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First Time Africa: Top Tips for Picking the Right Destination for You

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By Scott Dicken

First Time Africa: Top Tips for Picking the Right Destination for You

Part 2 – Adrenaline and Culture

I often get asked by friends and family what my top choices would be for a first-time traveler to Africa and to be honest I find it a massively daunting question. Not least is Africa a huge continent; but people’s expectations of the ‘Africa experience’, their propensity for luxury vs. budget and their general travel styles vary so greatly. That said, and having been lucky enough to sample a mere 22 of the 54 fully recognized countries that comprise the African continent, I enjoy the challenge and excitement of planning trips to Africa and often plan trips just to add to my ‘future trips’ list. With that in mind I decided to put together a go-to list of my preferred destinations, by category, for first-time visitors. In my column last month I focused on budget destinations and Big-Game safaris. This month I turn my attention to those seeking an adrenaline rush or a little culture!

Adrenaline Junkies

South Africa: I would suggest South Africa is the go-to choice for anyone seeking a true adrenaline rush in Africa. Not only does South Africa provide a smorgasbord of high-octane options, but it also provides more surety with regards to health and safety. Putting aside safety fears, shark cage diving in Gansbaai, the highest bungee jump in the world from Bloukrans Bridge in the Western Cape, abseiling from Table Mountain or skydiving are all viable options. If you’re thinking of visiting South Africa, you’ll also get the benefit of lower prices than other safari destinations, great wildlife, beaches, wine country….and penguins (those at Boulders Beach just outside of Cape Town being the most visited)!

Boulders Beach is home to South Africa’s famous beach-dwelling penguins

Namibia: Namibia’s capital of extreme sport is Swakopmund, which lies on the country’s west coast. You’ll find a number of adventure companies offering adrenaline activities such as sandboarding; sea kayaking; sky diving; sand dune buggying; quad biking; and shark fishing. You’ll probably want to spend a couple of days here before exploring Namibia’s other highlights, which include wildlife-rich Etosha National Park, the rust-red sand dunes of Soussusvlei, and the ancient desert landscapes of Damaraland. Namibia, along with South Africa, is also one of the easiest and safest countries on the continent in which to arrange a self-drive itinerary. Adventure surely awaits!

Take a ride down Namibia’s sand dunes

Tanzania: I’ve included Tanzania in the adrenaline category for one reason; Mt. Kilimanjaro. Admittedly, climbing the world’s highest free-standing mountain (5,895 m) may not be everybody’s cup of tea; but there is no denying that it’s an extreme activity that’s massively rewarding. The climb can take anywhere between 4-9 days depending on your route, acclimatization time, and choice of tour operator. After successfully completing the climb opt for some relaxation in the form of a safari in the Serengeti or hit the pristine white sands of Zanzibar.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is not for the faint-hearted

Culture Vultures

Morocco: My only North African pick is Morocco. This is mostly because current security concerns put me off adding Egypt to the list at the moment (although that’s starting to change again). If you’re looking for culture then Morocco is a definite must. Of course, by picking North Africa you’re ruling out the big-game experience, but you’re definitely going to lower your costs on both flights and accommodation. Some of the key sights and activities to make sure you explore are Kasbah Ait Benhaddou, Marrakesh, traversing the High Atlas Mountains, and camel riding through the Sahara with an overnight stay in a Bedouin camp.

Traverse the Sahara by Camel in Morocco

Ethiopia: The highlight of any trip to Ethiopia is undoubtedly the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. However, Ethiopia has a significant number of other cultural landmarks including those in Axum, Gondar, Harar and the Simien Mountains National Park. Top that off with sensational food and wash it all down with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony (a sign of friendship and hospitality), and you’ve got yourself one top-notch cultural holiday. The Bale Mountains National Park and Simien Mountain range are also great places to spot rare wildlife including Ethiopian wolves, the Walia ibex and the Gelada monkey. So whilst Ethiopia might not be your usual African adventure for the first time visitor it’ll undoubtedly be a rewarding one.

Honorable Mentions

Malawi: Malawi sits off the radar for most tourists primarily because, until 2012, it lacked a ‘big 5’ park (that’s a park which houses rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo). However, with Majete National Park now restocked, Malawi has its first ‘big 5’ park back on the map, with visitor numbers still remarkably low; meaning that you can have a more exclusive, wilderness feel to your safari. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit Lake Malawi, whose underwater diversity has earned it World Heritage site status. The lake is a great place to snorkel and dive as well as kayak and windsurf.

Uganda: While I wouldn’t suggest that your first time in Africa should solely consist of a visit to Uganda. If you’re looking at an overland trip that takes in, for example, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda over a two-week period then it’s worth trying to make sure that Jinja in Uganda is on the itinerary if you’re an extreme sports fanatic. It’s a great place to white water raft the Nile (I can personally attest that the rapids are high grade and terrifying if you fall out of the raft) and you can also bungee jump (to New Zealand safety standards if tour operators in Uganda are to be believed), white water kayak, and horseback ride.

INSERT PICTURE 12: Uganda is also home to some of the best sunsets I’ve had the opportunity to photograph

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