There are experiences on a trip to Africa and the Middle East you can enjoy which are different and unusual… and you don’t have to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
If you are like me, you love to tell your friends about the places you visited where you had a unique experience. Africa has its fair share of these without having to climb mountains, go bungee jumping, or hack your way through dense jungle. All of the following ideas are for the average traveller on Africa tours.
Swim in the Dead Sea
Let’s start off with the fact that it is almost impossible to swim in the Dead Sea. This is because of the high concentration of salt in the water. So, really, you go in the sea to float on the surface. You can bring your book or newspaper and simply relax. This is also a therapeutic undertaking as the minerals you absorb while soaking stimulate the blood circulation. They are good for people with skin ailments. This can be further enhanced by covering yourself all over with mud which is available. The Dead Sea can be visited on both an Israel vacation and a Jordan vacation. An interesting fact is that this is the lowest point on earth, as the Dead Sea is 430 metres/1400 feet below sea level.
Go on a Wildlife Safari on Foot
If you have ever been on a safari in either east or southern Africa, you have probably viewed the wildlife from a safari vehicle in perfect safety. Well, you can actually take a walking safari in some of the same places and live to tell the tale. My first experience of a walking safari was in Kruger National Park on a South Africa vacation. A group of us were taken out from our lodge in the bush led by a ranger with a shotgun. We were all somewhat nervous, and when we asked the ranger if anyone had been attacked on one of these walks, he replied, never. That made me feel better. We followed animal footprints to track down perhaps the more docile of animals such as giraffes. It was an exhilarating experience. You have to trust your guide. He wants to live too!
In the vast majority of cases, a walking safari is a short stroll around the periphery of your camp and it is unlikely you will encounter the more dangerous large animals. However, if you are up for it, you can join a walking safari which includes getting close – but not too close – to elephants, rhinos, buffalos, and lions. This type of walk should get your adrenaline going. Both kinds of walking safaris can be done in at least Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
Swimming with Sharks
We are talking real sharks that can attack humans. Jump into a cage with a mask and snorkel and be lowered into shark-infested waters. Yes, you will be perfectly safe as you remain inside a protective cage designed to prevent sharks from making contact with the divers. One place to do this is on South Africa tours at Gansbaai, which is approximately 2½ hours from Cape Town. It is known as the “Great White Shark Capital of the World.” Before diving, you are fully briefed.
The cage in which you enter is fixed to a boat and is usually around 4 metres/13 feet long and can hold 8 divers at a time. The sharks in these waters circle the cage. Could they be curious about humans? All in all, you don’t need to be an experienced diver.
Take a Helicopter Flight Over South Africa
One of the most scenic flights I have ever taken was from Kruger National Park on a South Africa vacation. I joined two other passengers and with the pilot, the four of us took off on a 4-seater helicopter from an airstrip deep within this wildlife park. We looked down on the park and could make out animals roaming in the bush. Let me hasten to add, the intention of this trip was not to view wildlife but to experience amazing scenery.
We reached the fence which is the end of Kruger Park and eventually arrived at Blyde River Canyon. This is South Africa’s “Grand Canyon” and is the third largest canyon of its kind in the world. It has some of the deepest and steepest cliffs of any canyon on the planet. We landed on a totally deserted pinnacle which offered breathtaking views of the canyon. It is where the pilot then laid out a champagne breakfast to go with the views. Later, we saw God’s Window, the canyon’s most spectacular viewpoint and the Three Rondavels, three huge pinnacles of rock which had eroded over time shaping them into dramatic formations. Then it was back to the camp.
Visiting with Maasai Tribes in East Africa
If you happen to be on an Africa safari in Kenya or Tanzania, you may see, as you travel along the roads, local people walking about or herding cattle wearing long robes and carrying a walking stick. These are invariably Maasai people. They are basically nomadic and live in clusters of huts usually made of cow dung with straw roofs. If you are curious about their lifestyle, you can join a group and get to know all about them. The men are polygamous and can have several wives. Then, in this case, they will have several huts, one for each wife and their children. The women actually do most of the work inside of each village while the men herd their cattle. You will be allowed to look into their homes, and don’t be surprised if one of them is shared with one of the cattle. You can be entertained with a tribal ceremony which would include some type of dancing and singing.
Visit an Ostrich Farm
Just outside Oudtshoorn in South Africa, is an ostrich farm which puts on a show where ostriches, which are flightless and the largest living bird, are bred for several reasons. First, you can watch an “Ostrich Derby,” where ostriches are mounted by jockeys and race against each other. Ostriches can run as fast as 70 kilometres/44 miles per hour. If you are brave enough, you can try riding an ostrich. I tried it and somehow managed to stay on the bird. Then you can, as long as you are not very heavy, stand on one of their eggs to test just how strong they are. You will not break the egg. You can have lunch and try an ostrich steak (yes, it tastes like a lean beef fillet) or ostrich pate, or even ostrich egg (one egg is sufficient for 20 people). After that, consider going to the gift shop where you can purchase purses and other merchandise made of ostrich leather as souvenirs of your South Africa vacation.
Animal Safari on Horseback
First, this can be done in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana, and certainly some other African countries. You join a small group with an experienced guide who, just like the guides who take you in a motorized vehicle, know how and where to find the wildlife. This will include buffalo and elephants plus giraffes and many other species of animal. Because of the rough terrain and time in the saddle, you should be fit and healthy for this African safari. You don’t have to be an experienced rider, just make sure you join a novice group. If this type of animal viewing really appeals to you, you can join a horseback safari which lasts for several days and where, at night, you sleep in a tent under the stars. I am told that the animals only sense or smell horse so they are not alarmed by the riders. This is an excellent way of getting up close and personal with the wildlife on an Africa vacation.
Hot Air Balloon ride over Egyptian Antiquity
If you are in Luxor, a city on the Nile in Egypt, you might want to consider a hot air balloon ride. This means joining around 16 people in 4 compartments on the balloon. You will enjoy clear views of not only the city of Luxor but also the River Nile and the famous Valley of the Kings, with its many temples and burial grounds of the Pharaohs, known as an open-air museum of antiquity. Make sure to bring your camera with you. You will leave very early (before sunrise) and see the sun light up Luxor and the surrounding mountains. Most rides last an hour. It’s a very different way to enjoy an Egypt vacation.
Feed Endangered Giraffes
Just outside of Nairobi is the Giraffe Centre, which was originally established to protect the endangered giraffe that were found only in the grasslands of East Africa. This was started in 1979 when two baby giraffes were captured to begin a programme of breeding giraffes. This particular breed was the Rothschild’s giraffe which had been on the brink of extinction in western Kenya. Today, many of the giraffes are released after breeding back into national parks to swell the numbers. The main attraction at this centre is the ability to feed the giraffes from a raised platform (giraffes are rather tall!). The Giraffe Centre is also home to several warthogs which freely roam along with the giraffe.