Africa is a magical place. The region offers incredible diversity with landscapes ranging from mountains, and lush tropical forests, to dry arid spaces and sprawling savannahs.
t’s a destination that mesmerized us the moment we stepped foot off the plane in Nairobi back in 2017. It felt so different from any other continent we’ve explored in the past, so unfamiliar, so unique…
Excited to spend almost 3 months in the region to discover the best things to do in Africa. We dove right in by exploring Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Each one of these destinations was unique in its own way and each one offered incredible experiences! Here are our absolute favourites, the ones that we think are the best places to visit in Africa and deserve a spot on everyone’s East Africa Bucket List!
The Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti
Every year, more than 1.5 million wildebeest and zebras migrate on a path through Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park (and the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya).
It is said to be one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the planet and one that has been recognized as one of the Wonders of the Natural World.
The best viewing is reserved for August/September when the herd crosses the Mara River in Northern Serengeti, where giant Nile crocodiles patiently await their arrival.
The Big Five Safari
This is probably one of the most popular things to do in Africa. There are numerous parks and conservancies in East Africa where you can find the elusive Big Five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo). Some animals like elephants and lions are easy to spot, others, like rhinoceros can offer quite the challenge.
Tanzania is probably one of the best African countries to visit for this particular activity. There are four parks in Tanzania that offer an opportunity to see the big 5: in Tanzania: Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park, Selous Game Reserve, Mkomaz National Park.
Some of these are natural habitats where animals have been roaming wild for centuries, while others, like many of the conservancies, are man-made. Breeding practices are common and wildlife is sometimes found living side-by-side with cattle.
Check out a snippet of our time on a safari in Tanzania in the video below:
The tallest mountain in Africa needs no introduction. Towering 5,895 meters (19,341 ft) above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is an iconic attraction of Africa and is definitely one of the best places to visit in Africa.
It’s a must for adventure seekers looking for things to do in Africa. The hike to the top goes through five different ecosystems – from rainforest to alpine desert and arctic snowcap and takes 5-8 days (depending on the route). It is considered one of the most challenging adventures in the world, but trust us, the views along the way and at the very top are definitely worth it.
Those that don’t feel like climbing the mountain can still experience the beauty of the Mt Kilimanjaro National Park by opting for one of the day hikes from Arusha.
Watch the video from our hike to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro below and read more about the hike HERE.
Diving in Zanzibar, Tanzania
There is more to Africa than savannahs and National Parks. Just off the coast of Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar offers some fantastic scuba diving suitable for all interests and experience levels.
The waters surrounding Zanzibar are home to over 400 types of colourful fish, as well as whale sharks, manta rays, and reef sharks and provide lots of great dive sites ranging from shallow dives with lovely coral gardens, to deep walls, and wrecks.
Check out the amazing views of Zanzibar from above in our video below:
Tree Climbing Lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park
A lion in a tree is not a typical safari sighting, but a few lion prides scattered around East Africa have adapted to the unique challenges in their environment and can now be spotted on the branches of tall acacia trees.
Catching the lions in this unusual behaviour is a unique experience and is only possible in two areas. To be in with a chance to spot tree climbing lions, the best African countries to visit are Uganda, at the Queen Elizabeth National Park or in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania.
The sight is fascinating and watching 400lb lions gracefully navigate the thin branches of the trees is as unique of an experience as it sounds.
For a peek into the amazing skills of tree-climbing lions, check out our video below:
Coming face to face with mountain gorillas in the wild is an experience of a lifetime. It’s humbling and breathtaking (you literally stop breathing when you first lock eyes with a silverback). 1,000 of them live in the mountainous region on the border of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC and an increasingly large percentage have now been habituated to humans.
You can purchase a permit to track the gorillas in Virunga National Park in the DRC ($400 USD/person), Bwindi National Park in Uganda ($600 USD/person), and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda ($1,500 USD/person).
Read more about tracking Mountain Gorillas in our post The Ultimate Guide to Mountain Gorilla Trekking or watch our video on tracking mountain gorillas in the Congo below:
Whitewater Rafting on the Nile
The Nile River is often referred to as the father of African rivers. With a length of some 4,132 miles, the Nile River has basins all across East Africa. But if we had to choose the best African country to visit to feel the full force of the Nile, it’s in Uganda. Here you not only can fall asleep to the gushing sounds of the river, but actually feel its force for yourself while rafting, or kayaking.
Rafting on the Nile is an exhilarating experience that includes the crossing of 8 different rapids (including one waterfall) and plenty of time to take it all in!
Check out what it was like to white water raft on the Nile in our video below:
Chimp Tracking in Kibale National Forest
Kibale National Forest in Uganda has the highest concentration of chimpanzees in Africa and is a great destination for chimp tracking. You are almost guaranteed to see chimps here!
You can choose to follow the chimps for an hour in the morning or in the afternoon or to follow them from nest to nest on an all-day habituation visit with the researchers.
The Democratic Republic of Congo
Nyiragongo Volcano Hike
Those not afraid to go off the beaten path and into the Democratic Republic of Congo will discover one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. You’ll also be rewarded with an opportunity to undertake the most dangerous hike in East Africa – an ascend to the top of active Mt Nyiragongo.
The hike takes only 1 day (6-8 hours, but over 1500m in elevation), but requires an overnight stay in tiny huts perched on the edge of the volcano. The best views of the scorching lava are undoubtedly reserved for those willing to wake up before sunrise.
Volcanoes National Park
The main attraction of the Volcanoes National Park is the opportunity to track mountain gorillas that call the park their home. The experience does come with a hefty price tag of $1,500 USD per person, but it is really worth it.
If it is beyond your budget, then for a much more affordable $100 USD per person, you can track the Golden Monkeys. There are hundreds of these playful and entertaining creatures – you won’t be disappointed by their antics!
Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe National Park, the star attraction of Southern Rwanda is an area of rich biodiversity. The main activity here is chimp trekking, as well as the chance to see the rare Colobus Monkeys, 75 species of other mammals, hundreds of exotic birds, butterflies, and insects. It’s truly a nature lover’s paradise!
Spend a few days in the country’s capital, Kigali, getting to know the history of the country and its people. Dedicate a few hours to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It’s a sobering history lesson but one that will certainly have a profound effect on the rest of your stay.
We also recommend taking a walking tour of the Nyamirambo Community, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Kigali. Run by the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre, the tour gives you a real insight into the daily lives of modern Rwandans.
Mt Kenya Hike
The highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa, Mt Kenya offers great hikes of varying terrains and for different levels of hiking experience. Take in the beauty of its impressive peaks, fantastic gorges, alpine meadows and yellowwood forest. There are three main routes, the Naro Moru, Chogoria, and the Sirimon Route, plus a route which takes you around the whole base of the mountain.
Safari in Amboseli National Park
The Amboseli National Park is the perfect short trip from Nairobi. With the dramatic Mount Kilimanjaro looming in the background, the park offers some amazing photo opportunities! Considered the ‘home of the African Elephant’ watch in awe as these amazingly graceful giants congregate around the swamps of the park.
You’ll also get good sightings of lions, giraffes, cheetahs, zebras and buffalo on the guided open-air Land Rover tours. You can also go on walking safari or night-time safaris for a completely different adventure experience!
Great Migration in Masai Mara
Every year, the herds of wildebeest, antelope, and zebra, make their epic journey from Tanzania into Kenya’s Maasai Mara and back again. Witnessing this migration should be on any travel bucket list and the Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the best places to do so.
Lalibela is one of the main tourist attractions in Ethiopia thanks to the unique stone cut churches dug out of the bedrock. The Lalibela churches are a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 11th century. Have fun exploring the maze of passageways and tunnels that connect the churches, and admire the intricate icon paintings inside.
Perhaps one of the most unique tours we’ve ever experienced, the Danakil Depression is a tough but out-of-this-world experience. The Danakil is one of the hottest places on Earth with temperatures hitting upwards of 40-45ºC (104-113 ºF). You can choose a 3-4 day tour but you can also explore the Danakil Depression in 1 day which will allow you to take in the weird and wonderful sights of sulphur springs, volcanoes, geysers, and salt lakes.
Simien Mountains National Park
Another World Heritage Site worth a visit in Ethiopia is the dramatic and lush scenery of the Simien Mountains National Park. Multi-day or 1-day hikes can be arranged and will allow you to explore the high mountains, deep gorges and lush meadows.