Top 10 Things to Do in Africa
The word safari typically conjures up images of elephants at a watering hole and lions on the prowl. There’s good reason for that. Safari entered the English language in the early 1800s to describe weeks-long hunting trips in the African plains. Today, it typically describes any wildlife-centered adventure in Africa.
But the term has a much longer history. It comes from the East African language of Swahili, where safari can refer to any type of journey, from a two-hour bus ride to a round-the-world trip. While any good African safari should include plenty of chances to find lions and elephants, the best safaris encompass much more.
In this spirit, we offer ten of our favorite things to do on an African safari, in no particular order. From wildlife activities like game drives to bucket-list thrills like flying over Victoria Falls, a journey through Africa lets you experience the world as you never have before.
See animals up close in their natural habitat when you visit a national park or private reserve.
1. Go on a Game Drive
There is nothing more iconic than waking up at dawn to ride off in search of wildlife. Your first game drive will bring butterflies of excitement and anticipation.
As the sun rises over the bush, what will you find? A cheetah prowling on the edge of a gazelle herd, waiting for one of its members to stray from the fold? A leopard descending from its tree perch? A family of elephants strolling toward its favorite watering hole? Or maybe a crocodile lying in wait for wildebeest to make a river crossing as part of their Great Migration?
Game drives exemplify the modern African safari. When you explore Africa by vehicle, under the tutelage of a friendly, expert guide, you get unmatched access to wildlife. Game drives bring you deep into untamed areas that would be difficult to explore by foot.
Late afternoon and evening game drives also offer amazing viewing. Watch a lion pack wake from its daytime slumber and prepare for a nighttime hunt. See hippos emerge from the water for a supper of tall, green grass. Elusive safari creatures like caracals and honey badgers are active only at night, made visible by moonlight or special infrared lamps that do not interfere with their night vision.
The Cape Winelands boasts some of the most prestigious wineries on in the world.
2. Tour the Cape Winelands
Wine tasting is one of the best ways to spend a day in South Africa’s beautiful Western Cape. It offers rolling landscapes, centuries-old architecture, and gourmet cuisine that attract locals and visitors alike. Learn about the ancient art of viticulture and taste the numerous varieties of wine that have their roots in the Western Cape’s fertile soil.
A tour of the Winelands is an easy day trip for travelers staying in Cape Town. It’s an excellent activity for the beginning of a safari, helping you ease into the new time zone before you launch into wildlife activities.
Highlights of Cape Winelands include:
- Paarl, home to more than 20 vineyards and best known for its Shiraz. Paarl means “pearl” in Afrikaans and is named after a granite mountain that gives off a pearlescent shine after the rains.
- Franschhoek, an area settled by Huguenots in the seventeenth century and now with 30 wineries. The village of Franschhoek has a charming downtown with flower gardens, art galleries, and chocolatiers.
Stellenbosch, South Africa’s second oldest European settlement after Cape Town. More than 200 grape growers and vintners are part of the Stellenbosch Wine of Origin region. Many of the wineries feature classic Cape Dutch architecture with thatched roofs and stucco walls.
The world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls, is also one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Scottish explorer David Livingstone said of it, “Seems so lovely, it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
3. Soar Over Victoria Falls
As the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is so enormous that it cannot be seen in its entirety from land. That’s why many travelers choose to fly over it.
Victoria Falls roars along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa, and flights start from both countries. Helicopters are a popular option for photography aficionados, facilitating shots that capture the tremendous power of the falls.
Or take a more intimate approach in an ultralight aircraft. These agile machines are similar in structure to gliders, with two open-air seats suspended below the wings. You’ll feel the wind against your skin and hear the powerful cascade of water as your pilot guides you over Victoria Falls. Flying over the falls won’t turn you into an African fish eagle, but you might feel like one as you soar through the sky.
Glistening turquoise waters stretch for miles along Africa’s Indian Ocean coastline.
4. Relax on the Beach
Some of the world’s finest beaches are found in Africa. The white sand and blue waves of the coral-fringed Swahili Coast glitter like jewels along the eastern edge of the continent. Out in the Indian Ocean, African islands dot the waters like scattered pearls.
For quick access to barefoot luxury, stay at a beach resort near Mombasa in Kenya or the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar. Both these locations host international airports and offer quick land connections to nearby beach destinations. As you approach your resort, the built world will fade away into verdant landscapes of coastal palms and sea breezes. Rest, pampering, lazy swims, and seaside adventures await you.
More remote escapes can be found on the coast of Mozambique, on the coast of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, and the Indian Ocean islands of Mafia and the Seychelles. Their isolation creates wonderful opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving, and the Seychelles archipelago’s location outside the seasonal cyclone belt makes it an ideal destination all year long.
Best known for their work to protect elephants, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust operates the most successful orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. Photo credit: Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
5. Visit an Animal Conservation Project
Africa is famous for its many large mammals—in fact, it has more large mammal species than any other continent. But habitat destruction and illegal hunting threaten this diversity. Thankfully, many charitable organizations have sprung up over the past several decades to ensure the continued survival of Africa’s iconic wildlife.
One of the oldest wildlife rehabs in Africa is the Orphans’ Project of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a temporary home for orphaned elephants and rhinos on the edge of Nairobi, Kenya. Here, young animals who have lost their mothers to poaching, illness, or human encroachment get much-needed nutrition to replace mothers’ milk and learn valuable skills they will need when they return to the wild. The Orphans’ Project is open to the public during limited hours when visitors can watch elephants feed and play.
Namibia is home to the AfriCat Foundation, which runs the largest cheetah and leopard rescue and release program in the world. In the last two decades, more than 1,000 of these predators have been rescued, and more than 85 percent of those have been released back into the wild. Its wildlife rehabilitation center welcomes scheduled visitors and is part of a larger reserve area that protects a diversity of animals, including another wild cat: the elusive, nocturnal caracal.
Mount Kilimanjaro, known as the Roof of Africa, beckons many an adventurer.
6. Climb Africa’s Tallest Mountain
At 19,341 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is not only the tallest mountain in Africa, it’s the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Mount Kilimanjaro erupted out of the Tanzanian plains more than one million years ago, forming a towering volcano that is now dormant.
Despite its impressive height, you do not need special mountaineering skills to climb Mount Kilimanjaro—or “Kili,” as its fans call it. All seven trails to the peak are hiking trails, so you will not be scaling any cliff faces as you ascend the Roof of Africa. These factors have made Kilimanjaro an accessible trek for many athletes who don’t climb. For example, it is the tallest mountain to be scaled by a person in a wheelchair.
But climbing Kilimanjaro does require fitness and patience. Air pressure and oxygen levels drop the higher you go up the mountain, making some people so sick they stop climbing. Training prior to your trip and a slow ascent of at least 6–8 days, depending on your route, can help.
Taking your time also lets you appreciate the shifting scenery as you ascend Kili. Farms and grassland dominate the foothills, followed by coffee plantations and cloud forest suffused with birdsong. Higher up, African heath is dotted with striking giant lobelias. The geometric lines of alpine desert and gleaming white glaciers adorn the mountain top.
Completing the climb in 5 days is possible for individuals who are very fit and already acclimated to high altitudes. One way to adjust is to trek up Tanzania’s Mount Meru, about 43 miles away and 14,967 feet tall, prior to climbing Kili.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is truly rewarding, not only for the sense of accomplishment but also for the beauty you encounter along the way.
The wildlife is magnificent as you cruise down the rivers and channels in Africa. Photo credits: elephants bathing, Ujuzi African Travel; a great white pelican, Emilie Chen; birds in flight, Christine Olson, Chobe River, Ujuzi African Travel; elephants at Chobe River, Steven dos Remedios; Cape buffalo, Christine Olson; crocodile in river grass, Ujuzi African Travel
7. Enjoy a Boat Cruise
See wildlife from a different point of view. Explore Africa’s waterways by boat!
Game abound as they congregate daily on the shores of lakes and rivers to bathe, drink, and play. Boat cruises provide excellent viewing of their antics, without any trees or tall grasses to get in the way. You’ll enjoy the happy murmurs of hippos as they wallow in the mud, and your heart will swell with delight as you watch a baby elephant’s clumsy but adorable efforts to use its trunk for drinking.
On the seashore, the animals you’ll spot will be different, but just as fascinating. You may see dolphins cut through the waves or barracudas swim in the clear waters beneath your boat.
Whether on the shore or inland, you’ll enjoy spectacular scenery and dazzling water birds.
Boat cruises can be taken at sunrise, sundown, or the middle of the day, and they generally last 2–4 hours. The atmosphere is more relaxed than a game drive and may include cocktails and appetizers, especially for sunset cruises.
Among Ujuzi travelers, favorite waterways for boat cruises have included:
- Nile River and Kazinga Channel in Uganda
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa
- Zambezi River near Victoria Falls
- Lake Baringo in Kenya
- Okavango Delta and Chobe River in Botswana
Many of our travelers also opt to explore by canoe or kayak for even more intimate views of plants and wildlife. Whichever way you choose to navigate the waters, a boat trip is an essential part of any African safari.
The Rushegura mountain gorilla family browses along a trail in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Photo credit: Matthias Mugisha, Uganda Wildlife Authority
8. See Mountain Gorillas
Encountering mountain gorillas in the wild is an intense and unforgettable experience. While pulp novels and action movies often portray these great apes as brutes, the truth is that they are gentle giants.
Mountain gorillas are closely related to human beings, sharing 98% of our DNA. Like us, they have strong family bonds, enjoy playing and exploring, and develop friendships. Watching a mountain gorilla mother nurse her baby while older siblings and cousins play nearby, you may even be reminded of your own loved ones.
Uganda and Rwanda are the best places to see mountain gorillas. Because these creatures live in dense montane forest, the only dependable way of finding them is by walking with a trained guide.
To protect mountain gorillas from stress, the national parks limit their exposure to people by issuing permits. The permits allow visitors to search for mountain gorillas with the help of a guide and spend up to an hour viewing a mountain gorilla family. You should get your permit before traveling. Ujuzi African Travel can take care of this technicality as well as securing transportation, lodging, and guides.
9. Learn About a Different Culture
The people of Africa comprise thousands of ethnic groups, each with its own cultural traditions and language or dialect. Many travelers to Africa want to learn about people who maintain lifestyles based on hunting or herding, such as many of the Maasai in East Africa or Himba in southern Africa.
The Batwa Experience outside of Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest, Uganda, offers one such opportunity. Here, local Batwa teach visitors about traditional archery, medicinal plants, and the knowledge that has helped them survive in the montane forests of Uganda for centuries.
Near Lake Eyasi in Tanzania, the Datoga are famous for their blacksmithing skills and the Hadzabe for their hunting-based lifestyle. Ujuzi travelers have enjoyed watching Datoga blacksmiths make arrowheads on an open fire, then shadowing Hadzapi on a hunt with those arrowheads. Joining such a hunt for a few hours is fascinating, but not for the squeamish—these practiced archers are skilled at hitting their targets!
Staying at a lodge or reserve owned by local people offers a different sort of cultural experience. At Mara North Conservancy in Kenya, for example, your naturalist guides are from the local Maasai community, and you may be joined at dinner by one of the 800 local Maasai who own the reserve’s land. Spending time in conversation creates a meaningful cultural exchange.
An experience that is not easily forgotten, a balloon safari offers a bird’s eye view of African wildlife.
10. Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Experience the natural wonders of Africa from a bird’s-eye view. Balloon safaris are available at many safari destinations, including Maasai Mara in Kenya, the Serengeti in Tanzania, Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, Okavango Delta in Botswana, and the Western Cape in South Africa.
Balloon safaris give you an unparalleled opportunity to view wildlife in a totally new way. Hot-air balloon safaris typically begin at dawn for the best weather and views. Your pilot controls the altitude of your balloon—sometimes flying at treetop height for close looks at animals, other times ascending to 1,000 feet so you can take in the enormity of the skyline.
Views from a hot air balloon are positively breathtaking, providing a unique perspective on Africa’s landscapes. A balloon safari provides a unique and thrilling way to see the world’s most beautiful continent.
Which Experience Is on Your Bucket List?
Whether you prefer the thrill of flying over Victoria Falls or the more sedate promise of a sunrise over the Indian Ocean, Africa has something for everyone. Ujuzi African Travel can include one or all of these top 10 activities in a custom itinerary just for you.
Take a journey like no other. Contact us today so we can create the safari of your dreams.
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