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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:

Okavango Delta - Botswana's pristine inland wilderness
The Okavango Delta is a unique wilderness to discover at your own pace.

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.  

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

Sossusvlei, Namibia - the biggest dunes in the world
Sossusvlei is home to the biggest and tallest sand dunes in the world - it is a place of solitude and reflection.

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.

I recommend: The 13-day Bespoke Namibia Journey; the 7-day Distinctive Namibia Fly-in Safari; and the 10-day Namibia Self-Drive Adventure

Wild Coast - explore this beautiful part of the Eastern Cape coastline
The beautiful and remote Wild Coast offers a look into the rural beauty of South Africa's Eastern Cape.

3.) The Wild Coast, South Africa – Transkei dreaming, wild and free

This has to be one of Africa’s most beautiful corners: the gentle hills of the Transkei, sprinkled with waterfalls, roll down through forests to meet long, white-sand beaches. A group of hikers, watched by browsing antelope, make their way down to the ocean to swim as white-backed vultures ride the thermals in the sky. It’s a hot summer’s day – the best time to be here – and you’re eating freshly caught fish and oysters off the rocks. A group of women pass, singing as they gather wood for their cooking fires. You surrender to the innocent beauty of this place, this sanctuary for the senses, and understand why the Wild Coast has inspired so many of its visitors.

I recommend: speak to one of our Africa Safari Experts today to see how you can combine a visit to the Wild Coast with a thrilling Eastern Cape Safari.

Victoria Falls - one of Africa's most iconic destinations
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.

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.

I recommend: The 8-day Victoria Falls: Royal Rail Journey; the 5-day Iconic Victoria Falls & Chobe Experience; and the11-day Cape Town, Vic Falls and Kruger Journey.

 

Etosha National Park - discover a magical place in Namibia
A herd of elephants fling dust into the air in Etosha National Park, Namibia's flagship game-viewing destination.

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.

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

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest - go gorilla trekking in Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda is home to the elusive - and rare - mountain gorilla.

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.

I recommend:  The 8-day Chimps, Gorillas & Game Explorer; the 6-day Fly-in Gorilla Safari; and the 4-day Exciting Gorilla Trekking Adventure.

Stone Town - Zanzibar's spice capital
Eclectic Stone Town: markets, fishermen, spice traders and an all-pervading sense of history.

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.

I recommend: the Zanzibar Palace Hotel; 236 Hurumzi and the Tembo House Hotel.

Ngorongoro Crater - Tanzania's Eden
A magical time of day in the Ngorongoro Crater - sunrise over the caldera.

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.

I recommend: The 9-day Luxury Migration, Lake & Crater Safari; the 9-day Romantic Gems of Tanzania Safari; and the 4-day Lake Manyara & Crater Meander.

Serengeti National Park - Tanzania's savannah of life and death
A herd of a million (then some more) wildebeest line the endless savannah of the Serengeti National Park.

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.

I recommend:  The 13-day Extravagant Tanzania & Zanzibar Escape; the 14-day Scenic Serengeti, Selous & Spice Adventure; and the 10-day Scenic Tanzania Safari.

Quirimbas Archipelago - swim in Mozambique's azure ocean
The islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago dot the ocean like tiny jewels.

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.

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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