Crossing the Atlantic Ocean from South America, you land on the stunning continent of Africa, the next location for my ‘5 places’ series. From the plains of the Serengeti to the heights of Kilimanjaro, Africa is a beautiful and varying continent, and below are the five places that I really want to visit.
Cape Town, South Africa
Located near the southern tip of the continent, and known as the ‘Mother City’, Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa and one of the country’s three capitals. Founded in the mid-1600s by employees of the Dutch United East India Company, the city has built upon its strategic location near Cape Point and is still known for its harbour and port.
- Blue Train – This bucket list item actually starts in Pretoria but is possibly the best way to arrive into Cape Town. With the journey taking just under 48 hours, including excursions, the South Africa’s Blue Train is the Orient Express of Africa, with tickets starting at just over £800. Travelling at a maximum speed of 56mph, the Blue Train is definitely the slower way to get between two of South Africa’s capitals, but is by far the best for seeing some of the scenery the country has to offer.
- Table Mountain – Possibly Cape Town’s most famous landmark, the flat-topped Table Mountain rises more than 1000m above the city, and forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. Whilst popular with hikers, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway offers and easier way to reach the top, with the five-minute journey in rotating cable cars, providing stunning views throughout. From the top there are stunning views over the city, Table Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. A return ticket on the Cableway is about £15 for adults.
- Wine Tram Tour – Offering a choice of curated tours or a hop-on, hop-off experience, the Franschhoek Wine Tram offers a unique way to tour some of the vineyards near Cape Town. With eight different routes operating on different days, you can choose the stops that best suit your tastes and spend anywhere from three to seven hours exploring the Cape Vineyards.
To the north of South Africa, nestled between it, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, is the landlocked country of Botswana. Not far from its southern border is the capital Gaborone. Having been designated capital in the 1960s due to its lack of tribal affiliations, Gaborone’s location has, at times, been a hindrance as conflict has spilled across the borders from South Africa and Zimbabwe in the 1980s.
- Gaborone Dam – Located to the south of the city, the Gaborone Dam is a key part of the city’s infrastructure, providing fresh water to the city and it’s neighbours. At 3.6km long, it was Botswana’s largest dam until 2011 and the 15sq km reservoir provides a large area which is starting to be marketed as a recreation area. The northern end of the reservoir is becoming an entertainment area, ‘The Waterfront’, whilst a yacht club is also a resident. The dam and reservoir are also popular with birdwatchers, windsurfers, and anglers, although its not possible to swim due to the presence of crocodiles and parasitic bilharzias (sounds fun!)
- Mokolodi Nature Reserve – Slightly beyond the Gaborone Dam, the Mokolodi Nature Reserve is one of Botswana’s smallest reserves at just 30km2, however its location close to the capital makes it one of the most accessible. Despite its limited size, the reserve still contains some of Africa’s most famous animals such as giraffes, zebras and rhinos, whilst cheetahs are housed in a large enclosure within the park. There are plans for the reserve to be extended east to the edge of the Lion Park Resort, an expansion that could add as much as a third to the area of the reserve.
- Victoria Falls Tour – With Botswana bordering the less accessible nation of Zimbabwe, it has become somewhat of a staging point for tourists wanting to travel into the latter and visit some of its famous sites such as the Victoria Falls. Somewhat of a bucket list item is undertaking a 12-day tour from Gaborone to Victoria Falls, incorporating some of Botswana’s main sites including Khama Rhino Sanctuary, the Orapa Diamond Museum, Makgadikgadi National Park and Chobe National Park. Limited to just six people, these tours feel almost private and from what I can tell, well worth the £2,800 per person cost.
Former capital of the landlocked central African country of Uganada, Entebbe remains the official residence of the country’s President and is situated on the shore of Lake Victoria, approximately 20 miles south of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.
- Entebbe Botanic Gardens – Located close to the shore of Lake Victoria, the National Botanical Gardens were first laid out in 1898 and are divided into different zones including a rainforest zone that was the filming location for the 1940s Tarzan movie. The gardens have more than 300 species of plant and are also home to Colobus monkeys, Palm Nut Vultures and African Grey Parrots.
- Lake Victoria & Ngamba Island – Africa’s largest lake at almost 60,000km2, Lake Victoria is divided between three African nations, with 45% of the area falling to Uganda. Located about 17 miles offshore, Ngamba Island is home to the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, dedicated to the care of orphaned chimpanzees that were rescued from poachers and are unlikely to survive reintroduction into the wild. In addition to being visited on a day trip, overnight stays in luxury tents are accommodated with the sanctuary being set up in an eco-friendly manner with compost toilets and rainwater collection.
- Jinja and the Source of the Nile – Located up the coast from Entebbe, the city of Jinja sits where the Victoria (White) Nile leaves Lake Victoria and is therefore considered by some to be the source of the River Nile. Realistically, the Nile actually begins at the source of one of the Lake’s tributaries, however Jinja has made the most of it’s claim to fame, with day tours from the city, exploring the surrounding area and visiting the point where the river leaves Lake Victoria.
Across Lake Victoria from Uganda, and laying claim to 49% of the lake’s area, Tanzania has one of the most variable landscapes in Africa, from Dar Es Salaam and it’s Indian Ocean coast, to the Serengeti National Park and the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro.
- Kilimanjaro – One of Africa’s most famous landmarks, Mount Kilimanjaro towers more than 16,000 feet above the surrounding landscape and is the highest single free-standing mountain in the world. With its views over both Tanzania and Kenya, the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro definitely seems worth it and is something I’d love to do in the future. The Marangu route starts at the HQ of the Kilimanjaro National Park, and is the most direct route up the mountain, and also offers the opportunity to sleep overnight in huts along the trail, removing the need to camp.
- Serengeti National Park – With an area of almost 15,000km2 and designation as a World Heritage Site, the Serengeti National Park sits in the north of Tanzania situated just south of the border with Kenya. Famous for its wide range of wildlife, the park sees an annual migration of more than 1.5 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebra. It is THE location in Africa to take a safari and see the wildlife, and it would be wrong to visit Tanzania without paying it a visit.
- Central Railway – Formerly known as the Tanganyika Railway, Tanzania’s Central Railway connects the west of the country with the capital, Dodoma, and the country’s largest city Dar Es Salaam. The mainline of the railways runs from Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, south of the border with Burundi, via Tabora to Dodoma and Dar Es Salaam. At Tabora a branch of the railway heads north to Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria, from where ferries sail across the lake’s vast expanse to Uganda. Trains on the Central Railway depart once a week in each direction and take two or three days to complete the full journey across the breadth of Tanzania.
Africa’s fourth smallest country, and its smallest landlocked nation, Rwanda sits close to the centre of the continent, surrounded by Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. With a population of more than 12.6 million and an area of just 26,338km2, Rwanda is Africa’s most densely populated mainland country.
- Kigali Genocide Memorial – Rwanda unfortunately become well known to the wider world during 1994 when the atrocities of the Rwandan Genocide occurred. Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is located in the centre of the country and to the north of the city is the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The memorial is in remembrance of more than one million victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and is a place of remembrance and learning where more than 250,000 victims of the Genocide have been laid to rest at the memorial.
- Kimironko Market – To the east of the city of Kigali, is the Kimironki market, the busiest market in the city, with vendors selling wares from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The market sells everything from fruit and vegetables to fabric, clothing and shoes and is known as one of the city’s liveliest places. The market is open from 8am to 7pm daily (although Sunday’s are fairly quiet) and is easily accessible from across the city, with buses from most neighbourhoods.
- 1000 Hills Distillery – In the southern hills overlooking Kigali is the 1000 Hills Distillery. Producing six unique triple distilled liquors, the distillery is also a place to enjoy a meal and some drinks with fantastic views out over the surrounding landscape. The distillery is also very aware of its social and environmental impact and in its own words has “teamed up with leading international development agencies in Rwanda which are offering technical training to small holder farmers so they can use our distillers’ residues to increase their crop and livestock production. Not to mention, we work closely with local government to use the Methanol by-product to make a low-cost mosquito repellent.” I certainly fancy a visit to enjoy the scenery and try their rum!