Africa, the world’s second largest continent, covering more than 30 million square kilometers. 54 countries and over 1.3 billion people call this vast continent home. Geological wonders, wildlife spectacles, fascinating tribes and cultures are some of the thoughts that come to mind when I think of travel in Africa.
I believe it’s safe to say there are potentially an infinite amount of possibilities when planning a trip to Africa.
In this travel guide I aim to narrow down some of those possibilities for you.
I’ll highlight the 21 best places to travel in Africa before you die.
(Clicking on a brown marker will open up a new map tab. This travel guide will remain open.)[display-map id=’6261′]
18 Best Places to Travel in Africa
Mount Kilimanjaro – Tanzania
Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s Seven Summits (the highest mountain peaks on each continent). If you are in search of hiking high mountains, then Tanzania is one of the best places to travel in Africa.
Every year about 35 000 people travel to Tanzania and attempt to summit the mountain. However, it has been reported that two thirds of people fail. The high rate of failure is not due to the technical difficulty of the mountain, but rather due to altitude sickness as many people opt for the fastest route to the summit. If you want to improve your chances of successfully summiting Kilimanjaro, take your time climbing the mountain (about 5 days or more). Slow and easy wins this race.
There are seven official routes for Kilimanjaro. The Lemosho, Shira, Machame, Umbwe, and Marangu routes use the Southern Circuit to summit the mountain via Stella Point. The last two routes Rongai and the Northern Circuit, ascend from the north-east and use Gilman’s Point to reach the summit.
If you don’t want to camp your way up the mountain, you have to use the Marangu route. It’s the oldest trail up Kilimanjaro and the only one with hut accommodation. (Keep in mind most people who fail to summit, use this route.)
- Cost: $1000 – $4000
- Eco-friendly Tour company: Eco Africa Climbing
- Best time to climb: During the dry season, January–March and June–October.
Avenue of the Baobabs – Madagascar
One of the best reasons to travel Madagascar is to witness the historic natural beauty that is, the baobab tree. This tree is known locally as renala (Malagasy for “mother of the forest”). These magnificent trees can reach 30 meters high and develop a trunk with a diameter of 3 meters!
Madagascar is home to many fantastic baobab trees. However, some of the trees at the famous avenue of baobabs are over 2800 years old. They can be found a convenient 40 minutes drive Northeast of Morodova (the gateway town to these fascinating trees).
Taxis taking you to the “avenue” can easily be found in Morodova, with prices ranging from $15-$20 return trip.
Sadly, baobab trees are still seriously threatened by deforestation and encroaching rice paddy fields. Consequently, the area is declared as a natural monument under conservation.
Best time to see the baobabs: Most tourists arrive by sunset, if you want to avoid the crowd, aim to arrive between 2 – 3pm.
Read more about the conservation work being done on Madagascar's endangered baobab trees.
Okavango Delta – Botswana
A unique characteristic of the Okavango is it’s remarkable annual flooding which occurs in the dry season and supports one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.
This spectacular oasis dubbed “the river that never finds the sea” spreads over more than 15 500 km² (almost 6 000 square miles) and yet it is so sensitive that if it were denied water for even a decade it would turn into an arid semi-desert.
- Cost: Starting from $150 a day. (Price varies greatly depending on your type of travel.)
- Eco-friendly Safari company: Jumbari
- Best time to visit: May to September
- Chobe national park: Camping
Read More: The mission to save Africa's Okavango Delta.
Ganvie – Benin
Ganvie is one of the best places to travel in Africa if living on water fascinates you.
In Africa, the Portuguese slave trade was booming in the 17th century. During this time, a tribe known as the Tofinu fled toward lake Nokoue in hope of not being enslaved and sold to the Portuguese by the Fon tribe.
Religious beliefs prevented the Fon tribe from fighting on this sacred lake.
Consequently, the Tofinu tribe were essentially safe as long as they never returned to dry land. Over time they created new homes for themselves, miles from shore.
Today, 500 years later the Tofinu settlement has grown into a bustling town with a population of over 45 000 people. Ganvie is probably the biggest lake village in the whole of Africa.
There are over 3000 buildings making up this town such as, a post office, a bank, a hospital, a church, and a mosque. One of the few buildings not found on stilts is the village school. The school is located on a patch of dry land and is just big enough for the kids to play soccer on it after school.
Here is an excerpt from Happy Days Travel Blog to give you an idea of daily life in Ganvie: “Later, it was fascinating to see that people continued to move around in boats, even after darkness fell. It was as if they were navigating by a sixth sense. The hotel had a generator, so we had lights, but very few of the local houses had any kind of light at all. We could hear the sounds of music and partying from all around us, though. Clearly, the people of Ganvié enjoy a good time!”
- Where to stay in Ganvie: Hotel Germain
Namaqualand – South Africa
One of the best places to travel in Africa if you are avid flower enthusiast. Namaqualand meaning “Nama Khoi people’s land”, is an arid region extending 1,000 kilometres (600 mi) and covering a total area of 440,000 square kilometres (170,000 sq mi).
Within the confines of the Namaqua National Park, plantsman/plantswoman are able to enjoy the most exquisite succulent plant species. Infact, this conservation area is a biodiversity hotspot and has the highest concentration of succulent plant out of all the worlds arid regions.
Incredibly, more than a thousand of the areas 3500 flora species cannot be found anywhere else in the entire world.
Read more: Tips for flower viewing in Namaqualand.
- Best time to visit Namaqualand: Between August and October.
- Best time to visit and see flowers: Late July beginning of August.
- Need to know: Temperatures in Namaqualand can reach up to 40°C (104°F).
Simien Mountains National Park – Ethiopia
Millions upon millions of years of enormous erosion has created some of the most spectacular jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices Africa has ever seen.
The Simien Mountains National Park’s unique biosphere has created conditions appropriate for the survival of an ibex species native to the Simien Mountains.
Despite severe habitat restrictions over the centuries, several hundred animal species have been able to survive up until today. Apart from the Walya ibex, you will find animals such as the endemic Simien fox, Ethiopian wolf, several birds of prey, the famous Gelada baboon, and the bush buck.
It’s the rareness of all these species that formed the foundation for conservation of the area, which led to the establishment of the Simien Mountains National Park. The park was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1918.
Another factor that adds to the distinctiveness of this natural environment are the traditional lifestyles of the rural population. Their survival in a rather harsh climate with scarce natural resources will leave a long lasting memory to visitors trekking past the local villages.
- Trekking routes: From Debark to the Simien Mountains National Park.
- Best time to visit: Between October and March.
- Code of conduct
Lake Retba – Senegal
Found less than an hour away from Senegal’s capital, an unusually beautiful lake exists. I say unusual because the lake is a vivid pink color.
Lake Retba which locals know as Lac Rose is separated from the North Atlantic ocean by some super narrow dunes, as expected its salt content is extremely high. Its salinity content can be compared to the dead sea, and during the dry season, even exceeds it.
The distinct pink color is actually formed by the Dunaliella salina bacteria, which is very much attracted to the lakes high salt content. The bacteria produce a red pigment in order to better absorb the sunlight.
Up to 3000 men and women from all over Western Africa, work 6-7 hour days in order to extract and export the salt from the lake. In order to protect themselves they cover their bodies in beurre de Karité (shea butter). A lot of the extracted salt is used to preserve fish which is a major component of the national dish called thieboudienne.
Interestingly, fish in the lake have adapted to the high salt content by evolving ways to pump out excess salt from their bodies. These fish are around 4 times smaller than those living in a normal environment.
- Best time to see the lake: November to June
- Best Place to stay: Le Calao du Lac Rose (900m away from lake Retba.)
- Is the lake safe to swim: Yes the bacteria in the lake is harmless to humans. (But rub shea butter on the body beforehand.
Tiébélé – Burkina Faso
Tiébélé is one of the best places to visit in Africa if you are interested in seeing traditional gurunsi vernacular architecture.
The small circular village makes up about 1.2 hectares in Burkina Faso and is located about 180 km southeast of Ouagadougou, near the border with Ghana. This beautiful place is the capital of Gurunsi Country, also known as Kassena Country.
Tiébélé is known for traditional gurunsi vernacular architecture and precisely decorated walls of the earthen huts. The village can be found within the confines of a circular based wall right at the base of a hill.
When walking through this village you’ll notice that some of the most elaborately painted buildings are actually mausoleums for the dead.
Men build the huts, they use local materials such as wood, sun dried mix of clay, soil, straw, and cow droppings.
Once the hut has been constructed women take to decorating the walls using colored mud and white chalk, with motifs and symbols taken from daily life, such as from religion and belief systems.
Gurunsi women always do the wall decorating, which is a very ancient practice that dates back to the sixteenth century AD.
- Best time to visit Burkina Faso: November to December.
- Average daily temperature: 28.2 °C (82.7 °F)
Read more: Discover Africa’s 10 Top Eco-Friendly Lodges.
Lake Malawi – Malawi
If you’re in search of massive lakes, then I am 100% positive that Lake Malawi is one of the best places to travel in Africa. It covers a staggering 29,600 square kilometres (11,400 sq mi). Essentially one fifth of the entire country and stretches more or less 580 kilometres (360 mi) long. Incase you are wondering, the deepest part of the lake reaches a depth of 706 m (2,316 ft).
For tourist’s lake Malawi can be like heaven on earth, white sandy beaches, incredible snorkeling, and scuba diving in crystal clear water home to the shiniest of fish. Perhaps rugged rocky territory on uninhabited offshore islands is more your thing. My advice find two trees that are side by side and hang up that hammock.
Lake Malawi is the 3rd largest lake in Africa and pretty much looks just like the sea, except there is no salt! On stormy days, high winds can produce some pretty large waves. It is for this reason that I recommend visiting Lake Malawi in October, the water will be absolutely pristine.
The fish eagle is Malawi’s national bird. You will see many of them flying around the lake, each emitting their inimitable sorrowful cry.
Lake Malawi is also home to unique little fish called Cichlids, already more than 500 different species have been recorded here. Some scientists believe there could be as many as 1000 different species. To give you some perspective, that’s more diversity of freshwater fish than both Europe and USA put together.
- Best place to stay by Lake Malawi: The Eco Lodge.
- Is it safe to swim in Lake Malawi: Read this article.
Hoggar Mountains – Algeria
Hoggar mountains also spelled Ahaggar mountains boasts undeniable beauty. I mean look at that vast never ending landscape, it covers around 550,000 square km (212,000 square miles) of land.
The mountains you see are largely composed of metamorphic rock, and they’re old, approximately 2 billion years old! Note that more recent volcanic activity has laid down much newer rock.
The mountain range usually experiences extremely hot summers with a cool winter climate. Temperatures are known to actually fall below freezing point in winter. Rainfall is quite rare and may occur sporadically throughout the year. However, as the climate is slightly less extreme than in other areas of the Sahara, the Hoggar Mountains are a major location for biodiversity.
Although rarely sighted, there are several desert cheetahs living in the Hoggar national park. Sadly, these cheetahs are part of a globally endangered species. On the positive side however, there is a cheetah conservation fund running to protect these majestic creatures from being killed by the nomads living in the area. They argue that the animal is to blame for declining livestock numbers.
By visiting the park on an Algeria tour, you are indirectly or directly contributing to the conservation efforts.
Other animals you may have the privilege of spotting in the park are the Barbary sheep, genets, wild cat, mongoose, leopards, golden jackals, Ruppell’s foxes, sand cats, fennecs, addax, dama gazelle and the endangered painted hunting dog, among many others.
- Tours and attractions: Prehistoric rock paintings, hiking and mountain climbing adventures, the tomb of Tin Hinan at Abalessa and the oasis near Tamanrasset.
Read more: Climate Change the lethal effects on animals.
Victoria Falls – Zambia
If you want to experience 1 of the 7 most spectacular natural wonders of the world, then one of the best places to travel in Africa would be Zambia. Local people call it “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – the smoke that thunders. And it really does thunder, the waterfall can be heard from over 40 km (24 miles) away.
The Victoria falls is 1708 meters (5600 feet) wide making it the largest “sheet” of water in the world. The water flows over the edge at an average of 550 000 cubic meters every minute, falling into an abyss 90m to 107m deep, eventually joining the great Zambezi gorge.
To give you some perspective I worked out how much toilets you’d have to flush every minute to match the flow of the great Victoria falls. The answer is 50 000 000 toilets. That is a lot of water!
Thankfully, the falls and the surrounding area have been declared national parks and a world heritage site. This saves the location from extensive commercialization.
- Best time to visit Victoria Falls: February to May, directly after the region’s summer rains.
- Eco tour company: Matriarch Africa.
Sudd – South Sudan
Please note: There has been a serious deterioration in security in South Sudan. In particular, many areas are currently not safe to travel. I advise you to contact your embassy and local agents prior to travelling.
On average the Sudd stretches over 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 sq mi) and in the wet season more than doubles to 130,000 square kilometres (50,000 sq mi) comprising 13% of the country. Yes this is one of the world’s largest wetlands in the nile basin.
In the Sudd, rivers flow through numerous tangled channels in pattern that morphs every single year. Papyrus, aquatic grass, and water hyacinth grow in dense thickets in the shallower waters. It’s these areas that crocodiles and hippopotami love, it’s the perfect swampy living conditions for them.
Every so often matted vegetation breaks free from its rooting. This vegetation slowly but surely builds up into floating islands of vegetation that can reach up to 30 km in length.
The Sudd is nearly impossible to pass through either overland or by watercraft. This is because of insanely thick reeds, grasses, water hyacinth, and other hydrophilic plants.
Humongous blocks of vegetation can form and shift position, blocking all navigable channels creating an ever changing network of water. For 100’s of years this region has prevented eager explorers from travelling along the Nile, only the pastoral Nilotic Nuer people inhabit some of these areas.
- Tour company: Ethiousatour.
Sacred Osun Grove – Nigeria
One of the best places to visit in Africa if you are in search for sacred groves, is Osun-Osogbo, Nigeria.
100 years ago, there were many sacred groves in Yorubaland, pretty much every town had one. Today, most of these groves have been abandoned or have shrunk to very small areas.
Osun-Osogbo, was founded some 400 years ago in southwest Nigeria. It is the largest sacred grove to have survived over the years. The thick forest of Osun Sacred grove is some of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria.
Cutting through the forest is the river Osun, the spiritual home for the river goddess Osun. Within the forest sanctuary you will find forty shrines, sculptures and art works all erected in honor of Osun and other Yoruba deities.
The new art placed in the grove differentiates it from other groves, in that it reinforces the ties between people and the Yoruba pantheon.
The grove is an active religious site where daily, weekly, and monthly worship takes place. In addition, a processional festival takes place annually in order to re-establish the mystic bonds between the goddess and the town people. The festival lasts for 12 days in July and August.
Bandiagara (cliff dwellings) – Mali
The magnificent Bandiagara escarpment cuts through the arid lands of the Sahel in Mali for hundreds of kilometers. There’s no doubt Bandiagara is one of the best places to travel in Africa. The sheer cliffs rise over 1500 feet into the sky. They range in geographic diversity from desert to surging waterfalls plummeting onto the plains down below.
Perhaps even more impressive than the landscape, are the Dogon homes chiseled and carved into the escarpment. The Dogon people carve everything from simple rectangular buildings into the cliff walls, to complex Mosques made out of mud and stick.
Some of the villages can hardly even be seen by passing travelers as they seamlessly blend in with the mountains behind them. Others are barely made out by their thatched roofs.
- Know before you go: The towns that are known for organizing treks are Mopti-Sévaré, Douentza or Bakass. Within the Dogon country, Bandiagara and Sanga can also be used as starting points. The majority of travelers opt for a 3-day trek starting from Bandiagara. You should take note that the Dogon country is very rough, think rock scrambling and cliff climbing under extreme heat. We really recommend that you opt for guide in the Dogon country, this can be done in any of the villages I mentioned above.
Read more: 23 Examples of keystone species.
Sossusvlei – Namibia
If you are searching for massive imposing dunes, then Sossusvlei is one of the best places to travel in Africa.
Located in Africa’s largest conservation area (Africa (the Namib-Naukluft National Park), Sossusvlei is undoubtedly one of Namibia’s most exquisite and best known attraction.
Sossusvlei is known for its dunes, some of the highest in the world. The dunes can reach up to 400 meters, providing photographic enthusiasts with some of the most awe-inspiring images in the morning and evening light.
Sossusvlei translates to “dead-end marsh”, it is called this as the dunes prevent the Tsauchab River to flow any further.
During rare rainy seasons, the river fills the pan, drawing visitors from all around the world. It is one of the few travel destinations where photographers can capture a glassy lake holding reflections of the vast surrounding dune.
Despite the harsh desert conditions in the area, you can still find a wide variety of plants and animals that have adapted to survive.
Vredefort Crater – South Africa
Vredefort, one of the best places to travel in Africa, if you are in search of giant meteor craters. In fact vredefort is home to the world’s oldest and largest known impact structure!
Around two billion years ago, an asteroid measuring a whopping 10 kilometers in width hurtled towards earth. The impact occurred southwest of what is present day Johannesburg and temporarily made a 40km (24 mile) deep and 100km (62 mile) wide dent in the earths surface.
This meteorite was nearly twice as big as the impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Luckily, during this time the only living thing would have been a type of algae, like the green slime you see in dams today.
Read more on Geology.com
Lake Naivasha – Kenya
Lake Naivasha, meaning rough water is a freshwater lake north west of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. The lake lies 1884m above sea level making iot the highest lying lakes of the Rift Valley.
Papyrus and yellow acacias line the freshwater shores, you’ll frequently spot hippos frolicking amongst the shallows while hearing a discord of twittering birds singing from above.
Many types of wildlife can be found in Lake Naivasha such as, hippos, fish including Crayfish, Tilapia and Black bass. There are over 400 species of bird like Great Cormorants, Long-tailed, Fish Eagles, Pelicans and all types of Kingfishers as well as the Grey-backed fiscal.
- Best time to visit lake Naivasha: July to October (Best for viewing wildlife)
- Eco accommodation: Rocky Eco Lodge
Read more: How are plastic bags made.
Danakil Depression – Ethiopia
If you love hot weather, I mean you start to salivate when thinking of it, then one of the best places to travel in Africa is the Danakil depression in Ethiopia.
Located in the northeastern corner of Ethiopia, Danakil has the distinction of being the hottest place on earth, with recorded temperatures reaching a mind blowing 51°C (125°F). The region is sometimes called “the gateway to Hell.”
The lava lake in the Erta Ale volcano is one of only 4 living lava lakes in the world.
One other major attraction of the Danakil are the camel caravans. These robust camels transport salt through the desert for 3 days, eventually reaching a road which allows for motorized vehicles to take over the load.
These camel caravans can stretch for miles and are handled by the Afar people, who are just as hardy as the camels they own, living in a vast wasteland where virtually nothing grows. Travel here is extremely perilous.
Due to the almost unlimited supply of salt and mineral deposits, the Danakil is full of colorful and surreal landscapes such as hot springs (the ones you never dream of relaxing in) and bubbling pools.
- Danakil Depression Tours
- Best time to visit Danakil Depression: November to early January (temperature will be the coolest.)
Extensive research & passion was put into 18 Best Places to Travel in Africa (Expert Guide). I hope you found the travel guide inspiring and enriching. Please note that we will continue to update this post to bring you the freshest Africa travel destinations throughout the year.
If you have any places you’d like us to add to this guide please feel free to mention them in the comments section below.
If you are still doubtful on whether you should travel to Africa or not, we leave you with this breathtaking video by Rhino Africa.