The most epic bucket list experiences in Africa

We all have a list of things we want to do and places we want to see before we die. Some items may be unique and personal, whereas others are deservedly popular ‘bucket list’ fixtures. The diverse and beautiful continent of Africa is home to many of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We’ve rounded up some of the most epic ideas for your bucket list.

Have you been on a Big Five safari yet?

Track endangered mountain gorillas

In the forests of Uganda and Rwanda dwell some of our closest cousins: the mountain gorillas. Visiting these endangered animals requires a hike into the humid, tropical forest with expert trackers who will lead you to one of the habituated gorilla families. Trust us: the exertion is well worth it for the following hour that you’ll spend with these special primates. Watching them from a short distance as they play, bond and feed is a beautiful, intimate experience you’ll be unlikely to ever forget.

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

Hike up Table Mountain

Cape Town is one of the world’s most sensationally beautiful cities, with Table Mountain forming the dramatic backdrop. This iconic mountain overlooks the city bowl and the surrounding coastline, so hiking to the top is a must-do for fit and active travellers. One of the most popular routes is up Platterklip Gorge, which takes you straight up the front of the mountain in two to three hours. A longer, much more scenic route is Skeleton Gorge, which starts in Kirstenbosch Gardens. For those less mobile or short on time, the cable car will quickly deliver you to the top of Table Mountain to take in the panoramic scenery.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - SA Tourism
The view from Table Mountain, Cape Town. Credit: South Africa Tourism.

Witness the Great Migration

The Great Migration is one of the most famous natural events in the world, thanks to the dramatic river crossing scenes in numerous National Geographic documentaries. Throughout the year, 1.5 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras chase the rains on a circular route through Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara. You can see the herds at any time of the year, but the most popular part of their journey is when the animals must cross the Mara River, usually between July and October. The animals gather nervously along the banks. Once one plucky wildebeest makes the leap, the rest follow, crashing across the river in their hundreds – some falling victim to the crocs that lie in wait.

Kenya_Angama Mara_Wildebeest_523-1
Wildebeest crossing the Mara River.

Spot the Big Five

For first-time safari goers, seeing the Big Five is usually the aim. The Big Five – a term that dates back to when these animals were seen as the most dangerous game to hunt – are lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffalo. Far from the risks of the hunting days, a Big Five safari promises to be truly thrilling with incredible sightings that will be sure to firmly plant the safari bug. The best place to be almost guaranteed a full Big Five sighting (often within the first 24 hours) is South Africa’s Kruger National Park, or the neighbouring private reserve, the Sabi Sands.

Watching elephants on a Big Five safari.

Watch turtles nesting and hatching

On the beaches of South Africa and Mozambique, watch as mother turtles come ashore to lay their eggs or, a couple of months later, when the tiny turtle hatchlings break free of their eggs and dig their way out of the sand. The critters must then flip-flop down the beach to the awaiting surf, guided by the flickers of light on the water. Many conservation groups now protect the animals from the numerous threats to them when nesting and hatching and offer a lucky few travellers the chance to witness these special events and learn more about the plight of the sea turtle.

Loggerhead turtle hatchling at Rocktail - Wilderness
A loggerhead turtle hatchling. Credit: Wilderness Safaris.

Hang out in Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders, is one of the African continent’s most sublime features and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The giant waterfall straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe, with 27 million cubic feet of water falling every minute when the water levels are at their height over peak season. One of the most epic ways to view the falls is from Devil’s Pool – a natural swimming pool that has formed at the top of the drop-off. It might look terrifying, but between August and January the water levels drop to the top of the pool’s natural rock wall, creating a perfectly safe place to swim – and where better to get that photo of you at the mighty Victoria Falls?

Devil's Pool
Ashworth Africa’s founder, Patrick Ashworth, in Devil’s Pool.

Dive with great white sharks

The waters around the Western Cape of South Africa see great white sharks visiting to take advantage of the Cape fur seal colonies who also live here. These iconic sharks are much maligned predators of which we know very little, and cage diving helps to fund crucial research so as we might understand and protect them better. Don your wetsuit, climb into a secure cage attached to the side of the boat and watch from underwater as this magnificent shark swims past, eyeing you as curiously as you do it.

Great white shark cage diving, South Africa - South Africa Tourism
Cage divers getting close to a great white shark. Credit: South Africa Tourism.

See sunrise from the top of Dune 45

Namibia’s dunes are the highest in the world. These ancient dunes, the sand of which is millions of years old, roll across the Namib Desert forming a captivating landscape and a photographer’s paradise. Dune 45 is one of Namibia’s most famous dunes. To enjoy the beauty of this wilderness, camp nearby and drive out before dawn when the growing light casts one side of the dune into shadow along the ridge. Clamber up the cool sand and sit at the top in silence as the sun starts to rise above the horizon, turning the surrounding dunes from a dusky pink to a brilliant rusty orange.

Sossusvlei sand dune
The dunes of Namibia are the highest in the world.

Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

A real bucket list item for the adventurers amongst us, climbing Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro is an accessible ambition with a bit of training and a relatively good fitness level. Trekking to the top of the world’s highest free-standing mountain and the tallest peak in Africa, at 5,895 metres above sea level, takes from five or six days with a variety of route options available and no need for any technical experience. The views across Tanzania and into Kenya are staggering as you hike up through various terrains, from forests to glaciers, towards the snow-capped peak.

Kili - Tanzania Tourism
Climbers at the summit of Kilimanjaro. Credit: Tanzania Tourism.

Swim with dolphins, manta rays and whale sharks

Although most people will think first of land-based safaris when considering travelling to Africa, there is just as much to discover off shore. Whether you dive or snorkel, the marine wildlife found in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mozambique is incredible. Curious dolphins will playfully dive alongside you; you can glide alongside the giant manta rays as they coast through the water; and grab your mask and hop into the water with the world’s largest fish, the gentle whale shark.

Dolphins - White Pearl Ponta Mamoli, Mozambique
Dolphins playing off the coast of Mozambique. Credit: White Pearl Resorts.

What’s on your bucket list? Let us know and we can start working on your dream trip to Africa.

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