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Best things to do in Africa beyond safaris: Cruises, wine tours, hikes

LifestyleBest things to do in Africa beyond safaris: Cruises, wine tours, hikes

Africa is blessed with some of the rarest and most beautiful animals in the world — a fact that entices tourists to book safaris year-round.

But safaris only scratch the surface of what the continent has to offer.  

From wine tours to vibrant coastal cities, other experiences await those who are willing to go beyond game drives and delve deeper into the core of the continent.

Mountains, dunes and rivers

For those who love hiking, Africa is blessed with many peaks — from Morocco’s Mount Toubkal to the continent’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

But there’s also Mount Nyangani in Zimbabwe, which has a skywalk atop the Mutarazi Falls, the country’s highest waterfall.

South Africa’s Table Mountain can be climbed in a matter of hours, but adrenaline junkies may prefer to bungie jump from Johannesburg’s Soweto Towers, or the Bloukrans Bridge along the country’s famous “Garden Route.”

Bungy jumping at Soweto Towers, a decommissioned power station in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Thomas Janisch | Moment Mobile | Getty Images

Africa is ideal for travelers who crave adventure, said Zina Bencheikh, managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Intrepid Travel.

She recommends Madagascar’s Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, which has two geological zones called the “Small Tsingy” and “Big Tsingy,” which in the local language of Malagasy, refers to a place “where one cannot walk barefoot.”

“Big Tsingy Trek is not your usual hike!” she said, describing it as a “labyrinth of limestone formations that resemble a forest made of rock.”

The limestone formations of Madagascar’s Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

Carlo Morucchio | Reda&co | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

In Namibia, travelers can climb the iconic Dune 45 to admire the sand dunes of the Sossusvlei, explore the eerie white clay pan of Deadvlei, or hike through the picturesque Sesriem Canyon.

At Victoria Falls, along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, travelers can whitewater raft, bungee jump or swim at the Devil’s Pool, which is on Zambia’s side of the falls. Similar adventures can be found in Jinja, Uganda, where the River Nile begins.

Hot air balloons are a popular and adventurous way to explore too, with a bird’s eye view of the berber villages of Morocco to Kenya’s Masai Mara.

Explore the beach

African beach towns combine beauty and culture, in places like Seychelles, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius, Zanzibar, Ghana, Namibia and Egypt.

Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya, is one example.  

King Charles III and Queen Camilla visit Mombasa’s Fort Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on Nov. 03, 2023

Samir Hussein | Wireimage | Getty Images

The rooftops of Zanzibar’s Stone Town. 

Jeremy Villasis | Moment | Getty Images

“Madagascar … is another island gem, with beaches like Nosy Be and Ile Sainte Marie boasting palm-fringed coasts and vibrant coastal villages,” said Swanepoel.

Durban and Cape Town are two of the best beach destinations in South Africa, she said, adding that travelers can kitesurf, snorkel, kayak or search for dugongs and whales there.

Go on a cruise

From budget-friendly houseboats to luxurious all-inclusive boutique lake cruises, Africa has a range of unique boating experiences.

Cruises along the Nile, Zambezi and Chobe rivers, as well as a cruise along Rwanda’s Lake Kivu, come highly recommended, as water journeys can offer a spectacular viewing platform for wildlife.

A boat on Botswana’s Chobe river at sunset.

Peter Unger | Stone | Getty Images

“During a river cruise, you may spot a herd of elephants wading through shimmering water, witness great buffalo gathering along the water’s edge, and even observe crocodiles stealthily slicing through pools. Hundreds of hippos also wallow in the river with just their nostrils poking out,” says Kate Powell, general manager of the houseboat company Zambezi Queen Collection.

Travelers can also cruise between villages, fish, and bask in the tranquil waters. 

“One can explore the Manambolo River on a pirogue, or wooden dugout canoe, under the shadow of towering rock cliffs [or] stop to explore a cave and the eerie tombs of the Vazimba, said to be the earliest inhabitants of Madagascar,” said Intrepid’s Bencheikh.

In addition to being a popular stop for world cruises, East and South Africa have their own ocean cruise routes which follow the coastlines and visit offshore islands. Silversea, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC have cruises departing from Africa.

Maritime journeys in Africa allow visitors to experience the continent’s wildlife, cultures and landscapes from a unique vantage point, said Kevin Bubolz, Norwegian’s vice president for Continental Europe, Middle East and Africa.  

“In Port Elizabeth, the Penguin Island Cruise excursion is a standout experience. You’ll journey to the world’s largest colony of African penguins in their natural habitat,” he said. “If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of playful humpback and bottle-nose dolphins.”

Wine tours

Countries like Morocco, Namibia and Ethiopia have established wine regions. But South Africa is the continent’s crown jewel.

“South Africa is renowned for its world-class wine regions, with the Western Cape being the heart of the industry,” said Wrenelle Stander, CEO of Wesgro, Cape Town’s tourism and trade agency.

“The areas around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl comprise the famous Cape Winelands, where visitors can tour historic estates, taste award-winning wines, and learn about the winemaking process.”

The wine country of Franschhoek, outside of Cape Town, South Africa. 

Michele Westmorland | Corbis Documentary | Getty Images

Not only is Stellenbosch one of the best places for wine tours, it’s also a culinary hot spot, known for its innovative food scene. Elmarie Rabe, the marketing manager at Visit Stellenbosch, advises travelers to select wineries that are committed to sustainable and organic practices.

“Also consider the traveling distance between farms, as Stellenbosch stretches over 60 square kilometers,” she said.

The best time to visit is during the harvest season from late January to March, when the vineyards are in full swing. But every season has its own charm, she added.

“Spring offers lush landscapes and ideal weather, while winter is perfect for enjoying bold red wines by the fireplace. Summer provides sunny days perfect for outdoor wine tasting,” Rabe said.

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