When you think about travelling around Africa do you think of a traditional safari experience in all its colonial pomp and splendour? The thrill of seeing a kill happen before your eyes? Perhaps it's the warmth of the African sun tickling the savannah. Or is it the sheer wonder of lifting your eyes to see the milky way scattered like blinking snowflakes across the black cauldron of sky?
Africa catalyses the imagination in a way not many other places can. But one of the things that often gets lost under the aged blanket of deepest darkest exoticism, is her cities. I hear the Capetonians raise a ruckus at that one, and they have a point. So yes while Cape Town is perhaps one of the most famous cities next to Cairo on the continent (I'll give Cape Town that even though I am a Joburger). It is but one of a myriad of vibrant, characterful cities dotting the continent.
Now that I have mapped and profiled tourism across the entire African continent for the African Union. I have a whole new African Bucketlist of cities I am dying to explore. 5 of the multitude of cities that spark my wanderlust and tantalise my creative tastebuds are:
Brazzaville, Congo Republic
There are so many cities on the continent that flaunt their fashionista status. But none more so than Brazzaville where the very streets themselves transform into the catwalks of the Les Sapeurs. Where the flash of colour and strut of revered attitude is accompanied by a foot-twitching rhythm. Vibrating out of street corners and mingling with the tantalising smells of streetfood and market bustle. I cannot wait to drink in the air that has inspired such a social movement of creative self-expression.
I admit as an architect Asmara has long been on my bucketlist. However it recently got rudely shifted to the side by my discovery of Massawa. Just imagine walking in the footsteps of the Kingdom of Axum, in a place where Zanzibar’s Stone Town meets provincial Italy all on the edge of a sparkling ultramarine Red Sea. It almost defies imagination, especially when you throw the droolworthy Dahlak Archipelago into the mix. Sadly this harbour of interconnected islands was wracked by bombs during the war. However if ever there was a destination that could easily become the Jewel of East Africa this may be it.
I honestly quiver at the thought of unwrapping the many layers of Cotonou. I cannot wait to submerge my senses in Dantokpa, the biggest open-air market in West Africa. To explore the kaleidoscopic murals that bring the city’s walls to life like an interweaving quilt of stories. To but touch the surface of the boundless Vodun sacred mysticism that spread with her slaves across the world. And lap my way back in time through the stilts of Ganvie. Before lounging on one of her idyllic palm-lined beaches still attempting to comprehend all I have seen.
Freetown, Sierra Leone
West Africa abounds with city adventures. But there is just something that draws me to Freetown. Perhaps it's the eclectic story of a city founded beneath the boughs of a giant Cotton Tree by freed slaves. Perhaps it's the resonate poetry of place. The tilting cadence of Krio, stitching together a ‘fry fry’ of ethnicities, all adding their colour and spice to the pot. Perhaps, amongst the rolling hills and old colonial buildings, it's the whisper of the Atlantic drawing me to the cities doorstep to discover some of the best surf Africa has to offer.
Perhaps the most unusual on my list is couched in an oasis shimmering in the heat of the desert. This almost iridescent fortified city is perhaps one of the least known World Heritage Sites in Africa. Even though it is unlikely I’d be able to travel here soon. I can’t help but dream of running my hands along the cool mud brick walls of the arcaded city streets of this pattern city. Imagining the hustle and bustle, scents and sounds of the trans-Saharan caravan trade-flows that paused here on their way to sell their exotic wares. Wishing the walls could tell their many tales.
Hold on, I hear the murmurs of discontent arise. Why pick these cities and not Lagos the New York of Africa. Or Abidjan, the São Paulo of Africa? Or Dakar, the Berlin of Africa? The list goes on and on and on.
But before you consider stringing me up and quartering me for my biases, tell me about your favourite cities so that I can add them to my African Bucketlist.