16 Unique Experiences You Need To Have in Africa
The more I travel through Africa, the more I realise how lucky I am to call this incredibly diverse continent home. It is filled with fascinating cultures, rich histories, beautiful scenery and an abundance of wildlife, offering an amazing travel experience to any traveller.
I asked some of the African travel bloggers I know to share with me their favourite African country and what made that destination unique.
From the greatest wildlife show on Earth to hiking volcanoes, world-class music festivals and a myriad of adventure activities, here are some of the top unique experiences in Africa.
1. Botswana: The Okavango Delta
Beginning from the Angolan highlands, the Okavango Delta meanders all the way down to the flat plains of Botswana. This unique marshland stretches out for some 15,000 square kilometres and is home to a multitude of endangered species such as the white and black rhinoceros.
What makes this site one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa is during its flooding season when the delta's vibrant eco-system comes alive, and attracts the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.
Read more: Okavango, Botswana: Where The Mokoro is King
2. DR Congo: Climbing The Active Nyiragongo Volcano
Located inside Africa's first national park lies one of the world's most active volcanoes - Mount Nyiragongo. It is thought to have the fastest flowing lava in the world and is one of two volcanos responsible for 40 percent of eruptions in Africa.
It hasn't had an eruption since 2002, but its deadly lake of lava is slowly rising once more. One thing is for sure, climbing Mount Nyiragongo is not for the faint of heart.
Read more: The Awaking Lava Lake at Nyiragongo
3. Egypt: Diving in the Red Sea
Egypt is more than its pyramids and legendary treasures of Tutankhamen. It is also home to the Red Sea, one of the seven wonders of the underwater world and a world-class diving destination.
Its warm red tinged waters offer insane levels of visibility, millions of fish, beautiful coral reefs and amazing wreck diving locations. And with 20% of the species are endemic to the area, a dive here is truly a unique experience.
4. Ethiopia: Explore The 900-Year Old Churches of "New Jerusalem"
Ethiopia is referred to as the Land of Origins and it's easy to see why, especially while visiting Lalibela in the North of the country. Home to 11 remarkable rock-hewn churches that were carved from living rock and cannot be viewed from ground level.
It took thousands of workers nearly 24 years to create this UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 12th Century. Among them, the largest monolithic church in the world and the popular St George's Church. All have winding drainage systems and potholed walls that for centuries served as shelters for pilgrims on their annual visit to the 'New Jerusalem'.
Read more about Dawn Jorgensen's trip to Ethopia on The Incidental Tourist
5. Lesotho: Drive through the Kingdom in the Sky
Lesotho is a high-altitude landlocked kingdom surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. This unique destination is the only country in the world to have all its land lying at 1500 metres above sea level, thus earning its nickname "Kingdom in the Sky."
As a country with such dramatic and beautiful scenery, a 4x4 road trip is one the best ways to explore its vast and varied yet underdeveloped landscapes. Visit the highest pub in Africa, the snow-capped mountains of Maluti or take in the unspoilt scenery of the Semonkong Falls.
Read more: Creating a Lesotho Road Trip
6. Kenya: Watch The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth
No list of the most unique experiences in Africa would be complete without The World Cup of Wildlife. Every year, millions of wildebeest, zebra and antelope make their way from the Serengeti National Park to the greener pastors of the Maasai Mara.
It is considered one of the "Seven New Wonders of the World" and offers an unparalleled safari experience as half a million calves are born and nudged to their feet within minutes to keep them safe from the lurking predators.
7. Madagascar: The Avenue of the Baobabs
One of the country's most popular plant species is the Baobab trees. Lining the dirt road between Morondava and Belon'i Tsiribihina, this is the most accessible place to see Baobab trees in Africa. The Avenue of the Baobabs is an impressive row of 20 to 25 trees that live up to 800 years old and reach startling heights of 98 feet.
This striking landscape makes it one of the most visited locations in the region and in 2007, it was granted temporary protection status, marking its first steps to becoming Madagascar's first national monument.
8. Malawi: Stay on a deserted island in Lake Malawi
Despite its incredible wildlife, breathtaking landscapes and a rich cultural heritage, Malawi is one of the least visited African destinations.
Called the "Warm Heart of Africa" in the local language, the crown jewel of Malawi, is its most visited tourist attraction - Lake Malawi. However, one of the most unique ways to experience the natural beauty of Africa's third-largest lake is to spend a few nights on Mumbo Island.
Mumbo is a deserted and pristine tropical island inside Lake Malawi National Park. It is home to some of the best freshwater snorkelling, and scuba diving in the world and the only accommodation available is one of the top 50 sustainable lodges in Africa to ensure the island retains its pristine heritage.
9. Morocco: Skiing in Marrakech
Quick. Think of a word to describe Morocco. If you are like me, you probably thought "Arabic" or "ridiculously hot desert." However, just 45 miles from the vibrant metropolis of Marrakech, lies Oukaimeden - Africa's highest ski resort.
Nestled in the High Atlas mountain range, Oukaimeden has a skiable area that is 6 feet higher than Val Thorens, one of Europe's most sought after skiing destinations. Intrepid travellers can also ski off Jbel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa which eclipses the Vallee Blanche by over 1, 000 feet.
If you are looking to experience this unique adventure in Morocco, hit the slopes between the winter months of January and March.
Read more: Snow Skiing in Morocco? Yes, Really!
10. Mozambique:The Subterranean Rhythm & Blues Experience
One of Africa's most popular destinations is the southern nation of Mozambique. Its coastline is dotted with pristine beaches like Tofo, and its waters are teething with an abundance of sea life.
Situated just 14km north of the South African border is Ponta Malongane, a Mozambican town best known for its excellent diving sites. However, once a year, this town opens its doors to one of the best music festivals on the continent - The Subterranean Rhythm & Blues Experience.
The festival has been running since 2003 and usually sells out within days of tickets going on sale. Coinciding with a great lineup of artists from across the continent, STRAB also arranges scuba-diving and snorkelling trips for festival goers who want to make the most of their time in Mozambique.
11. Namibia: Skydiving in Swakopmund
Namibia is known for its remarkable natural destinations. Etosha National Park, the Kalahari desert and Fish River Canyon Park attract nature enthusiasts from all over the world.
However, Swakopmund attracts travellers for a different reason. It is Namibia's adventure capital that is filled with adrenaline pumping activities juxtaposed against the German architecture and seaside promenades.
Spend a day sandboarding over the beautiful Namib Desert dunes or push your limits by skydiving. Hurle yourself out of a plane 10,000 feet above sea level and experience one of the purest thrills as you take in an unobscured view of the Namibia's landscape from above.
12. Rwanda: Gorilla Trekking
The "Land of a Thousand Hills" is home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas. With only an estimated 780 left in the world, gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a unique experience in Africa to catch a glimpse of the 300 gorillas living inside Volcanoes National Park.
While Rwanda is the most expensive country to see this vulnerable species, it is worth it. The trek is less physically demanding, there is less foliage which means better visibility, and with the Ugandan government evicting an indigenous tribe from their ancestral land in 1992 in the name of gorilla conservation, it is also more ethical.
13. South Africa: Searching for the Big 7
It is no secret that South Africa is one of the continent's top safari destinations. It packs a punch with its excellent wildlife sightings, 5-star lodges and a well-developed tour infrastructure.
While most people have the Kruger Park at the top of their South African bucket list, the lesser known Addo Elephant National Park offers even bigger rewards for those willing to travel to the coastal town of Port Elizabeth.
Situated 75 km outside of the city, Addo offers nature lovers the chance to get up close with not only the Big Five but the Big 7. It is the only national park in the world where you can see lions, leopards, buffaloes, elephants, rhinos, whales and great white sharks. And for those that care about the little guys, Addo also contains the largest remaining population of the flightless dung beetle.
14. Swaziland: BushFire Music Festival
Despite Swaziland being the smallest country in the Southern Hemisphere, it does not lack for attractions and activities. It is one of the few remaining monarchies in Africa and has a rich local culture and heritage.
Swaziland's internationally acclaimed music & arts festival BushFire is one of the best ways to experience a snippet of what this country has to offer. Every year, 25,000 people make their way to the lush Malkerns Valley to listen to some of Africa's top artists and celebrate creative expression while promoting social responsibility.
As the country with the world's highest estimated HIV-infected adults, the festival donates 100% of its profits to Aids orphans, making it a great choice for travellers who want to contribute towards responsible tourism at the same time.
15. Tanzania: Summiting the rooftop of Africa
For the avid trekker, Tanzania is the promised land. Its diverse landscape offers plenty of challenges from the active volcano Ol Donyo Lengai to the highest mountain in Africa - Mount Kilimanjaro.
Every year, 40 000 people summit "The Rooftop Africa" which stands at a staggering 5,895 meters above level. However, what makes Kilimanjaro a unique climb is its five ecological zones. As you ascend its iconic slopes, you will experience four different climate zones in a week. From the lush forest vegetation of the Savannah to the dead zone of Kibo which is home to a spider living at altitudes of 5500 meters.
16. Zambia: The Devil's Pool
The mighty Zambezi River feeds the world's largest sheet of falling water: Victoria Falls. The levels of the Zambezi River drop enough to expose the basalt cliffs on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls during the dry season (between early August and late December). This is the only time you can swim in Devil's Pool – a natural infinity pool on the edge of the cliff face.
Iga from Eager Journeys had this to say about her experience to this unique part of Africa: "Our Tongabezi guide, Eustace, somersaults into the rock pool and we slide in after him. The water pushes us to the edge of the rock, where each minute over 500 million litres of water crash into Batoka Gorge below. The water spray can be seen and heard for kilometres, which is why the locals have named it Mosi-oa-Tunya – the smoke that thunders."
What are some of your favourite unique experiences in Africa?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I'm Lauren! I'm passionate about inspiring young South Africans to travel for less and sharing my experiences and how to navigate the endless visa paperwork along the way. When I'm not busy preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, I'm having a travel fail somewhere and geeking out in countries all over the world. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!