Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers

I’ve travelled across most of Africa – from South Africa’s Cape Winelands to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, throughout Botswana and Zimbabwe, to the archipelagos off Mozambique, from sultry Lagos in Nigeria to East Africa’s triumphant trio: Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. I’ve spent two decades in a love affair with this continent, mostly as a solo traveller.

Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers Donyale
Travelling solo means you can be completely selfish about your interests - with no-one to get bored while you get the shot!

If you travel alone in Africa, you need reliable, current information and to take sensible precautions. I work closely with my African Safari Expert to plan safaris that are unforgettable for the right reasons. My expert makes sure I’m in the care of operators with impeccable reputations, and she never leaves me unescorted at vulnerable points in my journey. A safari professional always meets me on arrival at any major airport, and my transfers are booked and paid in advance, so I don’t need to haggle or carry much cash. My expert also helps stretch my travel dollar by negotiating better rates than the usual single supplements, which can make a big difference to the bottom line. I’m a big fan of Go2Africa’s 24/7 helpline – being able to activate a whole team of experts in an emergency has become one of my solo travel essentials.

Plan well and choose your expert carefully, and Africa’s treasury of bucket list experiences will reward you more richly than you can imagine. Here is my guide to the Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers.

Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers Wildebeest
Did you know a group of wildebeest is an 'implausibility' of wildebeest?

#1 Wildebeest Migration Safari in Tanzania

What makes Tanzania so special? This East African country is home to a range of breathtaking landscapes and legendary wildlife attractions, from the vast, rumbling herds of the Serengeti grasslands to the abundant creatures of the Eden-like Ngorongoro Crater. As a solo traveller, I love the gentle warmth and hospitality of the Tanzanian people, and the fact that the country is geared to tourism.

I’m an experienced safari goer, so my preference is usually to plan a custom itinerary, but it’s worth mentioning for first timers that Tanzania offers an abundance of quality scheduled tours. On these tours you join a group for a sociable and easy going introduction to the country, but be warned: Tanzania is highly addictive, and you’ll want to go back again and again!

Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers Tanzania Migration
Not much beats the thrill of being in the midst of the migration on the golden plains of the Serengeti.

I’ve heard it said around more than one campfire that when you see the best of Tanzania, you see the best of Africa. This tour includes all my favourite favourites.

How to do it: This 9-day safari explores Northern Tanzania’s biggest attractions: Tarangire National Park, home to large herds of elephant, Lake Manyara National Park with its tree-climbing lions, the extraordinary Ngorongoro Crater (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and the rightly famous Serengeti National Park, where you’ll witness the Wildebeest Migration (in season).

Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers Oliver's Camp
Oliver's is a gorgeous camp in Tarangire National Park.

#2 Journey Through Botswana

Botswana ranks in the top three destinations in Africa for good reasons. Very few lodges are fenced, most have been built to meet exacting eco-sensitive standards, and the government policy of encouraging low volumes of visitors at a higher rate per person means camps host an intimate 24-or-so guests and your game viewing experience is free of massive traffic jams at every lion sighting. The only downside to all these advantages is that low numbers of visitors makes it challenging to reduce single supplement charges for solo travellers. Despite the generally higher rates, Botswana is such an exceptional destination that I believe it's worth every penny.

What makes Botswana so special? The varied terrain – from desert to savannah to inland delta – the extraordinary wildlife and birding, and lavish hospitality set Botswana in a league of its own. It may not be home to a million-mammal migration as Tanzania and Kenya are, but it has some of the most reliable elephant, lion and wild dog viewing in Africa, with a thirty-thousand-zebra migration in the Kalahari during the Green Season (November – March) PLUS the Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders. 

How to do it: Journey through Botswana’s Okavango Delta and the Chobe’s iconic Savute Channel on a 10-day fly-in safari. Your accommodation is at three intimate, luxury tented camps, each in an exceptional wilderness setting. From the Savute’s thrilling lion prides to the tranquil beauty of the Delta’s papyrus-lined waterways, this tour is all about unforgettable experiences.

Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers Botswana
Being poled along in a mokoro is one of the Delta's most blissful experiences.

#3 Gorillas, Culture & Wildlife Safari in Uganda

One of Africa's most memorable encounters, gorilla trekking delivers the double whammy of being a truly unique experience and the means of making a direct contribution to the preservation of the mountain gorillas themselves. Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to the descendants of gorillas first habituated to humans by celebrity primatologist Dian Fossey. This primal jungle is also home to a fascinating melting pot of indigenous cultures and a supporting cast of chimps, monkeys and exotic birds. After Bwindi, my favourite location is Queen Elizabeth National Park where the pace shifts from the slog of trekking to the comfort of game drives and boat cruises.

What makes gorilla trekking so special? For me, ‘meeting’ a mountain gorilla in its natural habit was a life-changing experience. When I recognized the gorillas’ familiar expressions, gestures and family affections, the similarity between the great apes and human beings was uncanny. This thought-provoking experience was made more poignant for me by the knowledge that humans are the greatest threat to the survival of this critically endangered species. I love that the act of travelling here is what motivates the conservation of the gorillas – it’s the ultimate win-win safari experience. 

How to do it: Your 8-day gorilla-trekking adventure takes you on a journey through the primal forests of Uganda in search of primates, before visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park for a superb game viewing experience. For a trip that's even more focused on primates, the 9-day Chimps, Gorillas & Wildlife Adventure includes an entire day spent in the company of chimp researchers in Kibale Forest.

Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers Uganda 1
A silverback keeps a wary eye out...
Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers Uganda 2
Kyambura has wonderful forest views.

#4 Thrilling Zambian Walking Safari

Walking safaris originated in Zambia, which is still the leading destination for this activity and home to some of the best guides in Africa. It’s on my top 5 bucket list because a guided walk in the South Luangwa National Park rates as one of the most authentic, intimate wilderness experiences in the world.

What makes a walking safari so special? For me, the magic lies in being part of the natural world rather than an aloof observer in a vehicle. Without the hum of an engine, the buzz and chatter of wildlife becomes the soundtrack to your safari. All your senses become heightened - I remember suddenly noticing (and never forgetting) the scent of wild sage and the sound of a gazelle’s alarm call. The thrill of encountering an elephant on foot is one of my favourite safari anecdotes.

I love that a traveller can experience this nearness to nature in the constant care of a professional guide and an armed ranger. The richness of what these experienced and passionate advocates of the wilderness have to share brings the minutiae - the burrows, paw prints and medicinal plants - of the landscape to life.

How to do it: This 8-day Zambian walking safari features superb guides and warm hospitality in the spectacular South Luangwa National Park. Soak up the exceptional game viewing in three locations: Tafika Camp, Crocodile River Camp and Chikoko Tree Camp.

Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers Zambia
A walking safari is great for solos because you're automatically part of a like-minded group of people.

#5 Ultimate Namibia Fly-in Safari

I love Namibia. I keep going back because its rugged beauty swells the heart to breaking point, its people possess a powerful, quiet dignity and it’s one of Africa’s most solo-traveller-friendly destinations (on a par with neighbouring South Africa). Speaking of neighbours, Namibia is in good company and makes a great combination with South Africa or Botswana.

What sets Namibia apart? It’s an authentic desert destination with fascinating wildlife, dramatic settings and intriguing cultural encounters. In terms of drama, my favourite setting is the dune sea of Sossusvlei, with its fossilized forest and garnet-coloured sand (best admired in the cool of dawn!). Namibia is a little spoilt when it comes to local culture. I found the Bushman rock art at Twyfelfontein humbling and visiting a Himba village deeply thought provoking – despite the inhospitable nature of the land, the Himba live much as they have done for thousands of years.

Namibia is an extraordinary destination that has given me a lifetime’s longing for endless blue skies and far-flung horizons.

Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers - Namibia 1
It's easy to lose your thoughts to Namibia's endless horizons & comfortable silence.
Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers - Namibia 2
Much of the Himbas' ancient culture is unchanged.
Top 5 African Bucket List Experiences for Solo Travellers - Namibia 3
Soothing river views at Serra Cafema.

How to do it: See Namibia’s top attractions on a 7-day fly-in safari. Take in the dunes of Sossusvlei, Damaraland’s desert elephants and the Himba people of the Kunene, with breathtaking flights over the Skeleton Coast as you nip from one attraction to the next. If you have a little longer to spare, the 10-day Scenic Namibia Fly-in Safari includes special experiences: witness the fairy circles of Marianfluss, meet the Himba in Damaraland and search for ancient rock art in Twyfelfontein.

Written by Donyale MacKrill. Connect with her on Google+

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