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3 Top Trending Destinations for A Gap Year in Africa

Written by Milly Whitehead on 07 / 07 / 2016

Gap Year Advice

A gap year in Africa is definitely back in the game as a top backpacking, gap year destination, after fighting off its tarnished image of yesteryear caused by terrorism, Ebola and presidential madness.

Gap Years in Eastern and Southern Africa, are right back up there – offering their famous beach and bush experience for the explorer but out of the starting blocks come 3 trending newcomers who are grabbing the press, hype and Facebook likes.

So, if you want to avoid the typical gap year in Africa crowds and want your gap year to have the intrepid WOW factor then maybe one of these is just what you're after...

In no particular order, the top 3 trending destinations for the best gap year in Africa are:

Number 1. Gap Year in Namibi

A secret gem which is having its moment…and rightly so as it is totally different to its surrounding ‘savannah’ landscaped countries, in every way possible.

Namibia is all about unique habitats, remote Himba communities and spectacular, rugged landscapes. It’s about the desert adapted flora and fauna, the black rhino in the Damaraland, the massive sand dunes at Sossusvlei, big game in Etosha National Park and the spookie Skeleton Coast.

Country Highlights

Etosha National Park

The third largest park in Africa, owing its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan, a vast shallow depression of approximately 5,000km². Great for game viewing especially at the waterholes along the southern edge of the pan.


A huge clay pan in the heart of the Namib Desert, enclosed by giant sand dunes, some reaching 300 metres, the highest in the world.

Skeleton Coast 

Famous for the ghostly shipwrecks beached on the remote and inaccessible white shores. Seals in their thousands colonise lonely beachheads along the coastline. Creepy but cool.


A huge, untamed, ruggedly beautiful region, with prehistoric water courses, open plains, grassland, massive granite koppies and deep gorges – home to desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, ostrich and springbok.

Finding Volunteering or Working Opportunities

You will need a volunteering or working visa to do anything other than the normal gap year backpacking stuff. Definitely recommend you prearrange, before you head out, as the bureaucracy is a minefield. Trust us, we have learnt the hard way when we set up our a program here.

In fact, take a look at our Namibia program for the ultimate safari experience which combines conservation + community + adventure.

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How to get there and around

Most visitors arrive at Hosea Kutako International Airport, just outside Windhoek. International flights from Johannesburg and Frankfurt via a number of carriers including Air Namibia, British Airways, South African Airways.

Namibia is a great self-drive destination for those wanting to travel independently on their gap year. Hiring a 4 x 4 is easy and the road network is excellent. Alternatively hop on board an overland truck for a map free gap year!

Cost of Living

Namibian Dollar (N$) - pegged at the same value as the South African Rand (ZAR). Safari and tours are expensive and the day to day cost is pretty much the same as any European country – so don’t expect any bargains and budget accordingly.

Number 2. Gap Year in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has battled its way back after the economic free fall following the land relocation policy. So much so that British Airways has just launched a new route direct from Heathrow to Victoria Falls.

Zimbabwe is a small, landlocked, but perfectly formed country where the people are kind and the “to do list” is massive but due to good roads everything is achievable making a gap year in Africa manageable …if not (dare I say it) relatively hassle free.

Country Highlights

Victoria Falls

The world’s largest waterfall, known locally as ‘the smoke that thunders’ or Mosi-Oa-Tunya. This spectacular waterfall marks the point where Africa’s fourth largest river pours over a 1.5 mile-wide cliff down to a series of gorges. Victoria Falls is great for adrenaline junkies: bungee jumping, white water rafting and canoeing all available here.

Hwange National Park

Zimbabwe’s largest national park and one of the finest elephant conservation areas in Africa, with up to 30,000 elephants. This is vast wilderness area of Kalahari sands, saltpans, acacia scrub and grassy plains.

Eastern Highlands

Completely different geographically – local Zimbabweans like to think this is their own little piece of Scotland. High in altitude, very green, lots of lakes. Perfect for hiking and fishing.

Mana Pools National Park

A remote breathtaking wilderness in the northern tip of the country on the banks of the Zambezi, bordering with Zambia. A designated World Heritage site, this wild and untamed park supports a large numbers of game. A canoe safari down-river is an unforgettable experience as you weave your way past hippos and elephant herds swimming in the river.

Lake Kariba

An artificial inland sea, formed by the continent’s third largest dam in the 1950’s, great for water-sports and fishing. There is also plenty of wildlife on the banks of the lake, including buffalo and elephant, and the bird life is prolific.

Finding Volunteering or Working Opportunities

Access the country on a 3 month tourist visa and you can take a punt at a getting a short term job in one of the bars/cafes in Victoria Falls or Kariba, which are the main tourist towns. Volunteering, on the other hand, is not so easy and I would arrange before hand. A great place to start would be to contact the Travers family who run a great rhino conservation project just south of Harare.

How to Get There and Around

British Airways are now flying into Victoria Falls or you fly into Harare, the capital. Best options are to hire a car and self-drive for longer journeys or take the local buses called ‘matatus’ for short hops.

Cost of Living

The country has adopted a multi-currency system. All tours, hotels and campsites will accept USD, GB Pounds, Euros and SA Rand. Getting about and staying is pretty reasonable for Africa but the tours can be fairly expensive so shop about and barter hard.

Number 3. Gap Year in Madagascar

This is the worlds 4th largest island just off the East Coast of Africa, east of Mozambique. Utterly sensational. Due to its colonial past the capital Antananarivo has a Parisian feel to it with its ornate architecture, pretty iron work, cobbled streets and croissants on every corner.

But leaving the city walls you’ll enter a world of epic landscapes ranging from rainforest to desert, canyons, limestone karsts, mountains, terraced rice paddies and forests of every kind – rain, dry, spiny, 5000km of tropical coastline and wildlife so weird and wonderful you’ll think you are staring in the movie.

In fact ninety percent of the plants and animals found on the island of Madagascar evolved there and nowhere else, as said in the National Geographic Guide to Madagascar . The island's signature animal is the lemur of course, but there are many more weird and wonderful creatures to look out for starting with the eerie-looking fossa (remember those guys’ in the movie?), chameleons, rays and turtles. (This country definitely gives a gap year in Africa the intrepid award.)

Country Highlights


At least 4 days to get to grips with the city and to see the cultural sights, starting with the Queens Palace.

Isalo National Park

In the SW Madagascar - The wild west of Madagascar - great for hiking, waterfalls, lemurs amongst the huge biscuit coloured canyons,impressive gorges and tiny stalagmite pinnacles.

Ankarafantsika National Park

In the NW of Madagascar – famous for trekking through the lunar landscape and boat safari’s on the quiet Lake Ravelobe.

Marojejy National Park

In NE Madagascar. It covers 55,500 ha and is centered on the Marojejy Massif, a mountain chain that rises to an elevation of 2,132 m. Wikipedia

Nosy Be Island

Just off the NW coast. Heavenly place to stop, chill and explore the other very remote islands and their traditional communities. Check out the movie above for an insight into island life.

Finding Volunteering or Working Opportunities

Start with a volunteering opportunity to find your feet, then travel, then try to find work. Distances are really big here so you must do an element of pre-departure planning before you arrive. We have a great volunteering program on Nosy Be and the surrounding islands - which combines sailing, teaching, lemur conservation and scuba marine conservation BUT the reason I mention it is because they are always looking for interns to be project leaders and very often employ those who have impressed the owners during their time volunteering. Have a look at the program and drop us a line for more details.

How to Get There and Around

You have to be creative when it comes to flying here and expect several flights via Paris, Joburg or Nairobi. Air Madagascar fly into the capital of Antananarivo and around the island but be aware they have a tendency to go on strike at any time. To get around start with catching an Air Madagascar flight to the region you want to explore and then 'taxi brousse' within – these are local buses which aren’t afraid of a long journey and stop at hostels on the way, (when the driver gets tired!).

Cost of Living

Local currency is the Ariary. Cost of living is very reasonable. A decent meal out in the city will cost you no more than £10. A beer will cost 50p. Tours are reasonable and best booked through a good tour operator in Antananarivo, where you get better choice and value.

Over to you

So there you have it – 3 hot new destinations to get you off the beaten track and to give your gap year in Africa the wow, intrepid traveller factor. All destinations have been given the FCO all clear so parents will be happy.

Next week I will be doing the same for Asia and South America so keep a look out.

But, if you struggling to find your perfect destination for your gap year - help is at hand.

If you need any other help, just let me know as I am happy to help.


Check out our gap year programs

We have award winning 'planet saving' programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

Reducing plastic in our oceans, protecting turtles and saving the rhino is just the tip of the melting iceberg.

All experiences include a mix of projects and adventures, travelling with a team and, of course, are risk assessed.

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