Given the size and diversity of the African continent, choosing just 10 destinations for this bucket-list was no easy task. Of course, the places that top your must-see list will depend on your personal interests and preferences, but here's a look at 10 of Africa's most evocative, iconic and unmissable spots.
Kenya's Maasai Mara is a wonderland of spectacular scenery, colorful culture, and unparalleled wildlife-spotting opportunities. The park connects to Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, and together, the two parks create the ultimate safari destination. This is your best bet for spotting the Big Five in a single morning, and for witnessing East Africa's famous wildebeest migration. In the Maasai Mara, hot-air balloon safaris offer a once-in-a-lifetime safari experience.
Victoria Falls is defined by plunging, roaring water falling beneath a mystical veil of spray. The falls' indigenous name is "The Smoke That Thunders', and there's nothing quite like witnessing its power from one of the mist-soaked lookout points. Victoria Falls boasts the world's largest sheet of falling water, with over 165 million gallons flowing over the edge per minute during peak flood season. The falls are located on the Zambia/ Zimbabwe border, and can be seen from either country.
The Pyramids of Giza represent one of man's greatest architectural feats. Built more than 5,000 years ago, the Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the world's oldest tourist attractions, and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to have survived the ravages of time intact. There are three main pyramids at Giza; the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. In front of the pyramids lies the Sphinx. These ancient structures inspired the Meroë Pyramids in Sudan.
Founded in 800 AD, Djenné is one of sub-Saharan Africa's oldest cities. Located in central Mali on an island in the Inland Niger Delta, Djenné was a natural hub for 17th and 18th Century traders who shuttled their goods between the Sahara Desert and the forests of Guinea. Djenné was also famous as a center of Islamic learning, and its bustling market square is still dominated by the beautiful Great Mosque. Djenné is located a few hundred miles downstream from Timbuktu and is famous for its adobe architecture.
Known for its first-class culture, exceptional scenery, and gourmet restaurant scene, Cape Town is the jewel in South Africa's crown. From the iconic silhouette of Table Mountain to the golden beaches of the surrounding suburbs, Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the world's most attractive cities. It's also the perfect base for exploring the rest of the Western Cape, including the vineyards of nearby Paarl and Franschhoek. Cape Town is also one of the most culturally diverse cities in Africa and has a reputation for social tolerance.
Situated at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the imperial city of Marrakech is a riot of color and sound. With so much going on, it's a festival for the senses, and one of the continent's most charismatic cities. Stay at a traditional riad in the medina and find yourself surrounded by the souks, food markets and maze-like streets of the old city. Djemma El-Fna square is the heart of the medina and the embodiment of Marrakech, while Majorelle Gardens offer a respite from the city hubbub.
Those in search of true African wilderness should consider a white-water rafting trip on Ethiopia's Omo River. Barely accessible by vehicle, the Omo River Region is largely cut off from the outside world. Because of this, the tribes that live there have retained their traditional customs and way of life, and as such a visit to this remote destination offers a fascinating insight into the indigenous culture. In order to travel safely and to enhance your understanding of local culture, joining an organized tour is strongly advised.
Part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is often rated as one of the best places in the world to see the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Mgahinga boasts a mystical landscape of extinct volcanoes and dense, cloud-topped rainforest. It is part of the Virunga Range, which spans Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC and forms one of the few remaining mountain gorilla habitats. With only around 800 mountain gorillas left, seeing the species in the wild is something only a few people will ever have the privilege to experience.
Africa is known as one of the best destinations for adventure travel and there are few greater challenges than hiking up the world's tallest free-standing mountain. Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro stands at 19,340 feet/ 5,895 meters and takes between five and nine days to summit. Incredibly, reaching Kilimanjaro's peak is possible for anyone with a good level of fitness, as the climb doesn't require specialized climbing equipment or expertise. However, altitude sickness can be a problem for would-be hikers, and pre-climb training is recommended.
Situated off the coast of Tanzania and surrounded by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is famous for its spectacular beaches and fascinating spice trade history. It was also an important slave trading post under its Arab rulers, and their influence is evident today in the architecture of Stone Town, one of the island's top highlights. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stone Town boasts beautiful traditional houses, narrow alleyways, a Sultan's palace, and many mosques. Zanzibar is also a scuba diver's paradise.
Updated by Jessica Macdonald.