Category: Africa & Middle eaast
6 Reasons to Scuba Dive Egypt’s Red Sea
01 of 07
North Africa’s Underwater Paradise
Blessed with warm, clear water and abundant marine life, it’s not surprising that Egypt’s Red Sea has long been considered one of the world’s top scuba diving destinations. A wealth of different liveaboard and land-based package deals make it easy to plan your vacation; while the diversity of the Red Sea's reefs means that there’s something for everyone – whether you’re interested in bucket list megafauna or hard-to-find macro species.
Ranging from the wreck-littered north to the more remote south, Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam are three of the region’s most iconic dive spots. Wherever you decide to go, here are five of the many reasons to choose the Red Sea as your next dive destination.
Note: Please check up-to-date travel warnings before planning a trip to Egypt.Continue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
Diving conditions in the Red Sea are idyllic, with water temperatures rarely falling below 71°F/22°C even in the depths of the Egyptian winter (December – February). In summer, water temperatures in the southern Red Sea typically reach 86°F/30°C – making it possible to plan multiple dives without getting chilled. Topside weather conditions are equally pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 68°F/20°C – 104°F/40°C depending on the time of year.
Visibility is usually excellent, and can sometimes reach a dizzying 130 feet/40 meters. This incredible clarity transforms the area’s teeming reefs into a veritable aquarium, providing the perfect conditions for underwater photographers hoping to get that perfect shot. The abundance of warm, clear water helps new or inexperienced divers to feel comfortable underwater, making the Red Sea an excellent choice for those hoping to sign up for an entry level scuba course.Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
Above all, the Red Sea is renowned for its reefs, which remain stable and healthy at a time when other major reef systems are suffering from the effects of climate change and marine pollution. In total, the reefs of the Red Sea support more than 220 different species of hard and soft coral. Together, these corals provide the basis of an ecosystem that offers both food and shelter to more than 1,100 species of fish, almost a fifth of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
Perhaps the most famous of the region’s pristine reefs are those of Ras Mohammed National Park, a marine reserve located at the southernmost tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Established in 1983, Ras Mohammed is Egypt’s oldest national park and constitutes a 480-square-kilometer sanctuary for a proliferation of corals and marine life. Other unforgettable reefs include those of the Giftun Islands and the Straits of Tiran.Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
The Red Sea is also a prime wreck diving destination, with a bevy of world-famous wrecks including several from the Second World War. Undoubtedly, the most iconic of these is the wreck of the S.S. Thistlegorm, a merchant vessel drafted for military use in 1940. In October 1941 she was attacked by German bombers whilst carrying supplies to North Africa. Today, she lies at 100 feet/30 meters, her split hull revealing wartime treasures including motorbikes, weapons and armored cars.
Just north of popular resort town Hurghada lies the Shaab Abu Nuhas reef, whose treacherous shoals have claimed many ships over the centuries. The reef’s most famous casualties include the Giannis D, a cargo vessel sunk in 1983; the Carnatic, a merchant ship sunk in 1869; and the Chrisoula K, a freighter sunk in 1981. All of the Red Sea wrecks have a unique history, and visiting their final resting places is an incredible way to experience their stories firsthand.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Bucket List Animals
For many divers, a visit to the Red Sea is an opportunity to see some of the underwater world’s most charismatic species. During the warm summer months (May – July), plankton blooms in the northern Red Sea attract filter-feeding behemoths, including the whale shark, renowned as the world’s largest fish; and the balletic manta ray. Summer is also a good time for spotting schools of the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark.
For shark-lovers, southerly reefs like Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone offer the best chance for swimming with the elusive oceanic whitetip. These magnificent sharks have a reputation for unpredictable behavior, but with the guidance of a knowledgeable operator, it is possible to safely encounter them in their own environment. Other megafauna highlights include the dugongs of Abu Dabbab lagoon near Marsa Alam and the friendly spinner dolphins of Samadai Reef.Continue to 6 of 7 below.
06 of 07
Land-based dive resorts are an excellent choice for those with non-diving friends or family, and the Red Sea has plenty of these to choose from. However, it is Egypt’s liveaboard industry for which Red Sea diving is most famous – and for serious divers, these are often the better choice. Spending a week or two aboard a dedicated dive boat means more time on (and under) the water, affording you the chance to experience a greater variety of dive sites.
Most itineraries last for at least seven days and usually focus on either the northern or southern dive sites. The size of the dive group, the level of luxury onboard and what’s included in the trip all depends on your budget and the operator that you choose. Generally speaking, you can expect to benefit from knowledgeable dive professionals, comfortable accommodations and excellent cuisine in addition to the wonder of the dive sites themselves.Continue to 7 of 7 below.
07 of 07
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Red Sea diving is that this wealth of world-class experiences comes at an incredibly low cost. Egyptian tourism has taken a significant knock in recent years thanks to safety concerns raised by terrorist attacks and political instability in some areas of the country and as such, many dive centers are offering rock-bottom prices in an attempt to revive the industry. Diving hotspots including Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam are still considered safe by UK and US travel advisories.
While a PADI Open Water dive course will set you back approximately $550 in the Florida Keys, the same course costs around $360 in Sharm el-Sheikh making it one of the cheapest places in the world to get scuba certified. Qualified divers can sign up for a two-tank dive for $60 in comparison with an $85 fee in Florida. Diving and accommodation packages like this one also offer amazing value for money. In an indication of the cost comparison for liveaboards, the Aggressor fleet rates for 2019 price a 7-night Red Sea trip at $2,355 per person, while the same length trip in the Bahamas, Fiji or the Galapagos costs $2,995, $3,595 or $6,595 respectively.
5 Ways to Save Money When Booking an African Safari
01 of 05
Go During the Off Season
Just like most other tourist destinations, the hot spots for African safaris have their busy season and their off-season. For instance, in Kenya and Tanzania the best times to visit are June through October, when the migration is in full swing. But March and April are the rainy season, and April and May are considered the “off-season” as a result.
That means that if you go during those months, you're likely to receive substantial discounts. You'll also find that crowds are at a minimum, which can lead to a better experience too. Just be sure to bring a rain jacket in case you do experience inclement weather.
02 of 05
Stay in a Tent Rather than a Lodge
It often comes as a surprise to many travelers that there are a number of luxury lodges to be found near most safari destinations. These places provide a comfortable – often pampered – setting to return to at the end of the day.
Staying in these lodges makes the experience easier for sure, but it can also add greatly to the price. Alternatively, you could also take a camping safari, during which you'll sleep in a tent rather than lodge. This will save you a great deal of money, provided you don't mind roughing it a bit.
For example, Duma Explorer in Tanzania offers seven-day budget camping safaris for as little as $1550 per person. That is more affordable than paying $300+ per night to stay in a lodge.
03 of 05
Avoid the More Popular Safari Parks
There is no question that the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, and Kruger National Park in South Africa are the most iconic safari destinations in Africa. All three are outstanding places to go on safari, but because they are so popular you can expect to pay a little more to visit them and encounter more travelers along the way.
Instead, visit lesser known safari parks in those countries, such as Samburu National Reserve in Kenya or the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. Both are more affordable and less crowded, making them good destinations for those traveling on a budget.
04 of 05
Choose a Lesser Visited Destination
The two prime spots for a classic safari experience are East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and the country of South Africa. But there are other countries on the continent that offer fantastic safari experiences for less money. These places tend to have fewer visitors, and thus less developed tourism infrastructure, but they are also less crowded and often offer a more pure travel experience.
For instance, Botswana's Okavango Delta is an amazing place for safari, as is Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Both offer unique experiences that aren't found anywhere else in Africa, with plenty of wildlife – including the Big Five – to spot as well.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Take a Self-Guided Safari
Some of the expense of a safari is hiring a driver and/or guide to show you around these fantastic natural environments. But, if you want to be a bit more adventurous, you might consider a self-guided safari instead. Not only will it save you some money, you'll get to do things at your own pace as well. This option isn't allowed everywhere of course, and it is only recommended for the experienced traveler.
South Africa allows visitors to drive themselves through Kruger National Park for instance, and a company called Safari Drive will actually book the entire experience for you – complete with vehicles, tents, and other gear – for those visiting a wide variety of countries across Africa.
Top Ten Things to Do in Madagascar
01 of 11
Exploring the “Eighth Continent”
Located several hundred miles off the coast of Mozambique, Madagascar is one of the most unique places on Earth. It is a land with many different faces – golden shores, lush mountains, jagged limestone karsts and plunging, arid canyons. These eclectic habitats are home to an incredible variety of wildlife, 90% of which is found nowhere else on Earth. There is something for everyone in Madagascar, whether you’re looking to relax on untouched beaches, or to plunge off the grid into pristine rainforest. The country’s capital, Antananarivo, is a melting pot of colonial history, diverse culture, and fine modern cuisine.Continue to 2 of 11 below.
02 of 11
Look for Lemurs
Of all Madagascar’s weird and wonderful creatures, lemurs are without a doubt the most iconic. There are nearly 100 different species and sub-species of lemur on the island, all of which are endemic. These charismatic primates range in size from the tiny pygmy mouse lemur to the majestic, monochrome indri. The best way to spot Madagascar’s lemurs is to head to one of its many national parks. In particular, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is known for its large indri population, while Ranomafana National Park is home to 12 species including the critically endangered golden bamboo lemur. While exploring the island’s parks, keep an eye out for other endemic species, including the aye-aye and the cat-like fossa.Continue to 3 of 11 below.
03 of 11
Swim with Whale Sharks
There’s nothing quite like an encounter with the world’s largest fish. Those visiting Madagascar between the months of September and December can do just that, off the northwestern island of Nosy Be. At this time, these behemoth fish gather to feed on blooming plankton and can be easily spotted from the surface. Despite their huge size (whale sharks reach an average length of around 31 feet/ 9.5 meters), they are naturally docile and pose no threat to humans. In season, operators like Baleines Rand’eau offer whale shark snorkeling trips with a 95% chance of success. While you’re out there looking for the sharks, keep an eye out for Madagascar’s other marine life, including turtles, manta rays, and dolphins.Continue to 4 of 11 below.
04 of 11
Marvel at Baobabs
Baobab trees are intrinsically woven into the fabric of African folklore. In the past, indigenous people depended upon their products for survival, and as such, these strange trees are often called the “Tree of Life”. Today, they are remarkable for their vast size, with the largest species growing up to 46 feet/ 14 meters in diameter. Madagascar is home to six endemic baobab species. Although they can be seen all over the island, the most famous place for baobab-worshipping is the Avenue of the Baobabs. Located in the Menabe region of western Madagascar, the Avenue comprises some 25 trees strung out like sentries along the Morondava – Belon’i Tsiribihina dirt road. Many of the trees are over 100 feet/ 30 meters tall.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
05 of 11
Founded by the king of the Merina people at the beginning of the 17th century, the Malagasy capital is steeped in history. Known locally as Tana, Antananarivo also served as the capital for French colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries and remains the island’s center of political and economic power today. There is much to explore in Tana. For beautiful colonial architecture, head to the old Haute-Ville area of the city. Get your cultural fix in the city’s art galleries and museums, or soak up the atmosphere while browsing the open-air produce stalls at Analakely Market. Tana is known for its culinary culture, whether you’re hoping to sample street-food delicacies or experience fine French dining in restaurants that compete on an international level.Continue to 6 of 11 below.
06 of 11
Sign up for Scuba Diving
Whether you’re an experienced diver or a beginner hoping to take the first plunge, there are plenty of incredible diving opportunities in Madagascar. With approximately 3,000 miles/ 4,800 kilometers of coastline, you’re never far from the ocean; while the southwest boasts the world’s third largest coral reef system. This reef provides a habitat for over 6,000 marine species, many of which are unique to Madagascar. The island of Nosy Be is perhaps the most famous destination for divers, while charter boats in the north can be hired as dedicated diving liveaboards. Conditions are ideal, with good visibility year-round and balmy water temperatures. Bucket-list animals including whales, dolphins, sharks and manta rays are all found in Madagascar’s waters.Continue to 7 of 11 below.
07 of 11
Sample Local Cuisine
Wherever your adventures take you, make sure to sample the local cuisine. Traditional Malagasy dishes usually consist of either meat or seafood, served with vegetables and rice. Spices are used sparingly, but the food is nevertheless flavorful. Try koba, a popular street food consisting of a banana, peanut and rice paste wrapped in a banana leaf casing. Romazava is the traditional beef stew, while kabaro (curried lima beans and coconut) is popular in the Morondava region. On the coast, fresh seafood dominates the menu. Wash your meal down with the local Three Horse Beer (THB), or with ranonapango (sometimes called ranovola). The latter is made from burnt rice water, and is definitely an acquired taste.Continue to 8 of 11 below.
08 of 11
Visit the Stone Forests
Madagascar is full of extraordinary scenery, but perhaps the most striking of all its alien landscapes are the limestone karsts of northwestern Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. Approximately 200 million years ago, the limestone seabed was pushed upwards, creating a vast plateau. Over time, the plateau was eroded, eventually becoming a dense “forest” of jagged limestone needles interspersed with canyons, waterfalls and almost impenetrable true forest. In addition to its prehistoric badlands scenery, Tsingy offers the opportunity to look for 11 different lemur species, some of which are only found in this specific area. There are also endemic reptiles, birds and a plethora of utterly unique botanical species.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
09 of 11
Spot Endemic Birds
There are approximately 280 bird species in Madagascar. Although this isn't a particularly high figure for the fourth-largest island in the world, a high level of endemism confirms its status as a prime birding destination. Over 100 species are Madagascar exclusives. There are three main regions for those in search of endemic birds – the eastern rainforest, the southern spiny bush and the deciduous forests in the west. If you have limited time, try Ranomafana National Park, home of rarities like the short-legged ground roller and the yellow-bellied sunbird-asity. The best time for birding is in late spring or early summer (August – December), when birds are at their most active and are dressed in their finest breeding plumage.Continue to 10 of 11 below.
10 of 11
Discover Pristine Beaches
White sand, palms, azure waters – there’s a lot to love about Madagascar’s beaches. Some of the country’s most pristine stretches of sand are found on outlying islands in the northwest. Tiny Tsarabanjina, for example, evokes shades of Robinson Crusoe with deserted sandy coves washed by crystalline seas. The island is only accessible by boat and offers luxury accommodation in the form of private beach bungalows. The beaches of nearby Nosy Iranja are frequented by nesting turtles; while on the east coast, Île aux Nattes is a tropical paradise with several options for accommodation and activities. On the mainland, the beaches around Anakao in the south offer reliable swells for surfing and kite-surfing.Continue to 11 of 11 below.
11 of 11
Watch for Whales
Those heading to Madagascar between July and September should make their way to the northeast island of Île Sainte-Marie to witness the annual humpback whale migration. Also known as Nosy Boraha, this idyllic island plays host to hundreds of leviathans, all of whom have traveled thousands of miles from the nutrient-rich waters of the Southern Ocean. Their sojourn to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean is something of a summer vacation – a time to come together, mate and give birth before returning to Antarctica. Humpback whales are the most acrobatic of all whale species, and if you join an Île Sainte-Marie whale-watching tour you’re likely to see them breaching, spy-hopping and slapping their giant pectorals on the sea’s surface.
5 Tips for Beginner Birdwatchers on an African Safari
01 of 05
Learn Your Birds
If you’re new to birdwatching (or new to your intended destination), the first step is to familiarize yourself with the area’s birdlife. The best way to do this is to buy a regional bird book, and take the time to look through it before your safari. Start by learning how to differentiate key bird families. This means being able to tell your herons and bitterns from your kites and hawks; or your owls from your ducks and geese. Knowing the characteristics of each family is the first step to identifying the birds that you see in the bush.
Once you’ve identified which family a bird belongs to, there are several indicators that help you to pinpoint the exact species. The first of these is size and shape – is it a large bird, or a small one? A slender, long-necked bird or a robust bird with short legs? The shape and color of the legs and bill are also key identifying features. A sunbird, for example, has a long, curved beak; while a canary’s is blunt but powerful. Your bird book should also give you information about each species’ habitat and distribution, which can help you to make an accurate ID.
When learning your birds, pay special attention to the differences between male and female birds of the same species. Juvenile birds often look completely different to adults, and some (especially your birds of prey, or raptors) come in different color morphs. Many smaller bird species, like larks and pipits, look almost identical, and are most easily identified by their calls. Bird identification is a talent that takes decades to perfect – but don’t get discouraged. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you pick up the basics.
02 of 05
Know Where to Look
Knowing where to look is almost as important as knowing what to look for. This means picking a safari destination that’s known for its birdlife – Mkhuze Game Reserve in South Africa and the Caprivi Strip in Namibia are two excellent choices. It also means learning where to look for certain species. This can be quite general: for example, secretary birds are usually seen in areas with plenty of open grassland, while African goshawks favor deciduous forests. It can also be more specific – for example, pygmy falcons are often seen in or around sociable weaver nests.
Head to dams and rivers to look for waterbirds, and keep an eye on the skies for soaring raptors. If you already have a list of species that you’d like to see, make sure to do your research in advance. Some of Africa’s most charismatic birds have a very small distribution. The endemic Cape parrot, for example, is restricted to small patches of afromontane forest in eastern South Africa. If it’s your first time visiting a reserve (or if you’ve never tried birdwatching before), the best course is to hire the services of a local bird guide.
03 of 05
Choose the Right Binoculars
Binoculars are a birdwatcher’s best friend. Without them, it’s almost impossible to spot far-away birds, or to get a clear view of the characteristics that help with identification. There are countless options available, ranging in price from around $100 to $2,000 or more. Obviously, top-of-the-range binoculars by legendary brands like Swarovski and Leica deliver the best viewing experience, but it really isn’t necessary to bankrupt yourself. With that being said, saving up for a decent mid-range set is well worth the investment.
So, how to choose which binoculars are best for you? All binoculars have a set of numbers on them that look something like this: 8×32. The first number refers to their magnification, and the second refers to the width of the lens in millimeters. For birding, a magnification of between 8 and 10 is ideal. The wider the lens, the better – because wider lenses let in more light, which makes it easier for you to see detail in low light conditions. Try several models before you buy. You’ll want to assess each one for the clarity of the image, the ease of focusing and the focal range.
Birding can be tough on your equipment, so choosing a sturdy, waterproof set of binoculars is essential. Some models (like the recommended mid-rage Vortex Viper HD 8×42) include a lifetime warranty.
04 of 05
Make the Most of Technology
Consider investing in a good quality camera, so that you can record your sightings and work on identifying tricky species in the comfort of your own home. Essentials for a birding camera include a high ISO (the setting that enables your camera to achieve good photos in low light conditions) and a fast shutter frame rate. The more frames you can shoot per second, the more likely you are to get that perfect take-off shot. Magnification is also important, whether you opt for an SLR with a telephoto lens or a bridge camera with a good internal zoom.
If you plan on traveling with a smartphone or iPad, make sure to download a bird app. For those heading to Southern Africa, the best option is the Roberts VII Multimedia app. As well as a standard field guide, this app allows you to compare similar birds and play bird calls. It also helps with identification, provides a map of the region’s best birdwatching sites and allows you to create personal sighting lists. Whether you choose to use an app or more traditional notepad, keeping a list of the birds you’ve seen is a great way to maintain interest – be warned though, it’s addictive.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Get the Timing Right
As with many things in life, timing is everything for birdwatchers. Different species are more active at different times of the day, so you’ll need to plan your safari accordingly. Generally, early morning and late afternoon are best, with many birds preferring to stay hidden during the hottest part of the day. However, raptors are often spotted riding the mid-morning heat thermals, while some birds (like nightjars and certain owl species) only come out after dark. If you can, book at least one night drive so that you can get the best of both worlds.
Timing is also about picking the right season. Below the equator, summer brings an influx of seasonal migrants from the colder climates of Europe and Asia. Waterbirds leave when their habitats dry up, and return with the start of the rainy season. Often, the rains also coincide with the hatching of insects, which attracts insectivorous birds in their thousands. The right season depends on what species you’re looking for and where you’re going. Consult your bird book or travel guide, or consider asking the advice of a local birding group before planning your trip.
The Top Things to See on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast
01 of 05
Located an hour’s drive north of Swakopmund, Henties Bay is the only real town on the Skeleton Coast. It is a natural stop for travelers heading north, and is especially popular with anglers. There are several tried and tested fishing spots located nearby, all of which are listed as GPS co-ordinates on a map provided by the Henties Bay Tourist Information Office. To reach these spots, you can drive along the beach – although you’ll need a 4×4 and sufficient experience with driving on sand. Target species include silver kabeljou (kob), west coast steenbras (mussel-cracker) and galjoen. Shark fishing is popular in Henties Bay, but it is important to note that Namibia law requires all shark species to be returned to the water alive and unharmed. All types of angling require a permit, and strict catch and size limits apply. For non-fishing family members, there are walking trails, horse-riding tours and miles of wild beachfront to explore.
02 of 05
Cape Cross Seal Colony
40 miles/ 60 kilometers north of Henties Bay lies the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, a protected headland that provides a home for the largest breeding colony of Cape fur seals in the world. During peak breeding season (November to December), the beaches are completely concealed from view by a writhing mass of fur seals, numbering over 200,000 in total. At this time, newborn pups are a highlight. Visitors can observe the seals from a 650 feet/ 200 meter walkway. Cape fur seals survive predominantly on fish, and their dietary preference is evident in the stench of their faeces. Visitors to the Cape Cross seal colony will therefore need a strong stomach! The colony is also incredibly noisy, as males war over territory and pups call repetitively for their mothers. However, despite the noise and the smell, the colony is a fascinating sight. There are two subspecies of Cape fur seal, and the one seen at Cape Cross is found exclusively in South Africa and Namibia.
03 of 05
Despite the Skeleton Coast’s seemingly inhospitable environment, wildlife nevertheless manages to thrive here. Lodges like the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp offer 4×4 game drives through the dunes and to nearby oases, to which animals are drawn by the irresistible scent of water. Keep an eye out for classic desert species including Hartmann’s mountain zebra, gemsbok, springbok and steenbok. In terms of predators, black-backed jackals and brown hyenas are the most commonly spotted, although cheetah amazingly survive here as well. Some species, like the desert elephant, the desert rhino and the desert lion, are especially adapted to life in the waterless environs of the Skeleton Coast. Unlike most other African destinations, animals in this area of Namibia are free-roaming and unrestricted by game park fences. Birders will also find plenty of interest on the Skeleton Coast, ranging from desert endemics like the Rüppell's korhaan and the Benguela long-billed lark, to the pelagic birds of the coast.
04 of 05
The Skeleton Coast is patterned with the bones of ships that have fallen foul of its submerged reefs and misleading fog. Of these, the most famous wrecks are probably those of the Dunedin Star and the Eduard Bohlen. The Dunedin Star ran aground in 1942 whilst transporting Allied supplies from England to Egypt during the Second World War. Several vessels and an airplane were sent to rescue her crew, who were left stranded on the ailing ship some 1,800 feet/ 550 meters from shore. The airplane and a tug boat were lost, along with two of the tug’s crew. The crew of the Dunedin Star were eventually evacuated. The Eduard Bohlen is a German cargo ship that ran aground in 1909. Although her crew were rescued, the ship itself could not be salvaged. Now, almost 100 years later, the desert has encroached upon the sea to such an extent that the wreck (which once lay upon the shore) is now stranded 1,650 feet/ 500 meters inland.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Several Skeleton Coast tours offer the opportunity to visit one of the remote villages inhabited by the Himba, the indigenous tribe of the Kunene region. The Kunene extends from the Angola border to the Ugab River, which marks the southern boundary of the Skeleton Coast National Park. The Himba are a pastoralist people, depending upon their cattle, sheep and goats for survival. They move according with the seasons in order to find grazing, and are the last semi-nomadic people in Namibia. Visits to their villages allow tourists a rare insight into their fascinating way of life. Due to their remoteness, Himba culture has remained largely unchanged. Villages consist of a circle of huts built around an ancestral sacred fire. Himba women are bare-chested, using a butterfat and ochre paste to protect their skin from the sun, and to cleanse themselves without having to waste water. Ornate hairstyles and symbolic jewellery are also an important part of their culture.
8 of the Top Things to Do in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe’s far west corner, the Zambezi River marks the border with Zambia. At Victoria Falls, it plunges off a precipice measuring 354 feet/ 108 meters in height and 5,604 feet/ 1,708 meters in width. This is the largest sheet of falling water on the planet, and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. In peak flood season (February to May), the spray thrown up by the plunging water can be seen from 30 miles/ 48 kilometers away. This magnificent spectacle gives the falls its indigenous name — Mosi-oa-Tunya, or The Smoke That Thunders. On the Zimbabwean side, a path winds its way along the edge of the gorge. Viewpoints offer breathtaking panoramas of the plummeting water, and of the rainbows that hang suspended above the chasm. The sound is deafening, and the spray soaks to the skin – but the spectacle is one that can never be forgotten.
The Best Safari Itineraries in Tanzania
01 of 06
East Africa’s Safari Gem
Arguably the best safari destination on the African continent, Tanzania is home to a slew of world-famous game reserves — including the iconic Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In particular, it is known for the Great Migration, an annual event that sees vast herds of wildebeest and zebra travel between their ancestral grazing and mating grounds in Tanzania and Kenya.
As such, a Tanzanian safari ranks highly on the bucket list of many travelers. There are countless operators to choose from, and itineraries are notoriously pricey. Before forking out thousands of dollars for your trip of a lifetime, it’s essential to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth. Here are some of the best itineraries to consider.Continue to 2 of 6 below.
02 of 06
For Luxury Travelers: Deluxe Safari & Beach, Imagine Africa
This 11-night itinerary from luxury travel company Imagine Travel is the ideal option for those with unlimited cash to spend. It offers the best of both worlds — the rugged beauty of Tanzania’s most famous safari destinations, and the tropical luxury of the beach. Accommodation is provided by a series of exclusive camps and lodges, all owned by socially and environmentally-conscious brand Asilia Africa.
After flying into Kilimanjaro, you’ll be greeted by your private guide and taken directly to Tarangire National Park. Part of the country’s famed Northern Circuit, Tarangire is less crowded than its better-known neighbors, offering excellent game-viewing and a fabulous sense of exclusivity. You’ll spend your time here at Oliver’s Camp, where ten luxury safari tents offer every conceivable modern comfort, from antique decor to ensuite bathrooms with hot water and flushing toilets.
The itinerary also takes you to Lake Manyara National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park. The accommodation at Ngorongoro is particularly special, comprising the contemporary glass-and-canvas domes of The Highlands. This intimate camp is set on the slopes of the Olmoti volcano and combines breathtaking views of the Ngorongoro Crater with sublime in-house dining. In the Serengeti, you can enhance your trip with a hot-air balloon safari — the ultimate luxury experience.
The second half of the trip is spent in the Zanzibar Archipelago, at 5-star Matemwe Lodge. Expect laid-back indulgence in one of 12 beach chalets, each of which overlook a coral-filled lagoon. All chalets include a deep-soaking tub and a private verandah with soothing sea views. Spend your days in the spa, cruising on a traditional dhow or scuba diving on nearby Mnemba Atoll.Continue to 3 of 6 below.
03 of 06
For Families: Family Wildlife & Wilderness Safari, African Adventure Company
Family safaris offer a unique opportunity to introduce your children to the wonders of the African bush — but they do require special planning. Many lodges have age restrictions, and some ban children from game drives altogether. This itinerary by The Africa Adventure Company, however, is especially geared towards parents traveling with teenagers and young children. Private tours allow you to customize your itinerary according to special requirements and individual interests, while the included activities are designed to delight younger travelers.
The trip lasts for 14 days, and focuses on the north. At Tarangire National Park, scenic game drives can be enjoyed alongside nature walks with the local Maasai tribespeople or trips to rural schools. Experiences like these offer your children an invaluable insight into other cultures as well as the chance to interact with Tanzanians of their own age. At Lake Eyasi, spend time with indigenous bushmen, learning how to gather plants and craft traditional weapons and jewelry.
Other highlights include the unparalleled game viewing of Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti; and Olduvai Gorge, an anthropological site famous for the discovery of early humanoid fossils. In each location, lodges and camps are selected especially for their family-friendly outlook. Value and Classic accommodation options allow you to tailor your trip to suit your budget. Regardless of which price bracket you choose, there are significant discounts for children — making the thought of budgeting for a family vacation to Tanzania slightly less intimidating.Continue to 4 of 6 below.
04 of 06
For Couples: Romantic East Africa Safari, &Beyond
This romance-filled itinerary by luxury travel company &Beyond is tailor-made for honeymooning couples. It could also set the scene for your dream proposal, or make a special anniversary unforgettable. The private tour, which lasts 11 days, starts with a scheduled flight from Kilimanjaro to remote Manyara Airstrip. From there, an open 4×4 safari vehicle takes you to Lake Manyara National Park, where awe-inspiring habitats range from secret woodlands to soda lakes dotted with flamingoes.
Spend your time at the park looking for its special tree-climbing lions. Later, fall asleep amidst the mahogany trees in an atmospheric stilted treehouse at &Beyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge. Unique experiences are the trademark of this itinerary. In the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, share a gourmet picnic with your loved one on the crater floor, surrounded by wildlife and waited upon by immaculate butlers. In the Serengeti, stay under canvas and experience the incredible romance of a dawn hot-air balloon safari.
Of course, a romantic vacation should ideally involve at least a few days of decadence on an idyllic shore — which is where &Beyond Mnemba Island lodge comes in. Transfer via plane and boat to this picture-perfect spot in the Zanzibar Archipelago to try your hand at scuba diving, snorkeling or fly-fishing. Alternatively, you can relax in your beachfront banda or sign-up for a massage overlooking the ocean. Many of your meals are served al fresco, in the form of beach picnics or candlelit dinners at the water’s edge.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
For Explorers: Get Out of Town, Nomad Tanzania
Newly launched in July 2017, this itinerary from veteran travel company Nomad Tanzania is your key to escaping the rat race. Designed as an antidote to the pressures of modern life, it focuses on two remote areas in southern Tanzania, both of them far removed from WiFi and cell phone reception. Say goodbye to your work colleagues, sign out of social media and rediscover your inner peace with a visit to the country’s least-visited wildernesses.
Your seven-night trip begins at Ruaha National Park. It is the largest national park in Tanzania, and also one of the least accessible. Its remoteness means that it is less crowded than the more famous parks of the north; while the wildlife sightings are just as rewarding. In particular, the park is known for its big cats, boasting the second-largest lion population in Africa. You’ll stay at Nomad Tanzania’s Kigelia Ruaha Camp, which comprises just six luxury tents nestled amidst a grove of sausage trees.
The second half of the itinerary takes you to the world-renowned Selous Game Reserve. The rustic cottages of Sand Rivers Selous camp provide inspiring views of the Rufiji River, which in turn offers ample opportunity for relaxing river safaris. The best way to explore this largely untouched area, however, is on foot. Walking safaris are a key attraction at Sand Rivers Selous, giving you the chance to immerse yourself in nature's splendor.
For a true taste of life in the wilderness, spend a night fly-camping in a temporary camp. Surrounded by virgin bush and lit by the flicker of the nearby campfire, these netted tents afford bedtime views of the stars, spangled in vivid constellations across the African sky. This itinerary is offered from June to mid-March.Continue to 6 of 6 below.
06 of 06
For Photographers: Tanzania Migration Photo Safari, Natural Habitat Adventures
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional behind the lens, this itinerary is a must for keen wildlife photographers. It centers around the Great Migration, a magnificent spectacle of life and death involving hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra (and the predators that follow in their wake). The time and location of the migration changes every year, and is therefore hard to predict. For this reason, the trip remains flexible, using mobile camps to put you at the heart of the action.
You’ll be based in the Namiri Plains, a remote private concession in the Serengeti that has only recently become accessible to visitors. Very few tourists travel to the Plains – which means that you won’t have to worry about hordes of safari vehicles ruining the authenticity of your photographs. The area is also known for its high predator density, giving you the best possible chance of capturing the drama of a kill on camera. You can explore on foot, or in a traditional safari vehicle.
Natural Habitat Adventures limits group sizes for this itinerary to just nine people, with a maximum of four guests per vehicle. This means that there’s plenty of space in the jeep for your camera equipment, while a window seat with an unimpeded view is guaranteed. The trip price includes flights to the Serengeti from Arusha, with an extra luggage allowance that comes as a blessing for those with numerous lenses, tripods and camera bags.
Best of all, the nine-day trip is guided by a professional naturalist and accomplished photographer, with the knowledge needed to advise you on how to get the best shots.
10 of the Best Swimming Beaches in South Africa
01 of 10
Thompson’s Bay, Ballito
Drive 40 minutes north of Durban to reach the picturesque coastal town of Ballito. Popular with holiday-makers, Ballito has a choice of pretty beaches—and the best for swimming is Thompson’s Bay. This scenic cove is sheltered from the wind and characterized by its calm waters, interesting rocky outcrops, and a fascinating geological hole-in-the-wall. There’s a walled tidal pool for those that are nervous to swim in the open ocean, making this spot a particularly good choice for families. Lifeguards and shark nets provide an additional layer of safety (although the nets are removed every year ahead of the annual Sardine Run).
02 of 10
Umhlanga Rocks, Durban
Located a 20-minute drive from central Durban, the resort town of Umhlanga is an upscale getaway for vacationing South Africans and visitors in the know. The main Umhlanga Rocks beach boasts safe swimming waters and endless golden sands, again protected by lifeguards and shark nets. In between bathing sessions, check out the Umhlanga Lighthouse or take a stroll along the beach’s whale-bone inspired pier. A paved walkway provides direct access to the town’s beachfront shops, restaurants, and bars. Although crowded during the December summer season, a festive atmosphere prevails to make this one of KwaZulu-Natal’s top Christmas spots.
03 of 10
Gonubie Beach, East London
The coastal town of Gonubie is seen by many as a suburb of East London, one of the largest cities of the Eastern Cape. Its picture-perfect beach offers sheltered swimming areas, as well as a walled tidal pool for kids. The Gonubie River reaches the sea at this point, too, and offers an alternative bathing spot on days when the surf is bigger than usual. All along the river’s verdant banks, you’ll find a series of shaded spots perfect for summer picnics and barbecues. The beach is connected to Gonubie’s beachfront restaurants by a beautiful boardwalk, which provides an elevated vantage point for viewing passing humpback whales during their winter migration.
04 of 10
Kelly’s Beach, Port Alfred
Further south on the Sunshine Coast, the laid-back town of Port Alfred is home to Kelly’s Beach, which was awarded Blue Flag status for 2017-2018. A 400-meter stretch of pale brown sand, the beach, and its waters are exceptionally clean. There’s a demarcated swimming area for parents with small children, while a boogie board hire service allows kids of all ages to enjoy the gentle swell. The facilities here are excellent and include clean restrooms, ecological information boards, and year-round lifeguard services. Two viewing decks come in handy during whale-watching season, or for admiring spectacular sunrises and sunsets.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Humewood Beach, Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth’s main beach is one of only two in the country to have been awarded Blue Flag status for all 17 years of the program’s existence in South Africa. The long, gently curving stretch of sand gives way to calm waters perfect for swimming. Lifeguards are on duty during peak season (November to April), while on-site amenities include freshwater beach showers and wheelchairs specially designed to be pushed on the sand. With ample free parking nearby, the beach can become exceptionally busy in summer; but in winter, the crowds disperse and calm is restored. At any time of year, you’re within easy reach of the city’s best restaurants.
06 of 10
Central Beach, Plettenberg Bay
Visitors to Garden Route jewel Plettenberg Bay are spoiled for choice in terms of blissful beaches, but Central Beach is one of the best for safe swimming. It’s also the town’s most popular beach, and like many of the bigger entries on this list, can get crowded in summer. However, it’s a great choice for families, with plenty of amenities including public toilets, ice-cream vans, and restaurants within walking distance. Medium-sized surf makes this a good place to ride a board for the first time, too. There are lifeguards on duty during the summer season, and when you get tired of swimming, other activities range from whale-watching to kayaking and dolphin tours.
07 of 10
Noetzie Beach, Knysna
Those wishing to step off the beaten tourist track should make their way to Noetzie Beach, located a 15-minute drive north of popular Garden Route stop Knysna. Accessed via an unpaved road and a flight of steep stairs, this secluded cove is rarely crowded even in the height of summer; yet there’s safe swimming to be had both in the sea and in the quiet estuary. Noetzie Beach is part of the Sinclair Natura Area, and the surrounding bush is full of local flora and fauna. It’s also something of a novelty spot, due to the eccentric, castle-like architecture of its most prominent homes. There are six castles here, five of which may be rented for a truly unique vacation.
08 of 10
Victoria Bay, George
Situated between the city of George and the coastal town of Wilderness, Victoria Bay is a tiny cove known mostly to locals and avid surfers. While big waves pick up further out to sea, the gently sloping sandy beach makes for safe swimming conditions close to shore. With cliffs on either side and a handful of quaint beachfront cottages, this spot is also breathtakingly beautiful. Kids will love the walled tidal pool and the natural rock pools filled with fascinating sea life. A jetty provides a great view of the surfers on the point, while the grassy area above the beach is perfect for barbecues and picnics. If you don’t feel like bringing your own food, head to Vikki’s restaurant instead.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Boulders Beach, Cape Town
Perched on the east coast of the Cape Peninsula, Boulders Beach is most famous for its protected colony of African penguins. However, its white sandy shore is also home to some of the safest swimming in the Cape Town area, thanks to the giant granite boulders that protect its waters from currents, wind and large waves. The view across False Bay is also mesmerizing. The bay’s unique oceanography makes the water here slightly warmer than can be expected on Cape Town’s Atlantic coast (although swimming is still an endurance test in winter). The highlight here is the chance to swim alongside the beach’s penguins—but be careful not to chase, feed, or touch them.
10 of 10
Llandudno Beach, Cape Town
Those with a high tolerance for cold water should travel around the Cape Peninsula to the Atlantic shore, where the residential suburb of Llandudno awaits. Located 30 minutes south of central Cape Town, Llandudno’s crescent-shaped cove is beloved by locals for its sheltered beach and shallow waters. The scenery is stunning, with granite boulders washed by a clear, aquamarine sea that often appears tropical despite its frigid temperature. Llandudno is one of the Mother City’s quietest beaches, and the facilities here are almost non-existent. Bring your own refreshments, and spend an idyllic day picnicking in between invigorating bathing sessions.
8 of the Best Things to Do in Fez, Morocco
Witness Living History at Quaraouiyine Mosque
Arguably the city’s most famous building, Quaraouiyine Mosque is home to the University of Al-Quaraouiyine. Founded in 859, it is believed to be the world’s oldest continuously functioning university, and remains a vitally important center of Islamic learning. The mosque is also one of the largest centers of worship in Africa, and can accommodate up to 20,000 people during prayer time. The mosque and the university are out of bounds for non-Muslims, but the library was opened to the public in 2016. It is one of the oldest surviving libraries in the world, and includes amongst its tomes a 9th-century Qur’an. Catch a glimpse of the mosque’s courtyard through the main door.
The Top 7 Things to Do on South Africa’s Cape West Coast
Keep an Eye Out for Whales
The nutrient-rich waters of the Atlantic Ocean attract many different cetacean species to the shores of the Cape West Coast. Every year between June and December, two species in particular pass through on their migration to and from Antarctica. These are the humpback and southern right whales, and both can easily be spotted from the shore in season. One of the best places to do so is from the viewpoints in Yzerfontein; or in St. Helena Bay. Rumor has it that even out-of-season travelers may be able to spot these giant leviathans at St. Helena, where a few individuals have chosen to remain all year round. Bryde’s whales can also be spotted along the Cape Whale Coast, while dolphin species include the common dolphin, the dusky dolphin and the Heaviside’s dolphin. The latter is found exclusively in western South Africa and Namibia.