THE BLOG

Ten Unmissable Aspects of Africa

23/01/2015 12:13 GMT | Updated 24/03/2015 09:59 GMT

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1. WILDLIFE: The wildlife of the African savannah is what comes most readily to mind for most people thinking of Africa. Heading off on safari to spot lions, elephants, zebras, antelope and other plains game is an exhilarating experience.

One of my favourite places for game viewing in Africa is South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Not only is this a very pretty park, with the brown Luangwa River snaking through plains dotted with acacias, but it also affords its visitors some of the best chances to see many of the iconic African wildlife species. It has a huge population of hippos, a lot of elephants, a strong lion presence as well as being excellent for leopards. Even endangered wild dogs make a relatively frequent appearance here.

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2. PEOPLE: What's the first African tribe which you can think of? It's probably the Zulus or Maasai, but there are hundreds of different tribes scattered throughout this vast continent. Each one adds to the diverse character of this enigmatic continent, and certainly I for one believe that variety is the spice of life and our different looks, traditions, dialects, dress .. should all be appreciated and celebrated.

A tribe which is one of the oldest is the San Bushmen of southern Africa. If you go to the remote Tsodilo Hills in the Panhandle of the Okavango Delta in Botswana you will find San rock art from many thousands of years ago, and a San Bushman guide will enthral you with stories of his heritage and culture.

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3. BEACH: Of course you can find resort beaches with loungers and parasols, but that is certainly not all. There are wild beaches where turtles come and lay their eggs, beaches in beautiful bays where you can spot whales, remote stretches of coastline where elephants love going for a paddle, idyllic islands both small and large, beaches flanked by huge dunes on one side and coral reefs teeming with life on the other side. In Africa a beach is not just a beach.

One of my favourite beaches is on a tiny island off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. Fanjove Private Island is uninhabited, has only 6 beach cabins, and is as near to an escape from the world as you can get.

4. CITIES: If I was to pick just one city to visit in Africa it would have to be Cape Town. With one of the most gorgeous locations in the world nestled between the ocean and Table Mountain, it is a cosmopolitan gem which can be at once sophisticated, raw, beautiful, shocking, fun and fascinating. A holiday linking Cape Town with the Winelands and perhaps the famous Garden Route is a deservedly popular choice for many travellers the world over.

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5. FOOD: For me the most enticing and distinctively African cuisine comes from Morocco. I just love the unctuous tasty tagines, the fresh and filling couscous dishes, the surprising pastillas filled with spinach and pigeon and sprinkled with icing sugar and orange-flower essence. I could go on, but actually what you really need to do to appreciate this cuisine is to go to Morocco and try it for yourself. I'd recommend going on a day's cooking course at one of the hotels in Marrakech. It's a great day out and you will come back home with new skills under your belt.

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6. MOUNTAINS: It's got to be Kilimanjaro if you're thinking of an African mountain doesn't it? Yes, it's a tough challenge of about 5-6 days for the climb, but what a feeling to reach the summit of the world's highest freestanding mountain. You could do it for charity, but actually you could just do it for yourself - you deserve it!

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7. DESERT: I have driven across the Sahara Desert twice. There are places where you can stop, look around and see ... nothing. Literally, nothing. Not a hump or a bump, just an endless flat expanse. In the cluttered lives that we live, this kind of remoteness could be almost scary, but I found it more freeing and awe-inspiring. It's just you and the planet at that moment.

The Kalahari Desert is a different kettle of fish. Whilst still seemingly one of the most inhospitable places in the world, it is surprisingly full of life, especially at certainly times. Come to the Kalahari of Botswana in the green season around December to March and you will find that the miles upon miles of arid scrubby desert has bloomed and in many places is a sea of grass. This bounty attracts thousands of antelopes and other wildlife from far and wide, and for a short time the Kalahari Desert is the place to be.

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8. PLANTLIFE: The acacia and mopane trees of the savannah lands, the fynbos plants of the Cape of South Africa, the vast rainforests of central Africa ... these are all iconic plants of Africa. But I have a secret love for one tree in particular - the baobab. There are 8 types of this most ancient of trees - only 1 of which is found on the African mainland, 1 in Australia and the other 6 are only found on Madagascar. Wherever you see them, I don't see how you can't be impressed by the gentle giants of the plant world which look like someone's stuck them in the ground upside down. The famous Avenue of Baobabs in Madagascar is one of the best places in Africa to appreciate these rock stars of the so-called spiny forest.

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9. MUSIC: Drumming, chanting, fast-paced rhythmic beats, beautifully harmonized choirs, the soft plinkety-plink of hand-fashioned finger pianos, the strains of stringed instruments. All this and much more can be found in the cities, towns, villages and remote homesteads of Africa. Music is never far away from life here. One memorable moment for me was listening to a rare private performance of the Royal Drummers of Burundi in their home base, but a similar experience can be had in Rwanda.

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10. WATERFALLS: Such a vast continent as this obviously has its fair share of waterfalls, but we all know that it is Victoria Falls which is the big draw card. These falls change their character depending on the water flow levels, going from a staggering and breathtaking torrent to a seeming trickle at times. Frankly though, it doesn't matter when you come to see this crack in the earth which causes the Zambezi to drop so suddenly and dramatically because it is an awesome sight at all times.