It’s not hard to see why Africa’s greatest landmarks continue to attract so much attention from international travellers. The Serengeti, the Pyramids, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Marrakech, Zanzibar Island, Kruger National Park, the sand dunes of the Namib Desert—these are all incredible and breathtaking world wonders. But there’s more to Africa than the highlight reel. That’s why we’ve put together the following highlights off the beaten path on African tours.
Chances are you haven’t heard of most or all of these game reserves, towns, and national parks, but they deserve your attention when heading across the massive African continent. They demonstrate that no matter where you head to in Africa, you’ll find something marvellous.
Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Located in Botswana’s northwest, the Moremi Game Reserve is home to an incredible concentration of wildlife. Moremi comprises the western third of the Okavango Delta and offers an excellent contrast of wet and dry environments. The rivers, wetlands, and lagoons of the delta offer the chance to ride river canoes and spot the many birds that feed off the vegetation and small animals and bugs drawn to the water. The other parts of the reserve boast dry African savannah where you can explore the bush to see many lions, leopards, and rhinos. Most travellers might opt for Chobe National Park on a first visit to Botswana, but a stay in the Moremi Game Reserve is just as rewarding on African tours.
Abu Simbel, Egypt
Abu Simbel is probably one of the most familiar entries on this list, but that doesn’t mean it’s the first place people visit when they head to Egypt. In fact, these magnificent temples at the southernmost edge of the country are often overlooked due to how far south they are, but if you’re cruising the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, it’s not much further to get past Lake Nasser and reach the temples of Abu Simbel. It’s also completely worth it. These temples date back to 1,264BC and feature massive statues of Pharaoh Rameses II and Queen Nefertari along the temple reliefs. The Egyptian government relocated the temples in 1968 to save them from being submerged during the construction of the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser, and the fact that the temples are still intact and available for travellers to visit is a minor miracle.
Although it’s one of the largest countries on the planet, Ethiopia doesn’t attract as many visitors as it deserves. And the visitors that do come usually focus on the rock churches of Lalibela and the Simien Mountains. The city of Gondar in Ethiopia’s north is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Back in the 17th century, it was home to Ethiopian Emperors and today, you can explore the remnants of their castles and palaces. Chief among the city’s landmarks is the Fasil Ghebbi Fortress, a massive stone fortress-city that served as the official seat of the Emperor Fasilides. The fortress draws on various architecture styles, from local Nubian to Portuguese and Indian. Beyond the castle, the Debre Birhan Selassie church is worth visiting for its bright paintings depicting the lives of Jesus and the Apostles.
Back in the 1500s, the coastal town of Malindi was one of East Africa’s most significant port cities, especially with Portuguese traders. Today, the town is an overlooked gem in Kenya that offers incredible access to the gorgeous beaches and waters of Africa’s eastern coast. You’ll find Malindi to the north of Mombasa along the Kenyan coastline. The beaches are home to several resorts and hotels, which cater largely to Italian clients who come to take advantage of the white sands and massive marine parks full of tropical fish and sea turtles. Don’t let Italian travellers have all the fun. Head to Malindi for a beach stay at the end of your next African safari.
Montagne d’Ambre National Park, Madagascar
The entire country of Madagascar could be considered off the beaten path, but we’ve focused on this incredible national park on the northern tip of the island. Known as Amber Mountain National Park in English, Montagne d’Ambre offers an incredible jungle world to explore with a large number of endemic plants and animals. You’ll find eight species of lemurs within the park, as well as mongooses, civets, and chameleons. The park is also known for its many waterfalls and incredible number of plant species. It’s known as one of the most biologically-diverse spots on the famously-diverse island.
Morocco might conjure images of madrasahs and camels, but it’s also home to incredible resort towns. You can’t get much better than Agadir when it comes to resorts along the Atlantic coastline. Located in the country’s southwest, Agadir sits in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains and has a variety of resorts and golf courses that are perfect for travellers wanting a leisurely stay during their trip to Africa. The city boasts a massive crescent beach that is perfect for swimming and water sports, while the promenade that sweeps alongside the ocean sports many great restaurants, cafes, and bars. Although the city’s Kasbah was destroyed in 1960, you’ll also find historical highlights here like the Souk El Had, where you can shop for olives, spices, and other fragrant Moroccan items.
Damaraland sits between the Kalahari Desert and the Namib Desert and is one of Namibia’s greatest wildernesses. It’s also entirely overlooked by travellers on African tours, making it something of a hidden gem. Beyond the striking landscape of rugged desert, petrified forests, and green oases, you’ll find prehistoric rock art and some of the world’s greatest endangered animals here. Among the many animals you’ll find in Damaraland are black rhinos, desert elephants, lions, and hyenas. If you want to see elephants crossing the desert or spot a Namibian gemsbok racing beneath the noonday sun, put Damaraland into your next African vacation itinerary.
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, is a lovely town to the northeast of Durban near the Indian Ocean. Founded in 1938 and with a population of just over 220,000, Pietermaritzburg (known as Maritzburg to locals) offers a laidback atmosphere compared to many other South African cities, without sacrificing on culture or attractions. Its City Hall is the largest brick building in the Southern Hemisphere while the entire downtown is a lovely place to see colonial architecture. For other attractions, the KwaZulu-Natal Museum is a good place to learn about Zulu culture and the history of the province, while the National Botanic Gardens are some of the best in the country.
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
This entry is probably a cheat, as Selous is hardly unknown when it comes to great African safari destinations, but when compared to the likes of its Tanzanian cousins, Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Mt. Kilimanjaro, it could be considered off the radar. Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest animal reserves in all of Africa and boasts a stunning number of animals across its 50,000 square kilometres. There are 350 species of animals here as well as 2,000 species of plants, meaning you’ll come across a lot of variety when heading on game drives in Selous. You’ll see favourites like bush elephants, hippos, and lions, but you’ll also have a good chance of seeing black rhinos, wild dogs, and Masai giraffes, all of which grow increasingly uncommon in the wild.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Hwange National Park is the largest game park in Zimbabwe, but it’s often overlooked in favour of a trip to Victoria Falls. While we’re not here to diminish the majesty of Victoria Falls—they’re truly breathtaking—we do encourage you to spend a few days in Hwange National Park if you’re ever in Zimbabwe. Located in the country’s west, the park is defined by grasslands and mopane woods that are home to large herds of elephants, lions, and wild dogs. Beyond the animals on the savannah, you explore the waterways created by the Mandavu and Masuma dams and visit the park’s 18th-century ruins and pre-colonial rock paintings. Hwange National Park offers a great sample of the wonders of safaris on African tours, all within one park.
These highlights off the beaten path showcase some of the great natural and cultural offerings on African tours, while avoiding the tourist routes. They’re further proof of Africa’s endless wonders.