As old as time itself, and acknowledged as the very cradle of humankind, the great continent of Africa has untold treasures to reveal to those who take the time to come on a journey of discovery. From the ancient temples, pyramids, and tombs of Egypt, to adventurous safaris in Kenya, and the stunning natural wonders and wildlife of Uganda, Botswana, and Namibia – today we explore have some of the greatest places to tick off in your bucket list before you “kick the bucket”
1. Sossusvlei Namib Desert National Park, Namibia
Situated in the Namib Naukluft Park, the Sossusvlei is a huge clay pan, guarded by a crescent of giant red sand dunes, an enduring symbol of Namibia. The name roughly translates as “dead-end marsh”, reflecting the arid, isolated nature of the surrounding landscape. Naukluft Park is one of the largest conservation areas in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. It is home to a diverse variety of flora and fauna that have adapted to the arid conditions.
2. Abu Simbel Temple, Egypt
The two temples at Abu Simbel, The Great and The Small, are best known for their dazzling magnificence and their historic relocation from their original setting on a sandstone cliff near the Nile River. The temples were originally carved out of sandstone over 3,000 ago, during the reign of the great Pharaoh Ramesses II and were dedicated to him, his wife and the Egyptian gods. It was discovered, excavated (and looted) by European explorers in the early 19th century, when it was rumored to be named ‘Abu Simbel’ after the boy who led the first explorer to discover the site.
When the Egyptian government was constructing the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, the temples faced submergence under the waters of the resulting Lake Nassar, and the government sought the assistance of UNESCO and the international community to help them avoid this potential disaster. It was decided to relocate the temples to a new site, where they would be safe – a monumental undertaking, given the scale of these temples!
The relocation included dismantling the two temples, moving them to their new location and then reassembling them in exactly the same form and relationship to each other and to the sun. In their new home, they are surrounded by an artificial mountain to try and recreate their original setting. A photo exhibition of this historic relocation can be seen at the dome at Abu Simbel.
3. Wildebeest Migration, Maasai Mara and Serengeti National Parks – Kenya & Tanzania
The annual migration of over 2 million wildebeest, zebra and antelope takes place within the plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania. The animals start their migration from the south of the Serengeti, following the rain and fresh pastures to the northern border with Kenya, the Mara River, which represents the greatest hurdle of the migration. They are followed by many predators, and also have to face the threat of the crocodiles that lie in wait in the Mara River.
The Wildebeest migration is a spontaneous and rather unpredictable event, governed by climate and rainfall, and the exact date varies from year to year. The best time to catch the migration in the Masai Mara is from July to September – when the animals congregate to cross the river into Kenya.
4. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Rising to 19,340 ft above the plains of Africa, Kili (as Mount Kilimanjaro is popularly known) is the highest mountain in Africa. Unusually for such a lofty peak, the highest point, Uhuru, is accessible to anyone who is moderately fit, and many make the pilgrimage to climb Kili every year. It is definitely one of the highlights of any trip to Tanzania.
The mountain is home to an incredible variety of ecosystems: its arctic summit sitting above the slopes of the alpine desert, rugged heathland, a rain forest and even cultivated agricultural areas. That said this eclectic environment is under threat from climate change – with some scientists saying that the peak could be ‘ice-free’ within two decades.
5. Victoria Fall, Zambia – Zimbabwe Border
The grandiose Victoria Falls are located on the mighty Zambezi River, at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. These waterfalls are the largest moving body of water on Earth, and photos cannot do them justice – you have to be there to see them for yourself! The locals call them “Mosi-oa-Tunya”, which means the “smoke that thunders” – an apt description for the columns of spray that can be seen and heard from miles away. The name by which it is known globally was given by the noted explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone, who named the Falls after Queen Victoria during a visit in 1855.
The Victoria Falls are an unmissable place to visit in Africa because of their unusual form and their sheer size alone – but as a bonus, there is also a wide variety of wildlife and many adventure activities to be enjoyed nearby. On the Zambian side of the Falls, it is perfectly possible to swim in relative safety in the natural pools at the top of the falls – but you will need nerves of steel!
6. The Great Pyramids at Giza, Egypt
The Great Pyramids at Giza need no introduction! They are the most recognizable icon of Egypt, together with the Sphinx. Most of the pyramids (there are over 100 pyramids in Egypt) were built as tombs to preserve the mummified bodies of the dead pharaohs and keep them safe and undisturbed in their afterlife.
The Great Pyramid was built from 2.3 million stone blocks, weighing in at an unfathomable 5.9 million tonnes – roughly equivalent to 590 Eiffel Towers! Typically, these massive resting places functioned on two levels – as decadent statements of wealth and power, as well as dedicated monuments to the gods and their power (and more importantly, their judgment). The most treasured possessions of the pyramid’s residents were buried with them for comfort in the afterlife, and in some cases, animals and even slaves were interred with them, for company and assistance on their journey.
7. Okavango Delta, Botswana
The magnificent Okavango Delta (sometimes incorrectly called the “Okavango Swamp”) is the world’s largest inland delta, covering an area of over 17,000km, and one of the top places to visit in Africa.
This unique natural wonder was formed after an ancient inland sea, Lake Makgadikgadi, dried up thousands of years ago. The Okavango Delta is fed by the highland waters of Uganda, which flow for over a 1,000km to reach the plains of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Here, they fan out to create an incredible labyrinth of inland lagoons, islands, channels and lakes – the lifeblood of the animals in the region. The absence of industry or agriculture is responsible for remarkable water purity, which supports a spectacular range of wildlife. As a result, safaris in the Okavango Delta are an exceptional experience.
8. The Virunga Mountains, DRC/Rwanda/Uganda Borders
The Virunga Mountains are a chain of volcanic mountains found along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). Apart from their spectacular beauty, the forests of these mountains form the last remaining home of the highly endangered Mountain Gorilla. Discovering these incredible creatures is a big draw for visitors to the Virunga National Park. There are also many other interesting species of wildlife here including chimpanzees, the okapi, and forest elephant. The mountain range includes eight major peaks; the highest is Mt. Karisimbii, while two of them, Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt. Nyiragira, are still active volcanoes.