September 17, 2008
Africa inspires wonder like perhaps nowhere else, but it’s not unusual for first-time visitors to wonder equally about what part of the vast continent to visit. IgoUgo members shed some light on the question to help you find the storied light of Africa—and the trip of your dreams.
Here are their eight proven suggestions on where to start.
“Zambia is a wonderful introduction to sub-Saharan Africa for the uninitiated—it's beautiful, very safe, and easygoing,” says Jason Elite, who spent his honeymoon backpacking across the country. He counts Victoria Falls and safaris in the South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi, and Kafue National Parks as highlights. “Why not go for it?” he says. “Discover one of the friendliest, safest, and most beautiful countries in all of Africa. If you're careful about where you spend your tourist dollars, you can make a real difference in the lives of many Zambians and help support the economy of one of the world's poorest countries. One word of warning: once you've visited Zambia, you'll find it very hard to leave!”
When planning his first trip to Africa (also his honeymoon, ironically), Seaotter71 found himself overwhelmed with his options. Luckily, he had an experienced friend who stopped him in his tracks and reminded him that Africa is a huge continent, saying, “You can't possibly expect to cover it in two weeks. If you love it, you will find a way to come back.” So Seaotter71 and his new wife zeroed in on Makweti Safari Lodge in South Africa’s Waterberg Mountains, to great success: “If you see me describe any other trip as the ‘trip of a lifetime,’” he says, “I am lying.” His week at Makweti was followed by a relaxing week in Mozambique, but the newlyweds found all the beach time a bit boring after their safari: “A beach experience, any beach experience, would suffer from following the ‘wow’ factor of our first African safari. Go enjoy the stunning and unique scenery, the excellent diving, and the incredibly attentive staff. THEN go on safari.”
Carmen found respites from Cairo’s chaos in her choice of hotel and activities like a Nile River dinner cruise, and she came away from her sometimes frustrating introduction to Africa with helpful tips like, “bring patience at the airport (you’ve never seen so much luggage)” and “bring pens/trinkets to ‘tip’ in the tombs because you can’t escape the people inside giving you ‘the tour.’” Armed with her complete list of advice and impressions, any traveler will enjoy the “breathtaking” and “indescribable” pyramids as much as Carmen did and leave eager for more experiences like it.
Traveling to Tanzania, and subsequently Kenya, “changed my life,” says watchingstars3441. From sunsets to pineapples to geckos, the beauty of everything was heightened, and she constantly felt privileged “to see firsthand an entirely different world, one that most will never see beyond what's on a television screen.” The highlight was exploring Lake Manyara and Serengeti National Parks, which she visited during the beginning stages of the annual animal migration: “Perhaps Disney was a little corny with the ‘Circle of Life,’ but man, did they nail that feeling on the head.”
Dr. Mitch dreamed of visiting Africa as a child, but as the responsibilities of adulthood got in the way, he didn’t seriously consider going until he met a Masai living in California. Inspired, he headed to Kenya with his wife and 12-year-old daughter (Dr. Mitch says that his wife, harboring the worries of many first-time Africa visitors, “agreed to the trip only by my promise that I would load us down with medications of every description and my certainty that we were not walking into an area of terrorists”). The trio covered impressive ground around Kenya (and then Tanzania) over the course of four weeks, but never encountered those illnesses and terrorists they’d feared. They instead found a “safari of the heart, spirit, and mind” in “a special place with special wildlife, people, and scenery.”
Morocco, and in particular European-style Agadir, is “a good place to start if this is your first trip to a third-world country,” says Marianne. Besides Agadir’s beaches, museum, and zoo, she’s most excited about recommending a visit to nearby Tiznit, “the ‘real’ Morocco.” Visit on Thursday, or “souk day,” for “the largest market within miles” that is “not set up for tourists,” but is rather a “necessary part of everyday life.” Englishman nickj, on the other hand, began his first experience in Africa in Marrakesh, where “stepping off the air-conditioned plane into the 35-degree heat of Marrakesh's summer was only slightly less of a shock than stepping out of the stuffy and formal British culture into the warm and effusive Arabic culture of Morocco.” But despite all of his very new experiences in Marrakesh, the Sahara, and the High Atlas Mountains, he says that “the main thing Morocco taught me was how small the world really is.”
Visiting a family member serving in the Peace Corps was the incentive that got uyyek to Africa, and it also sealed the choice of Botswana as his starting point. He found Gaborone, Botswana’s largest city, to be “a good place to begin the transition from big-city mentality to a more rural, village mindset” before setting off for more isolated safari lodges and a Victoria Falls day trip. He loved Chobe National Park, a popular safari spot that travelswithkids (with kids in tow, of course) calls “one of the best game-viewing destinations in Botswana and a highlight of our tour of southern Africa.” For another view of Botswana’s wildlife—on foot or by boat—head to the Okavango Delta, a “phenomenon that simply grips you and doesn't let go,” according to Carey Graeff.
Though he concedes it’s not “the usual African trip,” Mali was a suitable introduction to the continent for a traveler as adventurous as fallschirmhosen. The surprises and mishaps began upon his 3am arrival in capital city Bamako and continued with him to Dogon country, Timbuktu, and beyond. He sounded fully adjusted