A guide to some of our favourite adventure activities in Africa
28 May 2021
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Ten of the best
Africa is a vast and scenically stunning continent, from rich tropical rainforest to immense desert dunes, snow-capped mountains and wild coastal cliffs to tranquil white sand beaches and turquoise oceans. Africa is home to the greatest diversity of wildlife on earth and a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions. There are so many unparalleled adventures to be had in this unique continent that whittling them down to a Top 10 is no small feat and certainly leaves out some incredible experiences. But, we wanted to share a few of our personal favourites, so in no particular order here goes…
1. Snorkel in an inland sea
Lake Malawi is a water adventurer's paradise! This expansive body of water, comprises over a fifth of Malawi’s total area, creating the impression of an inland sea rather than a lake. Its sparkling waters, lap golden sand beaches. It’s the treasures beneath that make it a true gem though, boasting the greatest diversity of freshwater fish species of any lake in the world, including hundreds of species of colourful cichlid fish.
There are numerous fantastic sites to snorkel, or scuba dive, along the length of the lake and around its islands, at which you can explore this natural aquarium. You can dip into its waters direct from the shore and your lakeside accommodation will often provide complimentary snorkelling equipment. An optional boat excursion is also highly recommended to access some of the best spots and may include other small treats, such as a fish lunch, fish eagle feeding or sundowner drink, to complement your experience.
There are also many other activities to enjoy at Lake Malawi, including kayaking, sailing, water-skiing, and kitesurfing, to name a few.
Southern Malawi Scuba, Safari and Tea. 12 days from £3549 per person. This trip is perfect to discover Lake Malawi, in combination with some of Malawi’s other highlights - a safari in one of its best national parks and the scenically beautiful tea growing region.
The Simien Mountains, in northern Ethiopia, are jaw droppingly spectacular, which is why they have also been described as the playground of the gods. The incredibly varied scenery offers dramatic views over chiselled crags and pinnacles, rising imposingly from the valleys and grass plains.
The vegetation in the Simiens is also unique and home to some special nature that alone makes a visit here well worth it. There can be few more distinct experiences than sitting peacefully amongst a troop of hundreds of Gelada baboons, their long, golden hair blowing majestically in the wind, as they waddle past, and listening to the sound, as they pull at the grass that they feed on. You will also hope to spot the remarkable and endangered Walia Ibex, with its huge, curved horns, as well as a host of exciting and endemic birds.
Several peaks in the Simiens are over 4000 metres and the tallest, Mount Ras Dashen, is 4533 metres - Africa’s fourth highest mountain. The more adventurous or keen hiker can join a guided trek, exploring different areas of the park and its highest peaks – left breathless by both the high-altitude ascents and incredible views. For those that prefer a more relaxed adventure, there are a couple of superbly situated lodges from which you can follow shorter and gentler trails to enjoy the scenery.
For the romantic adventurer there can be few experiences more perfect than drifting serenely over the endless plains of the Masai Mara in a hot air balloon. A hot air balloon flight offers you a unique perspective on this magnificent grassland ecosystem and its wildlife.
You will rise early to be transferred to the launch site, so that your flight may take off at sunrise. The soft morning light delivers warm colours, as you appreciate the immensity and beauty of the landscape. Your flight lasts about an hour, with only the occasional blast of the burners interrupting the idyllic tranquillity.
The experience does not end on landing, as you will be treated to a champagne breakfast surrounded by nature. This may not be the cheapest of adventures, but it’s one that you will cherish for a lifetime.
Where you can do it: Masai Mara, Kenya, or Serengeti, Tanzania
Best time of year: Year-round, except during the heavy rains between late March and end of May.
This is the ultimately romantic adventure and usually a once in a lifetime experience, so we have chosen our Masai Mara and Zanzibar honeymoon itinerary. Of course, you don’t have to be on honeymoon to enjoy this trip. From £3095 per person for 10 days.
From land to air and now to the water, but an activity more for the adrenaline junkies than the tranquillity of hot air ballooning. There are some extreme white-water rapids to be conquered in Africa. The most obvious being at the adrenaline capital of Victoria Falls. However, I would highly recommend rafting the White Nile River.
The White Nile, which flows out of Lake Victoria, is the longest river in the world. Its ferocious rapids, several of which are Class 5, pump huge volumes of water; up to 10 times those of the Zambezi River. There’s more to this experience than the thrill of rafting the series of increasingly challenging whitewater obstacles. Between rapids you drift serenely along sections of calm water, enjoying the beautifully lush forest scenery and birdlife, refreshed by pineapple, freshly carved and served up by your river guides.
Best time of year: Year-round, as there is little seasonal variation in water levels.
This white-water adventure can be easily added on to any Uganda trip, so please get in touch for your tailored itinerary. For your stay, we recommend the stunningly situated Lemala Wildwaters Lodge.
5. Gorilla trekking
Whilst we’re in Uganda, trekking to see the mountain gorillas is an experience that must undoubtedly be on our list. It’s perhaps one of the most unique wildlife encounters that you can have, spending time with a magnificent silverback and his family.
You will trek as part of a small group, accompanied by your expert guide and trackers, and this is very much part of the adventure. Wild gorillas don’t just sit around and wait for you to come to them, you have to put in the effort to find them. They may have settled in an easily accessible area that you can reach within a relatively short hike, or they may have moved deep into the forest, requiring a more strenuous trek through challenging terrain. The dense vegetation, narrow paths and steep mountains can be hard going; it’s not called the Impenetrable Forest in Uganda for nothing. Catching the first glimpse of your gorilla family is more than reward enough for your exertions.
You will spend one of your most memorable hours in the close company of these creatures, whose behaviours so closely mirror our own. Up to just six metres away, you enjoy their fascinating interactions, as youngsters play around and mothers care for their babies, all under the watchful gaze of the silverback.
It’s well worth considering booking 2 treks on consecutive days, as each trek is a different experience and there are never 100% guarantees when it comes to viewing wildlife. Similarly, if you would like more than an hour with the gorillas, we can arrange for you to join a habituation experience - see our recommended trip idea below.
Where you can do it:Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda (permits US$700 pp); or Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda (permits US$1,500 pp).
Best time of year: Although it’s possible year-round, the best time is generally during the two dry seasons; January-February and June-September. This may be dictated by availability of permits.
6. Explore ancient clifftop and rock hewn churches
Adventure is not only about incredible wildlife experiences and adrenaline activities… remember Indiana Jones. Africa is a continent bursting with history and culture that will enthral even the most intrepid explorers.
The stunning rock hewn churches at Lalibela are probably the best-known highlight of Ethiopia’s northern historic circuit. Carved directly from the rock, the 13 unique churches date back to the twelfth century and will leave you in awe.
For the ultimate cultural quest though, we recommend truly leaving the usual trail to discover the spectacular cave churches of the Gheralta region. Many of these are perched atop steep cliffs, making the trek to reach them an adventure in itself and delivering breathtaking views. The relatively small number of visitors to the region, means the few who complete the journey to these churches are particularly well received by the locals and priests, providing an intimate experience.
Where you can do it: Lalibela and Gheralta, northern Ethiopia.
Best time of year: November to March are the cooler and drier months, making them a good time for walking and visiting the historic sites. However, they are also busier months, so travelling slightly outside the peak months will mean fewer other visitors at Lalibela. June-August are the heavier rains, so probably best avoided.
Perfect for exploring the varied landscapes and cultural sites on foot is our Historical Ethiopia itinerary. From £4195 per person for 10 nights.
With an average length of about 10 metres, whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea. Yet they are incredibly majestic and gentle, which makes the experience of swimming alongside one the most magical of underwater adventures. Sadly, these magnificent creatures are now listed as endangered, due largely to overfishing, so encountering them in the wild is a real privilege.
It’s an added bonus that the best places in Africa to see whale sharks also happen to be amongst the most idyllic coastal havens. In these warm tropical waters, seasonal blooms of plankton, which the whale sharks feed on in vast quantities, result in large aggregations, often swimming very close to the surface. The plankton also draws other special species, such as manta rays.
This is an unforgettable experience and one which it’s important to organise through an ethical operator, with strong conservation ethics and guidelines, to avoid any negative impacts on the whale sharks.
Where you can do it: Mafia Island, Tanzania or Tofo Beach, Mozambique.
Best time of year: There are resident whale sharks in these waters year-round. However, the best time of year is between October and March, to coincide with the plankton blooms and whale shark aggregations.
We can seamlessly tailor your Mafia Island adventure into any of our Tanzania safari itineraries and recommend staying at Pole Pole Lodge. For Tofo Beach in Mozambique, we recommend the picturesque Baia Sonambula.
8. Mokoro through the channels of the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world. Its myriad of channels branch to form a vast network of waterways and marshy floodplains, filled annually by rainfall from the Angolan highlands, covering an area of 6,000-15,000 square kilometres. This exceptional ecosystem provides habitat for an incredible concentration and diversity of plants and wildlife, making it a top safari destination.
A mokoro is a long, dug-out canoe, traditionally carved from the trunk of a single tree and poled tranquilly along.
The combination of the two provides one of the most distinctive safari experiences in Africa. As you glide silently along the channels at water level, you gain a unique perspective of the wildlife and appreciate every sound of the nature that surrounds you. Imagine being at eye level with a huge elephant bull, feeding nonchalantly in the reeds, as a kingfisher dives into the water beside you and an African fish eagle glides overhead – this is an adventure that you can experience nowhere else on Earth.
There are also a variety of other safari activities on offer in the Okavango Delta, including boat safaris, game drives and walking. For the truly adventurous, a horseback safari in the Okavango deserves its own spot on this list. Watching antelope from horseback gives you a special feeling of being one of the herd. Cantering alongside a journey of giraffes, with their slow, lolloping gait, water spraying up around you is truly exhilarating.
Best time of year: The Okavango Delta is great to visit year-round. However, the channels start to fill from March, peaking in June-August and then subsiding, making these the best months for a mokoro safari.
Our Botswana Explorer itinerary encompasses the varied highlights of Botswana, including morkoru canoeing through the Okavango Delta. From £6935 per person for 11 days.
Many of the imposing red dunes that surround Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert, Namibia, are more than 200 metres high and the highest, Big Daddy, is about 325 metres. If you rise early, to be one of the first to reach Sossusvlei, you may be lucky enough to lay fresh tracks in the pristine sands, as you trek along the ridgeline to one of their summits.
The cool of morning is the best time of day for this adventure. The dunes are at their finest, swept smoothly into a crisp crest that marks your route to endless views over this magnificent desert sandscape. Descend to explore the dry and cracked clay pan of Sossusvlei, which very rarely holds any water, flooding only once every several years. Keep an eye out for the desert wildlife, adapted to life with very little water and temperature extremes. In particular, the striking gemsbok and springbok antelope that you may spot in the shade of the sparse vegetation around the vlei.
Continue your adventure to the nearby Deadvlei, with its striking dark skeletons of camel thorn trees, contrasting against the bleached-white pan and surrounding red dunes. These dead trunks, preserved by the dry conditions, are around 900 years old.
To end your day of adventure, enjoy the sunset with a cool drink in hand and listen. You may hear a small clicking chirp, then another and another, until hundreds of barking geckos build to a crescendo, singing the day to an end. Then suddenly they all stop, and the spectacular starlit Namib night descends.
Where you can do it: Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
Best time of year: Year-round, but May to September for the slightly cooler temperatures.
Trip idea: Sossusvlei is one of the many highlights of our Classic Namibia Self-drive itinerary. From £4285 per person for 14 days.
The descent of night brings us perfectly to number 10 on our list. Let’s face it, with all these adventures you are going to need to sleep at some point. Africa is reputed to have bigger skies than anywhere else and at night they are covered with a mesmerising blanket of stars.
The breathtakingly beautiful starlit African skies and mild nights has made sleepouts under nothing more than a mosquito net increasingly popular. You can find star beds imaginatively situated in all kinds of romantic settings – from deserted beaches to isolated rock kopjes or bird nest style hides up trees.
For me, the perfect and most adventurous sleep out is as part of a walking safari. As remote as possible, no man-made light pollution, and listening to the night-time sounds as you drift off, gazing up at the heavens. But perhaps I’m biased by the night I spent on my honeymoon in a dry riverbed in South Luangwa, listening to and feeling the vibrations from the calls of pride of nearby lions - there can be no more iconic end to any African adventure.
Where you can do it: There are so many places to choose between that’s probably a separate blog in itself. As part of a walking safari, I would recommend South Luangwa National Park, Zambia (or Serengeti, Tanzania).
Best time of year: When it’s less likely to be raining. May to October in South Luangwa.
For inspiration see our Classic Zambia Safari itinerary, which can be easily tweaked to include a bush sleep out and to suit your budget. From £7265 per person for 12 days
If the above adventures have left your feet itching and you would like to experience one or more of them, as part of your tailor made itinerary, then please get in touch. One of our Africa experts would love to help you plan your dream experience.
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