Africa is a massive continent which is home to more than 50 independent countries. It may have a reputation for poverty and warfare but it is also home to more than 900 million people who practice a vast array of cultures and speak many different languages. Most countries in Africa are not involved in armed conflict with each other and there are significant opportunities for travel and tourism, as well as employment and investment.
For ease of reference, the continent has been divided into two zones in this discussion – sub-Saharan Africa and north Africa. These two zones are not merely geographically distinct but also in terms of culture and history. While the countries of north Africa are predominantly Muslim and in closer proximity to Europe, the countries south of the Sahara desert tend to be less technologically developed and more culturally diverse. The exception is South Africa, all the way to the south, which is the most technologically advanced country in Africa and also one of the most culturally diverse.
The following cities are important in sub-Saharan Africa and if you want to engage in tourism or a holiday, they are worth investigating as possible destinations.
Lagos is situated in Nigeria, which is the most populous country in Africa. Lagos is a port city and used to be the official capital of Nigeria, although it is still an economic and financial hub of the country. It covers a surface area of about 1000 square km and it has an official estimated population of more than seven million people.
The city experiences a relatively warm climate throughout the year. Reports of crime in Lagos may be emphasised by their sources but it is important that common-sense precautions are taken and that you are aware of the poverty of some residents of the city.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town has been nicknamed the “mother city” of South Africa and it was the first city in South Africa to be established by European settlers. It presently has a population of more than three million people but it is very spread out, which means that traveling to its different areas can take more time than what you may be used to.
Cape Town is the most popular tourist destination in Africa. It is also a port city and has public beaches. The climate is generally mild. However, crime is an issue in the city, so if you are concerned about your safety you should avoid areas that have a reputation for danger or at least never enter them unaccompanied.
Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya. The city has a population of around three million people. It has a mild climate throughout the year. It is a hub of economic activity but has only limited tourist attractions, one of which is the wildlife.
Crime is a serious issue in Nairobi, so if you go there make sure that you have proper advice about the different areas of the city and also that you do not go to unfamiliar places unaccompanied.
Sub-Saharan Africa – activities
These are some of the activities that you can take part in during your visit to various places in Africa.
The safari is a traditional game-viewing trip that is undertaken in Africa. In South Africa alone there are many game parks and one of them extends across the border of the country into a neighbouring country. The following areas may be of interest to game-viewers:
- Masai Mara (Kenya)
- Serengeti (Kenya/Tanzania)
- Kruger National Park (South Africa)
Mountain Gorillas reside in the tropical rainforest of central Africa. They are an extremely endangered species, with an estimated population of fewer than 1000 individuals. It is not possible to see these animals in a zoo because they cannot be successfully kept alive in captivity. It is, however, possible to see them in their natural habitat by taking a gorilla trek/tour, also known as a “primate tour”.
The gatsby and the bunny chow (South Africa)
These are traditional take-away meals in South Africa.
The gatsby is a type of sandwich which is sold in Cape Town. It is a large sandwich, a full meal in itself, and it comes in various recipes. Some gatsbys come with a meat portion and chips. Be advised that if you order one, you may not be able to finish it yourself, since it can be very big.
The bunny chow is a Durban speciality. It is made by hollowing out half a loaf of bread and adding a filling. Durban has a strong Indian cultural community, so if you are in Durban you may come across curry bunny chows. Another lunch idea is to use potato chips as a filling. Like the gatsby, the bunny chow is a meal on its own.
From bustling medinas to Mediterranean promenades, nowhere else on Earth will you find such an eclectic mix of Arab charm and French colonial influence. The culture of the Arab World generally dominates, but strong French undertones exist throughout Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. And French is still the official language of Mali, Chad and Niger.
The region is well known for it’s contrasts. The fertile Nile, which is the longest river in the world, drives a wedge right through the hot and arid Sahara. And Egypt, one of the most liberal Islamic nations in the world, sits right between Libya and Saudi Arabia, two of the most strict.
The other less fortunate contrast is that of wealth and development. Some of the seaside cities such as Alexandria, Algiers and Casablanca show a thriving and prosperous North Africa. Whereas others, toward the interior of the region, represent some of the poorest areas on Earth. Despite this, you’ll find warm and welcoming people throughout.
North Africa | Must See
Fez (or Fès) is an amazing medieval city bustling with old-world charm. It is widely considered the religious and cultural hub of Morocco and is home to the world’s oldest university. The city of Fez actually encompasses three smaller walled cities, most notably, Fes el-Bali.
The circuitous medina of Fes el-Bali, is one of the world’s best examples of a preserved old city. Its narrow alleyways, pungent tanneries and busy bazaars
At the intersection of the Mediterranean and the Sahara, Tunis offers desert sunsets, fresh seafood, and tree-lined avenues. And the real bonus? It’s free from the itineraries of tour groups because it lacks sandy beaches and brochure-worthy attractions.
The medina is by far the most popular part of city. This Arab old town, featuring intertwining alleyways with beautiful vaulted alleys, is the historical core of Tunis. Though the French quarter is close by for those needing more space and a café au lait.
Even though Alexandria is much smaller than Cairo, it’s still one of the most populated cities in Africa. With that said, it feels less African than any other city in the region. Its sobriquet, “The Pearl of the Mediterranean”, makes reference to its unusual European demeanour.
In addition to French influences, Alexandria has a stunning Greek residential quarter and a glistening Corniche, which is oddly studded with rows of casinos and beaches houses on stilts. It often goes unnoticed, but the area is largely free of touts too. As much of a blessing as this may seem, it’s oddly unnerving after the incessant prodding from touts in Cairo.
North Africa – Don’t miss these!
Hot Air Ballooning
You can hot air balloon anywhere in the world, but it’s best reserved for North Africa. For starters, you’re not just ballooning anywhere, you’re floating above places like the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
There’s nothing quite like the sights and sounds of 30 hot air balloons all firing up in the black hours of the morning. The sharp bursts of heat, the explosions of gas, the balloonees waiting in anticipation, it all makes for a rewarding and unforgettable experience.
Sail on a felucca
Do you remember looking at pictures of far away beach resorts and thinking, “if I relaxed that much, I’d fall into a coma and never wake up”? Well, multiply that by ten and you’ll be sailing down the Nile, with an intimate group of friends, on a traditional Nubian Felucca.
Feluccas aren’t rich with features (i.e. no bathrooms), but imagine floating down the Nile on a giant matress. There’s a lot of reading, chatting, eating, learning about Nubian culture, and generally just taking it easy. It’s a great complement to active experiences like scuba diving, donkey racing and trail riding.
Bargain in a bazaar
Thé à la menthe, that’s mint tea in French, is enjoyed in the bazaars, cafes and homes of North Africa. It’s especially popular in Morocco where the sight of it being poured, from almost a metre above the glass, draws stares from curious visitors.
Moroccan mint tea is quite tasty too. Firstly, because the tea leaves are cleansed in hot water beforehand to remove excess bitterness. But more likely, the great taste is the result of adding five teaspoons of sugar and stirring.
You can’t travel through the Middle East without an introduction to the shisha. It’s as ubiquitous as beer in Ireland, BBQ in Australia, and the baguette in France. But unlike cigarettes in the West, the Shisha is engrained in North African culture.
The mere sight of groups of men, relaxing in cafes, and smoking shisha, is enough to turn even staunch non-smokers into enthusiastic pipe-tokers. That is, until they feel the crash of the thick smoke against the back of their throats. But a few tokes is all it takes for an authentic taste of North Africa.
Falafels in North Africa are like hamburgers in America; they’re everywhere and they’re tasty. Even McDonalds sells the cleverly named McFalafel. But you don’t go to Maccas for an authentic falafel, you go to the street-side vendors who sell them for a pittance.
There are two words of warning though. Firstly, be careful with the accompanying salad; sensitive stomachs may react violently to the water that is used to wash it. Secondly, falafels are deep fried in oil, so they’re about as healthy as hamburgers too.