Below are some of the major travel highlights for The Great African Journey. For more in-depth attractions of each country on this route, click on the country names below or select a route to see the highlights on this section of the journey. Click on the icons below to focus on specific types of features (click again to return to all).
|In-depth highlights: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe|
|Volcanoes National Park|
The Volcanoes National Park is a forested area in the Virunga Mountains that border Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is Rwanda's premier tourist attraction, with the mist-covered volcanoes of the Virungas being one of only two locations in the world where you can track a habituated family group of mountain gorillas (the other is Bwindi National Park in Uganda). It was here that Dian Fossey lived and died studying and protecting the gorillas, her efforts made famous in the film 'Gorillas in the Mist'. The opportunity to trek to a gorilla family and spend an hour in close proximity observing these remarkable creatures is one of the most thrilling wildlife experiences on Earth. Currently seven of the park's gorilla groups are habituated to tourists with eight permits available for each group every day. The park is also home to 75 other mammal species including elephant, buffalo and the endangered endemic Golden Monkey, a troop of which has also been habituated and can be tracked in the bamboo forests on the lower volcano slopes.
Rwanda has made remarkable progress since the 1994 genocide but it's important for both Rwandans and visitors alike to learn about what happened and remember the victims. The Kigali Memorial Centre, developed in association with the UK-based Aegis Trust, is a museum dedicated to telling the story genocide. It is an excellent but harrowing portrayal of the horrific events and a must see on any trip to Rwanda. The site at Gisozi is also the burial place for 250,000 genocide victims with several gardens and a Wall of Names also under construction. The churches at Nyamata and Ntarama south if Kigali were the sites of horrific massacres and are today disturbing memorials which contain the remains and possessions of thousands of the victims. Murambi near Gikongoro in southern Rwanda is perhaps the most disturbing of all the memorials - the school rooms which were the site of the slaughter of tens of thousands of Rwandans now contain hundreds of preserved bodies which were exhumed from mass graves at the site. An excellent new museum display at the site tells the story of the genocide, its build-up and victims.
Lake Bunyoni is the deepest crater lake in Africa, located in the south of Uganda near the Rwandan border. It is a beautiful setting that provides excellent bird watching opportunities, visits to the lake islands, swimming or hiking in the surrounding hills.
|Bwindi Impenetrable National Park|
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south-western Uganda comprises 330 km² of primeval forest in altitudes ranging from 1200 to 2800 metres. It's an area of remarkable biodiversity of plant life, birds and butterflies but the main draw is the mountain gorilla, of which there are approximately 300 in the park. This is one of only two locations in the world where you can track a habituated family group of mountain gorillas, probably the most exhilarating wildlife experience you can imagine, though it can take an arduous trek through the forest to find the gorillas. Bwindi is also home to other rare primates such as L'Hoest's monkey and the golden monkey.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
|Queen Elizabeth National Park|
Queen Elizabeth National Park covers 2000 km² in western Uganda and is an area of extraordinary diversity in both landscape and fauna. Situated along the Kasinga Channel connecting Lakes George and Edward, the park comprises grasslands, crater lakes, tropical forests and papyrus swamps and is home to over 600 bird species and almost 100 mammals. These include the famous tree climbing lions, the Ugandan kob, sitatunga antelope, giant forest hog and topi, while boat trips along the Kasinga Channel allow for excellent bird watching as well as observing huge numbers of hippos, elephants and buffalo.
|Kibale Forest National Park|
Kibale Forest National Park is an equatorial rainforest that has one of the highest concentration of primates in the world. The park contains 13 different species of primates, with the main draw being the 500 or so chimpanzees that live here which can be viewed on walking safaris. Other primates in Kibale include the black and white colobus monkey, red colobus, L'Hoest's monkey and the grey-cheeked mangabey. In addition the park has a huge diversity of butterflies and birds, including crowned eagles, yellow-mantled weavers, African grey parrot and the black bee-eater.
|Bujugali Falls and Jinja|
Jinja is located at the source of the White Nile where it exits Lake Victoria. Here you can visit the source of the White Nile and the nearby Bujagali Falls. Jinja is also a major centre for adrenaline activities with excellent white water rafting on the Nile, bungee jumping and quad biking.
The Masai Mara is the finest wildlife reserve in Kenya and one of the most famous in all of Africa. Though quite small at just 1,500 km², the abundance of wildlife and the rolling plains and riverbank woodlands of the Mara make for great game drives. Part of the Serengeti ecosystem, it hosts the annual migration of wildebeest where immense herds head north from the Serengeti between July and October each year in search of fresh grazing lands. The huge numbers of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles means plentiful food for lions, leopards and cheetahs which can hunt in pristine wilderness. Other animals include elephant, black rhino, hyena and warthog while the Mara River is home to numerous hippos and crocodiles which prey on the game crossing the river during the Migration. The Mara isn't a national park which means the Masai people have retained their traditional way of life within the reserve, allowing visitors to see them herding cattle and learn of their culture during village visits, witnessing a wonderful harmony between people and nature.
Lake Nakuru is a beautiful national park, best know for its huge population of pink flamingos which are attracted to the algae of its soda lake - one of the greatest bird spectacles on earth where entire portions of the lake can be turned pink due to the vast numbers. Over 400 other bird species are also resident here, including 13 globally threatened species and is a major nesting and breeding ground for great white pelicans. On dry land, it's an excellent place to view black and white rhinos, as well as buffalo, cheetah, lion, greater kudu, zebra and the endangered Rothschild giraffe.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley
Lake Naivasha is a picturesque lake in the Great Rift Valley, that allows boat trips to view hippos and the abundant birdlife here, home to over 400 species. Nearby is Crescent Island Sanctuary where you can go on walking safari to view zebra, giraffe and wildebeest, Hell's Gate National Park for bike riding amidst spectacular canyons and hot springs and Elsamere, the former home of Joy Adamson of 'Born Free' fame, where you can learn about her life and work.
Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa at 5199m. The trekking route up Mount Kenya has been described as more beautiful than that of Kilimanjaro. The trekking peak reached is Point Lenana at 4985m, higher are the technical peaks of Batian (5199m) and Nelion (5188m). For the less adventurous, the slopes of Mount Kenya makes for excellent hikes through grasslands, moorlands and dense forests.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest
|Serengeti National Park|
The Serengeti is the quintessential East African national park and perhaps the most famous, covering some 15,000 km² of savannah plains. The Serengeti boasts the largest concentration of plains game in Africa, with an estimated three million large animals, including some 2,500 lions. It is famous as the location of the annual migration of huge herds of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles as they travel between here and the Masai Mara in Kenya in search of fresh grazing lands, offering excellent chances to see kills by predators seeking nourishment of their own.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Serengeti National Park
The Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania is one of the most unique and exciting wildlife reserves in Africa. Ngorongoro is actually a caldera, formed from a collapsed volcano millions of years ago, which now forms a huge natural amphitheatre with perhaps the greatest permanent concentration of wildlife in Africa. The crater's steep walls (over 600 metres high) enclose a vast space of 260 km² which includes open savannah, swamps, forests and the Lake Magadi soda lake, attracting flamingos and other water birds. Most large African animals are found in the crater (exceptions being giraffe and white rhino) and the crater's walls, balance of species and permanent water source mean they rarely leave. Of particular note are some 30 black rhino, the largest concentration left in Africa, and its famous lion population, though the 60 or so lions found there today are apparently suffering from the effects of inbreeding. Leopards, elephants, buffalo, hippos, hyenas and various prey species also call the Ngorongoro Crater home. You may also spot Maasai tribesmen lead their cattle down the crater walls - they have grazing and watering rights in the crater.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain. It is a magnificent site, rising out of the surrounding plains, encircled in mountain forest, with its snowy peak 5,895m above sea level. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the great trekking challenges in the world. Though not requiring any specialist mountaineering skills, it is still a fairly arduous task, with oxygen levels at its peak only half those at sea level. The view from the top, with hundreds of miles of the plains of Tanzania and Kenya below you, make all the effort worthwhile though.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kilimanjaro National Park
The exotic spice island of Zanzibar is one of the most evocative names in travel. Apart from Stone Town, the island comprises numerous spice plantations which can be visited with the chance to taste and buy numerous exotic spices. The island also has some of the most stunning beaches and waters you're ever likely to encounter with the chance to relax and view the marine wildlife by snorkelling or diving.
Stone Town on Zanzibar is a centuries old East African trading port. The town is a maze of narrow streets and passageways with the remains of beautiful homes built by Arab traders made rich by trading gold, ivory and slaves. Zanzibar was once the largest slave market on the east coast of Africa and the remains of the slave market can be visited, where a 19th century Anglican church now exists. Stone Town also has many quaint shops and bazaars, excellent for souvenir shopping and watching the dhow silhouettes in the sea at sunset is magical.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Stone Town of Zanzibar
Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa and runs along the eastern border of Malawi for most of its length. It's a breathtaking expanse of clear blue waters and is home to more fish species than any lake in the world. There are a number of stops along the length of Lake Malawi including Senga Bay, Chitimba and Chintheche where you can partake in various water sports, visit local villages and buy the famous Malawian wood carvings or relax on the beach (though be sure to rise early to catch a glorious sunrise over the lake).
|South Luangwa National Park|
South Luangwa National Park is Zambia's premier wildlife park and safari experience. It's regarded as one of Africa's finest wildlife reserves, comprising more than 9000 km² of unspoilt wilderness in Zambia's eastern province, yet is well off the beaten tourist track. The varied terrain includes dry shrublands and grasslands, mopane woodlands and oxbow lakes as well as the Luangwa River which teems with crocodiles and hippos. South Luangwa is home to over 400 bird species and 100 animal species, including elephant, buffalo, bushbuck, kudu, lion and the world's highest naturally occurring population of leopard. South Luangwa is famous for its walking safaris with expert guides, allowing you to get up close and personal to Africa's wildlife and immerse yourself in sights, sounds and scents of the African bush.
Lake Kariba affords the opportunity for sunset cruises and game cruises to see animals at the water's edge and the wide variety of birdlife. There is also the option of spending one or more nights on a house boat, relaxing and enjoying the scenery and spectacular sunsets. Maaze Island on Lake Kariba offers a game walk and visit to a crocodile farm.
Following in the footsteps of the explorer David Livingstone who described "scenes so lovely they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight", the Lower Zambezi River offers the chance of a safari with a difference - canoeing trips down the river as you glide past herds of elephant and buffalo drinking in the river, crocodiles on the riverbank and pods of hippos lying in the water. Travelling between Kariba and Luangwa, the river flows past two national parks - the Lower Zambezi National Park to the north and the Mana Pools National Park to the south, offering the chance to see creatures such as zebra, lion or even leopard by the riverside.
The town of Livingstone is the Zambian base for exploring Victoria Falls and is located 11km from the Falls. It has experienced a renaissance in popularity with the recent political troubles in neighbouring Zimbabwe. Aside from exploring the Falls themselves from the ground and the air, there are a range of adventure activities available including world class white water rafting on the Zambezi, bungee jumping from the bridge over the Zambezi connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe, gorge swings over Batoka Gorge, and river boarding. After all that activity you can wind down on a sunset booze cruise.
|Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls|
Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya ("the smoke that thunders") are one of the natural wonders of the world. Spanning the entire breadth of the Zambezi River, they are 1700 metres wide and drop over 100 metres to the gorge below, creating a thunderous noise and a mist that can be seen, and felt, at great distances. The Falls transform a wide, calm river into a ferocious torrent that flows through a series of narrow gauges below. On the Zambian side in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park you can stand right next to the eastern cataract of the Falls and feel the full force of the water. In Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwe side, you're further from the Falls but have a greater perspective. The best perspective is perhaps obtained from above though, on flights on either fixed wing aircraft, helicopters or microlights. The flow over the Falls is very dependent on the time of year - there can be a 20 fold difference between the rainy season (March to May) and the dry season (September to December), though the sheer scale of the Falls can be easier to appreciate with less volume.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls
|Victoria Falls Town|
The town of Victoria Falls is the Zimbabwean base for exploring Falls of the same name and is located just over a kilometre from the Falls. It was built as a tourist town and caters to every need of the traveller with some excellent souvenir shopping available at the craft markets. Aside from exploring the Falls themselves from the ground and the air, there are a range of adventure activities available including world class white water rafting on the Zambezi, bungee jumping from the bridge over the Zambezi connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe, gorge swings over Batoka Gorge, and river boarding. After all that activity you can wind down on a sunset booze cruise. You can also have up close and personal wildlife experiences with elephant riding and walks with lion cubs.
|Hwange National Park|
Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe's premier wildlife park covering almost 15,000 km². Hwange's landscape ranges from open grassland to sandy areas and hilly woodlands. It is home to over 400 bird species and 100 animal species, including large herds of elephants and buffalo, giraffes and numerous antelope species whilst being an excellent location for viewing predators, including lion, leopard, cheetah, packs of wild dogs, African wildcat, serval and hyena.
Matobo Hills is characterised by huge granite boulders that have been shaped over time into all manner of bizarre shapes. These have provided shelter to people for millennia and contain very impressive collections of rock paintings. Many of these depict black and white rhinos which still live in the national park in great numbers. Expert guides can take you on walking safaris that allow you to get within metres of groups of black rhino, an exhilarating experience. The park also contains populations of leopards and cheetahs and more than 300 bird species including the black eagle, hawks and owls.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Matobo Hills
Antelope Park is located just outside the city of Gweru in central Zimbabwe. It is home to a lion breeding project and offers some truly unique wildlife experiences. Here you can walk with lion cubs (usually aged 6-12 months) and go on a night drive with older cubs in an attempt to see a kill. There are also options to view the game in the park (including various antelope species, giraffe, zebra and wildebeest) on foot, horseback, elephant back or in a vehicle as well as the opportunity to swim with elephants. You can camp or lodge in a beautiful setting with elephants regularly walking through the campsite on their way to the water.
The Great Zimbabwe National Monument, located near the city of Masvingo, is the remains of the medieval city of the Shona Bantu civilisation that gave the country its name (it means "great stone houses" in Shona). The city was occupied between the 11th and 15th centuries and was once the greatest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa, evidence of a highly skilled civilisation.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Great Zimbabwe National Monument
|Blyde River Canyon|
The area around Blyde River Canyon offers some of the most spectacular natural scenery in South Africa. The canyon itself is the third largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere with a number of lookout points including at the Three Rondavels. God's Window provides a dramatic vista over the vast lowveld below. And Bourke's Luck Potholes, where the Blyde and Treur Rivers meet, has unusual and fascinating cylindrical holes carved into the rock by the force of the water.
|Kruger National Park|
Kruger National Park is one of the most famous and oldest wildlife parks in Africa. It stretches for 350 kilometres along South Africa's eastern border with Mozambique and comprises mainly savannah bushveld. The park has excellent infrastructure with campsites and lodges that allow you to sleep listening to the sounds of the animals outside. Kruger is one of the best parks for Big 5 spotting and in total boasts 147 mammal species as well as over 500 bird species and over 100 reptile species. Night game drives in Kruger gives a different perspective to the safari experience and the chance to spot nocturnal animals rarely seen in daylight.
|Chobe National Park|
Chobe National Park is Botswana's third largest park at 11,700 km², named for the Chobe River, a tributary of the Zambezi, which forms the park's northern edge. The river forms a permanent water supply, giving Chobe the largest population of elephants in Africa, with some 100,000 individuals. River cruises here allow you to spot large elephant herds drinking from the river in addition to hippos and a myriad of birdlife. The park's other animal species include buffalo, kudu, zebra, puku, Chobe bushbuck and the big cats. The south-western corner of Chobe is known as the Savuti Marsh, a grassland that has been dried up for years. Three pumped water points provide excellent opportunities to view herds of elephant, buffalo and antelopes as well as the predators that pursue them.
The Okavango Delta is the world's largest inland delta as the Okavango River, a tributary of the Zambezi, spills into the Kalahari Desert, creating a vast oasis over 15,000 km². The Delta comprises numerous water channels, lagoons and small islands. The region is rich in animal life, including elephant, giraffe, buffalo, lion, hyena, hippos and many antelope species, as well as a myriad of migratory birds. The Delta is best explored in traditional mokoro, the traditional dugout canoe, poled by skilled local guides. They navigate through a maze of narrow creeks and channels, cutting through beds of reeds, in one of the most relaxing and unique experiences Africa has to offer. This is African wilderness at its best - wildlife and a stunning natural setting in pristine, untouched land. The Okavango has numerous lodges or small islands to bush-camp (depending on your budget) which allows you to take a walking or horse-riding safari to spot the rich animal and bird life, swim in the waters (though beware crocodiles) and take mokoro trips to view the beautiful sunsets over the Delta.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Okavango Delta
|Etosha National Park|
Etosha National Park is Namibia's premier wildlife sanctuary and one of the best game reserves in Africa, covering a huge 22,000 km². Its terrain is a mixture of bush and grassland centred around the huge, flat, dazzling white expanse of the Etosha Pan, a dried up former lake. Over 340 bird species and 100 mammal species are present in the park including all the major game and predators, as well as the rare and endangered black rhinoceros, black-faced impala, Hartmann’s mountain zebra and the tiny damara dik-dik. Etosha is renowned for its floodlit waterholes that allow you to view herds of animals drinking at night.
|Cheetah Park / Otjiwarongwe|
Cheetah Park at Otjiwarongwe is a private farm dedicated to the conservation of the cheetah. Here you can see the cheetahs on the private reserve being fed on a game drive and also get up close and personal to the "domesticated" cheetahs for a great photo opportunity.
The beautiful area of Damaraland contains some striking mountain scenery including that of Brandberg, Namibia's highest peak at 2573 metres, and Spitzkoppe, a distinctly shaped granite rock formation, 1728 metres high and referred to as the "Matterhorn of Africa". Both locations contain numerous examples of Bushmen rock art and are wonderful locations for camping under the African stars.
Swakopmund is a delightful town founded by the Germans in 1892 and still retaining its original colonial influence. Surrounded by the desert and Atlantic Ocean, Swakopmund has many attractions including well preserved Art Nouveau buildings, museums detailing its history and marine life, excellent bars and restaurants as well as many shops selling Namibian souvenirs. Swakopmund has also become a centre for adrenaline activities which include sky diving, sand boarding and quad biking on the Namib dunes and horse or camel rides. More relaxing activities include hot air balloon rides or airplane flights over the desert, dolphin cruising and deep sea fishing.
|Sossusvlei and Sesriem Canyon|
The Namib-Naukluft Park, at almost 50,000 km², is the fourth largest nature conservation area in the world and contains the world's oldest desert, the Namib Desert. The sand dunes at Sossusvlei are its biggest attraction and one of the most evocative and beautiful sites in Africa. The dunes are deep red in colour and up to 300m high and the views of the surrounding desert are spectacular. Climbing up one of these immense dunes, especially at sunrise or sunset to witness the dramatic and changing colours, is one of the quintessential Africa experiences, while running and jumping down the steep sides provides an exhilarating and quick trip back to the bottom. The isolated Dead Vlei, hidden behind sand dunes, is even more dramatic - its 600 year old dead tree trunks lie in a white parched surface and contrast beautifully with the surrounding red dunes and bright blue skies. Nearby are the small but dramatic rock formations of the Sesriem Canyon gorge.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Namib Sand Sea
|Fish River Canyon|
Fish River Canyon is the world's second largest canyon, a spectacular chasm 161km long, 27 km wide and 550 metres deep. The outer canyon was formed by tectonic activity and the inner canyon by erosion from the Fish River. There are breathtaking views from atop the escarpment edge and excellent hiking opportunities along and within the canyon.
The vineyards of Western Cape Province are some of the most famous in the world. The area is characterised by beautiful landscapes and charming, historic towns such as Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl. Wine tasting tours of the vineyards will allow you to sample some of the excellent local produce, in particular the Pinotage grape which is unique to South Africa.
The Cape Peninsula south of Cape Town is a fascinating area to explore with a wide array of attractions. You can walk right up to the small Cape penguins in Boulder's Beach, visit the fishing port of Hout Bay or the numerous attractive beaches on the peninsula. At the southern end is the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where you can visit the Cape Point lighthouse and walk to the Cape of Good Hope itself at the south-western tip of Africa.
Robben Island was used as a prison between the 17th and 20th centuries, most infamously when incarcerating Nelson Mandela and fellow anti-apartheid campaigners. These days, the island acts as a museum offering tours of the island and prison buildings. Visits guided by former prisoners offer a fascinating insight to the brutal regime.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Robben Island
Cape Town is one of the most attractive cities in Africa and one of the most beautifully located in the world. Set in the foothills of the distinctive Table Mountain and next to the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town is South Africa's "Mother City". The mild climate and cultural diversity make it a wonderful destination, in itself and as a base for exploring the surrounding Cape Province. Ascending Table Mountain is a must, either on foot or via the cablecar, for stunning views over the city and the peninsula. In town, the cultural and entertainment centre is around Long Street, with extensive shopping opportunities along the Waterfront.