I know that your mind has already filled with the sun glinting off the sweeping plains and thundering hooves of the Serengeti. Of the tremor of your finger as you try to capture that perfect shot of a yawning leopard or trunk-swinging elephant. Of the sparks of the fire meeting the glinting milky-way far above you as you trade stories to the roar of a lion, and the cackle of the camp's hyena.
As remarkable as these features are, I want to pull your attention away from this cookie-cutter image of Africa to show you just a little bit of what you are missing. You see Africa is so much more than the Big 5, so much more than the quintessential game drive, so much more than a splendidly swank safari.
It is so much more that it is absolutely impossible to tell you all about it all in one brief post. Trust me, I should know. It took me almost a year to map and profile tourism products across the entire continent, and I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer.
So instead of trying to summarise a continent so colourful that it would make Monet jealous. I am going to offer you just a tempting taste of 5 reasons why you should be looking at Africa with new eyes.
Move over Rome
Perhaps one the most quintessential destinations on any travel bucketlist is Rome. Just the name itself evokes images of the grand Colosseum, and the vestiges of the Roman Forum. What most don't realise is that some of the most awe-inspiring Roman ruins are actually found in Algiers. From the beauty of Djémila which cascades down rugged sloping hills; to the marvel of great Roman city planning at Timgad; and the Carthaginian trading centre of Tipasa set against an azure sea. The list of discoveries goes on and on and on.
But let us not forget that people travel to Rome not just for the ruins but also to ruin their waistlines. And I can say with certainty that Algiers does not disappoint on this front either. Delicacies like Chakhchoukha (a rich and fragrant lamb, flat bread and chickpea stew), Mahjouba (thick, flaky pancakes stuffed with caramelised onions and tomatoes), and Makroudh (a sweet semolina pastry stuffed with dates and almond paste) are just a hint of what is on offer in this melting pot of the African Mediterranean.
Move over Palawan
Next there is Palawan which has overtaken Instagram as perhaps the most to-die-for-jealousy-inducing destination to visit. What most people don't realise is that off West Africa the sparking azure Gulf of Guinea gives way to Sao Tomé and Principe, a small island nation that time itself forgot. White sand beaches emerge as spots of luminescence amongst tropical Jurassic Park rainforests tickled by mist and broken by primordial protrusions of rock.
Quite remarkably this practically unknown ecological wonderland holds one of Africa's oldest colonial cities. The Portuguese and Brazilian colonial heritage has left its colourful imprint in the architecture, cuisine, language and music of this fantastical destination. Not to be missed is the surprisingly multi-layered Calulu de peixe (rich fragrant fish stew) that should be enjoyed with an ice-cold Vim Pema (traditional palm wine), all while tapping your foot and shimmying your torso to the catchy beat of ússua, socopé or dêxa
Move over Galapagos
How many of us dream of one day going to the Galapagos to experience the sheer wonder of ecological abundance to be found both above and below the water? While the fame of the Galapagos may be well-earned, one of the most remarkable and perhaps least known archipelago globally is Africa's breathtaking Arquipélago dos Bijagós. A group of about 88 islands and islets located in the sparking azure and cerulean Atlantic ocean just off the coast of Guinea-Bissau.
There are not many places in the world where you can experience both heart-stopping diving with manatees, rays, dolphins and sharks, as well as salt water hippopotamus. And definitely nowhere in the world where pygmy cows the size of dogs roam the forest floor. And that is without even mentioning the mystical spirits, animist beliefs, powerful matrilineal societies and cultural traditions that add a vibrancy to the islands that is perhaps only topped by Benin.
Move over Australia
If ever there was a country famous for its vast stretches of idyllic beaches it would be Australia. Little do people realise that there is a far more exciting destination with its own very unique outback to be found in Mozambique. If there was ever a country in Africa that could boast about its breathtaking beaches Mozambique would be it, with its 2600km of coastline which stretches from South Africa, over the Tropic of Capricorn all the way up to Tanzania.
This country defies imagination, it's an explorer's wet dream. Here a never-ending palm-fringed coastline meets a turquoise sea so rich in biodiversity that it makes the Great Barrier reef look like child's play. And that is before I even mention the melange of island destinations so rich in culture, colonial heritage and heart-stopping resorts that make the Whit Sunday Islands look almost vanilla. And let me not even begin to attempt to describe the pulsating nightlife to be found in it's cities, nor the mind-blowing wildlife experiences that merely begin with the Big-5 that just serve to put extra air in the billowing dhow sails of Mozambique.
Move over New Orleans
When one thinks of the deep South in the US, one of the must-visit destinations on anyone's bucketlist is New Orleans, where music meets food, meets culture, carnival and the exoticism of the secretive voodoo culture. Well I hate to break it to you but New Orleans is just a small facsimile of Benin, which could be considered its birthplace. This former great kingdom of West Africa positively vibrates with the drumbeat that charges its energetic, masked and kaleidoscopic festivals and religious events.
Everything in Benin is suffused with life-on-steroids, from its diversely vibrant and ornately decorated clothing. To its music which weaves its way through the streets, only to meet the bursts of flavour of a cuisine rich in West African, North African, French, and Portuguese influences. This veritable melting-pot of life is charged with the spirit of Voodoo and a host of animist beliefs that create a mystery and exuberance that is tangible. And this is even before I mention its rich cultural, colonial and slave history, or its host of paradisiac beaches, forests and wildlife experiences.
If ever there was a continent that was underestimated, even by its own people, it is our continent of Africa.
Want to more about the fantastical experiences our continent has to offer?
Follow me here and take a read of my past blogs, among others:
If Africa’s Regions Were Travellers This Is Who They Would Be
5 Epic Things I Learned Mapping Tourism Across Africa
6 Surprising Ways Africa is Not Marketed
Why African Culture Will Blow You Away