If you’re coming up from Cape Town as I did, Botswana will hit you as the first step into “the real Africa” as opposed to the other more southern countries which are somewhat westernised by comparison. If you are travelling by road as I was you will start to see huts along the way, this will also be the start (if you are travelling further north) of having small children run up to your vehicle every time you look like stopping. Botswana is one of a kind, home to the world’s largest inland marsh, called the Okavango Delta which is home to all kinds of wildlife and is one of the best spots for spotting hippos, make sure you leave them in peace, not in pieces as the locals say. Maun is usually the staging ground for trips into the Delta and it’s a great place to get cheap accommodation, have a cheap drink and also a cheap meal at the local McDonald’s equivalent, “Bimbos”. It’s also one of the last places where resources will be plentiful, there are places to buy supplies here and the exchange places are good, so make sure you stock up. The other major attraction is Chobe National Park, which is actually famous for its elephant citing, but in which I saw the most spectacular group of lions and while it was raining at that. It’s also another great place to see hippos, especially if you go on the river cruise through the park which is provided by Chobe Lodge.
What do you say about a place you couldn’t wait to leave? I hated the place, but would I trade the experience for another? Hell no! Ethiopia was the biggest eye opener of my life and I don’t think I learned as much about life and the world at school, than I did in 5 weeks in Ethiopia. This is a place to go if you’re feeling down about yourself and your life, it gives you one thing. Perspective. Ethiopia is almost like two countries, the tribal south and the impressive north with Addis Ababa, the capital nestled snugly in the middle, little more a small collection of towns with a few sky scrapers sticking out if it. Be warned, when visiting Ethiopia, you are on your own. There is no public transport, especially in the south and everyone in an official position is corrupt so which is especially true in the north where the locals have finally realised the value of money. Ethiopia too is a classic example of what western “help” can do, it is not an uncommon site to see hundreds of people seated outside UN buildings waiting for a hand out, with their back to fertile green fields with black soil. There is no widespread famine here anymore, that was 20 years ago because of people’s generosity the locals have forgotten how to sustain themselves or simply don’t want to. There are some fantastic things to see, notably the rock cut churches of Lalibela, the ministries on the islands of Lake Tana and the religious centre of Axum, where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. Oh it’s there and don’t you say it isn’t, however you will not be allowed to see it. Get all the privacy and personal space you need before you leave, it doesn’t exist here, no matter what you do or where you are.
When you think of Kenya, the name of the place conjures up thoughts of an era long since passed, hunters in pith helmets, sitting in a lodge drinking ice tea and watching lions hunt a zebra & David Attenborough’s famous Africa documentaries. In fact, Kenya’s National Parks are often little visited in favour of Tanzania’s Serengeti, many don’t realise that the Masai Mara is actually an extension of the Serengeti that crosses into Kenya, and it is here in October at the famous Mara River one can see Wildebeest crossing, during the great migration. Other National Parks of note include Nakuru, with its beautiful lake and vast, vast baboon population (before a visit it might be helpful to read my How to behave around animals article” and Naivasha with its freshwater lake and peaceful atmosphere. Naivasha , also is home to Elsamere, the former home of Joy Adamson, who raised Elsa the lion of “Born Free” fame, bring some tissues if you plan a visit. To the north you will encounter the Samburu tribe, if you are lucky enough to be on an overland expedition sometimes they will allow you to camp with them, sleeping by the fire with their warriors and waking up to the glowing embers of the fire at sunrise is one of my most treasured memories. Further North, towards the boarder with Ethiopia is the “Dancing Road” as the tribes call it, but it is more commonly known as the “Bandit Road” famous for shootings and robberies. Don’t attempt this alone, it is not for the faint of heart and the 600km bumpy road is only interrupted by the town of Marsabit, a wild, scary place with only one hotel, and I use that term very loosely.
Often called the warm heart of Africa, Malawi is a bit of a different one. It’s good for a break if you’re on a journey up or down the continent, a swim in its beautiful lake will sooth and delight. Be aware that Malawi is one of the poorer African countries and the locals have become accustomed to western tourists and be warned if you leave your camp or hotel, you will likely do it with about six people in tow and unfortunately, the only way to stop it is to ignore it, as one of my safari groups found out the hard way. Take my advice and stay in one of the many camps along Lake Malawi, lay in a hammock and forget the world exists while listening to Bob Marley’s, Buffalo Soldier. Chitimba camp, north of Kande is worth a visit not least because of its tranquillity, but because of the vast array of wooden souvenirs sold outside its gates, anything from carved animals to tables and all beautifully crafted and costing next to nothing by western standards. If you manage to visit, make sure you say hi to Mr Vegemite for me, one of the sellers in the market.
As a travel agent, I’d often talk people out of going to the Maldives for a place far more spectacular, Mauritius. Not only does Mauritius have pristine beaches and fabulous resorts, it also has a good nightlife, adventure activities and lots to see including a safari park, where you can pat a cheetah, and some beautiful waterfalls. It has a bit of everything and is the perfect holiday destination, you can be as secluded as you want and lay on a beach all day or you can get your sightseeing and can even participate in various adventure activities like speed boating or swimming with dolphins. No visit to Mauritius would be complete without a visit to the Ile aux Cerf, a small island of the east coast, known for its ultra-pristine beaches, amazing beach side restaurants and boat tours, to see yet more amazing waterfalls. My trip to Mauritius was short, I went as part of a spontaneous birthday thing, I spent three days here, but felt I could have easily spend two weeks and not gotten bored. The only negative I have is about Port Louis airport, it was until my trip to Cancun in 2015 the worst airport I have ever visited, if only because of the chaos that ensues from trying to check oneself in.
Now this is country of different landscapes, you can be in the desert in the searing heat in the morning and be on the coast in freeze temperatures by the afternoon. Namibia is home to the world’s second largest canyon, after the Grand Canyon and is also home to a large colony of seals at Cape Cross. (Beware, they stink!) It is also one of the adventure capitals of Africa and the town of Swakopmund in one of the most popular places to go sky diving, deep sea fishing and quad biking in the nearby desert. Swakopmund also has a great nightlife and is the perfect stop to restock, resupply and relax for a few days before heading off again. Namibia is also one of those places where you can drive for a thousand kilometres and not see a single person, the roads are bumpy, dirty and dusty so be prepared to feel really rattled when you’re done for the day. Make sure you take plenty of water if you are going to drive yourself. In the north you can visit the country’s most famous national park Etosha and drive yourself around spotting animals, and at night you can sit by one of the three camps waterholes and watch the animals come out for a late night drink. Near Grootfontien are the San Bushman who you can go and visit, be wanted as soon as you get out of your vehicle you will be surrounded by kids who want you to play, pick them up and take photos of them, and speak to you in their funny, clicky language. The last outpost in Namibia before heading into Botswana or Angola is Rhundu, when I say last outpost, I mean it. It’s a fairly wild place, but it’s a great place to restock for the journey onwards, with a small shopping centre, markets, a few take away joints and phone shops.
As the plane descended down to Reunion Island I saw the peaks of its lush green mountains, shrouded in clouds. I saw its rocky shores, pristine beaches and didn’t notice any trace of civilisation. I playfully named it “Skull Island” as before I had even landed it reminded me of one of those islands you see in Adventure Movies like “The Phantom” or read about in C.S Lewis’ “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. After landing in St Denis on New Year’s Eve and going out for one of my “quick walks” I noticed how hilly it was on the ground, its hard work sightseeing here. The beaches are beautiful, however the sand is a little more grainy than neighbouring Mauritius with its while powdery sand. The mountains I learned are call the Circques and exploring at least one of them is a must, I had a look at the Cirque de Cilaos, which is lush and green and my oh my, I’d never seen so many waterfalls in my life. The other major draw card is this tiny island is home to the most active volcano in the the Indian Ocean, the Piton de la Fournaise, or the Mountain of Fire in English. French is spoken on the island, and basically no English so if you intend on getting around yourself brush up on this language.
South Africa gets a really bad rap as one of the most dangerous places in the world, that is probably true of some places and don’t get me wrong I was absolutely terrified the first time I was on my own in Johannesburg. Cape Town however is a different story, it is one of the most cosmopolitan cities I have ever visited and was a place I always looked forward to getting to as the restaurants are amazing. It’s probably the only place you can get decent Ethiopian food besides Ethiopia and then go next door and get perfect Italian. The shopping is great and there are various small markets as well as larger shopping centres and all the while you are their the magnificent Table Mountain watches over the city. Cape Town is also the perfect place to get to Robben Island and the infamous prison in which Nelson Mandela was housed, if you only do one thing do this it’s a moving experience. The town of Stellenbosch is worth a visit as it is located in one of the best wine producing areas of the country, its lovely to just go and cycle around the vineyards, it also one of the best places to go cage diving with great while sharks, if that’s your thing. Trust me, it’s not mine. The small town of Spingbok in the north is probably the best place to resupply if heading north once you are away from the major cities and towns, again the kids will love you and, hey it’s the home of Rugby so why not stop and have a game at the local field.
My high school history teacher told me of the pyramids in Sudan, built by the Nubian kings of Egypt and he said the worst thing anyone could ever say, it’s too dangerous and you will never be able to get there, and at fourteen years old, I vowed one day I would. I chose my 2010 trip from Cape Town to Cairo for the very reason that it spend two weeks in Sudan and when I told people I was going there the fuss they made! It’s dangerous, you won’t come back alive. Well here I am and it was the best experience of my life. I spend two days in the Blue Nile Sailing Club in Kartourm, eight nights camping in the desert, two nights in the border town of Wadi Halfa waiting for the weekly ferry to Egypt and 12 days without a shower and you know what it was the best two weeks of my life! Those people were the nicest I had ever encountered, “Welcome to Sudan” I heard everywhere and not once were there ulterior motives. The sights! The pyramids I had come to see were worth all the hassle alone. The mountain at Gebel Barkal, Temple of Soleb at Wawa and everything else were just a bonus and the highlight was sleeping out under the stars every night and the best nights sleep I have ever had. The only warnings I have are that woman cannot stay in hotels if they are single, hence the sleeping under the stars, women must cover up…which was fun for us buying all the different multi-coloured burkas in the market place, because hey, when in Rome, and the hot dry HEAT! Oh wow I had never felt anything like it, one day I drank 7 litres of water and didn’t have to use the non existant bathroom, 55+ everyday its like living in a blast furnace.
Think hot, and then think sticky and then there's nowhere to escape it. It's totally worth it! Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, Zanzibar, with the most beautiful azure blue water I've ever seen and not to mention the Serengeti & the Ngorongoro Crater where you can see the entire big 5 in an hour. Expect to be roughing it a bit more than the other countries, but also be prepared for some unexpected surprises, like campsites advertsing "free wifi" when they don't have flushing toilets. You think they would be able to get that priority right. The roads are rough, but the beaches are amazing. When people are on the job most of the time they are lazy and awful (especially the police who will outrightly ask for bribes) but if you catch them on a day off they are wonderful! When in Tanzania, it is important especially to remember T.I.A, This. Is. Africa and if you forget, the locals will certainly remind you!
This is old world Africa, this place reeks of times long past, days of Dr Livingstone and taking high tea on the deck at the lodge and watching the elephants. Zambia also feels a little bit like Zimbabwe's less dangerous little brother. Its still Africa, its still amazing but not quite as much to see as its big brother. Zambia is home to Livingstone Island, where one can take high tea at the edge of the falls and the exact spot Dr Livingstone named them after Queen Victoria, swim in the Devil's pool and then watch the sunset from the deck at the Royal Livingstone hotel...which I WILL stay at one day. Zambia had many more tourist when Zimbabwe fell on hard times and became far too dangerous, now Zimbabwe is back on its feel, don't forget about Zambia its still a wonderful ride!