Written by Milly Whitehead on 16 / 02 / 2017
Gap Year Advice
It’s out with the old and in with the new. Asia is a mesmerising continent filled with incredible sights and unforgettable experiences, but it’s time to hand over the backpacker baton.
The mystique and intrigue of Africa deserve the spotlight now. From iconic landscapes and prolific wildlife to fascinating cultures and electrifying nightlife, Africa has it all and more, wrapped up in one inviting, adventures package.
Costs are low. Transport improves by the day. Hospitality is inescapable, and the wonder relentless. As Asia fast becomes a crowded, spoiled, tourist hot-spot, Africa has fresh and authentic travel written all over it. Having explored what the continent has to offer, I’m ready to sell the goods…
Let’s get Africa back where it belongs: on every traveller’s radar, front and centre.
Some call it ‘Africa for beginners’, but I prefer the term ‘the embodiment of Africa’.
If there’s no time for the whole continent, Namibia is your best bet. With an astonishing array of natural wonders, an incredible diversity of wildlife and every iconic African landscape under the sun, Namibia ticks all the boxes.
The nation’s pride and glory is the Namib desert. At the mercy of the elements, the imposing dunes and wide open plains are out of this world.
Speaking of other-worldliness, the bottomless serpentine chasm of the Fish River Canyon is not to be missed. Along with the shipwrecks that scatter the Northern shores of the Skeleton Coast and, of course, Namibia’s majestic mountain spine.
As if that wasn’t enough, nature surrounds you with all its exuberance. Observe specially adapted elephants and rhinos idling about in the semi-arid conditions or hold your breath as you witness the world’s largest concentrations of free-roaming cheetah stalk their prey on the plains. Of course, no Namibian dream is complete without the game-rich and utterly stunning Etosha National Park.
To top it all, vast stretches of the country are virtually uninhabited and seldom explored, rendering Namibia any adventurer’s utopia.
Local communities work hand-in-hand with conservationists to preserve their unique, exquisite country. Do you too want the next generation to enjoy the world’s wonderful wildlife? Then help make it happen with The Leap’s 5 week Namibia program.
Step aside Cambodia, because Tanzania is the epitome of sheer natural beauty.
Enter the realm of the safari, where lions roam freely across the golden plains. Bird songs fill the air. Chimpanzees swing playfully through the canopy. Wildebeest stampede over the grasslands. Hippos snooze in the murky waterbodies and elephants reign over the savanna.
No Tanzanian adventure is complete without Mt. Kilimanjaro: the snow-capped summit of Africa. Maybe you will brave the rocky trails and dazzling heights to seek out the breath-taking panoramic rewards. Or perhaps you’ll wander the streets of the mountain villages, where school children play and farmers nurture their land under the shadow of the giant.
Out on the Indian Ocean, it’s time to lay back and unwind, cocktail in hand. Hear the creak of the rigging and the billowing of the sails as the majestic fishing dhows set sail in the tranquil coastal waters.
Above all though, it is the Tanzanians themselves, with their charismatic warmth and dignified equanimity, which makes the place so very special.
Catch a glimpse of it all on The Leap’s 10 week Tanzania trips. Dip your toes in Zanzibar’s waters. Take a game drive through the silhouettes of Acacia trees in the Serengeti National Park. Witness Africa’s rarest wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater, and so much more…
Where to start? Well… Madagascar is the true definition of one-of-a-kind.
While Bali may offer crystal-clear water and stunning aquatic life, Madagascar has this too, and a whole lot more.
As beach rolls into the desert, and desert into rainforest, Madagascar, in my opinion, triumphs as the world’s most intense kaleidoscope of nature.
The world’s fourth largest island is home to a myriad of spectacular, endemic wildlife. Of course, the famed lemur, with its quirky and photogenic nature, tops the pile. However, vibrant frogs, mysterious fossa and innumerable colourful, camouflaged chameleons also hop, prowl and crawl through the forests.
It is certainly possible to relax the day away on the pristine and powdery beaches, backed by palms and soaked in warmth, until the moment the sun drowns within the endless sea. But there’s simply too much else to enjoy…
Dive into a turquoise ocean teeming with marine life. Swim amongst not only the fishes but gentle rays, friendly turtles, migratory whales and even the odd shark.
Traverse the limestone karsts and fertile valleys. Stroll down Baobab Avenue, camera in hand. Discover a rainforest dripping with ethereal beauty. Take in the gentle, pastel-hued sunrises and immerse yourself in the languid island rhythms.
The bumpy journeys on unpaved roads only show off just how off-the-beaten-track you really are.
Thanks to successive waves of migrants arriving from across the Indian Ocean, Madagascar has also evolved into a cultural melting pot, with an enchanting and intricate set of beliefs and traditions and a people unlike any other.
The gateway to Asia is undoubtedly Bangkok. However, Cape Town. is Africa’s doorway, and a far more appealing one.
Light, colour and life fill every inch of the city. If South Africa is the rainbow nation, Cape Town is its heart.
For me, it was the cosmopolitan, multi-cultural aspect of the place which really struck a chord. Such an implausible diversity of people, where rich meets poor and ethnicity know no bounds, illuminates just how exceptionally rich in history South Africa is. To grasp a true understanding of Africa’s past is near impossible, but Cape Town will get you close.
The buzzing city has a museum for every street, food from all corners of the world and a thriving nightlife. Yet the excitement has barely begun.
Clamber up Lion’s Head as the rising sun floods the city with gold. Enter sophistication in the Winelands to taste the world’s best. Visit Boulders Beach to fall in love with the penguins or venture to Cape Point where two mighty oceans meet.
Most of all, though, don’t leave without conquering Table Mountain. By cable car or foot, I don’t mind, just make sure it’s done. On reaching the plateau, you’ll be lost for where to look. At the city steeped in African culture? The shimmering grasslands, flecked with colour? The winding coastline and rolling waves? Or mountains and fertile hills, cascading into settlement below?
Cape Town will satisfy all the senses and knows just how to leave you wanting more.
In search of a continent of kind-hearted souls, second-to-none wildlife encounters and untouched natural wonder? Africa is the place for you.
Back in fashion and offering a far more authentic backpacker experience than Asia, there’s no better time to go.
Been there, done that? Then let us know about any hidden African gems you found on your travels…
on 16 / 02 / 2017