Lamu town has that quality of immediately standing out as you approach it from the water (and let’s face it – everything is better when approached from water). The shopfronts and mosques, faded under the relentless kiss of the salt wind, creep out from behind a forest of dhow masts.
The greatest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Heritage–listed Great Zimbabwe is one of the nation's most treasured sights. So much so, that it was named after it! This mysterious site provides evidence that ancient Africa reached a level of civilisation not suspected by earlier scholars.
Some ten years ago, Fez boomed as a tourist destination. Money poured into the city, from foreigners buying up riads in the medina to new parks and fountains in the ville nouvelle. If you believed the travel and style pages of the Western media, Fez had become the new Marrakesh. Then the Arab Spring and similar events in other Muslim countries took their toll on tourism.
Mana Pools National Park
This magnificent 2200-sq-km national park is a Unesco World Heritage–listed site, and its magic stems from its remoteness and pervading sense of the wild and natural. This is one park in Zimbabwe where you’re guaranteed to see plenty of hippos, crocs, zebras and elephants, and almost guaranteed to see lions and possibly wild (painted) dogs.
Crescent-shaped Mozambique Island (Ilha de Moçambique) measures only 3km in length and barely 500m in width at its widest section. Yet it has played a larger-than-life role in East African coastal life over the centuries, and today is one of the region’s most fascinating destinations – part slowly reawakening ghost town, part lively fishing community.
World Heritage–listed Harar is a place apart. With its 368 alleyways squeezed into just 1 sq km, it’s more reminiscent of Fez in Morocco than any other city in the Horn. Its countless mosques and shrines, animated markets, crumbling walls and charming people will make you feel as if you’ve floated right out of the 21st century.
The Unesco World Heritage–listed Tsodilo Hills rise abruptly from the northwestern Kalahari, west of the Okavango Panhandle. Rare outposts of vertical variety in this extremely flat country, these lonely chunks of quartzite schist are dramatic and beautiful, distinguished by streaks of vivid natural hues – mauve, orange, yellow, turquoise and lavender.
It’s not what Gonder is, but what Gonder was that’s so enthralling. The city lies in a bowl of hills where tall trees shelter tin-roofed stone houses, but rising above these, and standing proud through the centuries, are the walls of castles bathed in blood and painted in the pomp of royalty.