Our African Bucket list

Africa’s attractions are countless and ever-enticing. From a committed Africaphile, here’s a list of 20 uniquely African things to see and do before you die.

SEE THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA – CAIRO, EGYPT

They’re one of the world’s oldest tourist attractions and have existed for over 4 500 years. Until you stand at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, it’s impossible to imagine its vast size and the precision of its craftsmanship. It was built from 2,3 million blocks of stone weighing 2,5-15 tons each, yet they’re so expertly and uniformly placed that you can’t slip a sheet of paper between them. It’s still unknown how or why the pyramids were built.  Visit: www.selectegypt.com

VISIT THE SOUTHERNMOST TIP OF AFRICA – CAPE AGULHAS, SA

It’s as far south as you can go without leaving Africa and it’s watched over by a stocky lighthouse. Cape Agulhas, or Cabo das Agulhas, means “Cape of Needles” and was so named by Portuguese sailors because their compass needles faltered here. This rugged coastline, with its wild weather, is also the official meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Visit: www.capeagulhas.org

TRAWL ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES – LALIBELA, ETHIOPIA

They’re said to have been inspired by the dreams of King Lalibela, and some were built with the help of angels and completed in a single night. The monolithic rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are unique: some are subterranean, others are in caves, but all are memorable. There are 13 of these Unesco-protected churches in the town alone and others in caves in the surrounding countryside. Visit: www.exploreethiopia.com

GAZE AT THE VICTORIA FALLS – ZIMBABWE AND ZAMBIA

David Livingstone named the falls for his queen. Locals simply call them Mosi-oa-Tunya (“The Smoke That Thunders”). Africa’s biggest waterfall on the Zambezi River, it has two different faces: the usual front-view curtain of water is seen from the Zimbabwean side, while more unusual side-views down the gorge are seen from Zambia. Visit: www.wildfrontiers.com

SEE LEMURS – MADAGASCAR

The black and white teddy- bear-like indri is the biggest of Madagascar’s lemurs, at almost 92cm tall. They live in treetops and are easiest to see in Andasibe-Mantadia (Perinet) National Park in central Madagascar. Indris are very territorial, with a bizarre call that sounds like part whale-song, part siren. Smallest of the lemurs and the world’s smallest primate is the pygmy mouse lemur, which lives in the forests of western Madagascar. Its body is just 6cm long and it weighs in at 50g, meaning it can easily recline in an eggcup. Visit: www.zatours-madagascar.com

VISIT A ROMAN CITY – CARTHAGE, TUNISIA

Built on the edge of the Mediterranean, Carthage was the birthplace of one of history’s greatest military strategists: Hannibal Barca. Today the Roman city on the outskirts of Tunis can still be visited and enough remains intact to convey what it looked like back in 247BC when the Punic military commander was born. There are 3 000-year- old columns, capitals and mosaics. Email: info@mosaicnorthafrica. com Visit: www.mosaicnorthafrica.com

MAASAI WARRIORS JUMPING – MASAI MARA, KENYA

The Maasai call the ritual “adumu”, which means “to jump” in the Maa language, and it’s performed to mark the coming of age of warriors who’ll protect the tribe’s cattle from predators. Jumping is done straight-bodied and heels never touch the ground, so supreme fitness is needed. There’s usually music to help encourage the young men and the girls choose their favourite from the most lithe. Visit: www.c4safaris-images.co.za

DRIVE THE SKELETON COAST – NAMIBIA

A more desolate coastline than the Skeleton Coast would be impossible to find. This is where the Namib Desert meets the cold Atlantic Ocean and locals say the sun only shines here in December – the rest of the year is chilly and foggy. There’s a surreal beauty to this region, a deep stillness and many skeletons of ships, whales and even drilling rigs. It’s a real-life Salvador Dali landscape. Visit: www.namibia-tracks-and-trails.com

VISIT A KASBAH – AIT BEN HADDOU, MOROCCO

In southern Morocco, between the towering High Atlas and rugged Jebel Sahro mountains, is the extraordinary Valley of One Thousand Kasbahs. Built entirely from earth, Ait Ben Haddou consists of kasbahs (high-walled fortresses or towers) cascading down a steep hill. The city is a Unesco World Heritage Site and has been a backdrop for many movies, including Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth. Visit: www.oriontrek.com

TAKE A TRADITIONAL EAST AFRICAN DHOW TRIP – QUIRIMBAS ARCHIPELAGO, MOZAMBIQUE

Dhows are the traditional mode of transport in East Coast waters and their sailing efficiency is still lauded. Built of wood and mostly powered by wind and sails – with horsepower back-up – these boats epitomise slow African travel. Sailing tepid turquoise waters between jewelled islands in the Quirimbas of northern Mozambique, watching flying fish and snorkelling en route is a travel experience par excellence. It’s a fully catered and guided trip through paradise. Visit: www.iboisland.com

TRACK RARE DESERT ELEPHANTS – DAMARALAND, NAMIBIA

These unusual elephants have adapted to desert conditions. They rest by day, dig for water and refrain from destroying the environment – as if they know resources are scarce. There are just two groups of desert elephants numbering 180 in total, so tracking and finding them is a coveted wildlife experience. Visit: www.namibia-tracks-and-trails.com

SEE THE ANCIENT AND ACTIVE VOLCANO CHAIN – RWANDA

The mighty Virungas form a natural border between Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. Six of the towering volcanoes are dormant and three are among the most active volcanoes in the world. Mount Sabyinyo at 3 634m straddles the border with Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, so from this volcano you can technically gaze upon three countries, but gazing at the purple peaks from ground level is just as breathtaking. Auspiciously, this is also the only natural habitat of endangered mountain gorillas. Visit: www.primatesafaris.info

STEP INTO THE SAHARA – MERZOUGA, MOROCCO

Towering sand dunes in shades of honey to maroon are Morocco’s gateway to the great sand sea of the Sahara. The vastness of the desert, bathed in sunshine and stillness, will take your breath away. And if you want to go to Timbuktu, it’s just 52 days from here by camel. Visit: www.oriontrek.com

MARVEL AT THE MIGRATION – SERENGETI, TANZANIA

Every June and July, wildebeest and zebra in their millions congregate on the plains of the Serengeti to start their annual migration to the Masai Mara in Kenya. They’re literally travelling to greener pastures in this cycle of life that’s awe-inspiring to see. Visit: www.wildfrontiers.com

EXPERIENCE AFRICA’S ANCIENT BIG SIX – WEST COAST FOSSIL PARK, SA

Sabre-toothed cats, hunting bears that weighed about 750kg, a long-horned, short-necked, giraffe-like herbivore that weighed up to two tonnes, a white rhino ancestor, straight-horned buffalo and elephants with small ears have all been found in fossil form at the West Coast Fossil Park – along with about 200 other species. This park is said to have the greatest diversity of five-million-year-old fossils on earth. Visit: www.fossilpark.org.za

HOT-AIR BALLOON OVER THE TEMPLES OF LUXOR – EGYPT

Take-off is before dawn and seeing the sun rise over the vast complex of temples in Luxor is a dreamy experience. The Nile twinkles nearby and felucca sails flutter on its surface, while the balloon just clears the majestic Temple of Luxor, skims over Medinet Habu and passengers look into the scarred faces of the two seated figures of Amenhotep III (the Colossi of Memnon). Visit: www.selectegypt.com

SNORKEL IN LAKE MALAWI

Livingstone called it the “Lake of Stars” for its twinkling waters, yet what lies beneath their surface has to be seen to be believed. Near Thumbi Island in Lake Malawi is a diving spot called The Aquarium because of its colourful cichlid fish. If you snorkel here, you’ll be followed – Pied Piper-style – by more neon blue, yellow, pink, orange, turquoise and striped fish than you could ever count or fit into any tank. Visit: www.malawitourism.com

GET LOST IN THE ALLEYWAYS OF STONETOWN – ZANZIBAR

Zanzibar is as exotic and sultry as its evocative name, and Stonetown is the quintessential old African labyrinthine city. It wasn’t designed to be that way, but its lure is wandering the narrow streets dotted with tiny shops and getting completely lost. When it’s time to return to your lodgings, simply ask a local for directions and you’ll be out of the enchanting tangle of streets where time stands still and magic still lives on.Visit: www.destinationsabuzz.co.za

COMMUNE WITH DOLPHINS – PORT ELIZABETH, SA

Proclaimed the “Dolphin Capital of the World” for its huge schools of bottle-nosed dolphins that frequent Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth is Cetacean Central. Not only could you be surrounded by up to 600 of these mammals frolicking around your boat, but during winter there are plenty of whales to be seen too. Humpbacks, Southern Right, Minke and Bryde’s whales are common and even the odd killer whale passes through. However, using a registered whale- and dolphin- watching boat operator is imperative to ensure ethical practice at sea. Visit: www.raggycharters.co.za

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