South Africa might have the World Cup, but if you want to experience real Africa, then forget the south and head to its heart. Murray Garrard gives you the seven best for summer
Time Out Bahrain staff
Thanks to the famine in the mid 1980s, most people think a trip to Ethiopia will involve witnessing mass starvation and dreadful poverty. In fact, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most successful and enduring nations and is a highlight of any African adventure. Home to some of the best coffee in the world, some of the most awe-inspiring religious architecture, and (surprising to some) the best cuisine on the continent, Ethiopia is gradually gaining steam as one of the top travel destinations in the world.
Three to see Lalibela A visit to Ethiopia is not complete without a visit to the incredible rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site and, for many, one of the wonders of the world Fasilides Castle, Gondar This bucolic landscape is home to some of the only castles in East Africa, many of which are an impressive 400 years old Merkato Market The largest outdoor market in the world, this Addis Ababa institution is the place to find African oddities and get a grip on the continent’s buzzing trade Fly Ethiopian Airlines, via Kuwait www.ethiopianairlines.com
Think of Africa and most people think of Tanzania, one of the largest countries on the continent and home to many of its emblematic tourist sites. It is on the plains of the Serengeti that the annual migration of wildebeest thunder past in the autumn; Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, rises 5892 metres above the savannah; Zanzibar and Pemba, two of Africa’s most idyllic isles mix Arabic heritage with laid-back African glam; and to the west of the country, Gombe Stream National Park, made famous by Jane Godall, is home to one of the last remaining populations of chimpanzees in Africa. No surprise, then, it is teeming with tourists.
Three to see Zanzibar The stuff of legend for any dedicated beach goer, this island combines historic architecture, clean white beaches, fantastic snorkelling and a great summer climate Mount Kilimanjaro Not for the unfit, Mount Kimimanjaro lures hundreds of trekkers each year. The dramatic walk up is matched only by the stunning views of the continent from the top Ngorongoro Conservation Area One of the largest craters on Earth (there is speculation that the impact caused by this meteorite caused the extinction of the dinosaurs), and part of the Serengeti National Park, within the walls of this giant depression exists one of the most amazing collections of wildlife on earth Fly Oman Air, via Muscat www.omanair.com
A country that has almost become a byword for wildlife, thanks to the Hollywood film of the same name, Madagascar might be a little politically unstable, but ecologically it is booming. Thanks to its separation from the African mainland, this giant island has had 165 million years of separate evolution and is something of a Galapagos when it comes to distinctive endemic wildlife. Over 75 percent of the wildlife found he can be found nowhere else on the planet, making this a truly unique destination.
Three to see Parc National de Ranomafana This national park in the heart of the island has endemic wildlife creeping out of every crevice Ifaty Although there is plenty of wildlife to see on land, if you want one of the best diving experiences of your life, head to this peaceful coastal town on the south western coast Antananarivo If it is human culture you are looking for, then the capital city plays host to the best cuisine and most vibrant nightlife in the country Fly Emirates and South African Airlines, via Dubai and Johannesburg www.emirates.com, www.flysaa.com
Poor old Mali. Formerly the centre of one of the most powerful and culturally advanced empires in Africa, Mali is now hardly on the map when it comes to most people’s Africa plans. Which is a great shame, as the country is one of the, most historically interesting and architecturally evocative on earth. Ancient mud mosques and the legendary city of the Sahara, Timbuktu, make this a must-see on any West African adventure itinerary.
Three to see Djenne If the name is not familiar, the mud mosques that have been revered, photographed and plastered across just about every issue of National Geographic since time began have made this eerie and compelling ancient town emblematic of Saharan urban culture Timbuktu the place to head if you really want to get away from it all, this ancient city of desert, ancient mosques and camel treks is worth the relative ardour of getting there Niger River Forget the Nile, the Niger River is the best river cruise in Africa (after the Congo, which is currently too dangerous to even think about, alas). From Timbuktu to the capital Bamako, take in some of the most culturally significant desert towns on earth Fly Emirates and Royal Air Maroc, via Dubai and Casablanca www.emirates.com, www.royalairmaroc.com
Only a decade ago, Sierra Leone was engulfed in one of the bloodiest civil wars in Africa’s history (which is saying something). What a difference a decade makes. Today it is one of the continet’s most optimistic nations and despite still scoring pretty low on the UN’s Human Development Index, seems confident it has a bright future ahead of it.
Three to see Freetown One of the most beautiful capitals in Africa, Freetown sprawls along some of the best beaches in West Africa and has some of the best beach bars around Tiwai Island Nature Reserve A small island on the Moa River in the east of the country, this island has one of the highest concentrations of primates anywhere in Africa, swarming with pygmy hippos, chimps and a whole range of wildlife wonders Mount Bintumani Sure it is a third of the size of Kilimanjaro, but an ascent to the jungle fringed summit of Bintumani in the heart of the country is one of Africa’s most rewarding expeditions Fly Emirates and Royal Air Maroc, via Dubai and Casablanca www.emirates.com, www.royalairmaroc.com
Two hundred years ago, ships would avoid Namibia like the plague – being wrecked on the aptly named Skeleton Coast would mean certain death, thanks to the lack of fresh water. Today, Namibia is one of the continent’s most sought after (and expensive!) destinations, with Angelina Jolie choosing the capital to give birth in, and a host of Hollywood A-listers heading to the deserts for some R&R.
Three to see Skeleton Coast Punctuated by ravaged wrecks and the howls of hyenas, this is Africa at its most brutal Fish River Canyon One of the world’s largest canyons and one of the few sources of fresh water in the country, a hike along here wows with both geography and wildlife Etosha National Park Encompassing over 23,000 square kilometres, several salt pans, 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 16 reptile and amphibian species and (amazingly – where’s the water?), one species of fish, the figures speak for themselves. Fly Qatar Airways and South African Airlines, via Doha and Johannesburg www.qatarairways.com, www.flysaa.com
If Africa had one success story, it would be Rwanda. In 1994 the world watched in horror one of the most savage genocides in history. A decade and a half later, and the country is making great strides to becoming one of the most economically, culturally and politically advanced in Africa. Renowned for its gorillas, lake-side beaches and an amicable blend of Afro-European culture, Rwanda is back on the map.
Three to see Parc National des Volcans Named after the Virunga volcanoes, this is better known for its mountain gorillas, and the place where Dian Fossey (who wrote Gorillas in the Mist) campaigned for their protection Kigali One of the most pleasant small cities in Africa, a visit to the Kigali Memorial Centre, where you can pay your respects to the hundreds of thousands who died in the 1994 genocide, is a must Gisenyi A flash resort town for rich Rwandans and foreigners on the shore of Lake Kivu, this is Africa’s version of Switzerland’s Montreux or Argentina’s Barriloche. Fly Ethiopian Airlines, via Kuwait and Addis Ababa www.ethiopianairlines.com