East African Extravaganza
- 3 Months
The wildlife of Kenya and Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar are well known but there's so much more to East Africa, including gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, and the other-worldly natural and cultural attractions of Ethiopia and Somaliland.
Fly into Kenya's Nairobi, with its surprising natural attractions, and explore the fabulous wildlife-rich Masai Mara National Reserve and Central Highlands around stunning Mt Kenya. Head east via fascinating Mombasa to the palm-fringed beaches and coral reefs of the pristine Lamu archipelago to experience the ultimate in Swahili culture. On your way south, stop off for elephants and Kilimanjaro views in Amboseli National Park and the wild country of Tsavo West.
Cross the border into Tanzania, where your first stop is Arusha, from where you can arrange 4WD safaris to the other-worldly Ngorongoro crater or the peerless wildlife-watching of Serengeti National Park, and trekking trips up Mt Kilimanjaro. From intriguing Dar es Salaam, follow the crowds to the Spice Island of Zanzibar then shake them off by heading to Pemba, an intriguing island further north. Return to Dar es Salaam then head directly west to spend time hanging with wild chimpanzees in Mahale Mountains National Park.
Walk across the Kagera River Bridge to Rusumu in Rwanda, where you can catch a minibus to Kigali. This attractive city is worth seeing before striking out for Volcanoes National Park, where you can hike in search of silverback gorillas. Cross into western Uganda, stopping off at stunning Lake Bunyonyi, before searching for mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Also possible is the chance to kick back for a few days at the Crater Lakes or Ssese Islands, or go white-water rafting at Jinja; in the north, Murchison Falls National Park is a gem.
From Uganda travel east back into Kenya to remote Loyangalani, home to unforgettable tribes and the jade-coloured Lake Turkana. From here, cross the border north into Ethiopia. In Ethiopia's south, the Lower Omo Valley is one of East Africa's most underrated wilderness areas. Continue north to Addis Ababa, an engaging city with good museums and great food, then fly out to Madagascar to explore one of Africa's most pristine and remote environments, rich in wildlife (including lemurs and great birding) and adventure.
Morocco to Benin
- 6 weeks
From the cusp of Europe in Morocco to the palm-fringed semi-tropics around Cotonou, West Africa's Atlantic coastline, is one of the most varied and beautiful coastal areas in Africa.
Begin in Rabat, a quintessentially modern Moroccan city, then make your way to Fez, Morocco's most evocative medieval medina, and then on to Marrakesh, with its palpable sense of the exotic. After a week or so in Morocco, fly down to Senegal's capital Dakar, with its African sophistication and role as regional air hub. To the north, Saint-Louis is like stepping back into pre-colonial Africa. Other Senegalese excursions include enjoying some of Africa's best birdwatching in the Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj and drifting through the Siné-Saloum Delta. You could easily spend a week or more exploring it all, before heading south to The Gambia, which may be small, but its beaches, especially those around Serekunda, make a good (English-speaking) rest stop for taking time out from the African road. From sleepy Banjul, consider flying to Freetown in Sierra Leone – the nearby beaches are beautiful and utterly undeveloped. Attractions such as Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, with its fabulous wildlife concentrations, should not be missed.
With three weeks under your belt, you could continue along the coast through Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, but most travellers fly over them to agreeable Accra in Ghana. From there excursions to the old coastal forts, Cape Coast Castle and stunning beaches at Kokrobite, Busua and Dixcove never disappoint. Don't fail to detour north to Kumasi in the Ashanti heartland, then loop up and into Burkina Faso, through Gaoua, the heart of culture-rich Lobi country, and to the dramatic Sindou Peaks (great for hiking) en route to soulful Bobo-Dioulasso. Make your way to buzzing Ouagadougou then south to the painted houses of Tiébélé.
After two weeks in Ghana and Burkina Faso, continue on to the fascinating markets and fine museum of Togo's Lomé, and don't miss an inland hiking detour around Kpalimé. Not far away is Benin, with Ouidah (the evocative former slaving port and home of voodoo), the history-rich town of Abomey and the stilt-villages of Ganvié filling up your final week. Cotonou has all the steamy appeal of the tropics and is a fine place to rest at journey's end.
Southern Africa Smorgasbord
- 3 Months
This itinerary – ideal for Africa novices – takes in nine countries and the best Southern Africa has to offer. Most places are easily accessible, English is widely spoken and the countries are well set up for foreign visitors.
Start in South Africa's mother city, vibrant Cape Town, where you can stand on top of Table Mountain, sleep off your jet lag on stunning beaches and party into the night on Long St. Also squeeze in a trip to the Winelands: Stellenbosch is a good choice. Head north into Namibia to take in the endless sand dunes of Namib-Naukluft Park, well-heeled Windhoek with its German colonial heritage, and the high-adrenaline activities of Swakopmund.
Continue north to Etosha National Park, then east along the Caprivi Strip to Kasane, the gateway to Botswana's Chobe National Park and its amazing concentration of elephants. Fly to Maun for a few days poling through the swampy maze of the Okavango Delta. Back in Kasane, it's a short hop into Zambia's Livingstone, for some high-speed thrills and the spectacular Victoria Falls.
Zambia's capital Lusaka might not be a looker but its bar and clubbing scene is lively and you'll need to pass through en route to Malawi. From Lilongwe head south to Liwonde National Park for elephant and hippo spotting. The white beaches and clear waters of Lake Malawi beckon – experience them at Cape Maclear and blissful Likoma Island.
Once across the border in Mozambique, take the train from Cuamba to Nampula, the jumping-off point for trips to the unforgettable Mozambique Island. Take a trip to the lost-in-time Quirimbas Archipelago then head south via the sleepy towns of Quelimane, Beira and Vilankulo for the Bazaruto Archipelago, and Inhambane. Next stop is beguiling Maputo for a fiesta of seafood and caipirinhas.
Drop into Swaziland en route to Johannesburg, South Africa's hustling, bustling commercial capital. From here you can head to Kruger National Park, or venture south to the Drakensberg Mountains for great hiking – even across the border into Lesotho. Drop back down to tropical Durban, a good base for exploring Zululand. On the Wild Coast pause at beautiful Coffee Bay before making your way back to Cape Town.
Gulf of Guinea & Congo
- 7 weeks
Nigeria is one of those destinations that suffers from bad press, although most visitors will encounter nothing but warmth and humour in their interactions with Nigerians.
Lagos may be in-your-face, high-volume and logistically confronting, but it's also Africa's most energetic city, awash with pulsating nightlife, clamorous markets and a resurgent arts scene. Historic Abeokuta with its Yoruba shrines and sacred rock, Osun Sacred Grove and the Oba's Palace in Benin City are worthwhile stopovers en route to Calabar, which is likeable for its old colonial buildings, fish market and lovely setting. Close to Calabar, don't miss Afi Mountain Drill Ranch, the focus of an outstanding primate project. Count on 10 days in Nigeria.
From here fly east to steamy Douala in Cameroon, a regional air hub and important cultural centre. After longish detours to see the sea turtles at Ebodjé and to climb Mt Cameroon, West Africa's highest peak, head for Bamenda, which serves as a gateway to the villages of the Ring Road, a deeply traditional area of Cameroon that feels untouched by time; Bafut is one of our favourite villages in the region. Later, head for Foumban for a slice of traditional West Africa, and a fascinating vision of the town’s ancient and still-active sultanate. A week in Cameroon should give you a taste of the country's riches.
Return to Douala then fly out to São Tomé & Príncipe, one of West Africa's most beautiful destinations and an emerging ecotourism hot spot. From São Tomé, fly into Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, obtain a tourist permit and set out to see the colonial architecture, rainforest and wildlife on Bioko Island, and the fabulous beaches and national parks on the mainland, Rio Muni. Return to Malabo and fly (Equatorial Guinea's land borders are not open to foreigners) to Libreville in Gabon. Gabon's national parks are the stuff of legend – spend as much time as you have (at least a week) in Ivindo, Lopé, Loango and Mayumba National Parks.
Cross into Republic of Congo for more fabulous wildlife watching at Parc National d'Odzala and Parc National Nouabalé-Ndoki before watching the sun set over the Congo River in Brazzaville. You've just enough time left to cross the river to Kinshasa, the roiling, music-rich capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Cairo to the Horn
- 6 weeks
One of the few ways left to combine North Africa with the East, this route takes in the best of Egypt, then crosses Sudan en route to Ethiopia and the Horn.
Begin in Cairo – not for nothing is this rambunctious yet beguiling city known as the Mother of the World. Visit the museums, cruise the Nile, dive into the old city and its mosques and don't miss the Egyptian Museum. Head north for a visit to Alexandria, a sophisticated Mediterranean city steeped in history, then return to Cairo for your train journey south to Luxor, home to some of the greatest relics from ancient Egypt. Jump on a felucca and sail down to Aswan – one of Africa's most soulful river journeys.
From Aswan, head south, stopping at the glorious and grand rock-hewn monument of Abu Simbel on your way into Sudan and the fabulous pyramids of Meroe. Keep going south until you reach Khartoum – the confluence of the Blue and White Niles and the bazaar at Omdurman are fine introductions to the city.
Cross into Ethiopia and begin your exploration of this fascinating country at Bahir Dar and the Lake Tana Monasteries. From here, make for Gonder with its ancient fortress, great coffee and church with extraordinary murals. Next it's the Simien Mountains, home to fabulous scenery and equally fabulous trekking. The road from here is one of Africa's most precipitous, so enjoy the views on your way to Aksum, Ethiopia's holiest city and epicentre of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith. Climb the cliff to the church at Debre Damo, climb a mountain or two in search of the splendid rock-hewn churches of Tigray, then continue to Mekele, your gateway to the weird-and-wonderful Danakil Depression. Return to Mekele, then track south Lalibela, home to simply astonishing rock-cut churches and filled with pilgrims. Addis Ababa is next on your itinerary and it's an intriguing city worth a few days of your time – take a food tour while you're here.
Cairo to Cape Town
- 3 Months
Who says you need a year to travel the length of Africa? The Cairo to Cape Town route can easily be tailored to a shorter time frame.
Start off with a visual bang at the pyramids in Cairo, then head to the Mediterrenean coast to sample the colonial grandeur and period cafes of Alexandria. Return to Cairo and take the overnight train to Luxor, where you can explore the temples and tombs of ancient Egypt.
Continue south across Lake Nasser into Sudan, where the glorious Meroe Sites and the rest of northern Sudan are the highlights. Ethiopia has some exceptional sites, especially Lalibela, before you journey down to Nairobi.
The wildlife-sprinkled plains of Kenya and Tanzania form the centrepiece of many classic African journeys; afterwards, recharge your batteries by chilling out on Zanzibar or on the shores of beautiful Lake Malawi. Detour into Mozambique, where you shouldn't miss dynamic Maputo.
Track back to Zambia to experience breathtaking Victoria Falls. From here, there's spectacular wildlife territory in Botswana's Okavango Delta and Namibia's Etosha National Park, before reaching stunning Cape Town, South Africa, practically the continent's southern tip.