If you like to holiday ‘off-the-beaten-track’ you might have already considered Africa and its numerous wilds for your next vacation. You might have pictured yourself enjoying a safari, observing some of the world’s rarest creatures in their natural environments, or climbing the tallest mountain on the continent. But if you’re looking to plan a trip that’s really off the tourist trail, we’ve put together a list of Africa’s top unexplored destinations to give you some inspiration…
Explore the complex history of Ibo Island
Occupied since the 10th century, Ibo Island has a diverse and rich history, heavily influenced by the Arab and Portuguese settlers. It’s a unique destination just off the coast of Mozambique and appeals to travellers looking for an out-of-the-ordinary island break with an emphasis on culture and authenticity.
For over a thousand years dhow ships have sailed the waters that surround Ibo, hulls packed to the brim with gold, spices, silk and ivory, bound for Europe and the Emirates. Now, you can follow in the footsteps of these explorers of old and enjoy your own dhow sailing trip during your stay, drifting past tiny islands and sandbars as dolphins playfully swim around the boat. Unlike the traditional sailors however, you can also add castaway picnics and snorkelling trips to a dreamy list of activities.
It’s not only on the water that adventure can be found either, and explorations of the crumbling and beautiful buildings of the local town and meetings with the friendly inhabitants will bring a new dimension to your trip. Wander amongst the incredible dwellings, a heady mix of architecture inspired by visitors from the past, as the daily muslim call to prayer floats past you through the air.
Where to stay
Cloaked in a history of its own and housed within lovingly-restored colonial villas, the beautiful Ibo Island Lodge is undoubtedly the best place to stay on this eerie and mysterious island. Here, time seems to stand still as you sit on the rooftop deck, drinking local cocktails and soaking up the last rays of the day.
Tanzania might be famous for the Serengeti and the Great Migration, but wander off the well-worn path and you’ll discover so much more. On the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, towering high into the clouds, you’ll spot the jagged peaks of the Mahale Mountains National Park. The mountain range is comprised of an astounding array of habitats from lush jungle forests, to alpine and bamboo woodlands, all speckled with enchanting streams and waterfalls and home to over 50 species of wildlife. Here, you’re totally removed from the outside world, cocooned in nature – add to that the magnificent sunsets over the lake and it’s paradise.
The real highlight of the area however, has to be the thousands of indigenous chimpanzees that the park was established to protect. One group of chimps have been habituated to humans, allowing for intimate, personal and, quite frankly, life-changing encounters. The primates can sometimes take a little while to find in the thick forest, and treks can take between 2 and 7 hours, but when you catch sight of the chimps foraging in the leafy undergrowth, everything else is forgotten. This is off-the-beaten-track wildlife viewing at its very best.
Where to stay
For the ultimate Robinson Crusoe experience, there’s only one place to stay: Greystoke Mahale. Located on the edge of the forest on the white sand shores of Lake Tanganyika, it’s the perfect spot to unwind in after a long day of trekking. Take a dip in the lake, then relax in total castaway luxury with a wild ginger beer cocktail in hand before dinner barefoot in the sand under the shooting stars.
Visit the breathtaking Lake Turkana
Desert lakes are a rare thing to behold, so how about a visit to the world’s largest? Lake Turkana sits at the very northern end of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley and is not only the world’s largest permanent desert lake, but also the world’s largest alkaline lake. The water shimmers in the heart of an otherworldly landscape that would look more at home on the Moon than planet Earth and known to locals as the Jade Sea because of its breathtaking turquoise colour, it really is like nowhere you’ve ever seen.
As with many spots in Africa, it goes without saying that there’s fantastic wildlife to be seen in the area and the lake is a major breeding ground for the Nile crocodile and hippo, as well as serving as a fantastic stopover for migrant waterfowl. And whilst there are great beasties to be seen, it’s really the landscape that will blow you away, with the waters of the lake stretching, seemingly never-ending, into panoramas of blackened lava and dramatic calderas.
Where to stay
You might have guessed from the description (and by the fact it appears on this list!) that Lake Turkana is remote and a little tricky to get to and as a result, accommodation is few and far between. We’d recommend hanging your hat at Desert Rose Lodge, a remote hideaway perched some 1700m above sea level on the slopes of Mount Nyiro in northern Kenya. The activities here might not be your typical game drives but with camel trekking, rock climbing, flying safaris and walks with local Bushmen, there’s certainly enough to keep any intrepid traveller busy.
From the world’s biggest desert lake to one of the driest areas in sub-saharan Africa… the Makgadikgadi Pans. It seems almost inconceivable that Botswana could be home to both the Okavango Delta, the famous wetland caused by the flooding of the Kalahari Desert over 50,000 years ago, and one of the world’s largest salt flats – but it is.
The Makgadikgadi Pans cover an area of 12,000 square kilometers and are one of the most beautiful, haunting and intriguing landscapes in Africa. Waterless and arid for much of the year, the salt flats have shimmering horizons that bend to infinity in the very definition of isolation. But don’t let the seemingly unlivable conditions fool you: during the years that experience good rain, the two largest pans—Sowa and Ntwetwe—flood and attract wildlife such as zebra and wildebeest to the grassy plains. The rains also bring one of the most spectacular sights in the natural world, when flocks of greater and lesser flamingos descend in search of the shrimps and crustaceans. This wild phenomenon is best viewed from the sky, where you’ll float above what look like enormous pink clouds.
Where to stay
If you want to enjoy your Makgadikgadi experience in ultimate luxury then consider San Camp, where everything is hopelessly romantic and exquisitely composed, just like a film set. You’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back in time to the 1940s, helped by the utter lack of electricity and only paraffin lamps to light your way when darkness falls. San offers old world luxury in the heart of the Kalahari Desert and truly is the perfect spot to get away from the world.
Experience the towering beauty of The Kingdom in the Sky
Lesotho is one of the smallest countries in the world – and definitely one of the most underrated. Referred to as ‘The Kingdom in the Sky’, the lowest point above sea level stands at 1400 metres, making it the highest low point of any country in the world. Precipitous heights aside, it’s a wild, rocky place, with superlative-laden alpine scenery around every towering corner, and the perfect country to explore on multi-day treks on foot or atop a hardy pony.
If you want to get under the skin of the Lesotho culture, then check out the local horse racing scene, so popular that some might refer to it as more of a way of life than a hobby! In the winter season, on one Saturday a month, residents head to Semonkong to watch one of the best races in the country where crowds cheer the riders and ponies as they jostle their way down the track. The biggest races of the year are always on the King’s Birthday (17th July) and Independence weekend (4th October).
Where to stay
As for places to stay, Semonkong Lodge is set high up in the Maluti Mountains, a cosy gathering of thatched cottages, all with beautiful open fire places to keep you warm on chilly nights. At the heart of the grounds sits the Duck and Donkey Tavern and Restaurant a lively spot that’s popular with guests and locals alike, and a great place to relax and share adventures with other travellers.
Discover the diversity of wildlife in Zakouma
If you’re looking for an unusual holiday destination, you’d have a hard time getting anywhere more remote than Chad’s Zakouma National Park. As well as being an extraordinary and fascinating destination to travel to, Zakouma is one of Africa’s most remarkable stories of transformation. Between 2002 and 2010 the park had a horrific poaching problem that saw 95% of its elephants slaughtered for their ivory, and almost 4,000 were brutally killed. But in 2010 African Parks stepped in and began working with the government to turn Zakouma back around.
Thanks to the formidable work of African Parks, Zakouma is thriving once again. The elephant population has gone from strength to strength and this year the organisation counted 103 elephant calves under the age of three, all of whom are doing well. As well as the majestic ellies, you can also hope to spot endemic Kordofan giraffe, herds of roan antelope, buffalo and predators such as lion, leopard and hyena – considering its troubled and fractured past, Zakouma really is a place of surprising abundance when it comes to wildlife. Twitchers will be very content here too as there’s a plethora of birdlife and it’s not unusual to see millions (literally!) of quelea and great flocks of black crowned crane.
Where to stay
Due to its remote location and limited visitor numbers (a guide is required to visit Zakouma), one of the only available options to stay is Camp Nomade, a tented camp that moves site constantly to make sure you miss none of the action. Think sleeping under the stars, boutique bucket showers and really getting back to nature.
Rwanda and Uganda might be the first names on your lips when you think of gorilla trekking but for a slightly more ‘off-the-wall’ primate encounter, have you considered the Republic of Congo’s Odzala National Park? A hotspot of biodiversity, here you’ll see everything from rainforests to rivers and savannahs to swamps, giving you an extraordinary experience in some of Africa’s most rich and varied landscapes. This is the place to come if you think you’ve already seen everything the continent has to offer.
Like Zakouma National Park, Odzala was rejuvenated by African Parks, in conjunction with the Congo Conservation Company. It’s now home to pioneering research of the Western lowland gorilla, and the park is a refuge for critical and endangered flora and fauna as well as forest elephant and buffalo. Whilst here, you can trek the lush rainforest on foot in search of local wildlife or take to the river on a water safari and float through this peaceful landscape.
Where to stay
Odzala Discovery Camps operates three camps in the northern parts of The Republic of Congo, in and around the Odzala-Kokoua National Park and our favourite has to be Ngaga Camp. Resting in a glade in the heart of the pristine Ndzehi Forest, it’s undoubtedly the best location in Africa to view western lowland gorillas. Each room in the camp is raised to offer views of the lush, green surroundings and you’ll be able to peer directly into the forest canopy. Built from sustainably-sourced wood, in a traditional style, you’ll feel yourself melting into your surroundings, as if you were always meant to be there…
São Tomé & Principe
Rising from the Atlantic off the west coast of Africa, Principe really does look like the land that time forgot. It’s sister island, São Tomé, might be the larger of the two but Principe is an explorers dream. The island itself is an ancient volcano with everything you could hope for in a castaway adventure: wild and testing hiking routes, golden beaches, bewitching forests and turquoise waters for snorkelling your heart out.
If that doesn’t sound idyllic enough, the volcanic nature of the island also means that there’s an abundance of nutrients in the soil, ensuring a bounty of delicious produce and the forests brim with fresh fruit and nuts. As well as a magnificent harvest of the freshest produce, Principe is also home to rare and unique flora and fauna and it’s not unusual to amble past larger-than-life orchids, rare tree ferns and giant sunbirds. It truly is the intoxicating island paradise you’ve always dreamt of.
Where to stay
As though the island itself weren’t enough of a utopia already, Bom Bom Island Resort notches up the wow factor yet again. Located at the northernmost tip of the island and hemmed in by the lush green jungle and the palm-lined beach, this is the place to both relish in island adventure and relax in utter seaside bliss.