People tend to think of Africa as a country, not a continent. But with 54 countries calling it home, Africa’s topography, landscape, and activities vary drastically by region. I’ve been to the continent 26 times, yet each time I go I’m surprised at just how many new things there are to see and do.
Where to Go in Africa
To make it easier for you to plan a trip, I’ve highlighted some of the most popular countries and best places to go in Africa, as well as what to see and do there, when to go, and where to stay. Hopefully this primer will get you motivated to hop on a plane it’s worth the long flightto get there.
One of only three countries in the world where you can trek to see mountain gorillas in the wild (there are only 900 mountain gorillas left in the world), the experience in Uganda is truly amazing.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda is home to the Nyakagezi gorilla family with its five silverbacks (adult males). It holds a certain allure, since it boasts one of the highest concentrations of silverbacks within a family. Tours are small, no more than eight people, and once the gorillas are spotted, you have 60 minutes with them and believe me, it goes really fast.
I was surprised to see how playful the juveniles are, not unlike my own little kids. One even came up and gave me a light fist bump to the leg (the animals can do what they want, but we were instructed to stay seven meters away from them; they came much, much closer).
For me, witnessing the adult silverback males in action was the most moving experience. Pounding their chests, making conversation with guttural sounds, climbing effortlessly up the bamboo trees to build a nest—they seem so human-like, which isn’t surprising given that these mammals share 98 percent of our DNA. Seeing the gorillas in their natural habitat was one of my favorite experiences in Africa.
When to go: Since it’s a rain forest, there’s a chance you’ll get wet anytime, so there’s no really bad time to go. Just be sure to pack appropriately.
Where to stay: Mount Gahinga Lodge is just a short distance away from the gorilla trek, and its backdrop against the Virunga Volcanoes is stunning. Be sure to take part in the cultural tour of the Batwa pygmies, the oldest inhabitants of the Central African rain forest.
KENYA AND TANZANIA
Kenya and Tanzania are often combined into one trip. Many people consider these two counties among the best places to go in Africa because they’re where you can see the Great Migration—where 2 million wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle make a migratory circle from the Masa Mara in Kenya to the Serengeti in Tanzania and back again.
But even if you don’t go during the migration, Kenya and Tanzania have some of the most extensive populations of wildlife in all of Africa; it’s not uncommon to see 50 elephants in a herd, or to see the Big Five (lion, rhino, cape buffalo, elephant and leopard) on your first game drive.
And, of course, Tanzania is home to Mount Kilimanjaro—one of the great bucket-list hiking destinations in the entire world.
When to go: “Avoid the long-rains of April and May. If you’re going to catch the migration, it’s July through September,” says Daniel Saperstein, co-owner, Hippo Creek Safaris and an Africa travel specialist.
Where to stay: Singita Serengeti House is located on 350,000 acres in the Grumeti Reserves in the heart of the Serengeti in northern Tanzania, and you’ll see plenty of wildlife—including cheetah, wildebeest, giraffe, lion, elephant, buffalo, and leopard.
ZAMBIA AND ZIMBABWE
Head to these two countries to see Victoria Falls, the largest waterfalls in the world. Plus, you can go white water rafting down the Zambezi river, chock-full of crocs and hippos (it’s an amazing experience and one I highly recommend).
“Additionally, Zambia focuses on fantastic walking safaris in wonderful national parks like South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi. In the latter, you can also do canoeing and fishing in addition to the game drives and walks,” says Hippo Creek Safari’s Daniel Saperstein. “The game is very good and the experience in Zambia feels like Kenya did 30 years ago—still very raw and real.”
Combing these two countries gives you a look at Victoria Falls from both sides and you’ll see different game.
When to go: “Peak season will be their winter time, when it is dry and mild—anywhere from June through September is ideal,” says Saperstein. “It can be very hot from October through January.”
Where to stay: Luangwa River Camphas a great location nestled on the banks of the Luangwa River and is home to plenty of hippos, giraffe, and more than 450 bird species.