Bucket List Africa – 15 Incredible Experiences
Table Mountain, Victoria Falls, gorilla trekking and the Serengeti Migration – if Africa doesn’t hold the record for most bucket-list destinations in one continent then it surely lays claim to the most spectacular and unique ones. We’ve compiled our Africa bucket list – in no particular order – below; check your list with ours and see if you agree!
1. DUGOUT ON THE DELTA
Sure, you can go on game drives and helicopter flights over Botswana’s Okavango Delta but not much beats the elemental experience of sitting just a few inches above the water on a traditional dugout canoe – a mokoro – complete with your own local guide. Propelled by ‘pole power’, you’ll explore shallow lagoons and twisting rivers illuminated by the flash of kingfishers and iridescent dragonflies; keep an eye out for the bigger animals too – aquatic antelope, giant monitor lizards and who knows, maybe an elephant or two.
2. TO THE END OF THE EARTH
A landscape littered with ghostly shipwrecks and animal bones, the Skeleton Coast in northern Namibia is a stark reminder that there are still places of deep wilderness left in the world. Hundreds of miles from anywhere, it’s a land of enormous skies and silence – apart from the booming surf and occasional contralto call of a jackal – as well as a place of reflection and contemplation. Fly in and explore it from one of the handful of lodges in the area – there’s surprisingly good wildlife to see and super-endemic birds to tick off.
3. DIVE WITH THE DARE-DEVILS
It’s not for everybody but if you are looking for the most outrageous swim on the planet then there’s no beating Devil’s Pool. Perched at the edge of Victoria Falls and with the Zambezi River roaring over on all sides, this natural bowl of calm water is accessible on a Livingstone Island tour (safe ground for those keeping their feet dry) and, once you have braved the jump in, lets you look over the rim of the falls and down into the abyss. It’s a fully guided tour with professionals all the way and can only be experienced from Zambia (but also booked a Zambia day trip from Zimbabwe).
4. ROLLING THUNDER: THE MIGRATION
You know what a sound a galloping horse makes – imagine a million and a half of them. The Great Wildebeest Migration is one of nature’s true wonders – a reminder that in some places there are more wild animals than people and an opportunity to see some of the most dramatic wildlife interactions in Africa. The migration moves between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara and involves several distinct chapters – the birthing season and the river-crossing season for example – but game viewing during the migration is always excellent and a great chance to see Africa’s biggest predators: big cats, hyenas, wild dogs and crocodiles.
5. DOWN, DOWN INTO THE CRATER
Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic crater but there’s good news: the volcano is long extinct, and the crater floor is home to perhaps the most densely packed concentration of large African animals on the continent. There’s accommodation nearby as well as on the rim of the crater itself (you can imagine the views) and it’s worth spending a whole day in the crater on a drive with a local guide. Ngorongoro is home to the Big 5 as well as wetlands with hippos and flamingos and it’s easy to combine with the Serengeti too.
6. RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE
Weighing in at 200 kilogrammes (440 pounds), there’s no disputing the heavyweight title in the rainforests of Rwanda and Uganda. This is the last stronghold of Africa’s mountain gorillas and your chance to hike into the jungle, accompanied by guides and rangers, to find them. It’s a tough walk in tough conditions but the success rate of finding gorillas is over 90% and there are dry seasons to make it easier. Ultimately, your reward is not just a unique audience with a magnificent, hauntingly familiar animal but knowledge that your conservation-based visit ensures that they survive for future generations.
7. GO GET THE BIG 5
Lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo – the most dangerous animals in the African bush and everyone wants to see them! Many reserves have the Big 5 but seeing them all on a safari is difficult unless you go to South Africa’s Sabi Sands Private Reserve. Adjoining the mighty Kruger Park, Sabi Sands – plus nearby Timbavati and Thornybush Private Reserves – are so packed with these classic heavyweights that you are just about guaranteed the Big 5. And since they are private reserves, your guide can drive off-road for great sightings and take you on spot-lit night drives and bush walks too.
8. SAIL OVER A RED OCEAN
A hot air balloon flight above Namibia’s Sossusvlei transports you to a different world. Below you is a great rolling ocean of red sand with dunes rearing up like titanic waves a thousand feet (300 metres) into the air. It’s a pre-dawn start but worth the early alarm call: you’ll be sailing through cool air as the sun comes up and paints the Namib Desert purple, peach and orange. Keep your eyes on the ground too – you may spot the elegant lines of a rapier-horned gemsbok antelope or the desert’s mysterious ‘fairy rings’. A champagne breakfast is served after landing.
9. YOU, THE WILDERNESS & CHAMPAGNE
A scenic helicopter flight over Botswana’s Okavango Delta is a popular activity but why not go one step further? Travellers to the Okavango can now take helicopter tours to some of Botswana’s most fascinating and culturally important destinations, places that are usually too inaccessible to experience. With your local guide you can visit a remote village as a guest or marvel at the rock art of the Tsodilo Hills, featuring some of the finest indigenous paintings in the region. And if you feel like celebrating something, your pilot will land somewhere suitably picturesque and produce chilled French champagne – cheers!
10. PADDLE THE ZAMBEZI
Africa’s fourth largest river is the best one for wildlife. Slung low in a two-person canoe and led by an armed professional guide, you drift down the Zambezi River while watching Africa’s big game at – and in – the water in front of you. Elephants, hippos, crocodiles – it’s a thrilling, elemental experience and you can choose between day trips and multi-night adventures, weaving game drives and bush walks into the itinerary too. Do it from Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park or Zimbabwe’s legendary Mana Pools.
11. COLD WATER, WHITE SHARK
The coastal waters near Cape Town in South Africa are some of the most biologically diverse in the world. Cold, rich and usually crystal-clear, they attract migrating whales and dolphins but their most infamous residents are sharks, including the Great White but also bronze whalers and ragged-tooth sharks too. You can take the plunge in a submerged cage for a face-off with them but you can also keep the sun on your back and watch the sharks from the comfort of the boat.
12. LEOPARDS & LUANGWA
Truly magnificent in appearance, the leopard is Africa’s most sought after sighting but perhaps the most difficult: these are shy, solitary, elusive creatures and masters of camouflage. But night time is their time and a spot-lit night drive in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is your chance to see the master of the night on the move, hunting and patrolling. It’s also a time for animals that you may not have seen before: nocturnal porcupines, bush-babies, wild cats and eagle-owls. Returning to your lodge you’ll find a cheery campfire and a cold drink to toast the sightings.
13. ELEPHANTS GALORE!
You can see elephants in lots of different places across Africa but you’ll never see them like you will at Botswana’s Chobe River in September and October. It’s the end of the dry season and it’s hot but the reward is a unique wildlife spectacle: thousands upon thousands of elephants at the river’s edge, joined by massed herds of buffalo, zebra and antelope. It’s a good time for predators too, and the birdwatching ranks as some of the best in Africa. Go on a morning game drive to catch big cats on the prowl and book a boat cruise for the afternoon for great elephant sightings.
14. CATCH A TIGER
We confess to a little bias here: Walter, co-owner of Safari Online, is a keen angler and the tiger fish is Africa’s ultimate sporting fish – it fights like its sharp-toothed namesake – and the best place to catch one is the Zambezi River. There’s year-round tiger fishing on Zimbabwe’s Upper Zambezi – you can also catch good-eating bream and tilapia – and wildlife to see as you drift from spot to spot. And if you just want the experience, then there’s catch-and-release fishing too.
15. ONE MOUNTAIN, TWO OCEANS
Standing a thousand metres (3300 feet) above Cape Town, Table Mountain offers superlative views of South Africa’s ‘Mother City’ but turn around and you’ll see two oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian, stretching away before you. The famously revolving cable car makes an easy up and down Table Mountain but why not earn the view with a hike up? There’s a direct and popular hiking route to the top but a local guide knows better ways up and you’ll have peace of mind and a greater experience.