Earth Day and World Wide Instameets in some of our favorite cities (peep #letsgogreen_nai and #dakarinstameet) had our entire team thinking about the special places that leave you awestruck when you arrive. Africa is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world, so abundant in resources and culturally diverse that it should come as no surprise that there are about 135 Heritage sites curated by UNESCO for the preservation of the continent’s most fascinating places and customs.
A combination of lived experiences, research on the interwebs, and some “scientific – like” algorithms helped us come up with a list of what we believe are some of the most unreal places on earth. These places are important hubs for visitors, meaning extra care has been put into maintaining these beautiful spaces and making sure you can figure out how to actually navigate and understand the context that makes them great. Here’s our list of our seven favorite places best experienced #IRL.
Disclaimer: The images below may incite a serious case of the travel bug.
- Simien Mountains National Park | Ethiopia
Do you consider yourself a regular bucket list beast? Do your travelgrams include epic hikes and mountain top selfies? This one’s for you. Located in Northern Ethiopia, it was one of the first four sites to be inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1978 and has been a top attraction ever since. Every angle looks like it belongs in a frame. Simien is a blend of jagged mountains covered in a blanket of lush green moss and is home to so many rare wildlife species. The park is inhabited by settlers who are extremely friendly and open to sharing bits of their culture over a cup of coffee (aka buna) in their homes. Did we also mention plunging waterfalls? We feel the namaste coming on.
You can experience the mountains independently with a little advance planning – the official site of the park is surprisingly helpful for looking up hike routes, overnight options, and all that jazz. There are also private services that organize group tours, camp-outs and luxury digs – it’ll run you about $300 – $400 USD a night to go this route. We recommend Simien Mountains Ethiopian Tour, they’ve been in the game for years and are open to customizing something special if you’re rolling with a group.
- Asante Traditional Homes | Ghana
Ghana’s cultural capital is high in these global streets. Most people know about Kente cloth, Kwame Nkrumah has long been the man, and Azonto is still a good throwback Afrobeat hit. If you ever want to go a bit deeper in your understanding of the place that birthed these trends, this site should be at the top of your list. Take a trip back in time and learn about one of the most influential tribes in Ghana. These homes were built during the Ashanti Era in the 18th century and inscribed to the UNESCO list as being “rare surviving examples of a significant traditional architectural style of the influential, powerful and wealthy Asante kingdom.”
There are 13 buildings in total scattered around the villages in the outskirts of Kumasi. They may be a bit challenging to find if you are exploring solo without a guide but you could think of it as an adventure of some sort, a scavenger hunt for relics of an old city that is, if you are into that kind of thing. While you are at it, you might as well grab some brag-worthy items from the local artisans market. More likely to be authentic than some of the things you’ll find in the capital city of Accra, you can bring back a treasure trove of stories in addition to your souvenirs. If going alone is not your thing, keep your eyes peeled on the TSTMKRS app. A new release includes walking and biking tours to these sites and more insider experiences in Kumasi.
- Kilimanjaro National Park | Tanzania
You probably have been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of Kilimanjaro National Park. It is one of the most visited parks on the continent and cliche does not apply here. Located in Tanzania, there are so many things to do here, the most epic being climbing the mountain with Africa’s highest peak and feeling like a superhero for making it. Animals everywhere, amazing trails, and the stunning Lake Chala. Definitely make this a must do while getting your mother earth on. The lake actually changes color depending on the time of year you visit. Need to see a little bit more of nature showing out? Head over to Kikuletwa Hotsprings just 90 minutes away by car. Seem like way too much to organize yourself? the good people at Local Moshi would be happy to make your visit a memorable one.
- Kenya’s Lake System | Kenya
Ever scrolled through your IG feed to find beautiful people surrounded by flamingos? There’s a good chance you could’ve come across Kenya’s lake system. Often missed on people’s safari vacays, Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita are home to thousands of bird species, wildlife and interesting geological sites due to its volcanic history. Fast becoming a gallopers dream, check out some of these resorts at the park, wake up to an amazing view of the hills, have breakfast by the lake and set out for a day of adventure. From geysers, to bird watching, to canoeing along the shores, the views and moments are magical.
- Victoria Falls | Zambia and Zimbabwe
There is a reason Victoria Falls is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year – it really is that epic. Right on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, it has been describe many things, the most popular being… “scenes so wonderful it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flights.” There is so much to experience, from the enchanting landscapes to the calming sounds of the current and if you are lucky a beautiful rainbow arc at the top of the fall. The park also offers extreme sport activities like bungee jumping, water rafting, zip wires and for the not so adventurous, river cruises, elephant rides, safari adventures. One of our favorite ways to visit – partying during Vic Falls Carnival , a New Year’s Eve festival with a pretty epic line up of local and international acts that will definitely go down in your “best ever” memory book.
- Ksar Of Ait Benhaddou | Morocco
If you happen to have a “tour a real hollywood film set” checkbox on your list, you can visit the mother of all “ancient cities” at Ksar Of Ait Benhaddou. It’s been featured in Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and recent cult favorite Game of Thrones. This city of earthen structures was built in the 17th century and served as one of the trading posts linking Ancient Sudan to Marrakesh. Rich in cultural history and architectural finesse, it’s a really interesting addition to a desert experience in Morocco. For as little as 10 dirham ($1 USD), you get access to the buildings or you can request a tour guide for a few bucks more. You can also explore the desert dunes on camel ride and watch the Marrakech sunset, spend a night or two at the Kasbah Tebi or seek out pop-up markets in the surrounding villages for souvenirs.
- Island Of Goree | Senegal
A scenic ferry ride away from Dakar, lies the beautiful Island of Goree which from the 15th-19th century was one of the largest slave trading centers on the West African coast. Characterized by colorful french colonial homes, narrow streets, vibrant bougainvillea flowers, and car ban – this pilgrimage point is more than meets the eye. From tales of the Signares – mixed race women who ruled the islands’ business world, to barely explored underground tunnels crafted by escapees and mercenaries, there are many tales untold. The feeling and energy of Goree is hard to describe – hence it rounding out our list of places you must go.
Try and catch the curator at La Maison des Esclaves for a deeper experience at the famous landmark, explore the little ‘dungeons’ of The Castel, then take a break at Chevalier de Boufflers or the little seafood restaurant to the left of the Maison to enjoy some thiou (tomato based beef and fish stew with chunky veggies served on a bed of rice) and maybe some local beer with bissau (trust us on this one). If you are looking to stay a few nights, there are hotels and small bnb’s on the island. The overnight isn’t done by most and offers a completely different look at the island by moonlight. If a day trip is more your style, our advice is to head out from Dakar late morning and stay until the last ferry returns to Dakar at 7PM (1900 h).
Caught the travel bug yet? Take advantage of our concierge services and let us help you make your trips to these locations, an epic one.