hub with exhibition spaces, a pop-up theatre, an outdoor cinema, a rooftop bar, a boutique hotel and a mega-popular Sunday food and design market. The cool new kid in town is 44 Stanley - a collective of 25 design studios, foodie hangouts and speciality boutiques. The buzz in southern Africa’s biggest city is back.
Tunisia was where the Arab Spring began, and it’s the country where things have settled down the most since. There are some bargains to had in the beach resorts as travel companies attempt to entice people back, but those venturing further afield can find amazingly well preserved Roman cities along the coast and Saharan camel trek adventures in the South. New Tunisair flights from Manchester to Tunis help too.
Picture credit: cometotunisia.com
If you can pick just one country to encapsulate Africa, unheralded Cameroon may well be it. Atlantic beaches give way to mountains, volcanoes, rainforest and desert. For safari-lovers, it’s the closest place to Britain that you can see the Big Five in the wild, and there’s a pulsating music scene. The African-style music sampled by Michael Jackson in You Gotta Be Starting Something (and more recently Rihanna and Jay-Z)? That’s Cameroon's soul makossa.
Picture credit: cameroun-infotourisme.com
Look beyond the Take Me Out Isle of Fernandos image and it’s possible to take on the Canaries with class. British Airways launches business class flights to Tenerife in March, and once the prejudices about high-density resorts are left behind, there’s an undeniably beautiful island to explore. The trick is to head north, climb the Teide volcano, dine in traditional mountainside restaurants and party like the locals do in Santa Cruz – a city with just as much spirit and good-looking architecture as those on the Spanish mainland.
Picture credit: Tenerife Tourism
Africa will be treated to a total solar eclipse on November 3rd this year, with southern Ethiopia poised to get the best views. It’s a good excuse to explore what’s arguably Africa’s most varied and culturally fascinating country. Ethiopia experts Tourdust offer numerous trips through the country, all of which have different focuses – from getting to know the tribal people of the Lower Omo Valley to a big highlights reel that takes in Lalibela’s astounding rock-hewn churches and wildlife-spotting in the Simien Mountains.
Picture credit: tourdust.com
Often ignored in favour of Marrakech’s atmospheric medina and Casablanca’s thrusting modernity, Rabat gets its moment in the spotlight this year after being added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The 17th century medina, Oudaias Kasbah and Mohammed V Mausoleum are photogenic highlights of a fairly low key capital – but the old offers a contrast to the new, French-built modern city with its wide boulevards and café culture. Importantly, though – it’s a place where you can look around and realise that most people you see are local.
Picture credit: Moroccan National Tourist Office
The Zambezi, Zambia
It’s 200 years since the man who explored much of Africa’s interior, David Livingstone, was born. That’s kicking off all manner of vaguely-related celebrations – including a hardcore Zambezi river version of the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race – centred around Victoria Falls. Comic Relief has also sent the likes of Dara O’Briain out to the Zambezi for a series of Celebrity Challenges, including rafting and canoeing trips. For those who don’t want to get wet, Victoria Falls is still one of nature’s most fearsome, magnificent sights – a proper bucket-lister.
Picture credit: Tongabezi
The Livingstone celebrations are also kicking off in Malawi, and particularly at Lake Malawi – which he dubbed the “Lake of Stars”. If you’re wanting blissed out and beautiful rather than high octane, the lake is the right Africa for you. For chilled luxury, Robin Pope Safaris offers the ultra-relaxed Pumulani Lodge at the southern end of the lake. Watersports, mountain biking, sunset cruises and birdwatching trips are available if you like but it’s really all about lounging on the beach next to blisteringly blue waters.
Picture credit: Robin Pope Safaris
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Southern Africa isn’t exactly short of National Parks and game reserves, but the underrated Chobe National Park has two key things in its favour. The first is that it’s easy to tag on to a Victoria Falls trip – you can do a cross-border day tour, although spending a few days is less rushed. The second is that it’s elephant central. Other African safari stalwarts can be found lolloping along the Chobe River too, but it’s often possible to watch hundreds of ellies strolling across the horizon at one time.
Picture credit: Shaney Hudson
The isolated Atlantic island is soon to change forever now that a new airport has been given the go ahead. At the moment, it’s only accessible by yacht of the RMS St Helena – a Royal Mail ship that sails every few weeks from Cape Town. It’s that remoteness that makes the tiny sub-tropical paradise special though – it’s a timewarp of old plantations, forts, observatories and colonial houses where Napoleon lived during his exile. The pretty mountain and forest interior helps too.
Picture credit: St Helena Tourism