Beach, Bush and Desert – An Inspiring Africa Excursion
Are you planning a trip to Africa, but looking for somewhere more unusual, away from the jostling khaki-clad crowds? Whether you’re dreaming about azure waters with a dash of culture, a safari that will not cost the equivalent of an Ivy League education, or horizons that go on forever, we’ve got you covered. Here are our top-3 selections for beach, bush and desert destinations in Africa that will have you dreaming about the Mother Continent.
BEACH: Zanzibar, Africa
If you like your beach holidays with a bit of culture, consider Zanzibar, a Tanzanian island on the east African coast as your next island destination. Stroll through the narrow cobblestone alleys of Stonetown, the ‘capital’ of the island, and you feel like you’ve walked straight into a Steve McCurry photoshoot.
When people talk of Zanzibar, they talk about the island’s smell: The scent of cloves carried on trade winds or the whiff of tropical decay in Stone Town’s cobblestone-lined streets. For me, Zanzibar was about the sounds like being woken up by the muezzins calling the devout to prayer just before sunrise. Take a stroll down the narrow lanes of Stonetown, and you’re bound to stumble upon a rowdy game of street soccer. Turn into another, and the clang-clang-clang of church bells announces Sunday mass. And between this street symphony, you will hear the popular Taarab music drifting out of the doorways.
Keep in mind that not all beaches on the island are created equal. After spending a few days in Stonetown, head to Ras Nungwi, located in the north-western part of the island and one of Zanzibar’s most famous beaches. I’ve never taken any hallucinogens in my life, but a drug-induced trip must feel something akin to seeing the Ras Nungwi beach for the first time. The water is a clear psychedelic turquoise, contrasted against a lilac-blue sky. Women travelers, with skin roasted to hues of Peking duck by the Zanzibari sun, walk hand in hand with beach boys draped in red Masai cloth. Ask anyone, and they will tell you they’re a true Masai, even if they wear knock-off Rayban sunglasses and Havaianas flip-flops. At Most of Zanzibar’s beaches, you can only swim at high tide, at Ras Nungwi you can splash around even when the tide recedes. The water is that perfect warmth just above human body temperature when chocolate starts to melt.
BUSH: Zimbabwe, Africa
“Ding-dong, the witch, is gone.” That’s probably what Zimbabweans thought after last years bloodless coup d’etat. Robert Mugabe may have been Zimbabwe’s head of state on paper, but the past few years there have been whispers of decline and ill health. It was an open secret that his wife, Grace, was pulling strings behind the scenes. Mrs. Mugabe possessed the ruthless cunning of Lady Macbeth, combined with the extravagant tastes of former Filipino first lady Imelda Marcos. She also had a penchant for assaulting her son’s girlfriends with electric extension cords. Zimbabweans the world over rejoiced when she was ousted in a bloodless coup along with her nonagenarian husband.
Although the new president Emmerson Mnangagwa has a less than stellar human rights record, Zimbabweans hope that he will put the ailing country back on the road to economic recovery.
So what does this mean for tourism and travel in Africa?
Many travelers have been boycotting the Southern African country, instead, supporting its neighbors, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. The argument was that they didn’t want their tourism dollars to line the pockets of the corrupt politicians in charge of Zimbabwe. I’m not a fan of tourism boycotts, they tend to do much more damage on a grassroots level to workers that rely on those tourism dollars, than to the fat cats who have slush funds hidden away in Swiss bank accounts, but I can understand the morality from where this mindset comes.
Africa is vast and the good news is that Zimbabwe is open for tourism, it’s a destination that is safe, efficient and an excellent value for the money. Safari lodges in this country tend to be much cheaper than in neighboring countries, to attract travelers. Fly into Victoria Falls and combine it with a safari to Hwange National Park and Mana Pools in the lower Zambezi valley. You’ll search far and wide for a destination with such friendly people and diverse scenery.
DESERT: Namibia, Africa
Surrealist artist Salvador Dali never traveled to Namibia in his lifetime, but if you look at his paintings, he probably visited it in his dreams. The Dead Vlei, a collection of dead trees surrounded by the red dunes of the Namib desert, just needs a few soft watches to hang from the petrified Acacia forest and it will be a scene straight out of ‘the persistence of memory.’ The vlei forms part of Namib-Naukluft National Park, a national park filled with the world’s biggest sand dunes and oryx antelope.
When the park opens its gates early in the morning, travelers head to the Big Daddy Dune to ascend this behemoth. Instead, save this for sunset and head to the Dead Vlei to have this piece of a surrealist landscape for yourself. Getting there requires about a mile of trekking through the desert. Don’t worry – the path is clearly marked, you won’t get lost.
When you reach the vlei, it’s like a revelation, three colors of mind-boggling beauty: The calcified bone white surface of the pan, the clear cerulean blue of the Namib sky framed by the burnt sienna of the Namib dunes. Forget about Instagram or Facebook and remember that course you took on mindfulness. Breath. Take in the scene before you, before descending into the valley and run your hands over the petrified surface of the ancient Acacia trees. The buses full of tourists experiencing Africa are bound to arrive soon. But for now, you have this entire landscape to yourself.
When booking your accommodation try to stay inside of the national park. When you do, you get earlier access and beat the crowds. That means you get to catch the sunrise and sunset before the rest of the tourists staying outside.
PLACES TO STAY
- Camping – pitch your tent at the Sesriem-camping site (run by Namibian Wildlife Resorts)
- A campsite is $17 USD (220 NAD)
- Parking fee $14 USD (17o NAD)
- More exclusive we recommend Wilderness Safari’s Kulala desert lodge
- Kulala Desert Lodge can be booked on a Full Board basis, a dinner, or bed and breakfast rate.
- 2018 Rates are per person and range from $328 USD to $500 ( 4,065 – 6,200 ZAR)