Ways to Experience the Splendors of Africa

Deciding to visit Africa also means deciding how to visit Africa. Needless to say, it’s a huge and diverse place and seeing “it” isn’t really possible. The crux of the matter is, given finite time and resources, deciding which parts of Africa you are going to visit and how you are going visit them. There is a wealth of possibilities, whether you’re looking to take it easy on the beach, push yourself hiking or motorbike touring, or visiting places rich in human history.

Here are some of the best ways to experience Africa and spend your time there as deeply as possible.

Safari


The safari is the classic way to see Africa: travelling through epic landscape within close range of untamed wildlife under the guidance of experienced expedition leaders. There are the famous places of grandeur, like Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. With a little research, you can find other safaris that are a little more off the beaten track. Wherever you choose to safari, it’s sure to be an epic experience. Safari isn’t the classic way to see Africa by accident. It offers an up close and unforgettable brush with the landscape and wildlife of the continent.

Motorbike Tours


For an even more rugged and intimate experience, taking a guided motorbike tour offers a more physically demanding — but closer to the ground — way of seeing Africa’s splendors. There are both road bike and dirt bike excursions that will allow you to get up close and personal with miles and miles of Africa. Many tours will take you through some of the glorious nature preserves and parks that are vital not only to the preservation of Africa’s ecosystems but also an important part of the functioning economies of many African nations. If you’re a motorcycle rider, this may be the way take your passion on the road. And if you’re headed over with a group of friends, consider getting some in-helmet Bluetooth headsets so you can communicate with your gang while riding.

Hiking


Needless to say, the splendid and widely varied landscapes of Africa offer a wealth of hiking opportunities. Whether up mountains, through jungles, or across the savannah, there are limitless possibilities for hiking excursions on the vast continent. There are the famous mountain hikes like Mount Kilimanjaro and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, well-known areas like Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe or the Fish River Canyon in Namibia, or less renown hiking opportunities like Murchison Falls in Uganda or the Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. Whatever kind of hiking you want to do and whatever landscape you want to do it in, you’ll find it somewhere on the continent.

Beaches


With approximately 24,000 miles of ocean coastline and a myriad of internal lakes, finding a sandy beach in Africa is not hard. From resort areas to isolated getaways, you can find whatever meets your definition of the perfect ocean getaway. Places like Zanzibar Island, Kenya’s Watamu Beach, and Lake Malawi National Park are some of the finest beach experiences in the world. And don’t forget that the surfing scene in Africa is on the rise and there are waves to be caught, with Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, N’Gor Island (off the coast of Dakar), and Skeleton Bay in Namibia all having the attention of serious surfers.

Festivals


There are hundreds of unique cultures in Africa, all with their own rich traditions and ways of worshiping. This includes a wealth of annual festivals, from traditional events like the Feast of Epiphany in Ethiopia and the Festival-au-Desert in Mali to more modern celebrations like the Cape Town International Jazz Festival or Zanzibar International Film Festival. If you want to come together with others and experience a shared happening, you can find it in Africa.

History


As befits the place where Homo sapiens first developed, Africa is rich with historical sites, including 129 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are ancient places like the pyramids of Egypt, the rock-cut churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia, or the magical urban puzzle of the Medina of Fez in Morocco. And there are more modern places of history, like Elmina Castle in Ghana (the oldest surviving European building south of the Sahara and today a World Heritage Monument memorializing the slave trade) and Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was prisoner for decades due to his anti-apartheid activities, long before his election to the presidency of South Africa). Experiencing these places will give one a sense of the vast sweep of human history and a better understanding of today’s struggles.

However you plan to spend your time in Africa, take the time to plan ahead and do the research, so you have the experience you’re after.

What to Bring On an African Adventure

Packing for an adventure trip to Africa is a balancing act. It’s definitely an environment and experience that will require some specialized equipment, but the point of getting on the savannah or into the jungle isn’t to lug around a bunch of stuff. You’re probably trying to get away from your stuff.

If you’re doing a safari or other travel adventure, you not only have to think about getting your gear to Africa, but then getting it from one location to another while you’re there. A lot of stuff means a lot of packing, unpacking, and lugging between places and modes of transportation, not all of which have the baggage capacity that an international jetliner does. So, the general rule is pack as lightly as possible.

One shouldn’t assume that what you might need on your trip isn’t already there. There are vast parts of Africa that are sparsely populated and far from the rat race, but there are also major cities and plenty of places to pick up needed items. Even shopping malls in any city with a major international airport.

The popular safari destinations all have shops and businesses that cater to the tourism trade, so unless you’ll need it immediately upon landing (or maybe not really at all), it’s fine to wait until you’re in country. Also, if you’re travelling as part of an organized tour, your guides will know what you’ll really need and where to find it.

You can also get used to the idea of hand washing your clothes at the end of the day, which will mean you’ll only have to pack a couple of days worth of clothing. By either doing this yourself or staying at a safari lodge that provides this kind of simple, yet efficient laundry service you’ll not need to carry “a load” of clothes with you.

That’s not to say there aren’t some basic items you’ll want to have with you when you land on the ground. Insect repellent and sunscreen ready for the African sun (and a sunhat) are no-brainers. Comfortable clothes that are lightweight and in neutral colors — dark clothing can attract tsetse flies and bright colors can actually startle wildlife — with sturdy shoes made for walking in rugged terrain are a must too. The evenings may get colder than you expect, so a light fleece or a sweater should be brought as well.

Obviously, any specialized needs should be included. Contact lens solution, personal medication, malaria pills, sunglasses, binoculars, notepads for writing, a quality headlamp or flashlight, a waterproof bag (which will also be dustproof), and a camera should also be on your core-packing list.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is considered one of the most beautiful and impressive places in the world. It is located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and in the language native to the area is known as Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders). It is the most spectacular of a number of falls along the Zambezi River, the fourth longest in Africa and the largest that empties into the Indian Ocean.

The spray from the falls can be seen for miles and during the rainy season more than 500 million cubic meters of water per minute go over its edge, which is nearly two kilometers wide and falls over one hundred meters. The world’s only waterfall more than a kilometer wide and more than hundred meters tall, Victoria Falls is considered the largest waterfall in the world based on its combination of width and depth.

There are walking paths for the hardy to take-in an up close view of the water’s violent descent and the area has fully developed amenities. Tourists can make day trips across the international border in order to see the falls from multiple places.

The Falls were given their western name in honor of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth by David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer whose search for the source of the Nile River was his holy grail. He is believed to have been the first European to visit the area in 1855. Livingstone is famous for his meeting with Henry Stanley in 1871 after Livingstone had lost contact with the western world for six years. Stanley was hired to find him by The New York Herald newspaper and when he finally did is said to have uttered: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

One of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, at high water Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya can be heard from as far away as 40 kilometers and its spray rises over 400 meters above the falls, able to be seen from as far away as 50 kilometers. It is a major tourist destination, with Zambia and Zimbabwe cooperating in making it a visitor mecca, not unlike the Niagara Falls area on either side of the Canada/United States border.

The water level at the falls peaks in April at the end of the rainy season. It’s lowest in October and early November when the water level of the Zambezi River is so low that it’s actually possible to walk in some parts of the waterfall, which are dangerous and spectacular most of the year.

How To Prepare for African Adventure Travel

If you’ve taken to the notion of spending time in Africa on an adventure tour, there are some things you’ll want to do before getting on your flight.

The first step is of course deciding where to go. Africa is the second largest continent on Earth and is larger than North America, so there’s no way to cover everything in a single trip. Different areas offer different kinds of experiences, with South Africa being a particularly good entry locale for many, since English is widely spoken there and its neighbors Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique all offer remarkable experiences.

When to go is also worth researching. The dry season is generally in the winter, and if southern Africa is your destination and you live in North America or Europe, that means the summer months where you live. If you’re hoping to see wildlife, researching the migration patterns of specific species is also worth doing.

Whether to travel independently or to be part of a tour group are also topics to ponder. There are advantages and challenges to doing either, so spend some time early on visualizing what kind of experience you want to have in Africa and how best to achieve it.

Paperwork will also need to be handled. Not only will you need a passport, but some countries will also require visas too, so leave plenty of time to do your research and get your required papers processed. Travel insurance and emergency medical coverage are also worth thinking about.

You’ll also have to ensure that your vaccinations are all current and you’ll probably want to talk to your doctor about additional immunizations for certain areas you’ll be travelling to. Some vaccinations take a few weeks before full protection from disease is developed, so give yourself plenty of lead-time. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has information about specific destinations at its website.

Adventure travel is also more physically rigorous than most people’s everyday life, so getting in some exercise and improving your physical stamina might not be a bad idea. You might also want to read up about the politics and history of where you’re visiting, both to enrich the experience and to be better prepared to interact with the people whose countries you will be visiting.

Be prepared for the cost of not only your flight, hotels, meals, and perhaps tour costs, but also some of the smaller things that will add up: clothing and gear, visas, immunizations, malaria tablets, changing currency, etc.

Introduction to Namibia

Namibia is a surprisingly diverse nation with at least 11 major ethnic groups, having gained its independence from South Africa in 1990. Its northern border is with Angola, while Botswana is to the east and South Africa to the south and east. Its western border is on the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s the driest area in sub-Saharan Africa and the Namib and the Kalahari deserts are two of its five primary geographical areas, the others being the Central Plateau, the Great Escarpment, and the Bushveld. Its lack of rain makes for clear skies, as Namibia enjoys over 300 days of sunshine annually.

A geographically large but sparsely populated country, 18 percent of its surface area is dedicated to game parks and nature reserves. It is one of the few nations whose constitution directly addresses the protection of natural resources and ecosystems.

Etosha National Park in northern Namibia is considered one of the premier wildlife areas in all of Africa, a rugged landscape whose name means Great White Place. A quarter of its area was, 12 million years ago, a lake and its dried out bed is now the Etosha Pan. The park is rich with waterholes that dot its dusty plain, where vast herds of gazelle, antelope, elephants, giraffe, many species of birds, and predators such as cheetahs and lions all gather.

In western Namibia is Namib Naukluft National Park, which is one of the largest protected areas in the country. The Namib Desert is believed to be one of the oldest in the world and the park contains only a portion of it. The highest sand dunes in the world can be found here, some over 300 meters in height. The park is also home to the Naukluft Mountains, Sandwich Harbour (home to thousands of birds, including flamingos, cormorants, and pelicans), and Sesriem Canyon.

Large portions of the Kalahari have been protected, including Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Central Kalahari, and the Okavango Delta. It is a semi-desert, receiving over 100 millimeters of rain (desert area receive less than 50 millimeters), but the thick sand of the Kalahari does not allow ground water to accumulate. The long dry period, which lasts 8 to 10 months, has led to vegetation and wildlife that is highly adapted to this unusual ecosystem. The area boasts African wild dogs, lions, leopards, and cheetahs, along with giraffes and antelope. The Okavango Delta is known for its raptors and ostriches.

Namibia is not just about its landscapes though. Modern Namibia is considered a thriving emerging market in Africa, including its very active banking sector. Its capital, Windhoek, is considered one of the best-designed cities in the world.

It was colonized by Germany in the late 19th century and the discovery of diamonds in 1908 brought an influx of Europeans, many of whose ancestors still live here, making up about 8 percent of the population. Other ethnic groups include the Ovambo, Kavango, Herero/Himba, Damara, Nama, Caprivian (Lozi), San, Tswana, and mixed race (Coloured and Rehoboth Baster).