10 Must-See Places In Africa That Will Beat Your All-Inclusive Tourist Trap

by Philip Etemesi

Africa is arguably the best continent for vacation seekers, thanks to its expansive landscapes and formidable animal life. Throw in a sense of being in a place that hasn't changed in centuries, and you have some of the most inspiring (and inspired) spots on the planet.

If you are looking to explore the world's second largest continent, here are 10 insane places you should check out:

1. Nyiragongo Volcano In Virunga National Park, Eastern Congo

If you like being near danger, this is the spot for you. A whopping 2 kilometers wide and usually containing a lava lake, Nyiragongo volcano is one of Africa's most active volcanoes. It had an eruption in 2002 that displaced half a million people.

2. Fish River Canyon, Namibia

With a depth of 500 meters and a length of more than 160 kilometers, this great rift is second only to the United States' Grand Canyon in size. During the dry season, it is characterized by beautiful turquoise pools of seasonally-flowing water stretching into the distance.

3. Djemaa el Fna, Morocco

It is simply the most exciting town square on planet Earth. Djemaa el Fna reminds you you're in Africa.

In the heart of the old city of Marrakech, snake-charmers, henna-painters, storytellers, date-sellers and orange juice vendors set up their stalls in the sleepy heat of the afternoon. As night falls, the vendors are joined by tribal drummers, dancers and mobile restaurateurs selling delicious grilled meats, bread and salad. The smoke rises above their stalls until past midnight.

4. Lake Malawi, Malawi

"Stunning" is not a word fit enough to describe it. Lake Malawi -- one of the largest lakes in the world -- was dubbed "the lake of stars” by Dr. David Livingstone, who trekked there a century and a half ago.

The lake has more tropical fish than any other lake in the world -- 1,300 species -- and the freshwater diving is great. The biodiversity has been recognized by UNESCO, and they have made the park a World Heritage Site.

5. Sossusvlei Dunes, Namibia

Sossusvlei means "the gathering place of water,” but you'll need to bring your own if you don't want to dehydrate at Namibia's most outstanding attraction. The dunes have been developed over millions of years, as a result of material flowing from the Orange River into the Atlantic and returning again to land by the surf.

Climbing the dunes yields breathtaking views. One of these is the Deadvlei, a ghostly expanse of dried white clay, punctuated by skeletons of ancient camel thorn trees.

6. Rwandan Rainforest

A close encounter with the mountain gorillas of the Rwandan rainforest will stay with you for a lifetime. Various operators run tours that track the silverbacks and their troupes in the dense forest.

7. Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana

It's been said that you can hear your own blood flow in this vast area of dried-up salt pans in the Kalahari Desert. But it can transform in an instant during winter if the rains have been good enough to make lush grass sprout. This brings in a stampede of wildlife to break the silence, including zebras, wildebeests and flamingos.

8. Nyika Plateau, Malawi

Nyika, Malawi's largest park, is one of the most unusual in Africa. It has a plateau cut by numerous rivers, and these rivers reach Lake Malawi by way of waterfalls off the eastern edge of the mountains. The eastern border of the plateau forms the wall of the Great Rift Valley.

The great domes of the hills have gentle slopes, making Nyika perfect for both trekking and mountain biking, as well as for jeep exploration. Antelope and zebra are aplenty, and the park has one of the highest densities of leopard in central Africa.

9. Sahara Dunes, Morocco

The most user-friendly part of the Sahara is accessible from the northern edge of Morocco. You can trek with Berbers from the town of Zagoura, or you can camp out in Tazzarine, where runners from all over the world complete the week-long Marathon des Sables every spring.

The foot of the Merzouga Dunes is the ultimate place to star-gaze, as it is totally free of light pollution.

10. Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe

One of the world's most majestic water spectacles, Victoria Falls (also called Mosi-oa-Tunya or "the cloud that thunders") was reportedly first seen by a European when David Livingstone journeyed there in 1855.

Since then, thousands have enjoyed the spray from the 108-meter-high cascade, which was once recorded as flowing at 12,800 cubic meters per second. This is double of Niagara's highest flow.