The world is filled with so many incredible places that make you want to pack your bags and jump on the first plane out of here. But while we are so quick to want to explore the epic Grand Canyon, wonders of Yellowstone, majestic fjords of Iceland or the towering Alps. We often forget that Africa harbours some of the most extraordinary places on earth.
That is why my travel bucketlist is filled to the brim with out-of-this-world places that I am just dying to explore in Africa. Perhaps 5 of the most unusual of these, are places that will completely blow your mind and defy your imagination.
A Piece of Mars on Earth
You will seriously need to pack your sunscreen to visit the Danakil Depression in north-east Ethiopia. Lying 125 metres below sea level, this alien desert plain is one of the hottest places on earth. At its centre you will find the surreal kaleidoscopic landscape of Dallol replete with ochre shaded fairy chimneys, bubbling sulphur springs, neon yellow, green, and orange crusty deposits, steaming geysers, crackling salt pans, and luminescent pools of yellows and greens.
This extraordinarily bizarre part of the Great East Africa Rift System is topped by the bubbling lava lake on Erta Ale. And you can almost feel the magma flowing down just beneath the surface as you carefully tread your way through what looks like an expressionist acid trip. Although seemingly inhospitable, this “gateway to hell” (as it is fondly called) is actually teeming with life. Providing scientists will valuable clues of how to go about colonising the equally seemingly inhospitable Mars.
If you are intrigued by Elon Musk's quest to build life on Mars you will want to visit Danakil to get a taste of what this will be like.
The Fantastical Stone Forest
You will seriously need to pack your hiking shoes to explore The Tsingy de Bemaraha of north-east Madagascar. This forest of ragged limestone pinnacles and spires which rise more than 100 metres into the vast blue sky is one of the most amazing geological curiosities on the planet. Tsingy in Malagasy means 'walking on tiptoes' which is exactly what you will be doing as you explore this curious jigsaw of pinnacles, spires, needles, fissures, caves, and crevasses, in search of animals found nowhere else in the world.
Like the sifaka, gidro and Aye-Aye lemurs, the rare falanouc (a mongoose-like mammal), the fossa (a cat like mongoose that balances on its tail), and the peculiar lowland streaked tenrec and long-eared owl. Even their names defy imagination. Test your "Where's Wally" skills in search of the wonder snake and panther chameleon. And delight in the brightly coloured tomato and painted mantella frogs, and 20cm moon moth which you won't be able to miss.
This surreal landscape etched over the centuries by the rain and the wind is most certainly an adventurers dream.
The Tropical Okavango
You will seriously need to pack your champagne for a visit to the Saloum Delta in Senegal. Far from being your average (okavango) delta, this is landscape of vast tropical and mangrove forests threaded by bolongs (seaways), and punctuated by palm-lined sapphire blue bays, vibrant lagoons, and hundreds of unique islands.
Like the island of Dioron Boumak where you will marvel at the hundreds of shellfish mounds flowing across the landscape which date back as far at 400BC, and the funerary sites (tumuli) from the time of the great Serer Kingdoms. While on Palmarin you will be bedazzled by the jewel-like salt-wells that have been cultivated by women since ancient times.
Don't forget to pay tribute to the ancestors on the sacred Point of Sangomar and its island. Before you kick-back on a palm-lined white beach in one of the many picturesque fishing villages to enjoy a meal of freshly caught fire-roasted mangrove oysters with your carefully packed bottle of champagne or a cool refreshing ruby glass of bissap.
This is a place where you just have to pause to realise you may have in fact found a piece of heaven on earth.
The Alps of the Sahara
You will seriously need to don your explorer hat if you want to visit the Tibesti Mountains, in northeastern Chad. This vast dramatic craggy volcanic range is one of the least explored places on the continent, and possibly the planet. Which is hard to believe since these mountains are three times the size of Switzerland, so pretty hard to miss.
But if you are brave enough to make the journey through the acacia pock-marked landscape of the Sahel. Past the isolated villages of the Tedas and the nomadic turban-clad Toubou on their camels. And through the seemingly never-ending march of orange dunes of the Sahara. You will be rewarded.
For you will find a piece of the moon on earth amidst the volcanoes of Tarso Voon, Tarso Tieroko, Tousside peak, and towering above them all the super-volcano Emi Koussi, often called the "Roof of the Sahara." You will wander through the peculiar almost alien rock formations of the Chadian Tassili. And descend into a crackling layer of snow-like salt covering the floor of caldera of Trou au Natron. Before finding millennia-old rock paintings and engravings littering the rocky landscape.
This lunar landscape is a place every brave explorer must surely have on their bucketlist.
Africa's Amazon Jungle
You will seriously need to pack your zoom lens for a trip to the vast Dzanga-Sangha, in south-west Central African Republic. This dense verdant rainforest is part of the second-largest rainforest system in the entire world. And contains more species of plants, birds and animals than almost anywhere else in Africa.
If you are lucky you will be able to catch a glimpse of the rare chest-thumping Lowland Gorilla, the laughing chimpanzee, the Santa Claus like De Brazza’s Monkey, or the acrobatics of the Agile Mangabey monkey. And if you look carefully you might spot the most unusual nocturnal Bongo Antelope, a fluffy-eared Forest Buffalo, or a giant forest hog.
But what you will definitely not struggle to find, as you walk through colourful clouds of butterflies, are the rollicking and romping forest elephants playing in the mud in Dzanga Bai, the "village of elephants." But amidst the excitement make sure you do not forget to pay a visit to the Ba'Aka pygmies. The oldest inhabitants of this forest who carry with them millennia-old knowledge of all the forest's hidden gifts.
If you are a nature-lover who dreams of adventure the Green Heart of Africa is calling your name.
These are just 5 of a myriad of places that I have on my African Bucketlist. A list that is growing almost daily as it seems as if round every corner Africa offers up something to defy your imagination and delight your senses.
Would you like to know what places in Africa you should have on your bucketlist?
Well this depends on what type of traveller you are.
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