Africa is literally just a hop and a skip away from Southern Europe, with the Moroccan coast just 8 miles from Tarifa in Spain yet many people never stop to consider a holiday in this colourful continent.
With landscapes stretching from arid deserts, to lush tropical jungle, breath-taking mountaintops to exotics beaches, it’s possible to find whatever kind of holiday you want in Africa.
However, if you are bored of simply lazing around on beaches or touring the sights, an activity holiday could be worth considering. With the spectacular landscapes and rich diversity of wildlife, Africa is perfect for this. Here are five different types of activity break that could provide you with a holiday you will never forget.
1) Horse riding in the Okavango Delta
Ok, so perhaps horse-riding doesn’t sound that exciting if you aren’t a keen equestrian but enjoying a safari in Africa on horseback is a very different experience.
Eschewing the usual safari vehicle and opting to experience the plains on horseback will provide you with the chance to gallop alongside wildlife such as giraffes and Cape buffalo, getting up close to the herds of animals in a way you never imagined.
The Okavango Delta is an area in Botswana which is particularly renowned for its rich plant life and animals although not all are present all year round. The Delta is created by seasonal flooding which occurs annually during the rainy season and sees the return of larger animals such as elephant and buffalo.
Some of the other animals you could see in the Delta include Nile Crocodile, lion, leopard, cheetah, Brown Hyena, springbok, kudu, zebra, baboons, hippo and warthog. Bird lovers will be in their element with more than 400 species on show including the Crested Crane, Sacred Ibis, Ostrich and African Fish Eagle.
2) Diving with whale sharks
Not the dangerous, adrenaline-pumping activity you may think, whale sharks are gentle giants who grace the waters with their majestic presence between October and March.
The largest fish in the world, the whale shark can be found in high numbers in the coast around Mafia Island, allowing tourists the chance to swim amongst these beautiful creatures. The idea of swimming with whale sharks may seem daunting at first due to their sheer size; the largest recorded stretched to more than 12 metres long! However, despite their overwhelming bulk, they are renowned for their docile nature and friendliness towards swimmers; young fish have been known to seek out games and playtime with divers!
Mafia Island is part of the Tanzanian Spice Islands and since 1995, has been transformed into a natural marine wildlife centre, with two tourist centres. The name ‘Mafia’ comes from the Arabic word ‘morfiyeh’ which simply means group or archipelago so have no fears about mobsters!
The size of a whale shark may look intimidating but they are gentle giants
3) Walk with Bushmen trackers
A truly cultural experience, this holiday involves walking out into the wild bush with the tribes people known as Bushmen. Famous for their phenomenal tracking and hunting skills, this is the chance to see it first-hand.
Visitors will have the opportunity to watch youngsters being taught the ways of their Elders; although most of the food is from gathering, hunting is considered a rite of passage and a large animal kill is an occasion for great feasting and celebration.
The Kalahari remains a natural and unsanitised environment and Bushmen follow elephant paths or game trails out into the wild, with no recognised roads.
Visitors will also have the chance to spend some time with the women Bushmen, and accompany them as they gather plants and medicinal herbs.
A way of life lost to people in the Western world, a glimpse into the Bushmen’s lifestyle will mean you never view the trip to the local supermarket in the same way again.
4) Leopard Research in Phinda
Located in the northern part of South Africa, Phinda is known as ‘Seven Worlds of Wonder’ because of its diversity of landscape: grassland, woodland, wetland, mountain ranges, rivers, marshes and forest.
This stunning range of habitat provides sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife big, small and winged, which includes the Big Five (lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino).
Phinda Game Reserve is home to animals which had previously come close to disappearing from the area and the Phinda Wildlife Research Project works hard to monitor, study and track the creatures that live there.
If you are looking for a holiday where you can make a difference, you could work alongside the dedicated research team at the project and get hands-on experience with recording and detailing animals such as lion, rhino and elephant that you see out in the Bush. You will also have the opportunity to help with putting out traps for small mammals for surveying purposes as well as the marking and recapturing programme for serval cats.
An incredible holiday for both young and old alike, you will leave with knowledge that you didn’t have before having had the opportunity to enjoy getting up close to wildlife in a way you never imagined possible.
5) Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest
Nothing will prepare you for the adrenaline rush of seeing a gorilla in the wild
Almost half the Mountain Gorillas in the World can be found at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which is covered with dense and ancient forest.
Because of the great numbers of the magnificent beasts which live there, the chances of being able to encounter a group is much higher than anywhere else. However, trekking requires individuals to be reasonably fit and there is a minimum age of 15.
This holiday must be planned in advance because permits to go trekking are strictly controlled. To minimise any disruptions to the gorillas, a very restricted number of permits are issued each day and upon finding the gorillas, there is a maximum of one hour stay.
Despite all of this, the opportunity to see the legendary silverbacks up close is hard to resist and until you have looked into the eyes of a gorilla in the wild, you will never truly appreciate their beauty and intelligence.
It is recommended that visitors leave at least 5 metres between them and the gorillas, but this is ample to get a great view and watch the family interacting as nature intended.
Combining a gorilla trekking holiday with an additional safari, such as chimpanzee watching, makes a perfect holiday in this area.
Bwindi is one of the very few African forests which survived the Ice Age, which means it is much older than many others, having had 25,000 to entwine its branches, leaves and roots to create the ideal sanctuary for wildlife.
Although you are in Africa, the terrain in Bwindi reaches high peaks and can be very cold in the mornings and evenings as well as wet at any time of the day; come prepared and you will enjoy your ape adventure!
Five very different holidays but all spectacular in their own way….and much more interesting than simply sitting by a swimming pool all day! Activity holidays in Africa are a wonderful way to see more of Africa – and from a different perspective – and enjoy the sights and sounds that make up this colourful nation.
Image credits: Annie-Lou and Martijn.Munneke