Africa’s Hidden Travel Gems

Africa’s Hidden Travel Gems

Africa’s Hidden Travel Gems

With borders finally opening up, the travel bug has truly bitten a large chunk of the South African population. Understandably so, given the confinement we’ve had to deal with for so many months.

But with many countries still posing health risks or restricting entry, it may not be feasible to jet off to those popular tourist destinations as yet. Setting sights to something a bit closer to home may be a better idea. In fact, Africa is not only more affordable (well, certain parts of it), but the rate of Covid-19 infection is also far lower than other world regions.

Our continent is undoubtedly a vast playground, oozing with secret ‘treasures’ waiting to be discovered. With renewed interest in Pan-African collaboration, it will also become easier to travel through Africa.

Rand Rescue takes a look at some lesser-known gems to put on your itinerary. 

First things first…

Before we set off through the African continent, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Make sure you are allowed to travel to and through the countries you will be visiting. This is especially important if you’re going to travel by car.

Do thorough research about the political and social climate of the regions. Some areas may be safe in general, but as with South Africa there may be civil unrest in areas and this may not be featured in the news.

Make sure that any medications you wish to travel with are allowed and clearly marked so local authorities know what you’re taking in and out of the country.

If you’re travelling outside the common monetary area, make sure to contact your bank and enquire about the use of your credit card abroad.

Find out which items are prohibited and leave anything which may be questioned by authorities at home (unless it is essential).

Make copies of your travel and identification documents and keep these copies safe. Though copies won’t always count as official documents, it will make matters easier if your official documents are stolen or lost.

Make a list of emergency contacts in the country you’re visiting and store these in hard copy format as well as on your phone.

If you’re a photography buff, make sure what you’re allowed to take photos of in other countries. South African law allows you to take photographs of any person or building in a public space without consent, but this is not necessarily the same in other countries. Some countries could even arrest you if you photograph certain buildings.

Share your itinerary with someone you trust back home so people know where you will be and when.

If you have to exchange your Rands or other currency, establish in advance which agents offer the best rates.

Find out which behaviours or gestures are prohibited in the foreign country. Something like jaywalking, pointing a finger or addressing people in a certain way could be frowned upon or even illegal.

Now that we’ve got this covered, let’s jump in….

Draa Valley, Morocco

The Draa River, which forms at Ouarzazate, flows through a superb oasis between Agdz and Mhamid. A 200 km strip of uninterrupted greenery stretches out before you; a kingdom full of date palms and their precious fruit as well as fields of henna.

People here live in ksour, villages originally built as protection against desert nomads, some of which you can be seen between Agdz and Zagora. Further on, the oasis of Tin-Zoulin contains a fine kasbah. The desert, extending beyond the palm groves, is the final note in this unique décor.

The destination is steeped in rich history; there is a necropolis from prehistoric times and petroglyphs or engraved arts which was created in ancient times. This region is blessed with breathtaking natural sights such as boundless vegetation and palm plantations, dunes scenery and beautiful oases.

The Draa Valley was originally known as the Valley of Olives, but when the 19th Century caravans passed through, olive groves slowly made way for date palms which arose within their trails. The palms proved to be a better choice to continue as a grown commodity because they serve multiple purposes: they bear dates, are used to make baskets, leafy carpets and create shade for the inhabitants.

Several tailor-made tours are available for the region and is a must-experience for any adventure traveller.

Selous and the Mahale Mountains, Tanzania

One of the world’s biggest conservation areas, Selous Game Reserve, gets a fraction of the visitors who flock to the better-known but much, much smaller Serengeti National Park, especially when the Wildebeest Migration is passing through. Selous is not only bigger and much more remote but it is so vast that lodges are few and far between, and it’s not unusual to have sensational sightings all to yourself.

Lake Tanganyika is a massive freshwater lake hemmed in by the mountains of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. On the eastern bank of the lake, the Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania comprises golden sand beaches and lush tropical forests. Due to the size and remoteness of the park, it is home to one of the largest remaining populations of wild chimpanzees, and is the only place where chimpanzees and lions cohabitate. Mahale can only be reached by boat, and it is one of the few national parks in Africa that permits guided nature walks within park boundaries. Other adventures include kayaking, birding, waterfalls and deep-water swims.

Langue de Barbarie – Ndieulé Mbam, Senegal

Stretching south from Saint-Louis, the Langue de Barbarie National Park is a narrow peninsula of sand that has historically been the nesting grounds for sea turtles and many species of migrating birds. Originally, the park sprawled uninterrupted from the edge of the city miles down to the mouth of the Senegal River, where it was marked by Fort Balacoss in Gandiol.

In 2003, heavy rains in the region caused the Senegal River to rapidly rise, causing great concern about potential flooding in the historic city of Saint-Louis. Unknown people surreptitiously dug a 13-foot-wide canal into the peninsula in the middle of the night in an attempt to lessen the flood waters encroaching upon the city, but their attempt to stave off the flood didn’t go as planned; nature once again took control. The canal became a gateway for the water to begin invading the land.

Within a month, the canal had stretched by thousands of feet and caused the former end of the river to fill with silt and finally close. Soon, the salinity of the river delta changed dramatically and the freshwater fish disappeared upriver. Many local fishermen were forced to change their livelihoods, causing some river fishermen to turn to the sea and even more to take their boats north to Spain and beyond. The breach continued to expand for miles, eventually letting the sea swallow several luxurious hotels. Much of the peninsula vanished beneath the water, essentially transforming the park into something resembling a small island.

Despite the changes to the region caused by the breach, the Langue de Barbarie still hosts many populations of migrating and local birds. Local communities are attempting to adjust to the challenges of being newly exposed to the direct force of the Atlantic ocean and the increasing salinity of their farmlands.

Private tours are often available from hotels in the Saint-Louis if you are not staying near the park itself. The Océan & Savane has opened a new location on the mainland.

Sao Tome and Principe

This gorgeous Portuguese-speaking nation off the coast of West Africa is made up of archipelagos around the two main islands of Sao Tome and Principe. Described by many as a tropical paradise with relatively few inhabitants and tourists, the islands are covered by a dense rainforest. There are secluded waterfalls, the Obo National Park, the incredible Pico Cao Grande, approximately 109 orchid species, and great bird-watching opportunities. Additionally, you can partake in excellent surfing, diving and snorkeling activities which are a fantastic way to explore the underground caves.

Both islands are ringed by spectacular stretches of sand, ranging from golden sweeps to blinding white crescents, which during the weekdays are uncrowded, except for a fisherman or two.

The waters of the Gulf of Guinea are a biodiversity hotspot, teeming with triggerfish, barracuda and eels, laid-back nurse sharks, neon-coloured hard corals and Gorgonian fans; if you don’t snorkel or scuba dive at least once here, you’re missing out. As well as marine life, dramatic volcanic rock formations underwater mean lots of overhangs, arches and drop-offs for divers to explore. São Tomé is a good choice for wreck enthusiasts, while off Príncipe, Pedra, a Dalho is an impressive dual-pinnacle dive where sharks often hang out. The dive scene here is still small, and operators often change hands, so ask your hotel or guest house to recommend an outfit. The best conditions, visibility and water temperature-wise, are found between December and March.

Sierra Leone

Once devastated by war and conflict, Sierra Leone is often overlooked as an attractive vacation destination.

However, this melting pot of colourful cultures with its buzzing capital, tropical rainforest, unforgettable wildlife and white-sand beaches definitely deserves its place in the glossy travel magazines.

In an age where travelers are increasingly looking for off-the-beaten-track, unknown and authentic experiences, Sierra Leone truly checks all the boxes. The country features long stretches of empty and uninterrupted beaches, unique cultural experiences and unforgettable wildlife.

The most beautiful beach in Africa can be found near Tokeh, according to Sierra Leone locals. Tokeh is a small coastal village on the Western Area Peninsula. Locals are always happy to invite travelers to join them on a fishing trip, show them how they smoke fish or invite them to have a drink in the Palmwine Bar. Tokeh is home to a large resort called “The Place,” and there are other accommodations available, as well.

Leftover Star Wars Sets – Tozeur, Tunisia

While much of George Lucas’ mythic “Star Wars” films were filmed in studio lots or in preexisting structures, a number of their exterior sets, especially for the desert planet Tatooine, were purpose built for the films and simply abandoned to the sands and the fans when filming was over.

For die-hard fans, Luke Skywalker’s home still exists in Tozeur, as does the set of Mos Espa – and almost everything has been left intact over the years in the Sahara Desert.

Tunisia, where much of the sci-fi classic was filmed, was a popular tourist destination before being caught up in the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, and is now trying to rebuild its tourism industry.

Tozeur was historically an important stopping point for caravans crossing the Sahara. A place to rest and refuel before heading deeper into the desert. It was also used as an important Roman outpost and has since been ruled by a variety of tribes including the Berbers for much of its history, who have perhaps the most influence on the city’s historic architecture.

A fantastic bucket list destination, even if you’re not a Star Wars fanatic.


Thanks to recent visa changes, Angola is finally opening up as an exciting travel destination.

From the vibrant capital city of Luanda in the north to the breathtaking mountainous regions in the south, Angola has a stunning array of landscapes waiting to be explored. And the best part: you’ll probably have it all to yourself.

The natural wonders of Angola should be right at the top of your itinerary. In the north, swim in the plunge pool of the Kalandula Waterfalls – the third tallest falls in Africa – and hunt for mythical Queen Ginga’s footprints fossilised in the rocks at Pungo Andongo.

Down south, hike up the Tunda-Vala gorge for spectacular views of the Chela Escarpment, and drive the superb Serra da Leba Pass, finishing at the viewpoint that overlooks the winding road and verdant landscape.

As a country with 1,600 kilometres of coastline, it comes as no surprise that Angola holds an impressive variety of beaches. For surfing, bring your longboard to Cabo Ledo to experience one of the longest left-hand waves in the world at 500 metres.

If you’re looking for a more laid-back atmosphere, drive down to Sangano for a clean white sandy beach with views onto local fishing boats. Within the vicinity of the capital is Shipwreck Beach, where you can take in the folkloric tales of the rusting remains of tankers, cargo ships and fishing vessels.

It’s about time the war stigma of this beautiful country is removed for good.

Happy travels!

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