Every year, I eagerly anticipate the travel hotlists and destination round-ups released by the likes of Condé Nast and National Geographic, and each time am routinely disappointed by the conspicuous absence of alluring African countries.
Our continent will forever be an eternal safari hotspot, but there are so many more reasons to plan a trip. Rousing art, fashion-forward capitals, cutting-edge design, indigenous architecture, holistic cuisine and all-out adventure come to mind. Here are 12 more.
1. Next-level sustainable design in Mozambique
Beach casas in Mozambique tend to be rudimentary. Woven palm leaves and whitewashed partitions have long been the happy hallmark for tropical holidays along this east coast. However, Kisawa Sanctuary is set to take barefoot luxury to the next level.
Located on the southern tip of Benguerra island,14 kilometres off mainland Mozambique in the Indian Ocean, Kisawa is pegged as the only resort employing 3D printing technology to create natural building material. Using a mixture of sand and seawater, the construction approach is totally sustainable and a thrilling example of biophilic design principles (from bio, meaning “life”, and philia, meaning “friendly feeling towards”) so that the 14 bungalows should blend rather than interrupt the sandscapes of Bazaruto Archipelago.
Determined that Kisawa should be a conservation sanctuary first and a luxury retreat second, founder and creative director Nina Flohr works closely with non-profit sister organisation, the Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies. The centre also offers its own immersive workshops.
Vilanculos seems to be a hub for such guardians of society and nature. Sussoro is another exciting addition to Mozambique’s shores. Besides its minimal, airy cream-coloured design and Mozambican vernacular architecture, the bungalows are community-built and serviced, powered by renewable energy and feature no single-use plastics.
Additionally, Sussuro pledges to support only sustainable artisanal fishing, local farming and enable each guest to physically offset the emissions of their trip through the reforestation of the Nhamabwe salt pan with indigenous mangroves by 2022.
Then there’s the proximity to Zinave National Park. Driven by the Peace Parks Foundation, the once barren land has been steadily restocked by wildlife in a massive rewilding project. Most recently, the first large resident predators, a clan of four hyena, were settled into the park.
2. Flyfishing and forest walks Gabon
Gabon is the one African country that made National Geographic’s list of destinations on the rise for 2021. The small country is renowned for its forests, (with an estimated 80% of its landmass still covered by forest), western lowland gorilla encounters and sustainable development strategies.
Well-travelled aficionado and PR consultant, Mercedes Bailey, agrees.
“I visited West Africa for the first time in 2019, firstly Gabon and then Ghana. My knowledge was poor. I was obsessed with the textiles from the region (Kente cloth and Fante flags) but knew little else. It was eye-opening to explore Gabon as it’s so uncharted and has such exciting wildlife encounters. In Ghana, I spent a week in Accra enjoying street food, shopping, museums and crazy city life. It’s piqued my interest, and I am desperate to return – particularly to Benin and Togo to experience an Ouidah festival. Hopefully, I can make it there for December 2021″.
Unfortunately, Gabon’s parks are not all that accessible – yet. In the meantime, African Waters has pioneered fly fishing ventures with conservation at its core for the past decade and guides are well versed in getting around. Happily, they have also noticed an increase in fishing stock in the Setta Cama area thanks to the rise in visitors. “There are not many fisheries on the planet where the fishing is getting better. Facilitated by extremely forward-thinking leadership in Gabon, a positive climate for conservation strategies plus the implementation of fisheries legislation and direct funding through licence fees, the fishery has produced consistently better catches, year on year. It’s something to be extremely positive and proud about”, the team reports.
3. A return to the rail in Southern Africa
Unsurprisingly, given border restrictions and covid-testing protocols, there has been a surge of interest in slow travel. With the complications of border-hopping these days, there is increased demand for more extended trips. Southern Africa has just the thing to serve these calls. Trains.
The Kruger National Park’s latest accommodation sits in a historic steam train above the Sabie River and boasts designer suites brimming with contemporary African art pieces. More interestingly, every element of the Kruger Shalati hotel ties into the story of Shalati. Local lore and oral traditions maintain that before titling the railway, Shalati was an African warrior queen who ruled during the 19th century as one of the first female warrior chiefs of the small Tebula clan.
Admittedly though, this train does not move. For carriages that locomote, there’s always the sumptuous Rovos Rail and Blue Train, but for those on a tighter budget, Namibia’s refurbished Desert Express is a remarkably scenic alternative.
4. Work from a beachy base in Mauritius
The world is working from a laptop, and while we can’t help wondering when work and life will separate again, it is a door-opener for ambitious island-hoppers.
Mauritius recently joined the growing list of countries offering digital nomads a renewable extended remote working visa to eligible non-citizens for a maximum period of a year. Now you can seamlessly switch between zoom calls and trails in the Black River Gorges National Park, swap screen time for scuba diving, or interrupt endless emails with a leisurely beach stroll in palm-lined paradise.
5. Sunshine, surf and sparking joy in Senegal
From the central colour of its flag to the cheerful fishing boats called pirogues, Senegal is the perfect place to seek out the cheerful Pantone colour of the year for 2021. The company says the colour combination was chosen because “We need to feel that everything is going to get brighter – this is essential to the human spirit”. Acknowledging the dark story of slavery, Dakar is now a place that also sparks joy, where travellers can honour history, then dance to the rhythms of djembe drumbeats, and seek out epic surf.
Award-winning travel writer Sarah Khan and co-founder of Travel is Better in Color, certainly agrees. “Senegal has always struck me as a destination that has it all: coastal vibes, delicious food, colourful neighbourhoods, music that casts a dizzying spell. While my dreams of spending a landmark birthday there have been dashed due to the pandemic, it’s at the top of my list for a belated celebration!”
The westernmost point of the African continent, Ngor Peninsula, is found in the capital and has been dubbed as “ground zero of the West African surf scene” by the undeniably cool Mami Wata Surf company.
Mami Wata manufactures apparel and boards in Africa to create jobs, build skills and support African surf therapy organisation ‘Waves For Change’. All in the name Afrosurfonomics. They have also just released their beautiful book, Afrosurf: The Untold Story of African Surf Culture, which is sure to inspire your next sunny seaside adventure.
6. Nature will forever be in fashion in Botswana
Consulting their most knowledgeable experts, Lonely Planet named 500 places in their recent book titled the Ultimate Travel List. Featuring in the top ten? The inimitable Okavango Delta.
Another trend that emerged from this global pandemic is that it’s cool to care. We have never been more aware of the health of our planet and society. Worryingly, the sprawling wilderness and UNESCO World Heritage Site is under threat from oil companies – more reason than ever to visit and reaffirm its intrinsic value as an irreplaceable ecosystem. The Conversation recently reported plans by a Canadian oil and gas company, ReconAfrica, to explore for oil and gas in sensitive protected areas, including the Namibian headwaters of the Okavango Delta and Botswana’s sacred Tsodilo Hills.
Another reason to go is the anticipated opening of Xigera Safari Lodge. Pronounced KEEjera, it is more art showcase than mere safari stay. Although Batswana artists are sadly underrepresented, the Xigera Design Collection is a unique offering that certainly complements the gorgeous natural architecture of the wild Okavango. Explore it differently on glass-bottom mokoro excursions or a unique sleepout experience in a baobab treehouse.
If you’re after more traditional game drives, old-hand operators Kwando Safaris also celebrates 25 years marking the transition from hunting to solely photographic safaris. Their private concession camps remain hotspots for the likes of cheetah, wild dog and leopard sightings.
7. Look to Nigeria for indigenous arts
Nigeria topped worldwide news for its #EndSars protests against police brutality in 2020 when protests took place calling for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a Nigerian police force formed in 1992 to combat robbery and other crimes.
Sadly, good news rarely hits the headlines, but we’re excited about the imminent return of indigenous arts to one of Africa’s critical cultural hubs.
“African cultural heritage can no longer remain a prisoner of European museums”, tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron on 28 November 2017. A study commissioned by Macron recommended museums should return works if they were “taken by force, or presumed to be acquired through inequitable conditions” and a French parliament passed a law to return 26 looted royal artefacts.
Following this, the British Museum and Ghanaian-born London architect David Adjaye are working with Nigerian organisations to lay the basis for the new Edo Museum of West African Art. Although the museum of reclaimed indigenous artefacts is only set to open in 2025 in Benin City, Nigeria’s Edo state, the restitution of this art is monumental, and pieces are said to be landing on the continent from as soon as 2021.
South Africa’s king of contemporary cool and self-acclaimed global African, Trevor Stuurman, also recently visited Lagos for Arise Fashion Week, which only further cemented our desire to go.
8. Truth and reconciliation in Ghana
Reconciliation and acknowledging the roots of racism has never been more on the agenda than in 2020, but Africa is set to offer some salve. In 2019, Ghana hosted a boom of tourists under the Year of Return initiative. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and enduring racial inequality as the result of slavery and colonialism, Ghana remains very much on the travel map.
Aimed at the African diaspora, heritage travellers returned to their ancestral continent to reconnect with West Africa and commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in America. It was an exciting success and research shows that tourism can be a platform for social justice. Next year, a follow-up project called Beyond the Return is set to start.
9. Tunisia’s tantalising cultural scene
Named by Lonely Planet as travel’s Best Emerging Voice, we asked Gabby Beckford about her African bucket list. Following the success of her blog Packs Light, Gabby formed the Young Traveler’s Network and co-founded the Black Travel Alliance to empower Generation Z to see the world and increase Black representation in the travel industry.
“Africa is often reduced to stereotypes and monoliths. As far as my African travel bucket list goes, Cape Verde and Tunisia are high on my list. Cape Verde, because the country has recently come to my attention for some very affordable travel deals (luxury resorts for less than $100 per night!), and it’s a country that’s less marketed to me which makes me interested. As for Tunisia, I’m interested because of my college’s study in Middle Eastern history and culture. Tunisia often comes up in my studies as being a beautiful coastal country that became a meeting of Middle Eastern, European, and African cultures. In my research, I’ve also found Tunisia to have an affordable cost of living and is somewhere I could explore for an extended period of time”.
Sarah Khan is also dreaming of her return to North Africa. “I want to return to Tunisia because I’ve thought about the street food non-stop these past nine months”. Then there is the glut of young designers and artisanal workshops to explore in Tunis, a further reason she reckons the country is having a moment.
10. Wild swims through Cape Town’s kelp
The worldwide lockdown reinforced the importance of space, nature, connection and feeling free. All of this is possible when you step off the shore from the southern tip of Africa. The Cape’s cold waters soared to fame thanks to the popular Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, but wild swimming and free-diving have steadily experienced growth in participant numbers, and a burgeoning number of activities on offer as a result.
From snorkelling with seals and coasteering, to deep dives with the likes of record-breaking free-diver Hanli Prinsloo on more theoretical exploration courses – zip up that wetsuit and open your eyes to a whole new African world.
11. Get wild in Ugandan waters
If you prefer your water with a bit more splash, travel writer and editor at Nomad Magazine, Wendy Watta recommends Jinja in Uganda.
“Said to be the source of the Nile, it has world-class rapids for anyone keen to go white water rafting. Ride a quad bike through a little village with simple mud or brick homes, cycle through a tea estate, go on a gentle kayaking sunset cruise complete with gin and tonics, and if you’re truly looking to relax after all that adventure, hire a SUP hammock. It is a thing of beauty, with three SUPs rigged together with two hammocks on either end, so you can lounge with a friend. Plus, the community is small enough that, even as a solo traveller, you will arrive as a stranger but leave with lifelong friends”.
There is also the added attraction of dropped permit prices for gorilla trekking. Valid until March 2021 in a bid to attract visitors, the permit fee costs just $400 instead of the usual $700. There’s never been a more affordable time to tick off that bucket-list experience.
12. Find electric excursions in the Maasai Mara
Based in Nairobi, our on-the-ground travel writer Joe Wahome recommends travellers look to the iconic Maasai Mara, but with a seriously light-on-the-earth approach.
The Maasai have a saying “Mataramat enkop pee eramat iyook.” that translates to “If you take care of nature, nature will take care of you,” Emboo River Camp strives to adhere to it while changing mindsets of other tourism players in the region. An entirely eco-friendly, compact and sustainable luxury lodge, Emboo River Camp boasts just six tents, the camp applies a unique ‘Closed-loop System’ that uses renewable and local resources to run all operations to keep its footprint as small as possible.
For example, the camp runs solely on green solar energy, which also powers the Mara’s first electric game drive vehicles and Emboo decreased their water consumption by 90% by filtering and reusing all wastewater thanks to indigenous plants. The innovative ABIS (Aquatic Biological Integrated Systems) water treatment method filters water through matrices of floating plant and was established with Aguainc who, together with the Maasai community, identified local wetland plants that were good at filtering water.
From farm-to-fork dining to locally handcrafted furniture to renewable resource-use, this team has rethought every aspect of the safari experience by questioning the status quo, applying innovation and technology, and partnering with passionate people who have helped redesign operations.