2015 is upon us and not only is Africa the place to be (with more and more people visiting each year), but more and more countries are opening up, easing visa restrictions, and welcoming foreigners. We’re all familiar with the regular haunts in Africa, but there are still many undiscovered gems to be explored. How about riding on horseback with herds of giraffes and zebras in Kenya? What about camping on the rim of an active volcano? Or cruising up the mouth of the Gambia River? Whatever your style, 2015 is the year of Africa, and here are 15 places you have to visit in 2015.
1) Explore Egypt before the crowds return
It’s been nearly four years since the Arab Spring swept through North Africa and toppled three longtime rulers. After nearly three weeks, Egypt’s Mubarak lost his grip on power and ever since, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind of successive leaders and counter-protests. Despite all this, Egypt is still very safe and welcoming to tourists. Many are still wary of the political situation, but so far it has not adversely affected tourists. So whether you want to work on your tan in Egypt’s Red Sea resorts or explore its ancient wonders, depressed prices and a lull in travel mean the time is ripe.
2) Camp on Nyiragongo Volcano in DRC
After years of on-again, off-again travel and limited tourism in DRC’s volatile Kivu provinces, rebel activities have subsided and a sense of normalcy has returned. There were a few false starts in 2014, but DRC’s Virunga National Park is open for business once again. Besides hiking and gorilla tracking (which can both be done in Rwanda and Uganda), the main draw here is summiting the formidable Nyiragongo Volcano, Africa’s largest lava lake. There are 12 simple A-frame cabins along the rim that have cots and allow you to sleep in the glow of this ancient mountain all night.
3) Multi-cultured Mauritius
Mauritius never really gets a fair shake when it comes to Africa’s island nations. Largely overshadowed by its neighbors the Seychelles, Comoros, and Madagascar, this small island nation is a veritable melting pot of culture. With a majority of Mauritians being of Indian descent, Hindu food and festivals dominate, but there are also Creoles of African descent and smaller numbers of British, French, and Chinese, all adding their cultures to this mountainous and beautiful island paradise.
4) Have Eritrea to yourself
Unfortunately described as Africa’s North Korea, Isaias Afwerki’s one-party state is nowhere near as deplorable as Asia’s pariah. Well, yes it does have all its borders with Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti sealed, but for those that fly into Asmara, you’ll find a unique country of ancient orthodox monasteries, rugged desert landscapes, white sand beaches where you are the only person for miles, and remarkably preserved Italian colonial architecture.
5) Pint-sized Rwanda has a plethora of activities
Rwanda has come a long way since the 1994 genocide. Now, it boasts not only some of the safest, cleanest, and least corrupt countries in Africa, but it also has so much to offer visitors. Many come to trek the last remaining mountain gorillas, but Nyungwe National Forest is also one of the last old-growth patches of jungle in East Africa. Lake Kivu, Akagera Park, and plenty of other cultural and historic activities await those who discover one of Africa’s hidden gems.
6) Practice Voodoo in Benin
Sandwiched between Togo and Nigeria, Benin is a place of stability in otherwise-volatile West Africa. This nation of 10 million is also home to the Vodun religion, more commonly known as Voodoo. Cotonou is home to West Africa’s largest voodoo market with animal skulls, skins, masks, dolls, and other objects all for sale, while every January, thousands of adherents flock to Ouidah for the largest festival celebrating the religion in Africa with plenty of singing, dancing, chanting, drumming, and gin drinking.
7) Trek through Dogon Country, Mali
While northern Mali is still off limits for travelers, Dogon Country is most definitely one of the must see areas of all of Africa. Dozens of villages dot the arid countryside clinging to cliffs and still honoring long held traditional beliefs. The entire area can be hiked in two weeks by staying in various villages (with permission from the chief, of course). A fascinating way to experience Mali and some of West Africa’s traditional culture, an island of calm compared to nearby dicey areas.
8) Get to know Namibia
2015 is the time to go to Namibia. We know you’ve probably heard about it or seen photos, but with Namibia being overshadowed by South Africa, Botswana, or Zimbabwe, it has just as much or more to offer. Besides the incredible Kalahari Desert, there is the Skeleton Coast, abandoned German colonial ghost towns, wildlife galore, San and Himba culture, Fish River canyon, and much much more.
9) See Kenya on the back of a camel or horse
While Kenya has been on the radar for a long time, now is the time to see the country from a different perspective – from atop a camel or horse. While they haven’t hit the mainstream yet, trekking by camel caravan through Kenya’s little-explored northern deserts or running with a herd of zebras or giraffes is a truly unorthodox and unforgettable safari experience that will also get you off the beaten track as well.
10) Lake Malawi
Inexpensive, Anglophone, warm people, and even warmer weather year round, Malawi’s eponymous lake is the premier non-ocean destination in Africa. Pristine white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and beachside bungalows often entice travelers who plan on staying for a few days to keep on for weeks. Snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, fishing, and all manner of watersports await, not to mention sundowning on the beach.
11) Soak up the sea and sun in Sao Tome & Principe
Speaking of sun, Sao Tome & Principe is a tiny Portuguese-speaking island nation off Central Africa’s Gulf of Guinea that packs a punch. Because it’s an island (two actually) and Africa’s second smallest country (after the Seychelles), it sees few visitors, but old Portuguese buildings, national parks, volcanic peaks, and endless beaches with no tourists in site make Sao Tome and Principe the new island getaway spot in Africa.
12) Explore Senegambia by river cruise
Senegal and Gambia are already moderately well known to West African travelers, but if there’s any way to explore the two countries this year, it’s by river cruise up the Gambia River. Nature preserves, bountiful wildlife, abandoned slave trading forts, and ancient stone monoliths are just a few of the things you’ll discover.
13) Ancient civilizations in Northern Chad
Chad is one of the least explored places in Africa, a bit of a dark spot on the continent’s map. While the epic journey to Chad’s far north doesn’t come cheap, serious Africa travelers will be rewarded with being some of the few to venture through Chad’s formidable stretch of Sahara. Once home to an inland lake thousands of years ago, cave paintings dating back millennium await along with gueltas (rock born watering holes) that are home to hundreds of camels and the last inland crocodiles, not to mention long dead volcanoes and forgotten oases.
14) Beat the crowds on Mozambique’s island archipelagos
While most people tend to head to Kenya and Tanzania’s coasts for sun, sand, sea, and Swahili culture, Mozambique is southern Africa’s new beach hotspot. Or at least it will be when more people find out about it. Boasting several marine parks and two incredible archipelagos (Bazaruto and Quirimbas), Mozambique’s offshore islands offer fresh seafood, plenty of water activities, and less crowded beaches that are unspoiled by mass tourism as of yet.
15) Morocco’s hidden oases
Most head to Morocco for its ancient souks, treks to the Sahara, and the peaks of the Atlas Mountains. But head to the Todra Gorge or Draa Valley and you’ll find hidden oases – bright splashes of green amidst the oranges and browns of the desert and mountains. Relaxing mud walled guesthouses, traditional carpet weaving collectives, and date plantations will transport you back in time in villages that haven’t changed much in hundreds of years.