From the fabled sands that swirl around the pyramids in Egypt to the lions that prowl around Pride Rock, Africa offers experiences and stories to light your heart on fire.
It’s a huge, huge place. Often overlooked. Often misunderstood. Travelling distances can be vast, journeys can be challenging and political affairs volatile.
But that’s nowhere near the whole story.
Africa can serve up laughter, luxury and a longing to return and I wouldn’t for a moment think to speak for an entire continent based on the patchwork of places and times I have visited.
First time travellers frequently seek out Egypt, Morocco, Kenya or South Africa – with good reason. Travel here can be more straightforward and more closely resemble home, if home is in the US, Australia or Europe.
Wherever you go, you’ll need to check your required vaccinations and antimalarials well in advance, develop some street smarts – and be prepared to leave a part of your heart in that rich red soil forever.
See the special collection on places to visit in South Africa here.
Language: English (Setswana common)
Best way of getting around: Independent driving or driving with a guide. Occasionally internal flights.
Highlight: The Okavango Delta
– one of the most amazing places on earth.
Travel tip: Plan your trip in advance. The Okavango Delta struggles with the idea of spontaneous independent travel.
Dress Code: Long sleeves and trousers in cool colours to fight the bugs.
Unusual highlight: More elephants than you can shake a stick at!
Found in the south, right next to Namibia, Botswana is probably best known for being the home of the Okavango Delta (and perhaps also the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series.) It’s big, it’s beautiful, it has a low volume high cost tourism policy.
When you see the wildlife on show, you’ll realise it’s worth every penny.
Currency: Egyptian pound
Best way of getting around: Cruise along the Nile, drive in convoy. Given the changes in the last few years always check up to date advice before travelling at all.
Highlight: The Valley of the Kings (and not just because it’s my name)
Travel tip: Avoid summer as it’s soul crushingly hot. Bring plenty of water and respectful sass to deal with the touts at the main archaeological sites.
Dress Code: Conservative and cool – long sleeves and trousers. Wear a hat for the sun, no need for other cover.
Unusual highlight: The UNESCO site that moved
Travel to Egypt
It’s hard to top the archaeological treasures of Egypt – nor the personalities of the people who live there. It’s one of history’s greatest jigsaw puzzles, from the Pyramids to the Golden Temples. Venture beyond the desert and you’ll find just as much to discover (although a few familiar looking friends will be waiting).
Currency: Kenyan shilling
Language: Bantu Swahili and English
Best way of getting around: Independent driving, driving with a guide or internal flights to cover larges distances.
Highlight: those famous safari drives.
Travel tip: bring lots of memory cards for all those safari pics…
Dress Code: City slick in Nairobi and safari chic elsewhere. This is a fashionable kind of place (but covering up helps, as always, in the fight against sunburn and mosquitoes.)
Unusual highlight: the hotel where giraffes appear at breakfast.
Travel to Kenya: this is, quite literally, the home of the Lion King’s Pride Rock. Expect safaris over dry, red earth for sure but also across bright green waterways and make time for cosmopolitan city life in Nairobi.
Currency: Malagasy ariary
Language: Malagasy and French
Best way of getting around: Independent driving, driving with a guide or travelling by bus. Internal flights make navigating the island manageable.
Highlight: those beautiful Baobab Trees
Travel tip: Bring torches and suitable outdoor gear to catch sight of nocturnal chameleons.
Dress Code: Relaxed but long sleeves and trousers make sense in the jungle and on the tsingy to protect against scrapes, sunburn and serious mosquito-borne disease.
Unusual highlight: the mysterious red tsingy rock formation.
Travel to Madagascar: this great big island off the east coast of Africa bursts with wildlife you can’t find anywhere else. Think chameleons, lemurs and baobab trees but also revel in chances to spot whales in the waves by the Nosy (islands.) The capital, Antananaviro, teems with people and poverty but Diego Suarez/Antsiranana in the north has a quieter, coastal pace of life.
Language: Arabic & French
Best way of getting around: Independent driving, driving with a guide or travelling by bus.
Highlight: the stunning Atlas Mountains
Travel tip: Prepare for chaos on the roads and bring your own maps. Sat nav can be hard to come by.
Dress Code: Conservative and cool. Think cotton long sleeves, long trousers and a cotton scarf to protect against the heat and wind in the dessert and the cold high up in the mountains.
Unusual highlight: Just how much blue there is on the coast
In Morocco, the colours dazzle. Market places, in particular, fire up my photoreceptors faster than I can manage to take photos. The almighty sands of the Sahara are rippled and mysterious, whether you navigate them by camel or by sandboard. Driving through this varied, dusty terrain is also quite an experience (well, if you can get the car started).
Currency: Namibian Dollar
Best way of getting around: Independent driving or driving with a tour guide.
Travel tip: Pack for both hot and cold weather in the desert and plan your trip in advance. It’s not that easy to get into the Namib desert spontaneously.
Dress Code: Casual but remember that deserts have extreme temperatures. Hot and cold!
Unusual highlight: Solitaire – a pit stop in the desert
Tucked down in the southern part of Africa, Namibia is famed for its red rust sand, giant dunes, skeleton coast and the world’s oldest desert. Swakopmund is billed as an adrenaline capital but through my eyes it was unimaginably dreary.
With a reputation of being one of east Africa’s most peaceful countries, Tanzania is also known for two of Africa’s masterpieces: access to the Serengeti and the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro. There’s more, of course, from Spice Island Zanzibar to the teeming Ngorogoro crater. It’s a country with a special place of my heart as I spent months there as a student at the hospital. Unfortunately, that also means I wasn’t out taking so many photos. Plus, it was some time ago before digital photography got going.
Ah well. Still an amazing place to visit.
Beaches, beauty & boulders. The Seychelles are those kind of islands, the kind that inspire the word paradise and make troubles drift away while allowing space for dreams to settle in.
International flights land in Mahe, with a number of great hotels a short drive away (the Banyan Tree Seychelles for one.)
Otherwise, you need separate flights to reach the other islands, such as the private island of Desroches with its white, white beaches and eco-driven research.