Africa

Africa
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Africa has 54 sovereign countries—the most on any continent—and is the second largest continent in terms of both land area and population. Africa is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, by the Red Sea to the northeast, and by the Indian Ocean to the southeast. Africa is a vast continent spanning over 8,000 kilometers (5,000 mi) north-south and 7,500 kilometers (4,800 mi) east-west (not including islands) and contains a wide array of peoples, skin colors, religions, and cultures. Africa contains the world's longest river—the 6,650 km-long (4,100+ mi) Nile River running from Burundi to Egypt—while the Congo River in the DRC is the second largest in terms of discharge as well as the deepest with a depth of over 230 m (750 ft) in some spots. Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro is the world's tallest free-standing mountain at 5,890 m (19,340 ft). Djibouti's Lake Assal is the second lowest point on Earth, the saltiest lake outside Antarctica, and one of the hottest places on Earth. While the first activity most people associate with Africa is safaris, there are endless possibilities for adventure. You can purchase crafts in markets, venture into the Sahara with a Tuareg caravan, visit BaAka ("Pygmy") villages, hike through jungle to watch gorillas, relax on tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, snack on exotic treats, travel down a river in a dugout "pirogue", travel across savanna on a colonial-era railway, and much more. Africa is a very diverse continent, with each country, or even each part of a country having its own unique culture. While it is common for people in the West to refer to Africa as if it was a single country, one should remember the sheer size of the continent, and that Africa is not one country but 54 different countries, meaning that it is impossible to make generalisations of Africa as a whole. Tragically misunderstood by many people as a land of poverty, corruption, war and famine, and simply as a land of suffering—a misconception only bolstered by the media and the numerous NGOs on the continent—Africa today is a vast continent with many bustling metropolises, friendly people, and amazingly diverse and beautiful landscapes. While there are plenty of places resembling the stereotypical Africa of war, famine, and poverty, much of the continent is peaceful, well-fed, and of working class. (less...) (more...)

Population: 1,022,234,000 people
Area: 30,370,000 km2
Highest point: Kilimanjaro 5890 m
Density: 33.7 people per km2
Number of countries: 54
Most populous city: Lagos
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Countries in Africa

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Algeria (Arabic: الجزائر al-Jazā’ir), , is an Arab and Berber country in North Africa. It has a Mediterranean Sea coastline in the north. It is surrounded by Morocco to the northwest, Tunisia to the northeast, Libya to the east, Niger to the southeast, Mali to the southwest, Mauritania and Western Sahara to ... (read more)

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Angola is a country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Namibia in the south, Zambia in the east and the Republic of Congo, as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the north. The country is rich in natural resources: It has large reserves of oil and diamonds, hydroelectric potential, and rich ... (read more)

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Benin is a country in West Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north.

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Botswana is a land-locked country located in Southern Africa and bordering on Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name upon independence in 1966. Its economy, one of the most robust on the continent, is dominated by diamond ... (read more)

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Burkina Faso , formerly Upper Volta, is a landlocked country in West Africa. It is surrounded by six countries: Mali to the north, Niger to the east, Benin to the south east, Togo and Ghana to the south, and Côte d'Ivoire to the south west.

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Burundi is a small country in East Africa, although it has some cultural and geographical ties with Central Africa. It is surrounded by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Cameroon is in Central Africa. It borders Nigeria to the west, Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. While Cameroon is not the largest country in Africa, in some ways it's as large as Africa itself. Known as ... (read more)

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Cape Verde (Portuguese: Cabo Verde, Kriolu: Kabu Verdi) is a country in West Africa. It comprises a group of islands of the Atlantic Ocean, west of Senegal. It is part of the region of Islands collectively known as Macaronesia.

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The Comoros are an island nation off the coast of East Africa, in the Indian Ocean between northern Mozambique and northern Madagascar.

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Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is a country in West Africa. It has a southerly facing North Atlantic Ocean coast, and is surrounded by Ghana to the east, Liberia to the west, Guinea to the northwest, Mali to the north, and Burkina Faso to the northeast.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo (French: République Démocratique du Congo (or RDC); often shortened to DRC or D.R. Congo) is the largest and most populous country in Central Africa. It straddles the Equator and is surrounded by Angola to the southwest; Angola's Cabinda exclave and the Republic of the ... (read more)

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Djibouti is in East Africa, bordered by Eritrea to the north, Ethiopia to the west and south, and Somalia to the southeast. The Gulf of Aden lies to the east. The country can be divided into three regions; the coastal plain and volcanic plateaus in the central and southern parts of the country and the ... (read more)

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Egypt (Arabic: مصر; officially, the Arab Republic of Egypt is in north-eastern Africa with its capital located in its largest city, Cairo. Egypt also extends into Asia by virtue of holding the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is bordered by Israel and the Gaza Strip to the north-east, by Sudan to the south and by ... (read more)

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Equatorial Guinea is a small country in West Africa, divided into two parts, the mainland and the islands. Unique among sub-Saharan countries, it was a former Spanish colony—the only colony Spain had south of Western Sahara. The mainland is wedged between Cameroon and Gabon. This country is one of the largest ... (read more)

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Ethiopia (Amharic: ኢትዮጵያ ʾĪtyōṗṗyā) is a country situated in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa (after Nigeria), bordered by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, and Sudan and South Sudan to the west. Ethiopia is the oldest ... (read more)

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Gabon is a country in Western Central Africa. It lies on the Equator, on the Atlantic Ocean coast, between the Republic of the Congo to the south and east, Equatorial Guinea to the northwest and Cameroon to the north. A small population, as well as oil and mineral reserves have helped Gabon become one of ... (read more)

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The Gambia is a country in West Africa and is the smallest country on the continent of Africa. It has a short North Atlantic Ocean coastline in the west and is surrounded by Senegal so that it is almost an enclave. The country occupies the navigable length of the Gambia River valley and surrounding hills.

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Ghana is in West Africa. It borders Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north and Togo to the east.

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Guinea, , is a former French colony that borders Guinea-Bissau and Senegal to the north, Mali on the north and north-east, Côte d'Ivoire to the east and Liberia and Sierra Leone to the south. Unrest in Sierra Leone has spilled across the border, creating humanitarian emergencies and threatening the stability ... (read more)

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Guinea-Bissau, (website in French), is a former Portuguese colony bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east.

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Kenya is a country in Eastern Africa. Its Indian Ocean coast lies between Somalia to the north east and Tanzania to the south. Its other surrounding countries are Ethiopia and South Sudan to the north and Uganda to the west.

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Lesotho is a country in Southern Africa. Known as the Kingdom in the Sky because of its lofty altitude — it has the highest lowest point of any country in the world (1400m) and is the only country to be entirely above 1000m! Lesotho is totally surrounded by South Africa and is a fantastic adventure holiday ... (read more)

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Madagascar is a country that occupies a large island of the same name, located in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. It is the fourth largest island in the world.

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Malawi (Chichewa: Malaŵi) is a country in Africa, bordered by Mozambique to the south and east, Tanzania to the north, Zambia to the west. Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, runs along most of its eastern border. It's described as the "Warm Heart of Africa", referring to the friendliness of the ... (read more)

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Mali is a landlocked country in the Sahel, bordered by Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Mauritania. Mali is a developing nation, and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. However, it has some incredible sights, including four UNESCO World-Heritage sites, and the ... (read more)

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Mauritania is a country in northwest Africa. Geographically part of the Maghreb, Mauritania borders Algeria, Senegal and Mali, along with the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

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Mauritius (French: Îles Maurice, Mauritian Creole: Moris) is an island nation in the Indian Ocean situated some 2,000 kilometres from the African continent. The country consist of the island of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega and Cargados Carajos. Mauritius is mostly appreciated by tourists for its natural ... (read more)

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Mayotte is a French island in the Indian Ocean off East Africa between Madagascar and Mozambique.

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Morocco (المغرب Al-Maghrib) is a North African country that has a coastline on both the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Western Sahara to the south, Algeria to the east and the Spanish North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast in the north. ... (read more)

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Mozambique (Moçambique) is a country on the Indian Ocean coast of Southern Africa. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Tanzania to the north and has inland borders with Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. Mozambique's eastern coastline along the Indian Ocean is more than 1,000 km long, a ... (read more)

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Namibia is in Southern Africa, bordering South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly a colony of Germany, Namibia was administered by South Africa under a League of Nations mandate after WWI, and annexed as a province of South Africa after WWII. The South-West African People's ... (read more)

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Niger (pronounced: nee-ZHAIR) is an arid, landlocked country of the Sahel with a population of 12 million. It is bordered by Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Chad and Libya. Niger is a former French colony which was granted independence in 1960. The land is mostly desert plains and dunes, with ... (read more)

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Nigeria (Hausa: Nijeriya, Igbo: Naíjíríà, Yoruba: Nàìjíríà) is a country in equatorial West Africa. It is the continent's most populous nation. It has a southern coastline on the Gulf of Guinea, and has Benin to the west, Cameroon to the southeast, Chad to the northeast, and Niger to the north. It is the ... (read more)

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The Republic of the Congo is in Central Africa. The country is also known as Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its giant eastern neighbour, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa). It is bordered by Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and ... (read more)

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Reunion (French: Réunion ) is a French overseas territory located in the midst of the Indian Ocean, east of the island of Madagascar. This enchanting destination is blessed with a tropical climate and beautiful volcanic landscapes, with its appeal being as much due to its white sandy beaches as its mountain ... (read more)

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Rwanda is a relatively stable East African country, and easily accessible from Kenya and Uganda. It is relatively easy, safe and simple to travel around. It is landlocked, surrounded by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. ... (read more)

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São Tomé and Príncipe (often called just "São Tomé" for short) is a small island nation off the Atlantic coast of Central Africa, located in the Gulf of Guinea, straddling the Equator, west of Gabon. Discovered and claimed by Portugal in the late 15th century, the islands' sugar-based economy gave way to ... (read more)

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Senegal is a country in Western Africa. With the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Senegal has Guinea-Bissau to the south, Guinea to the southeast, Mali to the east, and Mauritania to the north. The Gambia is almost an enclave of Senegal in the middle of the western coast.

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The Seychelles are a group of 115 islands, only a few inhabited, in the Indian Ocean that lie off the coast of East Africa, northeast of Madagascar.

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Sierra Leone is on the West Coast of Africa between 7 and 10 degrees N, and longitudes 10.5 and 13 degrees W. The Republic of Guinea is to the north and northeast; Liberia is to the east and southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west and south. It has 402 km of coastline. From an approximate 100km coastal ... (read more)

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South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa. It is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho (which is completely surrounded by South Africa). It is a vast country with widely varying landscapes and has 11 official languages, as well as an equally diverse ... (read more)

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Swaziland is a country in Southern Africa, landlocked by South Africa in its west and Mozambique in the east. Swaziland's absolute monarchy is one of the oldest in Africa.

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Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa, bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north; Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south.

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Togo is a narrow country in West Africa, sandwiched between Ghana on the west and Benin on the east, with a small border with Burkina Faso to the north, and a 56km coastline on the Atlantic Ocean to the south.

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Tunisia (Arabic: تونس‎ Tūnis) , officially known as the Republic of Tunisia (Arabic: الجمهورية التونسية‎ al-Jumhūriyyah at-Tūnisiyyah), is a country in Northern Africa that has a Mediterranean Sea coastline in the very centre of Mediterranean Africa. Tunisia lies immediately to the south of Italy and Malta. ... (read more)

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Uganda is a country in East Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the southwest by Rwanda, and to the south by Tanzania. Famously called the Pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill, it is home to one of the most diverse ... (read more)

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Zambia is a state in Southern Africa. Roughly the size of Texas or France, Zambia is a landlocked country, bordered by Tanzania to the northeast, Malawi to the east, Mozambique to the southeast, Zimbabwe and Botswana to the south, a narrow strip of Namibia known as the Caprivi Strip to the southwest, Angola ... (read more)

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Zimbabwe is a country in Southern Africa. It is landlocked and is surrounded by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east and north. The Zambezi river forms the natural boundary with Zambia and when in full flood (February–April) the massive ... (read more)

Popular cities in Africa

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Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa and is the capital of the Western Cape Province, as well as being the legislative capital of South Africa (the Houses of Parliament are here). It is located in the south-west corner of the country near the Cape of Good Hope, and is the most southern city in ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
  • Clock Tower
  • Greenmarket Square
  • Groote Kerk
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Marrakech , also known as Marrakesh, is one of the imperial cities of Morocco.

Interesting places:

  • Koutoubia Minaret
  • Souk Zrabi
  • Rahba Kedima
  • Dar Tiskiwin Museum
  • Djemaa el Fna
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The capital of Kenya and the largest city is Nairobi with a population of nearly four million.

Interesting places:

  • City Market
  • Kenyatta Mausoleum
  • City Hall
  • Nairobi City Stadium
  • National Archives
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Johannesburg is South Africa's largest city.

Interesting places:

  • Johannesburg Stock Exchange
  • Museum Africa
  • Gold Reef City
  • Nelson Mandela Square
  • Market Theatre
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Sharm el-Sheikh is a well-known port and resort town at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, popular with package holiday makers and divers. About 9,000 British tourists are in Sharm on any given day. Numbers have doubled in the last 3 years and seemed set to continue to rise despite the ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Hadaba Beach
  • Naama Bay Beach
  • Shark\'s Bay Beach
  • Montazah Beach
  • SOHO Square
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Accra is the capital city of Ghana.

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Cairo is the capital of Egypt and, with a total population in excess of 16 million people, one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East (the regions which it conveniently straddles). It is also the 19th largest city in the world, and among the world's most densely populated cities. On the ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Tahrir Square
  • Saladin Citadel
  • Egyptian Museum
  • Muhammad Ali Mosque
  • Citadel
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Casablanca (Arabic: الدار البيضاء, Dar al-Bayda) may be the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco (and its largest city), but it is one of the less endearing of the country's sights. With a small, unassuming medina and a traffic-congested ville nouvelle, travellers arriving via Casablanca may ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Hassan II Mosque
  • United Nations Square
  • Parc de la Ligue Arabe
  • Place Mohammed V
  • Cathedrale Sacre Coeur
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321 hotels in this place

Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa and is the capital of the Western Cape Province, as well as being the legislative capital of South Africa (the Houses of Parliament are here). It is located in the south-west corner of the country near the Cape of Good Hope, and is the most southern city in ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
  • Clock Tower
  • Greenmarket Square
  • Groote Kerk
  • Slave Lodge
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371 hotels in this place

Marrakech , also known as Marrakesh, is one of the imperial cities of Morocco.

Interesting places:

  • Koutoubia Minaret
  • Souk Zrabi
  • Rahba Kedima
  • Dar Tiskiwin Museum
  • Djemaa el Fna
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Points of Interest in Africa

Many visitors are attracted by the African flora and fauna and several countries benefit from Safari tourism to African National Parks.

Natural wonders

Mt. Nyiragongo's lava lake, viewed from the rim.

Africa is home to many famous natural wonders, from the Nile River, the world's longest river, to Victoria Falls. The continent is home to two of the world's four volcanoes with permanent lava lakes—the dramatic Mount Nyiragongo which rises hundreds of meters above Goma, DRC and Erta Ale in Ethiopia's stark Danakil Depression (the others are Mt.Erebus in Antarctica & Kilauea in Hawaii). Both volcanoes can be climbed by the adventurous tourist to stand at the rim gazing in awe at the bubbling lava below, an especially incredible sight at night! Mount Cameroon and its glorious stretch of lava also creates a beautiful site with a variety of flora and fauna.

Landscapes

Historical civilizations

While the continent's diverse and unique wildlife is often all that is mentioned in regards to African travel, as home to the oldest civilizations on the planet, Africa has equally impressive cultures and history. The most famous civilization on the continent, and arguably in the world, is that of ancient Egypt. From the southern city of Abu Simbel to Luxor and all the way north to Alexandria and Cairo, including the Pyramids of Giza, the only surviving of the original Seven Wonders of the World and the most iconic symbols of this ancient kingdom. Sites from the Nubian-Kushite Kingdom that broke away from Egypt can be found in Sudan, such as Gebel Barkal and many other pyramids in Meroe.

Ethiopia offers many ruins from the ancient Axumite Kingdom where the Queen of Sheba ruled. The obelisks and Dungur ruins in Axum were built prior to the kingdom's conversion to Christianity, while many other great monuments, such as the Ezana Stone and the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, where the Arc of the Covenant is said to be stored, were built after the conversion as religious sites. Other famous Christian structures built later by the kingdom's successor, the Abyssinian Empire, especially during the 12th and 13th centuries, can also be found in Lalibela.

In West Africa, structures from the ancient Mali Empire can be found in Timbuktu and Djenne. Although there are Islamic influences, the architectural styles of the Malian Kingdom's mosques are still quite unique and recognizably African. The cliff dwellings in Mali's Dogon Country, built by the Dogon people, are also impressive ancient structures in Mali. Often overshadowed by Africa's other monuments, Sungbo's Eredo in Ijebu Ode, Nigeria, built by the Yoruba people, is actually the largest pre-colonial structure remaining on the continent. Today it towers over the city, covered in vegetation.

Ruins from the ancient Swahili culture can be found in the coastal areas of East Africa, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania. The Swahili structures combines elements of African architecture with Islamic architecture, which was quite prominent around the 14th century. Some of the most famous Swahili structures include the Gedi Ruins and Pillar Tombs around Malindi and Kilwa Kisiwani. Zanzibar's Stone Town features Swahili structures spanning hundreds of years from its early days to the 18th century.

In Southern Africa, the ruins of Great Zimbabwe have fascinated visitors ever since Europeans discovered them. No European had believed that the inhabitants of black Africa were capable of creating any great monuments on their own until the ruins of this ancient culture were discovered.

The ruins of the ancient city of Carthage, near Tunis testify to the grandeur of the Carthaginian Empire.

Many cities, such as Leptis Magna, Timgad, and Dougga feature Roman ruins as impressive as those in Europe itself. Many other European structures can be found throughout the continent, dating back to the earliest days of imperialism.

Great Sphinx of Giza - Giza

Luxor Temple - Luxor

Koutoubia Minaret - Marrakech

Place Moulay el Hassan - Essaouira

Red Castle - Tripoli

Hassan II Mosque - Casablanca

Tahrir Square - Cairo

Petit Socco - Tangier

Ribat of Sousse - Sousse

Andalusian Garden - Rabat

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront - Cape Town

Ribat of Monastir - Monastir

Hadaba Beach - Sharm el Sheikh

Zitouna Mosque - Tunis

Montazah Palace - Alexandria

Hammamet Beach - Hammamet

Kitchener\'s Island - Aswan

Saint Catherine\'s Monastery - Santa Katarina

St Catherine\'s Monastery - Dahab

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About Africa

History

Modern humans, homo sapiens, are believed to have originated in East Africa somewhere between Ethiopia and Kenya. North Africa has a recorded history dating back to about 3300 BCE with bountiful structures, writings, arts, and crafts which have survived to this day. The ancient Pharonic civilization centered in modern-day Egypt is the longest-lasting and one of the greatest ancient civilizations. Today, their legacy lives on; many of their monuments, temples and cities are well-preserved and have become popular tourist attractions, and museums host their artifacts. Modern Jews believe themselves to be descendants of slaves from ancient Egypt, and much of the Hebrew Bible, religious texts for both Jews and Christians, was based and written in the region. Yet outside of North Africa, Sudan & Ethiopia, very little is known about African history prior to 1000 CE, as most were hunter-gatherers similar to some cultures still found today on the continent, with no writing systems nor lasting structures, arts, or crafts (aside from some cave paintings). The other great early civilizations on the continent were the Nubians in northern Sudan and southern Egypt, who were very similar to the ancient Egyptians, leaving behind the city of Meroe in Sudan, and the Aksumite Empire from the 4th century BC until the 7st century AD in modern-day Ethiopia and eastern Sudan which was important to trade between India and the Roman Empire and an important center of early Christianity.

Later, the Phoenicians, based in what's now Lebanon and part of the coasts of Syria and Israel, colonized North Africa, and established the city of Carthage (now a suburb of Tunis). Eventually, the Carthaginian Republic became a separate one, and ultimately a rival of the Romans as the superpower in the southern Mediterranean. The Romans destroyed Carthage in the Third Punic War in 146 BCE, burning it to the ground.

Roman theater at Leptis Magna, Libya

The 300s BCE brought about the first (and less famous) invasions of Europeans to the continent. In 322 BCE, Alexander the Great invaded Persian-occupied Egypt, establishing the famous city of Alexandria which would go on to serve as an important center of scholarship and Greek culture for many centuries. Meanwhile, the Romans conquered much of the Mediterranean coastline to the west, leaving behind such ruins as Leptis Magna. In the first century CE, Christianity spread through much of the region, first to Egypt, then Nubia, Ethiopia, and on to the Roman Empire.

The Muslim invasion and the beginning of the Arab Slave Trade in the 7th century AD changed the cultural landscape of Northern Africa and large parts of Eastern and Western Africa. The newly-formed Arab caliphate invaded North Africa and the Horn of Africa within a few decades. In the west, Berbers would intermarry with the Arab invaders to become the Moorish population that would later invade the Iberian peninsula. When Damascus was invaded in the early eighth century, the Islamic religious and political center of the Mediterranean shifted to Kairouan in Tunisia. Their progress was limited only by the dense forests of West and Central Africa and to coastal areas in the East. The last region to come under Muslim influence was that of Nubia (moden-day northern Sudan) in the 14th century.

The 7th-9th centuries would be a time contributing significant changes to the history of sub-Saharan Africa. In the west, there was a rise of large and powerful inland kingdoms, such as the Ghana (in Mali & Mauritania, no relation to modern Ghana), Dahomey (which lasted until French capture in 1894, now Benin), Za/Gao (in Mali and Niger), Kanem (in Chad), and Bornu (in Nigeria). As many of these kingdoms converted to Islam, trans-Saharan trade grew as salt and gold were transported to Libya and Egypt in large caravans—a trade made possible by the introduction of camels from Arabia in the 10th century and would support much of the area from northern Nigeria west to Mali and Mauritania until the 19th century. During the 13th-16th centuries, many of these early kingdoms were replaced with new empires, chief among them the Mali (in Mali, Guinea, and Senegal) and later Soghay (in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger) and a plethora of small, single-tribe kingdoms and city-states sprouted. Many of Mali's popular tourist destinations, including Timbuktu, Djenne, and Gao, rose to prominence during this period as they became centers of trade and Islamic scholarship. The Hausa tribes in northern Nigeria began organizing in walled city states, of which remnants remain in Kano. Coastal, forested West Africa remained largely unorganized, with the exceptions of a few Yoruba city-states of Benin, Ife, & Oyo along with small Dahomey and Igbo empires all in modern-day Benin and Nigeria.

Meanwhile, East Africa saw a rise of Islamic influence and prosperity from Indian Ocean trade as ships from Arabia, Persia, India, and as far as Southeast Asia dropped anchor in major ports from Somalia down to Mozambique bringing spices and in return for slaves and ivory. Between the 7th and 19th centuries, over 18 million people were taken from the region as part of the Arab slave trade—roughly twice as many as the Atlantic slave trade would take to the Americas. Today, that influence remains in the culture and gastronomy of many places, most notably on the Indian Ocean islands such as Zanzibar, Comoros, the Seychelles, and Mauritius.

Ruins at Great Zimbabwe

Southern Africa remained undeveloped, with primarily nomadic hunter-gatherers such as the San people and some small kingdoms. The Kingdom of Zimbabwe (namesake of today's state) was one of the most notable, constructing the greatest stone structures in pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa at their capital Great Zimbabwe. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe in modern eastern South Africa also left smaller stone ruins. Both profited from the trade in gold and ivory with Arab and Asian merchants.

While a few Genoese, Castillian, and French explorers managed to reach parts of West Africa in the Middle Ages, European exploration of the continent truly began when Prince "Henry the Navigator" set out to acquire African territory for Portugal in the mid-15th century. The Portuguese reached Cape Verde in 1445, and by 1480, had charted the course to and began trade with the entire Guinea coast (modern Guinea-Bissau to Nigeria). In 1482, Diogo Cão reached the mouth of the Congo River, in 1488 Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope (the southern tip of Africa), and in 1498 Vasco da Gama sailed up the eastern coast, where in Kenya his expedition set up a trading post at Malindi before finding a guide to take them to India. The Portuguese set up numerous forts along the African coast and established a highly profitable trade, (initially) held good relations with locals, and remained the dominant European power in the region until the 17th century while Spain, France, and Britain began exploring the Americas.

Slaving castle in Cape Coast, Ghana

The lucrative trade and large amounts of gold obtained by the Portuguese lured other nations to the continent. As the demands for labor in the Americas grew, Portuguese sailors began taking shiploads of slaves to the Americas, beginning the Atlantic slave trade. In the early 17th century, the Dutch fought the Portuguese to win control of most of their West and Central African ports, some (like Luanda) would be retaken later, and established a couple dozen forts of their own, notably at Goree Island in Dakar and at the Cape of Good Hope—a port they hoped to use for trade routes to East Asia and which has become modern-day Cape Town. In 1642, the French built their first fort on Madagascar (which they claimed in 1667) and in 1663, the British built their first fort on the continent in the Gambia. Swedish merchants established a fort on Cape Coast, which later was overpowered by the Danish nearby at modern Accra.

In the 19th century, European attention shifted from establishing coastal ports for trade to fighting one another to colonize the continent and explore its uncharted interior. With slavery abolished by Britain and their strong efforts to thwart slavery around the world, Europe began to look for other sources of wealth on the continent. The most successful European colony, the Dutch Cape Colony, was seized by the British in 1795. Napoleonic France conquered Egypt in 1798, notably discovering the Rosetta Stone, only to be forced out by the British and then the Turks. France invaded a significant amount of coastal West Africa and the Barbary states in Algeria, cutting rampant piracy in the region. Accounts of brave adventurers travelling inland to find places such as Mount Kilimanjaro and rumored "inland sea" (the Great Lakes) and city of gold on the Nile sparked a wave of exploration in the mid-century primarily by Catholic and Jesuit missionaries in the Southern, Eastern, & Great Lakes regions of Africa. Chief among explorers was the British national hero David Livingstone, who as a poor missionary with few porters explored much of Southern and Eastern Africa, flowed down the Congo River from its sources, and sought the source of the Nile. In West & Central Africa, French, Belgian, & Spanish explorers ventured into the Sahara to find the legendary Timbuktu and Malian gold mines and the Congo in search of the Pygmies and hairy, large peoples (gorillas) of Greek legend.

Colonial division of Africa, 1914

As accounts of Africa's interior reached Europe, nations and merchants began to view the continent as a major source of commerce and wealth, similar to their Asian exploits, while the philanthropic and missionary class saw a great opportunity to "Christianize" and "civilize" the savage people of Africa. With social Darwinism introduced, many countries saw Africa as a great opportunity to establish colonial empires and establish their preeminence among other European nations, chiefly Germany to catch up with other European nations and France, to regain glories lost in North America and under Napoleon. Britain and Portugal joined this Scramble for Africa when they saw their interests threatened. In 1885, the Berlin Conference brought together European colonial powers to carve up the continent into defined colonial territories with many straight lines and no input from any African kingdom or settlement. Following the Berlin meeting, Italy was put as a 'protector' over Ethiopia. In 1898 Italy waged a full flung war to colonize Ethiopia and they were defeated at the battle of Adwa. This was possible because all Ethiopians came together under emperor Menlik II to stand together. This marks the first time Africans win over European invaders.

At the turn of the 20th century, Britain began a series of deadly South African Wars from their Cape Colony into surrounding African and Boer (white descendants of the Dutch) lands in modern South Africa, which brought Cecil Rhodes to fame for his vision to conquer and bring unite Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. The dense jungles of Central Africa lured Joseph Conrad, who wrote the novel Heart of Darkness from his experience. World War I saw one battle in German East Africa (Tanzania) which the British lost, although post-war, German possessions were divided among France, Belgium, & the UK. The Union of South Africa was granted independence from the UK in 1930. World War Two saw Ethiopia invaded for three years by Italy along with major fighting in North Africa in which the Nazis were eventually evicted by the Allies. It was the social changes stemming from the war, in which tens of thousands of Africans fought for their colonial power, along with the Atlantic Charter which led to the spread of nationalistic movements post-war.

Dates of independence across Africa.

The decolonization of Africa began with Libyan independence from Italy in 1951. Colonial powers employed varying means of control over their colonies, some granting natives representation in the government and cultivating a select few civil servants while others maintained a firm grip with an all-European government. In some countries, nationalist movements were quashed and their leaders killed or jailed while others were able to peacefully achieve independence. In the 1950s, Guinea, Ghana, & North African nations gained independence non-violently with the exception of Algeria, where France violently fought independence movements until 1963. With the establishment and new constitution of France's Fifth Republic in 1958, French West Africa & French Equatorial Africa ceased to exist and, after a brief "community" with France, the countries of these regions gained independence in 1960. By 1970, all but a handful of African nations were independent. The Portuguese bitterly fought to maintain their African possessions until 1975; all but one gained independence through war. Zimbabwe was the last major colony to gain independence from a non-African colonial overlord, in 1980, following a 14-year period of rule by a white minority government not recognized by Britain, the former colonial power. In 1990, semi-autonomous Namibia gained independence from South Africa and in 1993, Eritrea separated from Ethiopia following a protracted war. South Africa remained under firm control by its white minority, suppressing its black population under a system called apartheid until 1994. Morocco maintains control over Western Sahara, despite an established independence movement and remains a point of contention between Morocco and Algeria. South Sudan became independent after a referendum was held in 2011.

Europe divided Africa with complete disregard for the cultures and ethnic groups in Africa, often dividing a people between two or more countries and forcing peoples with a history of fighting or differing religions into one country. Additionally, a lack of training in civil service before and even after independence left most countries with dysfunctional governments. Leaders tended to reward their own ethnic groups with jobs and money, and in many cases suppressed ethnic minorities. This has been a cause of much strife post-independence across much of sub-Saharan Africa and has led to dozens of prolonged civil wars (notably in Sudan, Angola, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), countless coups, and countless inept, corrupt leaders. The discovery of valuable natural resources such as oil, uranium, diamonds, and coltan (columbite–tantalite, an ore from which the rare earth metals niobium and tantalum, in very high demand for technological products, are extracted) is one of the reasons separatist movements have sprung up, motivated in part by the greed of warlords and in part by the neglect of resource-rich areas that want a share in the profits, like the oil-rich exclave of Cabinda, Angola and the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Fortunately, there are numerous examples in Africa where past conflict has made way for functional governments, offering some hope for the future of Africa.

Climate

As the second largest continent, there is a wide range of climates to be found. However, since the continent is nearly centered on the equator, much of the continent is quite warm/temperate with very few, small areas on the continent experiencing any temperatures that can be considered "cold". In the temperate regions (parts of northern Morocco & the Mediterranean coast as well as South Africa), temperatures generally range from the 10s C to the mid-30s°C (40s-90s°F) year round. Closer to the equator and on islands like Cape Verde or Mauritius, temperatures may only vary less than 20 degrees Celsius (15-35°C/65-95°F) throughout the year. In the deserts and arid regions like the Sahel and Horn of Africa, temperatures routinely hit 40°C+ (and even 50°C+ in the heart of the Sahara) but because sand does not retain heat like most soil does, those same places can easily fall down to 15°C at night. There are a few bastions of cooler weather, however. Higher elevations, such as the Atlas Mountains in Morocco & Algeria or in Lesotho, are quite cold and snowy during winter and Mount Kilimanjaro, almost on the equator, is cold year-round (cold enough to support glaciers!). Peaks on islands such as Reunion, the Canary Islands, Cameroon and other countries are cool enough to necessitate a jacket much of the year.

A far more important factor to consider when travelling to Africa is when the rain/monsoon season occurs. Timing varies a bit even in neighboring countries, so check the page of the country you are visiting for more info. In West Africa the season starts in March around Cameroon, but not until June in Senegal or the Sahel and ends around September. While rain may not be a huge factor when travelling to southern or East Africa, it is very problematic in West Africa and on islands in the Indian Ocean. In West Africa, rains will often flood and make many roads and railroads impassable and, due to poor drainage, can literally result in rivers of water flowing down streets and sewage lines overflowing. In the Sahel, it can result in flash floods in low-lying areas.

The largest weather-related dangers for travellers to Africa are lightning and tropical cyclones. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has more lightning strikes each year than any other country on earth, especially in the eastern part of the country near Goma. Lightning risk is highest from western Kenya/Tanzania and Ethiopia west to Senegal and south to Angola and Zambia. Tropical cyclones affect the islands of the Indian Ocean, with the season running from 15 November-30 April (15 May in the Seychelles & Mauritius). Tropical cyclones also infrequently affect the horn of Africa near Djibouti & Somalia, but when they do, the arid land results in major flooding. Tropical cyclones often form off the coast of western West Africa (Guinea/Senegal) during the early part of the Atlantic Hurricane Season (June–August) and will rarely impact Cape Verde, for which these particular storms are called "Cape Verde-type hurricanes".

Activities

For many travelers to Africa, a safari is the highlight of their trip and safaris today are one of the—if not the—greatest tourism draws in Africa. In popular use, it refers to overland travel to view the stunning African wildlife, particularly on savanna. "Primate safaris" and safaris in forests/jungle are covered in the "See/Flora & Fauna" section above. Aside from North Africa and the limited opportunities in the Sahel, most countries have at least one national park offering visitors the opportunity to go "on safari".

Safari is the Swahili word for a long journey (by any means). The safari as known to Westerners originates in an 1836-37 British expedition set out purely to observe and document wildlife and landscapes of southern Africa. This expedition set forward a style to be followed later by many other colonial-era expeditions and hunting parties in the savannas of Southern & East Africa, beginning with a minimally-strenuous rising at first light, an energetic day walking, an afternoon rest then concluding with a formal dinner and telling stories in the evening over drinks and tobacco. It is from these Victorian-era explorers that khaki clothes, pith helmets, multi-pocketed safari jackets, and leopard-print clothes and accessories have become associated with safari style.

Today, a safari can take on a range of forms, from week-long stays at a private lodge with daytrips on the savanna in search of the "Big five" to a minibus and guide hired for the day to drive backpackers through a national park to view the wildlife. Not only do the general travel styles (accommodations, transport, difficulty, etc.) cover a wide range of options, but the terrain and types of wildlife also vary greatly by region. The most common image of a safari is one in which travelers are taken by 4x4 across the savanna in search of the "Big five" that generally attract the most interest—elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, & buffalo. Such safaris are offered primarily in Southern and East Africa, particularly Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, & South Africa. Safaris in this region are big business and nearly all local governments are keen on conservation and aware that the volume of visitors generated is a boost to their economy. As a result, many parks have strict regulations both on visitor activities and behavior in the park and on the safari guides who operate in them along with modest-to-expensive entry & camping fees. Among the most well-known park to experience such safaris are South Africa's Kruger National Park, Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater, the Okavango Delta region of Botswana, and the Tsavo East/West National Parks. Nairobi National Park on the edge of Kenya's sprawling capital is popular for its accessible location and the ever-elusive picture of cheetahs with skyscrapers in the distance.

The three basic safari styles are driving safari, walking safaris, & mobile safaris. In some regions, possible options include safaris on boats/canoes (similar to driving safaris) or riding on horses or elephants (similar to walking safaris). Some operators offer aerial trips over parks on hot air balloon or light aircraft which are marketed as "safaris", offering breath-taking views of the environment, but aren't as good for wildlife viewing as traditional safaris (except for the rare glimpse of large herds of animals. A "fly-in safari" is the term used for any of these types of safari where the visitor is flown directly (or very close) to a lodge on light aircraft, rather than arrive at an international airport and driving hours overland to the lodge. The driving safari is by far the most popular form of safari and is best for most first-timers as it is easier, often cheaper, and generally allows you to see more wildlife. A driving safari can be a one-day affair, but it often includes a couple nights spent camping (for low budgets) or in lodges within the park. Low-price driving safaris are often made in minibuses without a guaranteed window seat. Luxury safaris on a large budget will likely include drives in a 4x4 Land Cruiser or Land Rover with only a handful of others and stays at fine lodges with swimming pools, spas, private balconies, and numerous other quality amenities. A walking safari (also called a "bush walk", "hiking safari", or going "footing") consists of hiking, either for a few hours or several days. These safaris don't permit viewing as many animals as when driving, but allows a much more intimate experience. Hiking, safari goers will be able to get closer to some animals (not too close, as most are dangerous) and have experiences like stumbling upon the bones of a recent lion kill. Mobile safaris are the ultimate in luxury. Harkening back to the colonial era, a mobile safari is where an entire camp or lodge is set up each night of your safari. Waking up in the morning, you will leave by 4x4 or foot to explore the park, a small camp with meals already prepared is set up for lunch, and after more sightseeing, you arrive at a luxurious camp of spacious living, dining, and sleeping tents outfitted with comfortable chairs, beds, and accessories. These camps are moved during the day by an team of staff you likely won't encounter and ready for your arrival at the next location each night.

Interior of a more luxurious tented camp.
  • For the most basic trips of groups packed in a minivan and camping overnight, travelers should have a minimum budget of US$70/day, while some of the most visited parks may cost US$100–150/day for such a trip. For luxury trips consisting of flying into a lodge for a week with guided, personal 4x4 trips onto the savanna with an assurance of seeing every animal desired can easily run over US$1000/day. If a tour operator offers you a package at a price that seems too good to be true, it often is, and there is probably a good reason why (unless it's an outright lie) someone might be offering a significantly lower price than a dozen other operators for the same park. This can be the result of hidden fees (arriving at the park, when the operator tells you to pay your US$50 entrance fee or camping permit...it wasn't covered), large errors/omissions/lies when calculating a price, an unlicensed operator, abusive labor practices (paying inexperienced porters exceptionally low wages compared with other operators), poor equipment (riding a 30 year old minibus in disrepair), length of the trip (a "daytrip" may be a quick 4 hr drive, not a slow journey from dawn-dusk), and extras that you may not have thought of or which this operator plans to charge a steep fee (not providing food, water, sunscreen, & insect repellant...but offering snacks for a fee). Make sure to thoroughly check what each tour operator provides in their cost and make sure it gets put in writing before payment and the start of the safari! You may also want to ask fellow travelers in hotels, hostels, or restaurants for their experiences with local safari operators.
  • Self-drive safaris are possible in some parks, but highly discouraged for first-time safari goers. For some parks, part of licensing tour guides is education on the local wildlife & environment, which independent safari goers will miss out on, and a good guide will know the best times & places to glimpse wildlife, which is largely lost on independent safaris. Most parks have placed restrictions on the behavior of visitors for both conservation purposes and your safety, especially, which may be difficult for novices to follow when unaccompanied. Roads are often rough and sometimes difficult to navigate without offroad driving experience. Not only that, but most rental car agencies will not rent vehicles without a driver or for off-road use. Independent drivers will also want an HF radio to communicate with park rangers & others for safety reasons and should not exit their vehicle without a firearm—obviously those lions & leopards bringing down massive wildebeest and zebras will have easy pickings preying on you! The relatively high entrance fees for most parks (and, if applicable, vehicle rental) often narrows the difference in cost between an independent driving safari and going with a licensed operator to the point that the latter is a good value.
The downside to visiting large parks. One vehicle spots a lion in the shade (hidden), reports their location on the radio, and within minutes, a dozen other vehicles arrive on scene for the sight.
  • Bear in mind that most wildlife parks and reserves are large, with some animals elusive and/or nocturnal. For this reason, booking a longer safari allows you to see more of what you want to see. One-day safaris are often touted in small towns near major parks. However, a part of your trip will be spent between orientation and simply driving to/from the park and 8 hours and US$100 later, you may be disappointed in only seeing a couple of the big five from a long distance away. Most people will want to spend at least 3 days (2 nights) on safari, allowing time to slowly drive through areas rich in animal life, wait patiently in spots for animals to pass by, drive close to groups of animals, and maybe even venture out at night to view lions on the hunt or the nocturnal & elusive leopard.
  • Some people believe it is more ethical to only support locals (ie.African owned/operated tour operators) as part of a sustainable or ethical/responsible travel ideology. There are pros and cons to practicing this when trying to book a safari and the ultimate choice is left to the individual. There are many quality safari operators owned, run, & staffed by locals who provide a good product liked by their clients. However, for every quality local safari operator, there are 1-2 operators who are dishonest (with fees & promises), offer poor service (broken promises, lack of good equipment like tents, use very old/unsafe vehicles), operate unlicensed, don't offer proper equipment (no firearms when leaving vehicle, use poorly maintained vehicles), or circumvent laws (not acquire proper permits or respect conservation laws), while some con-artists will approach travelers as safari operators and seem convincing only to disappear after receiving payment or after a small part of the promised safari has been provided. On the other hand, there are many Caucasian safari operators who have lived in Africa for a considerable portion of their lives and are keen on conservation, pay local staff better than African-owned safari operators, work with locals in nearby communities to supply fresh fruits or veggies, and are more knowledgeable both with the local environment and Western culture (more relatable in conversation, more fluent in English). Ecotourism and establishments practicing responsible tourism are increasingly common in sub-Saharan Africa and with higher cost of running such establishments (lodges, tour operators), many are not owned/operated by locals yet nonetheless operate to ethical standards. In short, the merits of responsible travel are noble, but when discerning which safari operator to chose, the answer is not black-and-white (pardon the pun), with a wide number of factors to consider and the ultimate choice being left to the traveler.

Climbing

Africa does not have tall, jagged mountain ranges comparable to the Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, or Alps and there are very few mountains requiring technical gear. The Atlas Mountains across Morocco, Algeria, & Tunisia; the Drakensberg in South Africa & Lesotho; the Semian Mountains in Ethiopia; and the Rwenzori Mountains between Uganda & the DRC are the only considerable mountain ranges on the continent, all with numerous peaks which can be easily climbed. Additionally, there are some tall volcanoes along the Great Rift Valley, on the Indian Ocean islands, & in Cameroon. Some of the continent's most climbed or unique mountains are:

  • Mount Kilimanjaro (5895 m) in Tanzania near the Kenya border is the continent's highest peak, the world's tallest free-standing mountain, and perhaps the most climbed mountain on the continent, owing to its accessibility and the lack of need of technical gear. The range of scenery one passes from base to peak makes it a destination almost all climbers have on their wishlist.
  • Mount Kenya (5199 m) is Kenya's tallest mountain and also popular climb with many non-technical walking and climbing routes through lush scenery and is less than 200 km from Nairobi. The surrounding national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Jbel Toubkal (4165 m) near Marrakech, Morocco is the tallest peak in the Atlas Mountains and can be climbed without technical gear in summer.
  • Mount Cameroon (4040 m) in Cameroon is an active volcano that rises straight out of the ocean and is covered in tropical forest and almost always shrouded in clouds/mist. Fast-paced hikes to the top and back are possible in a day.
  • Mount Nyiragongo (3470 m) in the DRC on the Rwanda border is one of just 3-4 volcanoes in the world with a lava lake in its crater. A climb takes ~8 hours and involves camping on a ledge at the top—a safe 700 m above the lake—for the night (of course, the steaming, bubbling lava is more spectacular at night).

Abseiling and rock climbing can be done in many parts of Africa, with many opportunities in South Africa.

Trekking and hiking

Most of Africa's mountain ranges and highlands are suitable for trekking. The Drakensberg in South Africa & Lesotho, Ethiopian Highlands, and Mali's Dogon Country are the most popular trekking destinations in Africa and most guidebooks to these countries describe the most popular routes. In the dense jungles of the CAR & DRC treks, almost always organized, to pygmy settlements are available. Established trekking routes exist in the forests of Guinea's Fouta Djallon highlands and Cameroon.

The Aïr Massif in Niger is popular for hiking around its sand scraped rock formations and oases, usually short distances from your camel or vehicle transport. Hiking can also be done in many forests with established paths. In Uganda, Rwanda, & the adjacent DRC, hiking to see the endangered mountain gorilla is a major tourism draw, although permits are US$500 to spend hours hiking through tropical forests to spend 1 hour in close proximity to the gorillas.

Sport fishing

Diving

There are a good number of great scuba diving sites across Africa. The Red Sea off Egypt offers clear, tranquil waters. Diving in the Indian Ocean is common off all islands and on the continent from Kenya south. Diving in South Africa is most famous for "shark dives", where divers are lowered in cages to watch sharks feed on bait, although other diving opportunities exist. Few locations inland are popular with divers; Lake Malawi—which is clear, deep and filled with unique species—is the only lake with a significant number of dive operators.

Relax on a beach

Africa has a very long coastal line with thousands of beautiful beaches as it is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

Ecotourism

Sports

Football is the most widespread and popular sporting event with games between countries usually drawing tens of thousands of patriotic, cheering fans filling basic stadiums. Watching a football match in Africa is a must; try to dress in the colors of the home team and join the cheering celebration with your neighbors! The biennial Africa Cup of Nations is the continent's premier championship. The most recent ACoN was held in South Africa in 2013. Upcoming Cups will be hosted by Morocco (2015) & Libya (2017). South Africa played host to the first African FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Rugby is played by several former British colonies in Southern & Eastern Africa.

Shopping

The three easiest currencies to exchange within Africa are the Euro, US Dollar, & Pound Sterling. In some countries with a large tourism sector Australian & Canadian dollars and Japanese Yen may be exchanged at large banks and some currency exchanges, but you will receive a poor exchange rate as these currencies are uncommon and more troublesome for the banks in turn to exchange. The continent is roughly split between a blocks where the US dollar is easiest to exchange and use and where the euro is.

Due to concerns about counterfeiting, money exchangers, banks, and most likely even merchants will not accept US dollar banknotes that are worn or older than 2001. As strange as that sounds, it seems to be a steadfast rule among anyone dealing much in dollars and you will find it difficult or even impossible to dispose of worn or pre-2001 dollar banknotes. The same does not seem to hold true for euros, but may for other non-African currencies.

With few exceptions, African currencies are generally not accepted by banks or money changers outside their native territory, or at least not at a decent exchange rate. The currencies of some smaller countries are non-exchangeable and become worthless abroad, with some countries prohibiting export of their currencies and confiscating and even fining people leaving the country with currency (most notably the Angolan kwanza).

There are three currency unions in Africa:

  • Common Currency Area (using South African rand): South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, & Namibia.
  • West African CFA franc (XOF): Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, & Togo.
  • Central African CFA franc (XAF): Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, & Gabon

Despite sharing the same name and same exchange rate (655.957 CFA francs = €1), the two "CFA franc" currencies are issued by different banks and are NOT interchangeable. A 1000 CFA franc banknote from Gabon will not be accepted by a merchant in Benin, and vice versa. Indeed, even with banks and money changers it will likely be easier (and you'll receive a better exchange rate) to exchange Euros or even US dollars. Given the fixed exchange, if visiting any of these countries, euros will receive a more favorable exchange rate.

The Mauritanian ouguiya & Malagasy ariary are the only two non-decimal currencies currently in use in the world, divided into 1/5th fractions known as khoums & iraimbilanja, respectively.

US dollar

The U.S. dollar has been the de facto currency of Zimbabwe since the collapse of the Zimbabean dollar and allowance of foreign currency as tender in January 2009. The Djiboutian franc (117.721=US$1) and Eritrean nakfa (16.5=$1) are pegged to the dollar.

The U.S. dollar is the easiest currency to exchange (and may receive a better exchange rate compared to the euro) in Southern Africa and East Africa, as well as the DRC, Nigeria, & Liberia. Many tour operators, tourist attractions, and hotels in these regions set their prices in dollars, some even going as far as to offer poor exchange rates for or even refuse local currency. Also, many countries in these regions set their visa prices in dollars and will only accept dollars (or perhaps pound sterling).

Euro

The euro is the official currency of France's Mayotte & Reunion territories, Spain's Canary Islands and Portugal's Madeira and Porto Santo. The West & Central African CFA francs are pegged to the euro at 655.975 (formerly, simply 100 to the French franc). The Moroccan dirham is pegged (with a fluctuation band) to the euro at roughly 10 dirhams to one euro. The Cape Verdean escudo is pegged at 110.265 to one euro and the Comoran franc is pegged at 491.9678 to one euro. The Sao Tome and Principe dobra was fixed at 24500 to 1 euro in 2010 to guarantee stability—it was worth just 12000 per euro in 2004.

The Euro is the easiest currency to exchange and receives the best exchange rate in countries whose currencies are fixed to the euro, with strong European ties, and/or where the majority of tourists are European. This generally corresponds with North Africa, the Sahel, West Africa, & Central Africa with the exceptions of Egypt, Sudan, & Ghana, neither the euro nor dollar is better, and Nigeria, the DRC, & Liberia. Due to the relevantly recent creation of the Euro and long-standing status of the dollar, beware that there are some regions of Africa where people either have never heard of the euro or will see it as worthless.

South African rand

The South African rand is an official currency and widely circulated in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, & Namibia. Although the latter three issue their own currencies, they are pegged 1:1 with the rand and are not legal tender in the other countries as is the SA rand. The rand has also been accepted in Zimbabwe since the Zimbabwean dollar's demise, but not as widely as the U.S. dollar. It is also readily exchanged (and sometimes accepted for payment) in Botswana and Mozambique as well as most of the tourist spots in Botswana and Zambia.

Markets

Prohibited items

Trade in ivory is prohibited by nearly all countries in the world, with hefty penalties and even jail time for offenders. Many animal products (some commonly found in fetish markets) are also banned by western countries, such as tortoise shells, tusks of any animal, or any part of or item made with an endangered species. Some African countries keen on conservation will prosecute all violators to the fullest extent of the law...so be careful when purchasing animal products unless you want to spend years in an African prison. Keep in mind that even if an item may be exported from an African country it may be illegal to import into a Western country; both the EU and US have strict laws on importing animal products in the name of conservation.

Some medications which may be purchased without a prescription in Western countries or parts of Africa may contain ingredients considered illegal narcotics or controlled substances in some countries. In particular, diphenhydramine is a "controlled substance" in Zambia and several Americans have been fined and jailed on drug-trafficking charges for possessing the over-the-counter allergy medicine Benadryl (elsewhere called Dimedrol) and the pain reliever Advil PM whose main active ingredient is diphenhydramine.

Drug trafficking is as common an offense as in most Western countries. The list of which substances are considered prohibited or restricted drugs varies from country to country. Khat which is readily grown and consumed in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, is an illicit drug in most other African countries. Organized drug trafficking is a major problem in Guinea & Guinea-Bissau en route from South America to Europe.

As with most countries, check local laws concerning antiquities before trying to leave the country with anything that appears to be over 100 years old.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Africa on Wikivoyage.

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