How safari travel in Africa is bouncing back

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Mapping out your dream trip

If you’re planning your first visit and wondering where to go, consider how wild and energetic or soothing and rejuvenating you’d like your trip to be. Are you dreaming of a relaxing safari, taking gentle drives among elephants and gazelles, perhaps with a few days lounging on an Indian Ocean beach at the end? If so, you’ll love Kenya’s blockbuster reserves — the Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo, for example — and its charming beach hotels. Or there’s Tanzania, where wide-open spaces such as the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater beckon, and Zanzibar invites you to leave all your worries behind.

Increasingly, however, visitors are choosing something more active and adventurous. South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, for example, have plenty to offer hiking, cycling and paddling enthusiasts. You could zoom along South Africa’s Garden Route to KwaZulu Natal for forest hikes, scuba diving, surfing and zip-lining, followed by a close-to-nature camping safari in a pristine reserve. Or there’s Namibia’s Namib Desert: vast and mysterious, it’s fascinating to explore by four-wheel-drive vehicle or on foot. The Zambezi in Zambia and Zimbabwe is an adventure-seeker’s dream: here, you can test your mettle on an adventurous rafting or kayaking trip. You could even climb Mount Kenya or Kilimanjaro. Hikers who are well-suited to high altitudes can make it to Kili’s rocky summit — Africa’s highest peak — in five to seven days.

While safari holidays grab the limelight, Africa’s potential for cultural holidays that are enjoyable, responsible and sustainable is steadily expanding. For total immersion, Cape Town is hard to beat: it’s home to a thriving creative and bohemian community, Africa’s unmissable new contemporary art museum (Zeitz MOCAA) and some of the best restaurants on the continent. Ethiopia, meanwhile, has genuinely unique architecture, festivals and food. Alternatively, you could sample the daily rhythms of West Africa in Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone or The Gambia. Exploring overland, this is a great region to learn about village lifestyles and tribal customs, trying your hand at music-making or crafts. Best of all, you can make up for all those much-missed festivals by dancing till dawn at open-air clubs.

As featured in the 2021 edition of National Geographic Traveller (UK) The Africa Collection

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