“I am as young as the most beautiful wish in my heart – and as old as all the unfulfilled longings in my life…”
Having experienced more in a year in Africa than I expected to see and learn in my lifetime, a cacophony of moments of glorious joy, unexpected connections with random strangers and total cultural chocks, Africa has touched me in so many more ways than I anticipated and my love for the continent runs deep.
I have visited more than 14 countries on the continent and seen big and small whilst covering countless miles by anything from motorbike to horse to airplane. I can only encourage everyone to explore the region and its wonders.
This blog post shares some of my favourite gems and must-see destinations and must-do experiences in Africa.
Masai Mara, Kenya, and Virunga National Park, Rwanda
Africa is probably most well-known for its rich wildlife and amazing safari. Tanzania and Kenya offers the best opportunities to spot the Big Five (and as a bonus thousands of wildebeests and zebras). There is something here for everyone with an animal instinct and many creative ways of exploring the exotic animals – by 4×4, horseback or hot air ballon.
Safari is amazing, but what really blew me away was trekking mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Watching the gorilla families with its don’t-mess-with-me 200 kg silverbacks helping the newborn babies to take their first, stumbling steps, from a distance of a meter or two, makes it a totally intimate and unforgettable experience.
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Sub-Saharan Africa offers a number of opportunities for the outdoorsy – anything from rock climbing in Namibia and hiking the grand canyons of Simien Mountains in Ethiopia to water rafting in Jinja, Uganda. The greatest challenge however, is still to conquer the impressive Mount Kilimanjaro.
Towering an intimidating 19,341 feet (5,895 m) above sea level, it takes about a week to climb. This is nothing for the comfortable traveller – be prepared for a week in a tent with no shower or toilet. Stout lungs and a dose of determination is also needed as the final ascent begins at 11 pm (after a full day of hiking) to summit at sunrise the next morning in -20 Celsius.
Sweet and savoury decadence
Cape Town with surroundings, South Africa
I’m sorry foodies. Generally you don’t come to Africa for its food. Most of the local cuisine consists of starch-heavy stews made of cassava, corn, cabbage or beans with some pieces of goat or chicken (if you are lucky).
If you travel in the countryside and wish to maintain a somewhat healthy diet, fruits like pineapple, mango and guava will be your rescue. It is also incredibly cheap, you can buy deliciously ripe pineapples for less than 50 pence.
Have faith – there is no rule without an exception. The exception is called South Africa. With its gorgeous vineyards, long-standing international influences and love for seafood you can’t really go wrong.
Everything eatable and drinkable is a treat and of superb quality. You can find all types of fresh seafood and meat, and all types of international cuisine to be washed down with local wine or excellent coffee (a rare commodity in Africa). For the more adventurous there are local specialities like crocodile and impala…
African cities do not quite meet the standards of European cities when it comes to beauty. They often sprawl uncontrollably in many directions and little attention has been paid to architectural planning and investment in public infrastructure and transport. It is an understatement to describe the traffic as chaotic.
A mixture of old and modern buildings and slum areas squeezed in behind bold and shiny high-rises commonly feature as skyline. Shopping is also not great, unless you are into local handicrafts and a hardcore bargainer with a love for chaotic markets. Imported design is normally incredible expensive, but you can make real vintage bargains (clothes donated from the West for charity) in the local markets for as little as £1.
Yet, there are cities worth a visit. Kampala is my top pick. Located on the shores of Lake Victoria, it provides a safe, relatively clean and green oasis for travellers. Kampala is quite easy to navigate and has some great restaurants and bars. The nightlife is absolutely heaving. Spend the afternoon in a local cafe and marvel at the incredible activity and life that is passing you by. I guarantee you will not be bored.
Everywhere in Ethiopia
The music, art, literature, and cultural practices of Africa have provoked interest and respect throughout the world. Influenced by increasing globalisation however, old traditions are superseded by a desire for the western lifestyle and attributes. Ethiopia, the only Sub-saharan country not to be colonised, have stayed true to their cultural roots. For a starter, you find the older generation still very present in day-to-day family life, spared the civil wars and genocides that have wiped out this generation in neighbouring countries.
83 different languages are still spoken and passed on to the younger ethiopians. The country is a colourful potpurri of wonderfully odd religious and cultural traditions. Many teenagers prefer to gather to play masinko, the oldest string instrument in the world, on a Saturday night than hitting the a fancy nightclub, and young fellows from certain tribes have to pass the test of jumping on cows to become eligible for marriage.
Zanzibar, Tanzania and Mozambique
Africa has some of the best beaches in the world. The West coast of Africa has some paradise-feel spots, like K2 in Sierra Leone, which features on the wrapping of the Bounty chocolate.
The East coast has some compelling options too. Whilst people sandwich like sardines in places like Thailand, here you can get a Maldives-style beach to yourself for a tenth of the price.
Kendwa beach on Zanzibar would satisfy the pickiest beach bum and also has great diving options. Mozambique offers a stunning 200 kilometers of untouched, crisp white sand.
The African lakes should not be ruled out if you are looking for some beach action. Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria (second largest lake in the world) have stunning beaches and are so vast you feel like you are on the ocean. Beware of the hippos.
Hang out with the indigenous
Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda
People all over the world have one thing in common: We are all social animals and love to have fun.
In addition, we are naturally drawn to waterholes to hang out. If you want to understand what is really going on in a country, the bars and pubs are the best places to be. Rarely have I met so many people and heard so many jaw-dropping stories as over a few pints of local brew.
My favourite places for social encounters are Nairobi and Kampala. These cities have heaps of funky hangouts with a vibrant mix of expats and locals. Live music add an exotic ambience. Try Havana and Brew Bar & Bistro in Nairobi or Camel Club and Mish Mash in Kampala. People here are very cool, love a banter and possess a worldly mindset. In addition and not to underestimate – they are fluent in English.
Go and explore, live and love the African way. I promise you are in for an adventure of a lifetime.