6 of the best experiences in Africa for your travel bucket list
Africa is one of the most fascinating continents in this world. For anyone dreaming of going for the first time or if you are thinking of planning your next visit, here are a few of our top suggestions to add onto your bucket list
1. Track The Big 5 in Kruger
If you’re looking for a really authentic safari experience in South Africa, there’s no place like Kruger National Park. It’s one of the world’s great wildlife destinations, ranking up there with the very best that Africa has to offer. Covering a vast expanse of over 2 million hectares, the national parks and private reserves are all unfenced and allow for free roaming movement of the wildlife. Kruger is home to an immense diversity of wildlife and one of the best destinations to view The Big 5 of lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo!
Safari experiences range from rustic bungalows in the National Park for self-drive visitors, walking safaris for the adventurous at heart or staying at the private safari lodges within the private reserves such as Mala Mala (pictured above). Staying at one of these lodges, you’ll be treated to sunrise and sunset guided safaris in open-topped 4×4 safari vehicles, giving you an incredible game viewing experience. The safari lodges all take huge pride in getting their guests as close as possible to the animals and in the private reserves the guides are not restricted to the roads, meaning that you can head off-track into the depths of the bush in search of wildlife.
This really is a safari like no other, as the guides and trackers can follow their professional hunches off road and give you the game drive adventure of a lifetime.
2. Follow the great migration in Tanzania or Kenya
Tanzania is the most well-known for the Great Migration, and with careful planning and a little luck, it is possible for visitors to be at the right place to witness this amazing annual wildlife event.
Each year, literally thousands upon thousands of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles trek across the vast Serengeti plains towards Kenya’s Masai Mara, in search of new grazing grass. It is estimated that just over 2 million animals in total make this migration from one country to another and back again – a round journey of just under 2,000 miles. Travellers from all over the world descend on the Serengeti and the Masai Mara in Kenya each year in hope of seeing a dramatic river crossing and being surrounded by sound of herds of wildebeest. Truly one of Africa’s most prized natural events and worth adding this to the top of your bucket list!
3. Look a gorilla or chimpanzee in the eye
For many people who love adventure and travel, trekking through a jungle to find a family of silverback gorillas or chimpanzees is high on their bucket list, but it is one that few people actually get to achieve. For the lucky ones who do get to experience this first hand, it is a trip where the memories will last a lifetime.
The mountain gorilla is extremely endangered and while exact numbers vary, it is widely assumed that there are only around 650 left in the wild today. Visiting the gorillas is a great way to support their future on our planet, as the money spent on permits is used for their protection.
Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s population of rare Mountain Gorillas, and the fantastically named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is the most popular destination here for visitors wanting to track gorillas in the wild.
If trekking through rainforests to watch a family of chimpanzees go about their daily life, then Mahale Mountain National Park in Tanzania should be high on your holiday hitlist. Greystoke Mahale is situated on Lake Tanganyika and this is about as remote as you can get. There are no roads within 100 km of your camp, and access is only by light aircraft. Upon arrival at the airstrip there is an approximately 90 minute dhow trip down the lake to reach the camp.
Guests here can enjoy morning hikes in the stunning tropical forest that covers the slopes of the mountains, which is home to 9 different species of primate, including chimpanzee. The main chimp group live in the mountains close to the camp, and have become habituated to human presence over 2 decades.
4. Hear the smoke that thunders
Only a short 2 hour flight from Johannesburg, a trip to Victoria Falls is certainly memorable. One of the 7 Wonders of the World, the Falls are situated between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and with a width of 1.7 km and a volume of 9 million litres per second pouring down a vertical drop of just over 100m they are certainly one of the largest waterfalls in the world.
The sheer noise of the Falls as they cascade over the edge into the deep gorge is deafening, and the misty clouds of spray, occasionally broken by rainbows, are visible from over 30 km away – hence it’s local name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, “The smoke that thunders”.
The big tourist draw of the Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side is that visitors can view virtually the whole width of the Falls face-on, at the same level as the top of the Falls where the mighty Zambezi River drops over the edge into the gorge. In some places you can get as close as 60m – although you should be warned – at these points you do get incredibly wet from the spray! Covering your camera and video equipment with a plastic bag is definitely advised!
Viewing the Falls from the Zambia side is as exciting, however, as you can make your way across the aptly named Knife-Edge Bridge and are awarded with some stunning views of the Falls with maybe the odd rainbow peeking through – but again, be prepared to get thoroughly soaked with the spray if the Falls are at full flood!
The towns surrounding the Victoria Falls, both Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town, are a hub of activity and adventure. Seeing the falls play a pivotal part in visiting this area, however don’t overlook the experience of the Zambezi River and surrounding parks here. From Sunset Cruises to Bungee Jumping, the area offers non-stop adventure and is an excellent starting point for a full on safari experience in either the Hwange National Park or to enter Botswana and explore the Chobe and Okavango Delta.
5. Travel in style on a luxury train across South Africa
A classic train journey in South Africa is the ultimate in luxury travel. Riding the rails, you’ll be plunged into the romance of bygone times to delight in the pure decadence of time-honoured train travel. Steaming across the land with beautiful landscapes unfolding before your eyes is a truly special experience that you’ll remember for years to come.
South Africa offers two luxury trains, Rovos Rail and The Blue Train and they are beyond indulgent, magnificent moving 5* hotels – an effortless combination of superb accommodation, sumptuous fine dining and outstanding service levels. Each carriage breathes an irresistible feeling of grace and grandeur.
As your train meanders through the stunning countryside of South Africa, you’ll be treated to wonderful views of mountains sloping into vineyards, fields that stretch into the horizon and stark deserts that seem to go on forever. Watching the Rainbow Nation roll slowly past your window with a glass of champagne, you’ll be in seventh heaven.
6. Climb Namibia’s Red Sand Dunes
Sossusvlei is Namibia’s top selling scenery. With epic sand dunes sculpted by the wind, it’s a must-see for any visitor to this spectacular and surreal country.
An endless sea of shifting sand dunes, Sossusvlei is a worldwide sensation and easily Namibia’s most iconic feature. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013, the staggeringly beautiful scenery is bound to look familiar as it has been featured in films and advertisements far and wide.
The dunes can certainly be considered the ‘trademark’ of Namibian tourism, yet they still feel so much more than just a tourist attraction. Climbing to the top of a sand dune and watching the shadows sweep across the land as the sun rises is enough to give anyone goosebumps. So, while you might have seen this terrain on the TV, there’s nothing like being here in the flesh. It’s a humbling place to take a walk and get some perspective.
Sossusvlei is actually the huge flat pan in the middle of the dunes, but the dunes themselves get all the glory, and deservedly so. These giant orange sand-sculptures are some of the oldest and highest in the world and they are constantly shifting their formation with the winds. This is why Sossusvlei is often referred to as the ‘dune sea’; because the dunes are always ever-so-slightly moving in a subtle and spooky dreamlike way.
Paul Campbell is a Co-founder and Managing Director at Travel Butlers. Travel Butlers are specialists in tailor-made safari and beach holidays to Africa and the Indian Ocean.
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