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Africa's Top 10 Most Inspirational Places

Floating down a papyrus-lined channel with only a mokoro canoe between me and the water lilies, I’m awestruck by this wild place. Bird song follows us, punctuating the soft rhythm of the pole as it dips in and out the clear water, its cool freshness enveloping my fingers as they trail in the wake. I am in the heart of the magical Okavango Delta, undoubtedly one of Africa’s most inspirational destinations.

Many places have inspired me to write, dream and create but little can compare with the continent of my birth. These are my Top 10 Inspirational Places in Africa:

1.) The Okavango Delta, Botswana – A lush jewel in the Kalahari thirstland

For me, this seasonally waxing and waning wilderness is Botswana’s greatest attraction. Whether you explore its floodplains by 4X4, its waterways by motor boat and mokoro, or its islands on foot, you’re surrounded by nature in all her glory. Hippos grunt nearby, a dazzling kingfisher flickers on the edge of your vision and graceful lechwe antelope tread shyly through the shallows. There is no heavy-handed human presence in the heart of the delta – only a sense of natural harmony, and of the privilege it is to be here.  

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is a unique wilderness to discover at your own pace.

I recommend: The 7-day Okavango, Moremi & Savute Safari; the 11-day Luxury Botswana Wilderness Honeymoon and the 8-day Okavango Expedition

2.) Sossusvlei, Namibia – A shifting dunescape of ochre and amber sands

An early morning wake-up sees you driving along a desert road as the eastern sky blossoms from steel grey to a riot of reds. Silence falls like a blanket as you stop and get out, the sand squeaking underfoot as you begin your ascent. When you reach the summit, the beauty is startling: this is Sossusvlei, home to the tallest dunes on the planet. Gazing out over the ancient landscape, you reflect on the human empires that have risen and fallen under its steady gaze. For me, it is this timeless, striking beauty that makes Sossusvlei one of Africa’s most inspirational places.

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei is home to the biggest and tallest sand dunes in the world - it is a place of solitude and reflection.

3.) Cape Town, South Africa - Africa's most beautiful city

Like a jewel at the tip of Africa, Cape Town sparkles as one of the world's most loved cities. Discover the majestic views from the top of Table Mountain, one of the world's New7Wonders, travel to the tip of Cape Point where antelope graze and dolphins cavort in the waves, sip on fine locally-cultivated wines from Franschhoek or Stellenbosch or explore the pristine Kirstenbosch Gardens on a guided walking tour. Inspiration does not lack in the Mother City; galleries, museums, eateries and cafes take on an art form, while adventure lurks around every corner. Scramble to the top of Lion's Head for one of the best views of the city, hire a bicycle and take a leisurely ride along the Atlantic Seaboard, or enjoy the company of seals on a snorkelling expedition in Hout Bay. There's plenty to do, see and experience in beautiful Cape Town.

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Cape Town
The beautiful and remote Wild Coast offers a look into the rural beauty of South Africa's Eastern Cape.

4.) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – Thundering home of Nyaminyami, the Zambezi's water god

It is disconcerting to hear thunder from a cloudless blue sky. But a towering column of mist, flung far into the air, betrays the source: Victoria Falls - the world’s largest uninterrupted sheet of falling water. Explorer David Livingstone welcomes tourists to the Zimbabwean side by way of his statue, marking the start of a path that winds through dripping rainforest to postcard views of the Main Falls. On the Zambian side, a steep descent brings you to the edge of the Boiling Pot – mother to that tower of spray. And once you have absorbed the sheer majesty of this natural wonder, Africa’s adventure capital will thrill you silly; for sheer sensory stimulation, Victoria Falls is hard to beat.


Top 10 Inspirational Places - Victoria Falls
A rainbow appears across the spray of thundering Victoria Falls, a sight that is magnified during the full moon when a lunar rainbow appears at night.

5.) Etosha National Park, Namibia – This mirage before me, this endless desert beauty

At first glimpse, Etosha is a bone-white smear on the horizon. Up close, the salt pan stretches endlessly over the landscape, its surrounding grasslands pitted with thorny scrub. An elephant enters the scene, his trunk held high as he shuffles excitedly to a waterhole. A delicate herd of springbok, a smattering of elegant giraffe and a disco of zebra become bright spots of colour and contrast in this neutral-toned tableau. Suddenly, a chorus of alarm calls - and there, a lioness lies panting, her jaw clamped around the throat of a young impala. This is Etosha, brutally beautiful, a place that never fails to inspire me.

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Etosha
A herd of elephants fling dust into the air in Etosha National Park, Namibia's flagship game-viewing destination.

I recommend:  The 10-day Diverse Namibia; the 8-day Namibian Treasures Fly-in Safari; and the 12-dayLuxury Namibian Self-Drive Odyssey.

6.) Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda – Meeting a family of mountain gorillas

It’s the promised reward that makes you soldier up steep paths behind your guide, water sneaking into your boots, mud and sweat stinging your face. You trek in the pulsing, unspoilt jungle of Bwindi for one glorious reason: a face-to-face encounter with mountain gorillas. Suddenly, the guide stops. You clutch your camera and move forward silently. A gorilla mother cuddles her infant, spot-lit by shafts of sunshine; youngsters tumble and squabble like siblings in the back of a minivan. Then a fearsome silverback male looms out of the shadows, making your heart leap as he assesses the intrusion. He sees that your puny strength is no match for his, and settles down to keep an eye on his family. You are dumbstruck at the intelligence in the honey-warm brown eyes, surprised by the dexterousness of those sausage-like fingers. This meeting, this moment, is what makes Bwindi one of Africa’s most inspirational places.

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Bwindi
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda is home to the elusive - and rare - mountain gorilla.

7.) Stone Town, Zanzibar – Spices scent the air, summoning the spirits of Sultans

The first thing you notice about Stone Town is the scent that laces the air: cloves and cinnamon, a fresh salty tang from the fish market, the creamy notes of coconut. It’s a busy place too: women in headscarves chivvy their children and donkeys wander the streets on secret missions. This is Africa and Asia fused together in a single island town – it is mackerel and mango biryani served with a friendly ‘Jambo memsahib’. Your tongue discovers the island's many flavours; your attention is caught by the crumbling ruins of the Sultan’s Palace; and your cares float away on a passing dhow. The rhythm of the day is simple and steady: sunrise swims, sleepy afternoons, freshly-caught seafood feasts … no wonder you feel like the Indian Ocean's luckiest castaway.

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Stone Town
Eclectic Stone Town: markets, fishermen, spice traders and an all-pervading sense of history.

I recommend: the Zanzibar Palace Hotel236 Hurumzi and the Tembo House Hotel.

8.) Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania – Africa’s Eden, abundant in all seasons

An early drive to the rim of this natural wonder puts you in prime position for one of Africa’s most inspirational moments: sunrise over the Ngorongoro Crater. Settling back, you descend to the crater floor, a fantastical lost world of long-tusked elephants and rhinos, big cats and placid herds of plains game. A sudden blur of pink catches your eye as a cloud of flamingos takes flight, disturbed by the lone jackal trotting across your path. Animals follow their natural rhythms everywhere you look in this sanctuary, making you reflect on the original abundance of Africa's plains before they were conquered by man. This is Paradise Found.

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Ngorongoro Crater
A magical time of day in the Ngorongoro Crater - sunrise over the caldera.

9.) Serengeti Plains, Tanzania – Life and Death in Africa’s oldest ecosystem

The Serengeti’s great plains stretch for mile after mile, dotted with a million of East Africa's most ubiquitous creature, the wildebeest. It’s December, and nature’s grandest spectacle - the Great Migration - has begun. For now, it is a time of joyful plenty: acres of fresh sweet grass and thousands of tender wildebeest calves – the treacherous river crossings filled with snapping crocodiles will happen another day. Today, the calves cavort, watched over by doting mothers and proudly alert fathers. But a lioness watches from a distance, calculating how to separate a calf from the herd to teach her cubs to kill: the season of plenty means plenty for all - predator and prey, scavenger and bystander.

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Serengeti
A herd of a million (then some more) wildebeest line the endless savannah of the Serengeti National Park.

10.) Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique – wild islands in soad water seas

It is simply impossible that the planet's oceans could hold islands more beautiful or peaceful, or lapped by such gentle, warm waters! From the air, the Quirimbas Archipelago first appears as a saucy lick of sand in the turquoise Indian Ocean. A perfect coral atoll then materialises, followed by its sisters, sprinkled casually off the idyllic Swahili Coast. Setting foot on these private shores, you slip into a world of easy elegance and natural luxury. You might take a walk to admire the peachy sunrise or pass the afternoon snorkelling a pristine reef. A dhow cruise shows off the island’s curves and you salute the setting sun with a colourful cocktail in matching hues. Each day is yours to unfold - this is heaven on earth, a place of inspiration and contemplation.

Top 10 Inspirational Places - Quirimbas Archipelago
The islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago dot the ocean like tiny jewels.

I recommend: The 6-day Quirimbas Castaway Dream; the 11-day Ultimate Kruger & Quirimbas Explorer; and the 10-day Remote Selous & Mozambique Experience.

Do you have any inspirational places in Africa you’d like to share? There are certainly more than my Top 10!

Written by Kimberley O'Sullivan. Connect with her on Google+

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