The best off the beaten track holidays in Africa & Arabia
The best off the beaten track holidays in Africa and Arabia
14 Sep 2021
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In the post-covid era of travel (which we just HOPE we’re approaching!) our clients are asking not only to travel with a lighter footprint, but to visit destinations that are a little less mainstream. Only a few years ago a large proportion of Africa was just this, and some of Arabia was strictly off limits. As with almost anything; if you look you will find. Whether that’s a destination itself, or an area of a more popular destination that is often overlooked as it lurks in the shadow of its more famous sibling. Below I have had a look at a few ideas:
These two islands are located just south of the Equator in the Gulf of Guinea off the west coast of Africa. Discovered in the 15th Century by the Portuguese and used predominantly as a slaving hub as well as lucrative plantation for sugar, coffee and cocoa. These days as a tourist destination it is still in its infancy with only a handful of hotels spread across both islands but its popularity is growing, very quickly. So now is the time to visit. Both islands boast superb beaches; amazing bird watching; important turtle nesting sites; hump back whale migrations; lush tropical rainforest; amazing topographical features; superb snorkelling and diving as well as great trekking – often with the reward of a waterfall or old plantation ruins to explore en route.
Spoken about as Africa’s equivalent to the Galapagos due to its biosphere, a large proportion of Sao Tome and Principe is rightly protected. In order to work with these protected areas, hotels that have been opened up such as Sundy Praia, Roca Sundy and Bom Bom Island Lodge have done so with the emphasis primarily on sustainability. Other hotels on Principe such as Roca Belo Monte also follow the sustainability model and this particular hotel operates within the old shell of a long retired plantation lodge.
Access has got better which is helping establish this gem on the map. There are 4 flights a week to and from Sao Tome from Lisbon. We suggest a night or 2 in Lisbon as a precursor to these stunning islands, and to avoid a devilishly early start in the UK.
One of the most remote islands in the world, this British Overseas Territory in the south Atlantic was until recently only accessible by 5 day passage on the The Royal Mail Ship. This is no longer an option and has ceased operating due to the opening of their international airport in 2017. There is now a more direct way to visit with flights from Johannesburg once a week as well as Cape Town in the high season. The island is still described as ‘having an anchor in the past’ but this is part of the appeal and Saint Helena does have a lot to offer those who are looking for an experience away from the normal rigmarole of modern life.
The island is probably most famous for its special guest – Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled here after losing his final battle in 1815. The island’s museum offers probably the best example of a Napoleonic museum anywhere in the world – boasting over 900 artefacts. The most famous living celebrity is Jonathan – a 184 old giant tortoise.
St Helena is an ancient extinct volcano and so offers fabulous hiking with fairly steep contours offering superb views out to sea. The marine life is as you would expect pretty amazing and boat trips are a popular attraction with the added benefit of seeing (or if you’re lucky swimming with) whales sharks at the right time of year.
Until very recently (2020) Saudi Arabia was closed to foreign visitors and was (and still is) considered a desert country with endless oil reserves; extreme views on women; a less than flattering human rights record. Whilst none of these things are aligned with what Far and Wild stands for it would appear that the Saudi’s are working hard to move their ways of life to coincide more along the way the outside world requires. They understand that their oil is not endless and whilst they have helped power (and pollute) the world with it, their focus now is very much on sustainability especially within their new state-wide tourism initiative – green is very much at the forefront. With regards to women’s rights things are changing, albeit slowly and in 2020 the country was ranked as the top reformer on women’s rights.
As Saudi is still very much the new kid on the block in terms of tourism the country is often misunderstood as to what it has to offer. It’s a vast country offering different temperatures, landscapes and experiences. The general perception that this is one vast desert is wholly inaccurate and the differing landscapes offer an excellent trip to visit a variety of these: Al Ahsa, a town close to the gulf built around a hub of oases; the rugged mountainous regions of Asir and Al Baha, the latter offering its ancient citadel of Dhee Ayn; Al Jouf, the fertile heartland; the contrast between the very modern Riyadh and primeval Diriyah; the ancient city of Jeddah and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Undoubtedly the jewel in the crown is the Al Ula with its sandstone towers and historical rock tombs – a less visited sister to Petra in Jordan. There is also amazing places to visit for downtime on the Persian Gulf, namely Dammam.
Most people would struggle to place these areas on a map. They are neighbours and sit on the peak of the northern peninsula of the United Arab Emirates. Musandam strangely is part of Oman even though they don’t share a land border and Ras Al Khaimah is Dubai’s northerly neighbour and is one of the 7 Emirates to make up this kingdom. Access is a 1-2 hour transfer from Dubai Airport and both destinations offer beach and desert experiences which are a million miles away from the offerings of Jumerirah beach and downtown Dubai. This is year-round sunshine without all the glitz. Very much accessible understated elegance off the beaten track.
The Musandam Peninsula is often referred to as ‘The Norway of Arabia’, with its steep inclines into clear calm waters. The go-to hotel here is the beautiful Six Senses Zighy Bay which accommodates in sumptuous luxury and offers an impressive variety of activities from lounging on the beach and snorkelling to Micro-lighting, hiking and even the opportunity to take part in beach or underwater clean ups – its good for the soul.
Ras Al Khaimah offers a handful of larger hotels on stunning sandy beaches. The normal players are there like Hilton and The Waldorf Astoria and offer all that you would expect from a large resort style hotel from countless sunbeds, access to great golf courses and numerous restaurants and swimming pools. The Al Wadi by Ritz Carlton is an all pool villa resort set in the The Al Wadi Nature Reserve offers amazing desert experiences from falconry and archery to horse or cycle riding. There is of course the mandatory spa too.
Aside from these less visited countries there are areas of the more ‘mainstream’ destinations with plenty to discover and lot of it you will be able to find without others.
In the shadow of the main Northern Circuit live the Hadza Tribe. Unlike their more commercially minded Masai cousins they have kept themselves to themselves and operate a simple hand-to-mouth hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This can also be combined with visits to Lake Natron and Ol Doinyo Lengai (The Mountain of God), all of which sits just around the corner from the far busier Serengeti National Park. This means that access is easy but the experience is vastly different. Another ‘off the grid’ option is to consider The Mahale Mountains and Katavi National Park in Western Tanzania. Spectacular game in Katavi and possibly the best chimp experience on the whole continent in Mahale. The main reason that these areas are not as popular is that access is limited and expensive – but so worth it when you get there.
There are also a decent amount of quieter beach stays away from Zanzibar which has become a little too over developed in my opinion. Check out Mafia and Pemba for much quieter and truer island paradise experience also Fanjove Private Island.
Whilst everyone is drawn to that special south-west corner of the country, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where the mountain gorillas live, there are some truly special places in Uganda that are often missed off due to distance and access. Kidepo Valley National Park is one of these and is a seriously special place. With only 3 real camps to speak of you literally have this place to yourself. Superb for herds of buffalo, elephant and lion, this out of the way National Park right on Uganda's northern border is too good to miss. Check out Apoka Lodge with its enormous outside stone baths – a proper way to watch the sun go down with a glass of wine.
South Africa’s Wild Coast runs from Durban to East London and whilst it’s a beautiful coast there is not much there. There are guesthouses and a self drive holiday is fairly easy but there is a lot of competition in this country!
The West Coast of Madagascar gets less visitors than its more renowned east and north coasts. There is plenty to see here including the Avenue des Baobabs as well as some cracking but truly deserted beaches down at Anakao.
Lake Turkana in Kenya is an enormous soda lake and is teeming with crocodiles. This is the stuff of legend and can really be classed as a once in a lifetime experience as so few foreigners get here. You can organise to fly over it in a helicopter from most places in Laikipia but try and spend sometime on the ground here and you will remember it forever.
Where would you like to go on holiday in Sao Tome & Principe?
Best Places to Visit in Sao Tome & Principe
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