Of the original Seven Wonders of the World, only one now remains – the Great Pyramids of Egypt, for those intrigued. The six others have faded into obscurity, which got us thinking: what would we choose as our modern day seven wonders? There’s one catch – they do, of course, have to be in Africa, and with thundering waterfalls and enchanting forests, to deserts that stretch even further than the horizon, there was plenty on the continent to choose from. Read on to find out what made our shortlist for the Timbuktu Seven (Alternative) Wonders of Africa.
Explore the eclectic spread of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
There’s nowhere in Africa like the Makgadikgadi… In fact, we’d go as far to say that there’s nowhere in the world that’s quite like the Makgadikgadi. The largest salt pan on earth, the vast sea of white covers around 10,000 km2 of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and is pure, endless salt. This is a place so vast that the horizon hugs the curvature of the earth, where surrealism becomes reality, and where nothingness becomes the norm. Underneath it all, however, there are some real treasures to be discovered: breeding colonies of startling pink flamingos, rare brown hyena and the migration of several thousand wildebeest and zebra, should you get your timings right…
Experience the magic of the Makgadikgadi on our ‘Adventurous Botswana’ route and combine the desert with a few days in the Okavango Delta. And where to stay? You can’t get much better than the iconic and undeniably chic Jack’s Camp.
Discover the glistening expanse of The Quirimbas Archipelago
The islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago aren’t just any old tropical islands. Oh no – these enigmatic specks of land, suspended in the translucent waters of the Indian Ocean, are quite simply some of the most astoundingly beautiful in the world. Spread out like a smattering of diamonds glittering in the sun, the 32 atolls are ringed by blistering white sand and are (almost) as untouched as they were centuries ago. The 11 southernmost islands are part of the Quirimbas Marine National Park and the underwater life here is truly spectacular: think colourful puffer fish, turtles, dolphins, whales and the endangered dugong. Even better, the area only receives a handful of visitors a year, so the time to visit really is now.
Accommodation in the Quirimbas is out of this world and lodges are the ultimate in barefoot-luxury – but with every possible treat you could imagine! Take a look at Azura Quilalea or Medjumbe Island Resort and add them to your route for an extra-special treat.
Take to the shimmering hills of Sossusvlei
We defy you to think of Namibia and not think of sand dunes. Blood red, ever-shifting and mesmerisingly captivating from all angles, the towering sand massifs are never far away, but the most iconic landscape of them all has to be Sossusvlei. Here, the great hills rise to over 300 metres high, their knife-sharp crests slicing into the china blue sky and their colours shimmering in the dazzling sunlight. It’s undoubtedly a photographer’s dream and many hours can be whiled away amidst the grains, simply watching, but if you’re feeling active, hot air balloon rides, sunset game drives, scenic flights, hiking trips, horseback trails and more await. Our top tip? Get there before sunrise and watch the rays as they trickle across the desert floor…
Namibia is a great place for a self-drive safari and our ‘Classic Driving route’ will take you from the dunes of Sossusvlei to the hills of Erongo, ending with some wildlife-watching in Etosha. If you’re short on time however, then check out our ‘Short and Sweet Dash Through the Highlights’, Sossusvlei included.
Trek through the towering forests of Volcanoes National Park
Although the scenery in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is pretty damn epic – think swathes of luscious forest, towering montane trees and the dramatic Virunga volcanoes, all swaddled by the iconic swirling mists – it’s the inhabitants that have earnt Volcanoes its place on our list. Over half the world’s remaining population of endangered mountain gorilla currently call the park home and since 1999, a growing number of international travellers have visited, all keen to experience that sense of wonder that comes from being eye-to-eye with the furry creatures. And it’s Dian Fossey that we have to thank for that: the conservationist spent 20 years of her life in Volcanoes studying gorillas and it’s largely thanks to her that poaching was stopped in time to save these incredible primates.
For some serious bucket-list ticks, combine a gorilla-trekking trip to Volcanoes National Park with Tanzania’s famous Serengeti and watch the Great Migration thunder across the plains. This ‘Tanzania and Rwanda route’ will get you started…
Wander the historic streets of Lalibela
In a country of ageless treasures and epic scenery, it wasn’t easy to choose only one wonder from Ethiopia for our list, but the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela really are hard to beat and in fact, many already consider them to be the eighth wonder of the world. The incredible collection of cave- and rock-hewn churches were built in the 12th century as a ‘new Jerusalem’ but most extraordinary of all is that 11 of them were carved downwards, cleaved out of the earth itself in intricate and delicate detail. Explore the warren of tunnels that connect them, marvel at the brilliance of the architecture or attend a sacred Sunday service alongside thousands of white-robed worshippers. This is truly a place that brings new meaning to the word ‘wonder.’
The route through Lalibela and northern Ethiopia is often referred to as the ‘historical circuit’ and our route, ‘The highlights of the north’, will take you on a life-changing journey through the lands that time forgot.
Dive into the tropical waters of Lake Malawi
Lake Malawi’s supermodel beauty more than certainly earns it a place on our list of wonders, but it’s got a few rather impressive claims to fame too. It’s Africa’s third largest lake and at 365 miles long from top to toe and 52 miles in width, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were by the ocean. In some parts, the turquoise waters plunge to almost 2300 feet below sea level and in this vast blueness there are over 500 species of fish, from tropical cichlids to the luminous Mbuna fish. On land, crescents of squeaky white sand line the shores, undiscovered desert islands float in the water and mango-strewn forests just wait to be explored… Sounds like paradise to us.
On the edge of Lake Malawi, heavenly Pumulani Lodge and family-friendly Danforth Lodge get our vote, but if you’re hankering after a desert island adventure, try Kaya Mawa for size – situated on Likoma Island, it’s a laidback hideaway with more than a touch of romance.
Experience the breathtaking showers of Victoria Falls
Zambia or Zimbabwe
It’s already snuck on to the official list of the 7 New Wonders of the World, so how could we resist adding Victoria Falls to ours? Officially the largest sheet of falling water in the world, it’s also one of Africa’s most visited attractions – and we can definitely say it’s worth every waterlogged camera to see it in the flesh! The sheer volume of water that tumbles over the 1.6-kilometre long lip and down the Batoka Gorge is staggeringly impressive, and the spray that’s thrown up can be seen from an equally remarkable 50 kilometres away. And if simply observing isn’t enough, how about taking to the skies in a microlight or a helicopter, leaping off the famous bridge with a bungee rope, or swimming in the Devils’ Pool?
Bordering both Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is a great access point for trips through both countries. Our ‘Ultimate Zimbabwe route’ does exactly what it says on the tin, whilst ‘Classic Zambia with a twist’ will take you to some of the hidden corners of the country, as well as a few highlights…