More Than Safaris: 5 Underrated Destinations In Southern And East Africa
If safaris are the first thing that come to mind when you plan an African holiday, a trip to these destinations are sure to impress, with more to offer beyond the Great Migration and Big Five game drive:
Best for: Desert excursions
Home to some of the world’s highest sand dunes, Namibia is one of the least populated countries in the world, offering an eye-opening escape for travellers in utmost privacy (rumour has it that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were to spend their honeymoon here).
A trip to Namibia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Sossusvlei, a staggering desert landscape characterised by contrasting orange sand dunes, white salt pans and deep blue sky.
The ever-changing shapes and colours of the desert will leave you speechless as you climb up Dune 45, an 85-metre high sand dune that reflects magnificant hues at sunrise. If you ever wondered where Namibia’s iconic scenery—the black dead camel thorn trees against a backdrop of fine white pans and soaring red dunes—is photographed, make your way to Deadvlei, where the otherworldly sight in the Namib Desert can be found.
Best for: Nature immersion
Often outshined by its neighbour, South Africa, Zimbabwe might be lesser-known as a holiday destination, but the fact that it hosts one of the seven natural wonders of the world should be good enough reason to put it on your radar.
Almost double the height of Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls is best seen up from a helicopter as you take in panoramic views of the natural spectacle shared by two countries—Zimbabwe and Zambia—where waters from the Zambezi River upstream cascade into the Victoria Falls gorge, forming an enormous curtain of falling water.
For adventure seekers who prefer to see the falls up close, choose from an endless selection of adrenaline-pumping activities from gorge swing, white water rafting and bungee jumping from Victoria Falls Bridge.
Best for: Religious attractions
A favourite of Tatler 500 lister Marie-Christine Lee-Louey, Ethiopia sure knows how to capture a globetrotter’s heart. While famosly known as the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia is also home to one of the holiest places in the world, Lalibela, a UNESCO world heritage site where 11 monolithic rock-hewn churches stand.
The most spectacular of the churches is Church of St. George, which is instantly recognisable from the Greek cross shape of its roof. Carved 40 feet down from ground level, the church is one intact piece of stone where pilgrimage and devotion still take place today.
The best time to visit is during the colourful Ethiopian Christmas on January 7, where thousands of pilgrims gather in Lalibela for the biggest religious ceremony of the year.
Best for: Rare wildlife encounters
Uganda is one of three countries in the world (also Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo) where mountain gorillas can be found, offering a rare opportunity to observe the gentle, majestic primates in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
It is by no means a jungle version of a safari game drive where you sit comfortably in the vehicle with binoculars; gorilla trekking is not for the faint of heart as it requires hiking up and down mountain slopes and scrambling through bushes as you enter the gorillas’ habitat.
Bwindi is home to half of the world’s mountain gorilla population, which is just over 1,000, so your chance of spotting the critically endangered animals is quite high.
Best for: Island escape
Sandwiched between Tanzania and South Africa, Mozambique remains the continent’s best-kept secret for an African beach holiday. Ponta Mamoli is a hidden gem frequented by in-the-know locals and South Africans, where pearly white beaches and azure waters create the perfect backdrop to kick back in the sun or embark a sunset dhow cruise.
Just a few kilometres from the sleepy town of Vilankulo lies the Bazaruto Archipelago, a protected marine park made up of five islands which are said to be the most beautiful in the Indian Ocean.
Bazaruto, the largest island in the group, offers a world-class diving and snorkelling experience, presenting extraordinary marine wilderness and opportunities to interact with manta rays, humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins.