A! List Guide to Africa

Get in touch with your wild side in nature's most exotic continent
Thursday , 21 July 2011

The world’s second largest and most-populated continent, Africa, is warm, wild, watery and wonderful. Straddling the equator and encompassing numerous climatic conditions, scientists believe Africa to be the origin of humankind. With its eclectic food, myriad cultures, jolly hospitality, warm spirit and fascinating contradictions, Africa lures you in with magic.

Kenya, East Africa
You’re more likely to see the Big Five here than anywhere else. And you just may be blinded by the billions of stars even more dazzling than Beyonce’s Dhs17 million engagement ring. Do go easy on the lions when their self-indulgent roars keep you awake at night though!

The Masai Mara is a magical area, but its dichotomy is a complex one. With its capital city in Nairobi, it is one of the biggest industrial and business hubs of Africa. The country traditionally produces world renowned tea and coffee, and more recently became a major exporter of fresh flowers to Europe! So those stunning lillies you see peaking out of Europe’s quaint windows, are probably from Kenya!

Travel Note
Escape to The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille in Kenya, East Africa’s most exclusive safari lodge with just four luxurious houses in a 20,000 acre private game reserve. Your own private safari residence comes with a personal butler, valet, Masai safari guide and vehicle. Book into Eyrie House, seductively furnished in African retro style, with a gigantic round bed and your very own secluded outdoor double rock bath with breathtaking views over the rugged hills to Mount Kenya.


Namibia, South West Africa
They’re the world’s fastest and most elusive animals but, as the charity Eland’s Joy puts it, “The cheetah can run 110kmph, yet it can’t run away from habitat loss, a reduced gene pool and conflict with humans and their livestock.”

Safaris are well and good, but for an even more memorable and meaningful experience, why not help to save this graceful cat’s race against extinction?

Eland’s Joy is a 15,000-hectare working farm in Namibia. Home to one of Earthwatch’s ongoing environmental projects, volunteers participate in wildlife surveys, care for captive cheetahs and teach local farmers and school children about conservation.

Extramural activities include trips to Etosha National Park, the largest of Namibia’s game reserves and a magnet for springbok, wildebeest, elephants, lions, rhinos and giraffes since it is a source of water in a very dry land. Two-person rondavels in a solar powered camp will accommodate you with basic but clean facilities. You’ll be expected to muck in – this is a working holiday after all!

Travel Note
Earthwatch Expeditions will be running its monthly cheetah programme throughout 2011 and 2012. A 15-day package starts at Dhs16,000.


Egypt, North Africa
Start your Egyptian odyssey at the perplexing Pyramids in Giza. The only surviving structure of the original Seven Wonders Of The World, they were built as tombs for the 4th Dynasty pharaohs approximately 4,500 years ago. Then hop onto The Oberoi Zahra, Luxury Nile Cruiser in Luxor, an all-suite cruise that unveils 5,000 years of Egyptian culture at a gentle pace.

On the West Bank of the ancient Thebes, you’ll visit the Valley Of The Kings, with its royal tombs, the most enigmatic being King Tutankhamen’s. Feel the love in Dendarah at the Temple Of Dendarah, dedicated to Hathor, the Goddess Of Music, Love and Joy. Finally, behold the best-preserved temple of the ancient world in Edfu. Your penultimate day will go off with a bang with a mind-blowing sound and light show at the Philae Temple.

Travel Note
 Splash out on a grand suite with a separate living room, private terrace and Jacuzzi to really enjoy the Nile in style.


The Garden Route, Western Cape
You could do several variations of this route and never tire of its dramatic landscape. The six-hour drive towards South Africa’s Western Cape is spectacular to say the least.

Whether you opt for an adventurous hike in the Tsitsikamma region where whales and dolphins are often spotted along the lush coastal belt, or if you prefer to head to boutique hotel The Alexander in Knysna Heads to appreciate the views from the bar, you’ll be equally transfixed.

Your next stop should be Hunter Hotels’ breathtaking Tsala Treetops Lodge & Villas – a range of houses perched on timber legs 40 metres above the forest canopy – located just outside Plettenberg Bay.

Then check out the waves (or the fit surf grommets) at the world-renowned Jeffrey’s Bay, home to the perfect wave, they say. For more thrills why not hurl yourself off Bloukrans Bridge, the highest commercial bungee jump in the Milky Way? There really is something for everyone in this unique precinct, we’ve discovered. And now’s your time to experience it!

Travel Note
While in Knysna dine at 34 South, which locals agree is the best restaurant in town.

www.alexanderhouse.co.za, www.hunterhotels.com, www.34-south.com

Zambia, South East Africa
Whether it’s to witness ‘the smoke that thunders,’ the mighty Victoria Falls named after the 19th century English monarch, who, incidentally strongly disapproved of smoking; or to take advantage of its game-rich plains, Zambia is for those looking to be dazzled by nature’s best.

Raw and undeveloped, Zambia has somehow managed to stay under the radar, but its breathtaking landscape make it one of our favourite spots in Africa. With more tourists endorsing it – including a recent visit from former Indonesian First Lady Dewi Soekarno – hotel operators have been quick to react!

Those looking for sumptuous seclusion will love the new Sanctuary Zebra Plains with just four deluxe tents pitched on South Luangwa National Park’s river where elephant, giraffe, buffalo, crocodile and leopard like to converge. Bushcamp Company has refurbished all six of its park camps. Zungulila, consisting of four thatched-roof dwellings with canopy beds and plunge pools, is the most charming of them all.

Travel Note
Sanctuary Zebra Plains operates only from June to October. Designed to leave the lowest possible carbon footprint, it is packed up each year leaving no trace of its existence between seasons.

www.sanctuaryretreats.com, www.bushcampcompany.com, www.zungulila.com

Hermanus, Western Cape
There’s something overwhelming incredible about spotting a whale coming up for air. From May to December, the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena Australis) graces Walker Bay with its prodigious presence.

They’re known as the Southern Right Whale for two reasons; firstly, because they live in the southern hemisphere and secondly because they are such slow swimmers that poachers used to see them as easy bait and named them ‘the right whale’ to kill! Today these gentle giants are still vulnerable, but thanks to the international protection granted to the species in 1935, they are no longer endangered.

Perched high on the Hermanus cliffs, the regal Birkenhead House and deluxe adjacent Villa, overlook the wonderland. The whales come to these very waters to breed, give birth and nurse their young, before making a 2,000 km journey to the Antarctic.

Travel Note
August is the height of birthing season. Many calves can be spotted alongside their highly protective mothers from the brilliant vantage points at Birkenhead House & Villa.


Djibouti, Horn of Africa
Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, is a little country that’s virtually escaped tourist attention, yet it offers so much for travellers seeking unfamiliar territory.

Volcanic activity could, in time, split the African continent in two, creating a whole new ocean stretch from the Afar depression (straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti) down to Mozambique, we hear. Stepping onto these unforgiving and yet unwonted soils is like finding yourself in space.

The shores of Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa and the third-lowest point in the world, are peppered with large clumps of salt crystals, while hot springs heated by geothermal activity can be found nearby as well.

For less salty waters, Djibouti is renowned amongst the diving fraternity for the whale sharks that gambol here from October to January. For gambling that involves higher stakes, the Kempinski Hotel is there to woo you too!

Travel Note
On the banks of the Gulf Of Aden, the African and Middle Eastern influenced Djibouti Palace Kempinski has a beach, diving centre, rooftop bar, casino and spa.


Tangier, Morocco
Not as touristy as marrakesh, Tangier is hip because it’s authentic. Parts of it may be faded and jaded, but that only adds to its charm. There are plenty of new developments including shopping districts and hotels, but you can still find tangible touches of the past in every nook and cranny.

At Café de Paris, with its old-school mirrored interior, you’ll get a sense of what inspired 20th century writers Bowles, William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac who used to hang out in the exotic haven, that lies on the North African coast at the western entrance to the Strait Of Gibraltar.

Roam through the chaotic medina and the narrow streets to watch women bake bread and men charm snakes against a background of live Moroccan folk music and you’ll truly feel as if you’re in another world.

Travel Note
Try to take a trip to Marrakech, to experience a modern-day oasis with whispers of the past.


Trou Aux Biches Resort & SPA, Mauritius
Recently opened after an astonishing two-year, Dhs545 million makeover – like Heidi Montague, it looks nothing like it did before – the romantic Trou Aux Biches Resort & Spa is a golden addition to Mauritius’ 115 resorts. Sitting on a palm-shaded grove on the island’s northwest coast, Trou Aux Biches leads the initiative as the first totally eco-friendly resort in Mauritius with solar panels, recycling facilities and desalination and waste water plants. With all the resort’s gubbins – water-skiing, windsurfing, sailing, pedal boating, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling and glass bottom boat trips – it’s ideal for those who get antsy after five minutes of idol sunbathing. Then again, if it’s utter relaxation you’re after, grab a cocktail and marvel at one of its five-star sunsets. As one would expect, the genuine Mauritian hospitality is equally as sunny.

Travel Note
 If you’d prefer a trip into the big blue without having to get your hair wet, why not try a submarine excursion? Yes, a real submarine with oxygen and air regulators and everything. Blue Safari Submarines & Sub-scooters (www.blue-safari.com) can take you on the most surreal ride of your life.


Rovos Rail, South Africa
Labelled ‘the pride of africa’, ROVOS RAIL is one of the world’s finest vintage railways. From its stately station in Capital Park Pretoria, the whole of Africa is at your doorstep with Rovos offering routes to Cape Town, George, Durban, Victoria Falls, Namibia, Cairo and Dar es Salaam. The spirit of an olden era is palpable from the moment you step onto the station and are presented with a glass of bubbly and a tiered-tray of crust-free cucumber sarnies. Pretend you’re Lauren Bacall in Murder on the Orient Express as you introduce yourself to your fellow passengers.

The suites are both elegant and canny with pliant double beds and plenty of hidden compartments. Just don’t forget to pack your appetite as there’s a seemingly endless stream of breakfasts, bar snacks, lunches, cream teas and dinners.

Evenings are a decidedly white-gloved affair with men presented with buttonholes and ladies expected to dress like princesses. The romance of it all is old-school and splendid!

Travel Note
Take advantage of the observation car to the rear. Completely open at the back, you’ll feel the breeze against your cheeks as you traverse different towns, cities and the tropics.


Medjumbe Private Island, Mozambique
Looking to completely tune out of the real world? Medjumbe Private Island, off the coast of Mozambique, offers unadulterated barefoot bliss. At just one kilometre long and 350m wide at high tide and with only 13 beach chalets, Medjumbe can bring to reality your castaway daydreams. Favouring shabby chic over a perfectly polished look, bungalows are rustic and spacious with their own patios and splash pools.

The turquoise ocean is yours to explore with its psychedelic coral reef. Its bountiful marine life also means that every meal is a lip-smackingly fresh treat of lobsters, prawns, giant crabs and clams served with delightful sauces. The kitchen also boasts a top-notch pastry chef worthy of any Parisian café. Medjube is all-inclusive too, adding some extra value-add to the experience.

Travel Note
Love Medjumbe? Then try one of Rani Resorts’ other South African exotic locations in the Victoria Falls, the ancient Pemba of the Mozambique Coast and the Niassa Game Reserve.


The Zanzibari Hotel, Zanzibar
Tucked away in a northern alcove of the island, The Zanzibari Hotel is a haven for those who want to escape reality. With only 10 rooms, the exclusive hotel tempts even the most social people into hiding away in its secluded, seductive and naturally stunning landscape.

In a prime location for tourism but well away from the stresses of daily life, you have your pick of a number of water sporting activities such as snorkeling, diving and sunset cruises. For the culturally thirsty, tours are available to spice farms where you can have a delicious meal in a plantation restaurant with freshly harvested, local ingredients.

Just a stroll down the white sand beach and you’ll find yourself at the Nungwi Village, a fishing town with a large dhow-building shipyard. Immerse yourself in a culture which thrives off the land, and buy some fresh fish from the market before heading to the natural aquarium to see rare sea turtles and other species of rainbow coloured fish.

Travel Note
Engage in Reiki, when you stay at The Zanzibari. The natural healing therapy, along with the calm, glittering blue waters of the Indian Ocean, will rejuvenate your tired limbs and eliminate mental tension before you need to head back to real life.


Delaire Graff Estate, Western Cape
Opening onto vineyards overlooking the Hottentots Holland Mountains and Simonsig Nature Reserve, this boutique hotel is a little piece of sun-dappled heaven.

On the pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, South Africa’s premier wine region, the lodge has 10 separate villas, a Swiss spa – the only one in the country to use La Prairie products – and restaurants worthy of standing ovations. In a region renowned for epicurean greatness, standing out from the competition is no mean feat but Delaire is a tour de force. At its signature restaurant you’re invited to dine under a canopy of pin oak trees and tuck into crayfish lasagne and pistachio nougat with rose geranium ice cream, while Indochine serves Asian fusion with produce sourced from organic farms and the on-site greenhouse.

Special touches in the lodge include open fireplaces, heated infinity pools, owner Laurence Graff’s collection of South African art and Jo Malone bath products.

Travel Note
Delaire Graff Estate only opened last year but it’s already established itself as one of the most sought-after destinations in the Cape.


Twelve Apostles Hotel & SPA, Cape Town
beautiful boutique hotel that appears to be suspended on the edge of the world, it’s hard to believe that it’s just around the corner from Camps Bay and a 15-minute drive to the city centre.

Tremendous terraces offer astounding views of the mountain meeting the Atlantic Ocean. Awash with intimacy and romance, there are several alcoves, decks and lawns scattered around its two pools. From the more private deck at the back, you can practically see the excited expressions on the faces of those who opt to arrive by helicopter.

Wilderness trails of the Table Mountain National Park are literally next door – get the hotel to pack a picnic for a heart-stopping hike. The rooms, with pretty pastel furnishings and soft padded walls, all come with bath products courtesy Charlotte Rhys – South Africa’s very own Jo Malone.

Your stay includes a hearty South African breakfast and use of the Sanctuary Spa, which boasts hydrotherapy pools, a sauna and a fabulous flotation tank.

Travel Note
Robben Island Prison, once home to former South African president Nelson Mandela, is now a World Heritage Site. A trip to the island is a memorable experience, we guarantee.