The Best 20 Places to Consider for Your Next African Vacation
Looming larger than it appears on most conventional maps, the continent of Africa is also surprisingly diverse. From cosmopolitan cities and historical landmarks to national parks that are positively teeming with wildlife, here are some of Africa's top highlights:
1. Cape Town, South Africa
Much like the nation of South Africa itself, Cape Town has come a long way since its darker days and now shines bright as one of Africa's most beautiful cities. Set between the mountains and the sea, with Table Mountain acting as a dramatic backdrop to the city, Cape Town features several locations that are worth visiting. Nature lovers will find themselves in awe of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, while history buffs will enjoy learning about Robben Island and its infamous prison. And pretty much everyone will love spending time on the Clifton and Camps Bay beaches, or perusing the busy harbor known as the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.
2. Giza, Egypt
As one of the most iconic of all ancient civilizations, the Egyptians left behind a treasure trove of landmarks that can still be admired to this day. Many of them are concentrated in and around the city of Giza in Egypt, which harbors the eponymous Necropolis where many of ancient Egypt's greatest rulers are entombed. This is where you'll find the Great Pyramids, all of which are still in great shape today, as well as the Great Sphinx, a mysterious depiction of pharaoh Khafre that has been carved straight out of bedrock. If you'd like to learn more about the history of Giza, the nearby Egyptian Museum has everything you need.
3. Zanzibar, Tanzania
Also known as Unguja, Zanzibar is one of the most picturesque places in all of Africa, a veritable slice of heaven that rivals any top Caribbean isle. Beach havens like Changu Island and Nungwi Beach are perfect for swimming and relaxing, as well as for more intensive pursuits such as snorkeling and diving. And the archipelago is also quite generous when it comes to nature, with the Jozani Forest in particular offering excellent opportunities to view the native red colobus monkeys in their natural habitat. Add to that the historic Old Fort and you have a place that packs quite the punch despite its relatively small size.
4. Marrakech, Morocco
The city that best encapsulates Morocco's exotic North African charm, Marrakech is a maze of souks, old-world attractions and newer landmarks, all inhabiting the same vibrant landscape. Souvenir hunters and dedicated shoppers alike will love exploring the various stalls that make up Jemaa el-Fna, while architecture fans will find great delight in seeing the Koutoubia Mosque up close and plunging deep into the Saadian Tombs. As for Marrakech's newer quarters, the exotic Jardin Majorelle and the ornate Bahia Palace both showcase the elegance and style of the city, as well as its penchant for lush vegetation and perfectly decorated fountains.
5. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Africa is at its most spectacular when it's untamed. Therefore places like the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania guarantee a purely unadulterated adrenaline rush, especially if you're going on a safari. The park is divided into three distinct regions: the Serengeti plains where you can watch zebras and wildebeest graze and breed, the Western corridor – home to the Grumeti River that's inhabited by Nile crocodiles, and Northern Serengeti, the best place to watch elephants and giraffes in action. The park is open throughout the year, with accommodation being offered in select areas so as to not disturb the wildlife.
6. Praslin, Seychelles
The Seychelles boast some of the most impressive islands in Africa, with Praslin as the archipelago's undoubted centerpiece. Here you'll find stellar beaches such as Cote D'Or and Anse Lazio, the latter a supremely celebrated hotspot that's often included in countdowns of the world's best beaches. But even moving beyond its sandy shores, the island of Praslin is noteworthy for its nature reserves, including the palm-strewn Vallee de Mai and the lush Praslin National Park. And if you're on the hunt for more worldly pursuits, the Casino des Iles and the George Camille Art Gallery offer countless hours of entertainment.
7. Kruger National Park, South Africa
Covering a significant stretch of land in the northeastern provinces of South Africa, the Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves on the continent. It is known for harboring virtually all of Africa's most iconic creatures, including the so-called Big Five of lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants and buffalos. In addition, Kruger houses a substantial population of hippos, as well as the endangered African wild dog. You can witness all of them in action by going on a safari, with several rest camps scattered throughout the park, among which Skukuza is the largest and best-equipped.
8. Luxor, Egypt
The second Egyptian destination to be featured on this list, Luxor showcases a different but no-less intriguing side of the nation's ancient history. After all, this was the site of Thebes, a mighty city ruled by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom. Remnants of their glory remain in the Valley of the Kings, where several tombs and burial chambers belonging to these rulers can be found, and in the magnificent Karnak Temple complex, a feat of engineering that remains astonishing to this day. Needless to say, exploring Luxor can be a real joy, especially if you do it the traditional way by booking one of the many Nile boat tours available.
9. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Few places in Africa are as storied and as important as the Masai Mara, a large national game reserve that was named in honor of the ancestral inhabitants of the area. In addition to housing large populations of lions, cheetahs and African bush elephants, the Mara also hosts the annual Great Migration, during which millions of wildebeest, gazelles and zebras make their way to the grassy plains of the area in search of nourishment. In order to view all these things and more, you can go on a game drive or opt for a bird's eye view glimpse of the Mara thanks to the hot air balloon safaris that are organized here.
10. Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe
Waterfalls are amazing to witness in person. The bigger the drop, the more eye-catching the falls themselves are. In that case, the incredible Victoria Falls should leave you awestruck the moment you set eyes on them. Located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the waterfalls are some of the world's largest, with a maximum width of no less than 5,604 feet. There are several gorges to admire here, along with unique features such as the adrenaline-pumping Devil's Pool, where brave visitors can swim at the edge of the waterfall in relative safety. In addition to the falls, the area is also home to a rich and varied wildlife that include populations of elephants, giraffes and rhinos.
11. Hurghada, Egypt
Despite its reputation, Egypt is not just a destination for the history-minded. While its numerous temples and pyramids are indeed a huge draw, the nation's coastal side is just as appealing. Take Hurghada, for example. This beautiful resort town contains top-notch beaches such as Orange Bay and Old Vic, as well as the Hurghada Marina and other seaside attractions such as Dolphin World and the Hurghada Grand Aquarium. And if you still find yourself missing Giza's archeological landmarks, why not take a trip to Mini Egypt, where replicas of the nation's most famous monuments can be found?
A tiny island nation with a lot to offer, Mauritius is best known for its gorgeous natural landmarks and pristine beaches. It's the perfect place for those who love nature at its most unfettered. One need only stroll through the Le Morne peninsula and take a look at the summit known as Le Morne Brabant in order to take in the majesty of Mauritius. Alternatively, picnicking and hiking in the Black River Gorges National Park will also do the trick, as will admiring the one-of-a-kind Chamarel Seven Colored Earth. And if it's beaches you crave, the ones found on Ile aux Cerfs are among the best in Africa.
13. Johannesburg, South Africa
Sometimes standing in the shadows of Cape Town, Johannesburg is another South African gem that deserves to be appreciated on its own terms. Unlike Cape Town, Johannesburg looks and feels more like a traditional metropolis, with skyscrapers like the Leonardo, the tallest building in Africa, and the Carlton Centre dotting its landscape. What's more, the city hosts the Apartheid Museum, where you can learn more about one of South Africa's darkest chapters, as well as the historic Mandela House. And don't forget about the Gold Reef City Theme Park, an amusement park filled with thrill rides and 4D shows for the whole family.
The world's second-largest island country is a veritable paradise of awe-inspiring vistas and thriving wildlife. Places like the well-regarded Avenue of the Baobabs seem almost otherworldly in their beauty, while the sheer number of national parks available illustrate just how well-preserved nature is in this part of the world. Among them, the Tsingy De Bemaraha National Park stands out for its spiky rock formations, while the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is known for housing the Sacred Waterfall as well as for being a sanctuary for Indri lemurs. And rest assured that Madagascar is not without its resting spots, with the island of Tsarabanjina boasting luxury resorts in a secluded environment.
15. Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
Located in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is named after the large volcanic caldera it contains, making this park a unique one even amidst heavy competition on the African continent. Hiking and trekking are popular activities here, with plenty of hotspots where you can catch a breather and admire the scenery. The active volcano known as Ol Doinyo Lengai is certainly a sight for sore eyes, while the Oldupai Gorge holds some of the earliest human remains ever discovered. Animals can be found here as well, with the flamingos of Lake Magadi and the lions of Ngorongoro being two obvious highlights.
16. Lake Malawi, Malawi
The third largest lake in Africa is a hotspot for tourism thanks to its unique look and vibrant wildlife. It's one of the few lakes that can be characterized as meromictic, which means that its water layers do not mix, a fact that's responsible for the lake's different colors. In addition, it boasts several hotspots such as Senga Bay and Nkhudzi Bay that are excellent for beach-related activities such as sunbathing and swimming. Diving is another popular activity, one that allows you to explore the rich underwater life that calls Lake Malawi home, which includes several unique and endangered species.
17. Durban, South Africa
The last South African city to be featured on this list, Durban is the nation's premier resort town, a seaside gem that's filled to the brim with eye-catching places and attractions. The beachfront promenade known as The Golden Mile perfectly illustrates this with its broad beaches and resplendent high-rise hotels. Here, the uShaka Marine World aquarium is ready to delight you with spectacular shows and displays of aquatic life, while the nearby Durban Botanic Gardens offer a green respite from the city's busy atmosphere. Add modern architectural landmarks like the Moses Mabhida Stadium to the mix and you have all the makings of a must-see metropolis.
18. Etosha National Park, Namibia
Known for the huge salt pan that gives the park its one-of-a-kind look, Etosha National Park occupies a significant chunk of northwestern Namibia. Aside from the massive Etosha Pan, the park boasts a large population of endemic animals, many of whom gather in places such as the Okaukuejo Waterhole and the Baitia Fountain in order to replenish and rest. These include the endangered black rhinoceros, the African bush elephant and the Angolan giraffe. What's more, the park is 100% malaria-free and provides a range of accommodation options, as well as various restaurants, shops and viewing decks.
19. White Desert, Egypt
Probably Egypt's best-kept secret, the so-called White Desert is located within the Farafra depression in the western part of the country. It's the centerpiece of White Desert National Park, a place where blinding-white chalk spires rise out of the sand to form alien-looking sculptures that look positively surreal in the desert environment. The area is best explored by car, with stops set at points of interest like the jagged Twin Peaks and the aptly-titled Crystal Mountain, a large rock made entirely out of quartz. Staying overnight is no longer allowed in the park, but you can still admire these unique monuments at sunset or sunrise.
20. Nairobi, Kenya
Kenya's capital and largest city is one of Africa's rising stars, a former colonial haven turned aspiring metropolis. Like much of Africa, it expertly blends nature and man-made attractions. In the former category, the Nairobi National Park and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust feature animals such as elephants, zebras and lions that are shielded from danger and allowed to roam free in their natural habitats. As for the latter, the traditional tribal villages known as Bomas of Kenya and the Karen Blixen Museum both offer a rare glimpse into this part of Africa with its attendant quirks and customs.
All in all, Africa remains a place of great wonder and beauty. Exploring this mighty continent can be challenging or expensive if you live far away, but its stellar destinations and attractions are more than worth the effort.