Many think that Africa is a country – it is not it’s a continent and a continent so vast that the United States of America, China, India and Western Europe could fit inside it and still leave some room for a few more countries!
To select just seven has not been easy but I’ve tried to choose ones that I truly found incredible, one that made me say ‘wow’. Some would even illicit an ‘awesome’, if I ever used this word…which I do not.
The Great Rift Valley – Africa has a deep wound, a fault line (actually two fault lines), that can be traced all the way back to Jordan. The fault runs through Ethiopia before splitting into the Western Rift which skirts the edge of Tanzania, cutting instead through Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, ending in Malawi. The western rift is characterised by some of the highest mountain ranges and largest and deepest freshwater lakes in Africa such as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi.
The Eastern Rift is slightly shorter than its Western cousin cutting through Kenya and into Tanzania before ending in Mozambique and is characterised by stunningly beautiful sheer sided valleys, volcanoes and a string of soda lakes which such exotic names as Lake Natron and Lake Bogoria, both home to high concentrations of flamingos.
The Okavango Delta – the Okavango Delta is fed by a river whose source is almost a thousand miles away in the Angolan Highlands. It flows along the Caprivi Strip at the top of Namibia before an ancient rift turns it south-east into the sands of the Kalahari Desert, thus giving birth to the only river delta in the world that flows not into open water but a desert. To make it even more extraordinary the delta floods not in Botswana’s wet season but during its dry winter months. The waters brought by the annual deluge are cold and crystal clear and attract huge amounts, and diversity, of wildlife.
For the best time to see Botswana burst into life as the flood arrives, visit between early May & mid-September, but this rather depends on when the rains fall in Angola and how much falls – and that is not a precise science.
Ngorongoro Crater – located in northern, just to the south of the world famous Serengeti National Park, is one of the most amazing vistas in Africa, the Ngorongoro Crater. To arrive at the rim of the crater and to look down 2,000 ft to its floor is definitely one of those moments when you either go totally silent in awe or let out an expletive; I did the latter!
The crater was once a volcano that blew its vent off a few million years ago, collapsing into itself. The crater floor itself covers some 100 sq miles including a freshwater lake and is microcosm of the Serengeti. You generally spend a day in the crater, having descended at first light, have a picnic lunch and then ascend late afternoon – it’s a full day on the move but what a day the Ngorongoro Crater can offer!
The Bazaruto Archipelago – Mozambique is rarely thought about as an Indian Ocean beach destination with the Mauritius and the Maldives coming to mind more readily. But after a Southern African safari, or as a stand-alone beach holiday, the beautiful islands off the coast of Mozambique are an equal to any other Indian Ocean destination – just more peaceful. Situated near the mainland city of Vilankulos, the Bazaruto Archipelago comprises the islands of Bazaruto itself, Benguerra, Magaruque, Banque, Santa Carolina and Shell.
The archipelago was designated a marine reserve back in the early 1970’s and today hosts a small number of luxury beach lodges offering peace and solitude with stunning sunrises and sunsets. The marine park coral reefs and crystal waters are a diver’s paradise.
Sossusvlei – just an hour’s flight south-west of Windhoek, or a five hour drive, will take you to the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The park is situated within the Namib Desert, the oldest desert on Earth, and includes the huge dune belt of Sossusvlei. The name “Sossusvlei” is often used in an extended meaning to refer to the surrounding area, which is one of the major visitor attractions of Namibia, but a ‘vlei’ is actually a shallow lake.
The must do things in this region include a balloon flight followed by a ‘champagne’ breakfast, climbing of Big Daddy (a 1,000 foot tall sand-dune) and hiking into Deadvlei, a dried out salt lake with petrified trees. The contrast of the white the pan, the deep yellow of the sand and the deep blue sky, is truly incredible. Take tripod for the best possible clarity of picture.
Makgadikgadi & Nxai Pans – situated in the southern part of Botswana, the region was once a super-lake almost 100 feet deep and covering an area of some 31,000 sq. miles. Then about 10,000 years ago a geological event occurred which rerouted the waters that fed the lake and it slowly dried up. As the water evaporated, huge glistening pans were left with a hard top crust covering the ‘primordial mud’ beneath. These pans look as flat as a billiard table and stretch as far as the eye can see, bar some rocky outcrops such as Kubu Island, stands of baobab trees such as Baine’s Boababs adding interest to the views
The area is not generally not as game-rich as the Okavango Delta or Chobe, but nevertheless it is a must visit location especially when the zebra migration arrives in Iate December and stays for about two months. The sheer beauty and starkness of the pans are incredible and the silence deafening. The sunsets too are spectacular.
The Skeleton Coast – located to the north of the town of Swakopmund on Namibia’s Atlantic Coast, the Skeleton Coast was named after the remains of whales hunts of yesteryear found there, but now can equally also refer to the skeletal remains of ships driven onto the shore by the strong ocean currents. The region is characterised by early morning rolling mists (which also had a hand in the ship wrecks) caused by the cold Benguella current meeting the heat of the Namib Desert. The moisture from the fogs results in a plethora of adapted flora and fauna.
Surprisingly larger wildlife in the area is varied with desert adapted lion, elephant, giraffe, oryx, jackal and brown hyena amongst the animals that you might encounter. The Skeleton Coast is a must visit part of Namibia.