Africa is a continent with immense diversity and an astounding blend of cultures. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite lesser-known spots to add to your bucketlist for 2022 and beyond, because that post-lockdown list is not quite long enough!
Many of these places are less crowded than the usual tourist routes, but we’ve included some of our travellers’ most-visited gems as well – you’ll soon see why.
1. Fish River Canyon, Namibia
The Fish River Canyon in Southern Namibia is one of the most spectacular places in the world. It’s also the world’s second-largest canyon after the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The Canyon forms part of the Ais-Ais Richtersveld Transfronteir Park, a unique state-run national park that is especially popular with hikers due to its incredible topography. Hikes range from day walks to the multi-day Fish River Canyon Hike that covers 85 kilometres (half the length of the canyon) in 5 to 7 days. It’s a tough, self-guided hike with overnight camping under the stars, but you’ll get to soak in hot springs, cool off with swims in the river and take in the most spectacular scenery in Namibia.
Whether you hike or simply drive on a day visits, you can expect views for absolute days, starry skies straight out of Arabain Nights and a sense of total immersion in nature.
2. Lake Malawi, Malawi
Malawi is an overlooked and underrated gem. Known as the friendliest country in Africa, it’s a far cry from your traditional safari experience in Kruger or the Serengeti plains. Safari experiences here are more rustic and humble, and the nearby proximity of Liwonde National Park to the lake make this a sublime bush and beach destination.
But it’s Lake Malawi that is the true star of the show. The sapphire waters are crystal clear and filled with an array of colourful fish – more than 500 different species, in fact. But despite the appearance of a tropical island, the lake is actually freshwater. It’s incredibly popular with snorkelers and scuba divers, as well as those just looking for a pristine beach holiday.
Our top tip: don’t miss Mumbo Island, a tiny island just 1km in diameter off the Cape Maclear Peninsula. It has just one off grid camp, leaving the island in its natural entirely unspoilt state. A true treat for getting away from it all.
3. Boulders Beach, South Africa
So this might be the opposite of off the beaten track, but it makes our unbelievable list because where else can you swim with penguins! Boulders forms part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area in Cape Town with strict monitoring of the birds for their safety. While key rocky outcrops are roped off to keep the public from encroaching on their territory, they are very used to people and will happily walk or swim among delighted beachgoers.
If you’d rather not visit the beach itself, you can wander along a series of wheelchair-friendly boardwalks that wind through the surrounding vegetation, offering the best views of the penguins nesting areas.
Boulders Visitor Centre is a source for all things penguin-related. You can see the history of the Boulders colony and listen to experts give fascinating insights into how they live.
4. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply an awestruck traveller, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is a sight to behold. Towering over the savannah at 5 895m (19 341 feet) high, Kili is the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world (Mount Everest is the highest peak above sea level but is part of a mountain range).
The sight of the snow-capped dormant volcano is instantly recognisable across the world and forms the backdrop of some of the most photogenic scenery in Africa. Climbing Kili is an undeniable challenge, but it’s entirely possible for fit and active travellers looking for a bucket list experience. Exit the hot, dry plains of the Serengeti and ascend through grasslands, tropical rain forest, alpine meadows, moorlands and desert before crossing snow and ice to the summit. A true adventure for the wild at heart.
5. Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar
The dirt road that runs through the Menabe region of western Madagascar would be unassuming but for a forest of towering baobab trees that line the track. Spanning a stretch of 260m are approximately 25 of these majestic succulents, some growing up to 30m tall.
This baobab species is called Adansonia grandidieri and it can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. The trees are the last remnants of a dense forest that once dominated much of this part of the island and many of them are centuries old.
While it is awe-inspiring to visit at any time, the avenue will take your breath away at sunrise and sunset when the black silhouettes stand out against the sweeping colours of the fiery skies.
6. Stone Town, Zanzibar
Stone Town is in the heart of Zanzibar City on the fascinating spice island of Zanzibar. It’s comprised of a bewildering tangle of streets and alleyways that form the old part of the city, also known as Mji Mkongwe (Swahili for ‘old town’). Architecturally striking with a unique mix of historic cultures, this UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences.
Stone Town is a gateway to the ancient past, an African city that doesn’t feel African at all. Wander through the Forodhani Gardens night market for a melting pot of flavours or stroll through the Beit el-Ajaib (House of Wonders), the palace of a former sultan.
Fun Fact: Stone Town is the birthplace of the late, great Freddie Mercury,. Avid Queen fans can visit the museum that was built in his honour.
7. Valley Of Desolation, South Africa
Amid the vast plains of the Camdeboo National Park in the Karoo lies the Valley of Desolation, an enormous chasm that slices through the Camdeboo Mountains, flanked by astonishing rock formations. Sheer cliffs and precariously balanced columns of Dolerite rise 120 metres from the valley floor, creating a landscape that is both beautiful and haunting.
This natural wonder was formed over 100 million years ago during a violent volcanic shift. Sitting at one of the viewpoints and looking down into the valley from the rocky peaks, you’ll see a landscape so immense and still that it is hard for your brain to process. The nothingness around you and the intense quiet make for a place of peaceful contemplation, where one feels the enormity of how small we humans really are.
8. Damaraland, Namibia
Visiting Damaraland feels like landing on the moon. As with many scenic places in Nambia, it is the complete opposite of the lush landscapes that characterise much of Africa. Damaraland is a mountainous region with a dramatic desert feel. Barren slopes dominate the landscape while the Petrified Forest, which dates back millions of years, offers a haunting graveyard of enormous, fossilised trees.
The animals who live here are specially adapted to survive in harsh conditions. Sightings include the mountain zebra, desert-adapted elephant and the critically endangered black rhino.
It is also home to Namibia’s highest mountain, Brandberg, which is known as the greatest outdoor art gallery in the world due to the thousands of ancient rock paintings found there.
9. Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique
The cat is definitely out of the proverbial bag with this one. Once Mozambique’s best-kept secret the Quirimbas Archipelago is now a popular beach destination that attracts a crowd of visitors each year but manages to retain its exclusivity. Prepare to be blown away by the still unspoilt beauty of this Indian Ocean paradise featuring pearly-white beaches of powder-soft sand, azure waters and palm trees straight out of a Beach Boys’ music video.
The Archipelago is made up 32 islands dotted along the coast of Mozambique – 12 of them major islands and the other 20 smaller, coralline outcrops. The islands have a true ‘undiscovered’ appeal. Some are uninhabitable but provide some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving in the world, while others vie for the title of most romantic honeymoon destination on Earth.
Development here is still in the fledgling stages. The beach lodges are smaller and less fancy than what we’d usually term ‘beach resorts’ which adds to the hidden gem aspect of your visit. All in all, this is a destination you want to head to before everybody gets on the bus.
10. Rubondo Island – Tanzania
Rubondo Island is a remote floating rainforest on the southwestern corner of Lake Victoria in Tanzania. It is unknown, unspoilt and almost completely uninhabited save for a handful of park wardens and the staff at Rubondo Island Lodge. This is where you go to get away from it all.
The lodge is the only one on the island and the staff provide a very exclusive experience that brings you in close contact with your natural surroundings. From guided nature walks and game drives to boat cruises, you’ll feel like it is just you and the animals- because it literally is. The island is an important refuge for chimpanzees, forest elephants, giraffe and the rare sitatunga antelope.
Travel Africa With Portfolio Journeys
Now that we’ve whet your appetite, the only question is, when can we welcome you? We will arrange all aspects of your African trip according to your budget and preferences. We’ve been doing this for 30 years and we promise you the most magical experience at a price that makes sense for you. Get in touch and let’s get planning! You can also view all our itineraries here.