The Ultimate Africa Travel Bucket List
East and Southern Africa – famed for its panoramic landscapes and myriad of wildlife. It is said that once you see the sunset over the great African plains, you will never want to leave and, for me, nothing could be more true.
In the last 5 years our featured travel writer Emily has spent over 8 months exploring this mysterious continent and in that time, she has learnt a lot about what makes it tick.
For those of you just beginning on your African adventure, she has created the Ultimate African Bucket List.
1. Big 5 Safari
When most people think of Africa, they think of the Big Five; lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. The iconic list of must-see animals that everyone wants to tick-off before their inevitable return to daily life. Truly, there are few animals on Earth that can rival these few for their sheer power and majesty and, luckily, there are plenty of places where you can find them – and more besides – if you know where to go. These are my three favourite Big Five safari parks:
Kruger NP, South Africa
Covering an area the size of Wales, this is the gem in the crown of of South Africa’s numerous and prestigious National Parks. Boasting massive elephant and buffalo populations as well as comprehensive maps and self-drive/camping options, there’s no excuses not to visit! View tours in South Africa.
Serengeti/Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Where the wide, open Serengeti plains meet the unique wildlife haven of the crater, this is Africa as most people envisage it. Swathed in fertile grasses, animals flock here in their thousands giving you outstanding views and maximum opportunity to tick off your list. Lions and the rare black rhino are a common sighting here. Search tours in Tanzania.
Etosha NP, Namibia
Meaning ‘the place of dry water’ Etosha is famed for its huge salt pan (it can be seen from space!) providing a unique refuge for flamingos and rare antelope species alike. If you want to find bigger game, however, there are vast expanses of both grassland and thick vegetation providing a wonderful dichotomy of biomes and ample opportunities to discover the Big Five around the many watering holes – some of which you can even camp at overnight. You might like to volunteer in Namibia and help with conservation efforts.
With such strong competition amongst Africa’s many beautiful reserves, it’s hard to limit myself to just three – so here are three more notable mentions: Chobe NP, Botswana; Hwange, Zimbabwe and South Luangwa, Zambia.
2. Beautiful Cities
When you’ve finished playing game ranger in the bush, why not take a break in the city? Nestled in the shadow of the magnificent Table Mountain, Cape Town is the smiling city of a thousand cultures and, without a doubt, my favourite city in the world. Where else can you dip your toes in the ocean in the morning, take lunch in a trendy city suburb, spend the afternoon hiking one of the world’s most iconic mountains and then dine in an award-winning restaurant overlooking the world-famous V&A Waterfront?
Not to mention that it boasts its own National Park, renowned Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, impressive museums and art galleries, the notorious Robben island, an acclaimed interactive aquarium, traditional vineyards, beautiful beaches, fashionable nightspots and even its own native penguin colony…PHEW! Truly, Cape Town is the city that has it all. Need I say anymore? View our options for taking a gap year in South Africa.
3. Amazing Animals
Although a Big 5 safari is the most popular wildlife experience in Africa, there are many more unique and incredible encounters to discover. I’ve listed 3 of the best here:
Gorilla Trekking, Uganda and Rwanda
With an estimate of just 700 of these gentle giants left in the wild, it is no wonder that this tops the bucket list for animal lovers the world over. Simply being able to sit in the presence of one of our most elusive and venerable cousins is something few will actually ever do, but for those who manage the arduous trek through thick rainforest, the rewards are endless. View our Uganda tours or search our rewarding volunteer programs in Rwanda.
Wildebeest Migration, Kenya
From July through October, the ritual migration of two million wildebeest as they make their way to the Maasai Mara is, surely, a spectacle like no other. Nowhere else on Earth can you see a migration on such a vast and impressive scale and where-better to enjoy the view than from your lofty, hot-air balloon seat? Stalked by one of the densest populations of lions in the world, you won’t regret splashing-out on this! We have some fantastic Kenya gap year trips where you can see the migration.
Having been isolated for over 88 million years, it is thought between 80 and 90% of Madagascar’s wildlife is completely endemic – to be found nowhere else on Earth. Best known for its ring-tailed lemur, the world’s 4th biggest island also plays host to such unique and weird animals the cat-like fossa and the bizarre-looking aye-aye as well as silky sifakas, giraffe weevils and unlikely lizards. A nature geek’s paradise! View our wildlife volunteer programs in Madagascar.
4. Stunning Scenery
Wildlife and cities aside, Africa also boasts some of the most stunning and unique scenery on the planet. This was unbelievably difficult but I’ve narrowed it down to my top 3 (plus two notable mentions):
Okavango Delta, Botswana
As the world’s largest inland Delta, this unique landscape of mirror-like lagoons and secret waterways hidden amongst the giant papyrus reeds is host to a huge plethora of wildlife – if you can find them. Best experienced from a traditional mokoro canoe, just remember to watch out for hippos! If you would like to stay a little longer you can apply to volunteer in Botswana.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia
Known locally as the ‘smoke that thunders’, Victoria Falls is classed as the largest falling sheet of water in the world – and with good reason! When the river is full you will be soaked to your skin from the spray alone that blows-up all the way to the top of the 110m wide gorge. View our Zambia volunteer programs for a chance to give back.
Found in the world’s oldest desert, Sossusvlei is actually a series of clay-pan oases featuring eerie dead trees and surrounded by brilliant rusty-red dunes – both bizarre and beautiful to behold. Climb to the top of one of the dunes to enjoy incredible 360-degree views of the park.
Notable mention: Zanzibar, Tanzania, houseboating on Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe and the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa.
5. Awesome Adventure
Last but not least, my Ultimate Bucket List for Africa wouldn’t be complete without some seriously awesome adventure! My final three:
Climbing Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
The ultimate in African adventure – hard-core hikers and relative novices alike flock to this snow-capped behemoth to test their endurance. At over 19,000ft above sea-level and classed as the highest free-standing mountain in the world, as well as the highest outright in Africa, conquering this is no easy feat! With micro-climates from the tropics to the arctic as well as many endangered species sheltering on its slopes, the trek is almost as rewarding as the summit itself. View our Tanzania gap year adventures.
Driving the Garden Route, South Africa
Home to the world’s highest bridge bungee, blackwater tubing, paragliding, diving, surfing, canopy tours and so much more. Adventure on.
White-water rafting on the Zambezi river, Zimbabwe/Zambia
Thrash, paddle and swim your way 24km down one of the world’s wildest, crocodile infested rivers – half of whose rapids are graded 5 (grade 6 is impossible). Not for the faint-hearted! Really want a rush? Throw in the adrenaline package with a bridge swing, zipline and 111m bungee to boot! Apply to volunteer in Zimbabwe to experience the highlights of the country whilst doing something beneficial.
So, that’s it! The Ultimate African Bucket List. How many have you ticked off?
By Emily Whiting