n looking at one of the most diverse, exotic and unique continents on Earth, it’s pretty difficult to pick out the most beautiful places. From deserts to oceans, manmade creations to nature’s miracles, and mountains to craters, the geography in Africa is some of the most breathtaking in the world. So in the interest of fairness, this list attempts to spread out the honors among countries, and not just re-iterate all of the Wonders of the World. Essentially, what we have here is an entirely arbitrary collection of some seriously amazing places that you should do your absolute best to get to one day.
Giza Pyramids, Egypt
It’s no surprise that the Giza Pyramids make this list (and are the only official world wonder admitted here). Their amazing history enhances their beauty. Built around 2650 B.C. from more than 2.5 million blocks of limestone, they remain among the most awesome feats of ancient times that cost gallons of sweat and hundreds of lives. Housing the tombs of pharaohs who ruled the land, they are cloaked in mystery and danger. Grave robbers have notoriously stolen the possessions of the former rulers; some are said to have been thwarted by unknown beings. There’s also a rumor that aliens helped build the pyramids to begin with, as technology at that time was nowhere near sophisticated enough to erect something of their size. And while we’re at it, might as well throw the sphinx in there too.
Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe
Woops, I lied. Victoria Falls is actually listed as a natural wonder of the world. Known by locals as Mosi-oa-Tunya, or Cloud that Thunders, Victoria Falls stretches an astounding 5,604 feet across, 354 feet high, and flows across the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is nearly impossible to view the falls without getting soaked. If you’re looking for an even wetter view, Devil’s Pool is a naturally formed pool near the falls that allows people to swim terrifyingly close to the edge in certain seasons.
Timia Oasis, Niger
In wandering the seemingly endless sand dunes of the Sahara, it seems impossible to imagine such a peaceful and refreshing sight such as the Timia Oasis. Around it, a small town and community known as the Tuareg sprouted, home to almost 14,000 people. The area sustains fruit trees, a virtually unheard-of commodity in the middle of a desert. Amid arguably the least hospitable terrain, you’ll find a network of lush gardens with oranges and pomegranates, date palms, and a variety of other garden produce. The Tuareg have been able to capitalize on the draw of the oasis, allowing tourists to pick the fruit for a fee and selling the goods of their gardens.
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Standing at 5,895 meters, Mount Kilimanjaro holds the title of Africa’s highest peak, but also holds incredible geographic diversity on its surface. A progression of lush rain forests and meadows turn into a barren, desert-like peak that stretches beyond the clouds. It is one of the few places in Africa where you can find snow. Beyond the beauty of the mountain itself, Kilimanjaro offers panoramic views, especially of Amboseli National Reserve below. Whether you stand on the mountain or just look at it, this dormant volcano is a sight worth seeing.
I’m going to cheat here, and also put in Ksar of Aït Benhaddou (pictured) in this one, even though it’s technically on the caravan trail en route to Marrakech. But the fortified city makes for an amazing stop as you travel into Marrakech, which hosts one of the most popular and authentic markets in Morocco. Complete with snake charmers, tribal drummers, and artists, along with those selling their wares, Marrakech’s town square of Djmaa el Fna provides a unique cultural experience for those stopping by. The beautiful architecture is the perfect backdrop for the meeting and melding of hundreds of different spices and flavors, if you’re looking to taste traditional Moroccan foods.
Sossusvlei Dunes, Namibia
No, it’s not your Windows ’97 background. The Sossusvlei Dunes in Namibia are the result of material from the Orange River passing through to the Atlantic, creating a salt and clay pan drainage basin by gorgeous red sand. Once you’ve taken your fill of pictures of the dunes themselves, hike up to the top for eerie views of the surrounding area, consisting of ghostly stretches of white clay and skeletal trees. Conflicting sources define Sossusvlei as meaning “the gathering place of water” or “dead-end marsh.” Either way you should definitely bring your own water – it’s definitely a BYO kind of spot.
Blyde River Canyon, South Africa
Forming the northern part of the Drakensberg escarpment in South Africa, the Blyde River Canyon consists of mostly red sandstone and lush subtropical foliage and runs for more than 16 miles. It is one of the largest canyons on Earth, and is home to some of the deepest cliffs and drop-offs – so keep your eyes peeled as you hike through it! If you’re feeling adventurous, head to the Three Rondavels. These massive round rocks used to serve as homes to the indigenous people. The river was named in 1844 after a Dutch voortrekker (pioneer) expedition group. Presumed dead, the group was later reunited with the rest of its party in the canyon. Blyde means “happy” in Dutch.
Nyiragongo Volcano, Democratic Republic of Congo
Beautiful doesn’t always have to mean peaceful, or even safe, and the Nyiragongo Volcano in the Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo proves this. It is one of Africa’s most active volcanoes, most recently erupting in 2002 and resulting in the deaths of nearly 150 people and the evacuation of over half a million. High carbon monoxide levels render the surrounding area very dangerous, especially for children. More than two kilometers wide, it contains a fascinating lava lake that has been the most voluminous in recent history, as well as two distinct lava benches within the crater walls. In case it doesn’t go without saying, the Nyiragongo Volcano is probably best observed from a distance.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The stand-alone Okavango Delta in Botswana (meaning that water reaching the Delta does not flow into any other body of water) is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in Africa. There are an estimated 200,000 large mammals that either live here year round, or leave as the summer rains approach. Surrounding national reserves have become a popular destination for safari-goers. Most commonly sighted are nearly all of the African Big Five (African elephants, Cape buffalo, lions, and leopards – there are very few rhinos in the delta), as well as massive quantities of hippos, giraffes, zebra, and hundreds of species of birds. Although it is not Africa’s largest inland delta, it’s probably the most interesting!
Sani Pass, Lesotho
Sani Pass is the route that connects the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa with Lesotho, and offers breathtaking views as it winds between the two countries. It is extremely dangerous to traverse. Its steep gradients and poor traction have led numerous vehicles to fail in their attempts. South Africa enforces strict prohibitions on the types of vehicles that are allowed through its immigration checkpoint on its side of the border Only sturdy 4x4s to move forward), but Lesotho is a bit more relaxed, allowing pretty much anything with wheels through. Sure, it could be the last thing you do, but what a way to go!