Floating down a papyrus-lined channel with only a mokoro canoe between me and the water lilies, I’m awestruck by this wild place. Birdsong 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 periphery 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 immense privilege it is to be here.
2. Sossusvlei, Namibia – A shifting dunescape of ochre and amber sand
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 among the tallest dunes on the planet. Gazing out over the ancient landscape, you reflect on the epochs 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 inspiring places.
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 wines from Franschhoek and Stellenbosch or explore the pristine Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens on a guided walking tour. Inspiration is not in short supply in the Mother City; galleries, museums, restaurants and cafes flourish while adventure is ready to find you around every corner. Hike 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 Sea Point Promenade, or enjoy the company of Cape fur seals on a snorkelling expedition in Hout Bay. There's plenty to do, see and experience in beautiful Cape Town.
4. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – Thundering home of Nyaminyami, the Zambezi's water god
It is slightly puzzling at first 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 Dr 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 – the source of 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. Go white-water rafting, walk under the railway bridge, go bungee jumping or swim in the Devil's Pool - Vic Falls is Southern Africa's playground!
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, her trunk held high as she shuffles excitedly to a waterhole. A delicate herd of springbok, a smattering of elegant giraffe and a disco-dazzle 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, brutal but beautiful, a place that never fails to inspire me.
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, rain sneaking into your boots, mud and sweat clinging to your face. You trek in the pulsing, unspoilt rainforest 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 mini-van. Then a mighty silverback male looms out of the shadows, making your heart leap as he assesses the intrusion. He sees that you are no threat and settles down to keep an eye on his family. You are dumbstruck at the obvious intelligence in their 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.
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 their own 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 palate 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.
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 inspiring 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.
9.Serengeti Plains, Tanzania – Cicrle of life 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 January, and nature’s grandest spectacle - the Wildebeest Migration - has begun. For now, it is a time of joyful plenty: acres of fresh sweet grass and thousands of adorable 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.
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.
Do you have any inspirational places in Africa you’d like to share? There are certainly more than my Top 10!