Home to 54 countries, Africa is undoubtedly a continent of epic proportions and incredible diversity.
Although the vast majority of visitors book themselves straight onto a safari, the roar of Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls is also hard to ignore and the regal charm of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro rates among the world’s greatest natural wonders. In fact, in February 2013, experts from around the world met in Tanzania to announce the official list of Africa’s seven natural wonders. It’s a natural bucket list that’s hard to resist, and I happily realised I had ticked five of the boxes even before the list was announced.
I began my African journey in Botswana several years ago with a trip to the Okavango Delta, which is arguably the largest inland delta in the world. Sprawled to the southwest of Chobe National Park, the delta is created by overflow from the Okavango River that floods to the basin of the Kalahiri Desert. Waters begin to fill the delta in March after the January and February rainy season. Definitely one of the region’s greatest attractions is the fascinating array of wildlife that the Okavango region plays home to. Giraffes, buffalos, hippos, rhinos and lions all roam the area freely. The delta is also a mecca for bird watchers, and visitors that keep their eyes peeled may catch a glimpse of the African Fish Eagle, the Crested Crane and the Lilac-Breasted Roller. I managed two out of three, as well as most of the big five.
Next up on my annual tour of Africa’s natural treasures came Victoria Falls the following summer, which I call the Ambassador to this continent’s wonders. The Falls, which straddle Zambia and Zimbabwe, are known to locals as “Mosi el tunya”, which roughly translates to “the smoke that thunders”. They happen to be twice as tall as Niagara, and were formed by volcanic activity that began 200 million years ago. Over thousands of years, the mighty Zambezi River cut seven gorges through volcanic crust resulting in the Falls you see today. While the water flow is visible from both Zambia and Zimbabwe, the full front-on perspective of the thundering water can only be viewed from the Zimbabwean side so make a note in your travel schedule.
Travelling north-east to Tanzania, daring explorers encounter Mount Kilimanjaro – the tallest free-standing mountain on the planet. With a peak that often towers above the clouds, it can be a daunting moment, even for experienced mountaineers and trekkers as they first set eyes on the mountain. Fortunately, for visitors like me that lack the physical prowess required to make it to Kilimanjaro’s infinite peak, the mountain’s western Lemosho route offers up a range of 2-day wildlife tours and game drives. The lower slopes of the mountain also boast impressive volcanic lakes, like Chala, and even a collection of waterfalls. The unique culture of the Chaga Tribe that inhabits the slopes of the mountain is also a source of endless fascination.
Tanzania is also home to the Ngorongoro Crater, commonly referred to as Africa’s Garden of Eden. The vast plains of the crater seem much larger than you anticipate when you make your way towards its depths – perhaps no surprise when you consider that Ngorongoro stands as the largest unbroken caldera in the world and covers a vast expanse of 264 square km. It is commonly thought of as a natural enclosure for wildlife, which is great for first-time visitors like me looking to sample the kaleidoscope of Tanzania’s natural inhabitants. Black rhinoceros, hippopotamus, wildebeest, gazelles and lions graze and hunt freely in this rolling grassland, and it is not hard to imagine how these vivid green plains inspired the creative directors of Disney’s “Lion King”.
Moving further north, travellers will eventually hit Uganda – which is home to one of the two sources of the mystical Nile River. While many of us associate images of this mighty river with Egyptian pyramids, the world’s longest river meanders 6,650km across ten countries before it reaches the Mediterranean Sea in the north. Uganda is home to the White Nile, which joins the Blue Nile at Khartoum. There are many ways to enjoy the river, and if you don’t mind cruising along side mammoth Nile crocodiles, I recommend you absorb the breath-taking scenery with a boat cruise. Don’t miss a trip to Uganda’s Murchison Falls either, where the gargantuan river forces its way through a miniscule gap of 7 metres before tumbling onto the rocks below. All in all, Lake Victoria sends 300 cubic metres of water per second through the eye of this needle, and you cannot fail to be awed by the sheer force of nature at play.
Make the Most of Your Trip
With so many attractions to cover and so little time, it makes sense to narrow down your options when visiting Africa. A little research will reveal some useful inside information to help you make the most of a trip to this awe-inspiring continent.
- Despite the fact that the volume of water crashing down from Victoria Falls is higher during the rainy season (December to March), guaranteeing more dramatic views, you are better off visiting in the dry season to ensure your view isn’t obscured by all the extra spray.
- Some of the world’s best bungee jump experiences are to be enjoyed in Africa. Daring travellers can take the plunge in Uganda, near the source of the White Nile, or even from the bridge at Victoria Falls. White water rafting is also a popular activity for thrill-seekers.
- Whether you are planning a short trek or a long haul to Mount Kilimanjaro’s peak, you need not spend a fortune on piles of specialised mountaineering gear in advance of your trip. Warm hiking clothes, including hats, long johns and a warm fleece, in addition to head lamp, sleeping bag and hiking shoes are the most important things you will need.
- First time visitors that want to make the most of the misty African bush as it awakens at sunrise can take a hot air balloon ride over Ngorongo Crater. From your lofty vantage point, you will be able to spot the range of wildlife that calls this expansive caldera home.
- One of the most important tips for visitors in Africa is to let go of expectations and embrace each and every country’s diverse culture. If something goes wrong, laugh it off and move on to the next adventure. Getting frustrated is unlikely to solve any problems in Africa.