Most safari-goers whiz through their port of entry with barely a glance around – which is a huge shame. Cities are where you can get to the heart of a country’s identity/identities, where historic events have taken place and creative scenes thrive. Here are some of our favourite African cities and why you should factor in a couple of nights to explore them.
Kigali is an instantly charming city. With spotless streets, friendly residents and a relaxed vibe, the city is not a jumping-off point for gorilla trekking, but a destination in its own right. A booming fashion, art and design scene make it a perfect city for creatives or those in the market for a new wardrobe or art piece. And there are plenty of cool restaurants, bars and coffee shops in which to relax before or after a gorilla trek or safari.
How can we not mention Cape Town? Ok, we are biased, but Cape Town is one of the most (arguably the most) beautiful cities in the world. With Table Mountain as a dramatic and iconic backdrop to the city bowl, this is a great outdoor-pursuits destination and one of the world’s favourite cities for tourism. Stay a while for the sunshine, endless supply of restaurants and bars, surfing, kayaking, hiking and trail running, history and art, and loads more besides.
A city most people breeze through en route to Zimbabwean safari destinations or Victoria Falls, the capital Harare is worth a day or two to explore. Stay at the historic, elegant Meikles Hotel and visit the Botanical Gardens, go for a hike outside the city or take a horseback ride through Mukuvisi Woodlands alongside giraffes and rhinos. If you’re visiting in May, your stay may overlap with the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).
Johannesburg is the most dynamic city in Southern Africa. The City of Gold (it was founded after the discovery of said precious metal) has so much to offer visitors, from upmarket restaurants and shopping in Sandton to the redeveloped cultural inner-city neighbourhood of Maboneng. Make sure you spend a day in Soweto, too – the most famous of South Africa’s townships, Soweto is home to the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize-winners lived (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu). Read more about Soweto here.
Another city with serious drive and energy, Nairobi is a great place in which to spend a couple of days (yes, even with the traffic!). You might be surprised by how much wildlife you’ll find without even leaving Kenya’s capital city. With the country’s first national park right on the city border, there’s plenty to see and do. Stay at the iconic Giraffe Manor and have breakfast with the supermodels of the bush; then head out to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Sanctuary to meet the adorable orphaned baby elephants that will eventually be released back into the wild.
South Africa’s surfer city, Durban lounges on the tropical KwaZulu-Natal coastline facing the Indian Ocean. It’s where South Africans, especially Capetonians, head in winter, as it’s never cold and the beaches are always welcoming. It’s the home of the Indian-influenced bunny chow, a South African street food speciality, and also a burgeoning craft beer and gin scene. Head to Florida Road to check out all the new bars, restaurants, stores and coffee shops that have recently sprung up. Plus, when you fly into Durban, you have all the attractions of KZN right on your doorstep: mountains, battlefields and Big Five safaris.
The capital of Mauritius, Port Louis is usually overlooked in favour of the island’s glorious beaches. But it’s a great place to learn about the history of Mauritius and its melting pot of cultures and influences. A great way to delve in is with a street food tour, tasting your way around the city and sampling the various flavours that make up the island, from Indian wraps to French pastries.