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.
1. Travelling Solo
If you travel alone in Africa, you need reliable, current information and to take sensible precautions. I work closely with a team of African Safari Expert to plan safaris that are unforgettable for the right reasons. My ASE 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.
2. Wildebeest Migration Safari in Tanzania
What makes Tanzania so special? This East African country is home to a range of breath-taking 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 totally 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!
3. Journey Through Botswana
Botswana ranks in the Top 3 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 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.
4. Gorilla Trekking, 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 and that many porters are reformed poachers – it’s the ultimate win-win safari experience.
5. 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.
6. 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.