When you picture your holiday to Africa, what do you imagine? Is it the multicultural bustle of Cape Town or perhaps the Great Pyramids of Egypt? Perhaps taking safaris and discovering incredible animals in their natural habitat springs to mind?
Before you decide to do anything, consider something a little unconventional or a trip down a road less travelled. Africa is a vast and beautiful continent, and there is so much to see beyond the familiar. Search its plains and coasts and you will discover not just rare animals but hidden gems; places and attractions which have escaped the notice of most tourists, but offer a unique and often intimate experience.
Below are six locations which you may not have heard of and which take you away from the beaten track, but are certainly worth considering if you want to explore the undiscovered charms of Africa and avoid sitting in the airport lounge going to the same place everyone else is.
Black River Gorgers: Mauritius
The island of Mauritius itself is rather well known, but its reputation is based primarily on its beaches. As such, the more adventurous traveller who is looking for something other than a sea and sand holiday may pass it over. Take a closer look however, and you will discover a place rich in wildlife and scenery, with ample opportunity for hiking.
The Black River Gorge lies in the south-west region of the island; it was only made a national park in 1994, after its spectacular diversity in plants and animals was recognised. There are several gentle hikes you can take through its hills, with the opportunity to see fruit bats and monkeys among other species. The area is an environmentally protected area, so driving through the park is limited, but you wouldn’t want to anyway, not with waterfalls and rainforests to see, set against the backdrop of the coast in the distance. The trails are well designed, with options available in various degrees of difficulty, and there is a useful visitor’s centre which can advise you of where to go.
Scuba diving in Mozambique
The Mozambique coast is one of those places to visit quickly, before word gets out. Despite its less than savoury reputation the country is now listed as safe to visit, and with over 1500 miles of coastline to dive off it is certainly one not to miss.
There is a great array of marine life along its shores; thousands of species of fish, turtles and even the rare sea cow can be spotted in its waters. Some of these are found around the Bazaruto Archipelago, a collection of islands which can be visited from the mainland. Even if you don’t want to go under the water, there is still much to see; Tiger Sharks and Giant Mantras are frequent visitors, and most spectacularly of all, humpback whales migrate during late summer and early autumn.
Plenty of tour operators are now becoming more confident of Mozambique as a holiday destination, and you can find several scuba diving packages. For now its reputation still suffers slightly from its history, but look past that, and you will find a hidden corner of African coast with some of the most numerous and diverse marine life in the world and far cheaper than you’d expect.
Saint-Louis – Senegal
Saint-Louis port is a coastal city in Senegal; but it isn’t just a city by the sea, this is a coastal city in every sense of the word. It is based on a two mile island in the mouth of the Senegalese river, and it is only accessible by one bridge.
Like many African countries, Senegal has a reputation that may put off some travellers, but Saint-Louis is a UNESCO World heritage site; because of its location on the West Coast, and its past as a French Colony, it has a rich and interesting history, with significant cultural importance.
As well as its man made attractions, it has an abundance of wildlife. The Djoudj National bird Sanctuary is one of the largest in the world, and the natural wetlands which surround the area make it an incredibly diverse area for wildlife.
If you like your travel to be a bit dryer, then a visit to the red sand dunes of the desert is a short distance away, and there are various festivals and other cultural activities taking place throughout the year.
This may not necessarily fall under the category of hidden; more likely, you know exactly where it is and have no intention of going there. This part of the country is however relatively free of the violence and conflict that plagues its southern namesake, and boasts a number of stunning historical sites and natural attractions.
Being a coastal country, there are numerous ancient forts to admire along its coast, and several ruins of castles and buildings dating back hundreds of years. The capital city of Mogadishu is particularly impressive, and contains beautiful buildings in the Arabic style right on the waterfront.
Whilst it is true that you shouldn’t venture south any further than you have to, the northern areas are currently undergoing significant construction, and their tourism industry is taking small but progressive steps forward. The current lack of a tourism infrastructure is however good news for travelers, who can see an ancient land rich in history in its raw, un-tempered state. Keep informed with foreign office updates certainly, but if you are able to visit, then it is certainly worth the effort.
Rosendal (Free State)
Rosendal is a former farming community, which can be found in the Free State province of South Africa. It is a small and intimate village, which is surrounded by spectacular views; there are hiking trails, horse riding and adventure sports set against a mountainous region of old fashioned rustic charm.
The main draw of this village, for the creatively minded, is its art community. It is home to several galleries, which are filled with the works of international artists who have made their home there. You can also visit a very good antique store, or see locals involved in weaving or other artistic community projects.
The nearest major city near Rosendal is Johannesburg, over 300km away, so if you are after an intimate, isolated small town experience then this is certainly worth a visit. The restaurants and cafes are excellent and varied, and with glorious weather almost all year, this is a beautiful undiscovered town for those looking for a more cultural and artistic experience in Africa.
When you think of the Great Rift Valley and the Ethiopian region, it is a safe bet that ‘Italian Architecture’ does not pop into your head. In fact this is precisely what you will find in Asmara, a unique city in the heart of Africa. It is the capital city of Eritrea, a country which gained its independence from Ethiopia in the 1990s, and is truly a surprise find. Nicknamed ‘Little Rome’, it is a former colony of Italy, and this is reflected in its layout. You can find Italian coffee shops, dine on pizza or pastry, and enjoy the quiet and peaceful atmosphere.
The Architecture alone is worth the trip; the city was only built in the 1930s, intended as a ‘Rome away from Home’, and is a collection of most 20th century styles. Its buildings have received international praise, particularly its Art Deco designs, and it is a serious contender for admission as a World Heritage Site.
Visiting Asmara is like a going to a small, concentrated version of Italy. The city is bathed in sunlight for most of the year, and there is a relaxed, safe atmosphere in which you can enjoy a truly unique experience.
If you know where to look, Africa offers a diversity of attractions and sights like no other place on earth. From rustic art galleries in the middle of the countryside, to a mini-Italian town on the equator, through to a dive with a bewildering array of sea life. Africa really does have something for everyone.
If you are willing to travel a little further, and want to avoid the throng of tourists which converge on the major attractions, then a perfect gem of a holiday is waiting for you.
Josh writes on behalf a UK travel company who operate airport lounges to provide travellers with some luxury before flying. If you’re flying from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or Birmingham be sure to reserve your place now!
This post was submitted by Josh.