Brief History of Africa
Africa is known as the Cradle of Mankind, and as such, there is no brief history of Africa.
The earliest record of human habitation in Africa dates back as far as 200 000 years ago. About 80 000 years ago, homo sapiens set out from Africa to conquer the world, migrating to the other continents and systematically outlasting all other hominids.
The oldest surviving race of humans in Africa (and the world) is believed to be the San people who have been around for at least 26 000 years. This evidence is based on rock art found in southern Namibia’s Apollo 11 Cave.
The San bushmen happily inhabited this vast continent for thousands of years, until Bantu tribes from the north started their slow progress southward, Europeans too, arrived by sea from every side.
Almost every nation in Africa has been colonized by one or more European nations at one time. They came here to reap harvests of minerals, ivory and slaves.
Today, every country in Africa enjoys a hard-won independence, but it still attracts travelers from every corner of the Earth who come here to revel in the wild spaces and incredible activities and attractions on offer.
After Asia, Africa is the largest and most populated continent with a population of 1,216 billion.
While many of Africa’s nations are highly developed with a good infrastructure, several African countries are still described as ‘Third World’ in terms of income per capita, education and advancements.
Currencies vary from state to state, and most international airports offer Forex. It is best to speak to your travel operator about foreign exchange facilities for remote travel before departing on your journey. Depending on where you travel, you may be able to use US dollars as currency.
Medical services can be erratic in remote areas, but you will find fully equipped clinics and modern hospitals in most major centers.
Travel insurance is essential for travel to Africa, and you should speak to your doctor about malaria precautions if you are visiting tropical areas. However, many destinations across the continent pose little to no risk of contracting the disease.
Countries in Africa
Of 54 countries in Africa, the most popular countries for tourists include:
- South Africa
The following international airports service the thousands of international travelers who visit the Dark Continent for business and leisure every year:
- Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo International Airport – South Africa
- Cairo International Airport – Egypt
- Cape Town International Airport – South Africa
- Casablanca’s Mohammed V International – Morocco
- Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos – Nigeria
- Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport – Namibia
- Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport – Kenya
- Victoria Falls International Airport – Zimbabwe
- Kigali International Airport – Rwanda
- Lilongwe International Airport – Malawi
- Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport – Zambia
- Gaborone’s Sir Seretse Khama International Airport – Botswana
Most of these can be reached on flights from OR Tambo in Johannesburg. Charter flights to safari destinations are easy to come by and often essential.
Some of the most visited cities in Africa are those located close to safari destinations, beaches and airports.
- Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban – South Africa
- Windhoek – Namibia
- Cairo – Egypt
- Lagos – Nigeria
- Casablanca – Morocco
- Accra – Ghana
- Nairobi – Kenya
- Dakar – Senegal
- Beira and Maputo – Mozambique
For a taste of local dining, culture and history, the cities of Africa are fascinating destinations in their own right.
The Natural World of Africa
Africa has a rich conservation heritage with thriving populations of endemic fauna and flora. The Big Five are the main attraction where they occur, but whales, great white sharks and smaller creatures can also provide hours of amazement for nature lovers.
The plants of Africa have fascinating adaptations to cope with their sometimes-harsh environment. From deserts to tropical jungles, every country in Africa offers its own amazing natural diversity.
Geography and Geology
Thanks to the Great Rift Valley, much of the African landscape is dramatically spectacular. Granite massifs, deep gorges, towering cliffs as well as vast grasslands, huge salt pans and sandy deserts beg exploration and beckon to keen-eyed photographers.
Animals and Birds
Africa has a massive diversity of living species that either call the continent home or prefer to spend their winters here.
Across the length and breadth of Africa, you may encounter:
- 1 100 mammal species
- 2 600 bird species
- 3 000 species of freshwater fish
- 100 000 species of insects
Many of these occur nowhere else in the world.
Africa’s floral diversity is the stuff of legends. Here you will find masses of shrubs, trees and grasses where none should be, vast forests of amazing specimens and some plants that just don’t seem real.
There are over 600 species of vascular plants found nowhere else but in Namibia, 700 different kinds of acacia have their roots here, and the Cape Floral Kingdom is considered the most diverse in the world.
Some of the unique plants found in Africa include:
- Namibia’s Namib Coral-tree, the Lüderitz Living Stone and the Namibian Grape.
- 2 Species of baobab trees thrive in Africa’s hot, semi-arid areas, and 6 are endemic to Madagascar.
- King Protea, pin cushions and other fynbos found only in South Africa
Apart from large species, Africa is also home to a wide range of lichens adapted to the harsh conditions of Africa’s semi-arid terrain.
Conservation has been slower to evolve in some African countries than others. Namibia is recognized as a bastion of wildlife conservation, as is Botswana. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the best known wild spaces on earth, together with the Serengeti and Okavango Delta.
These are Africa’s most visited National Parks:
- Kruger National Park, South Africa
- Etosha National Park, Namibia
- Masai Mara Reserve, Kenya
- Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
- Chobe National Park, Botswana
- South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
- Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
In addition, there are several Peace Parks which traverse national boundaries scattered around the continent. These are:
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- !Ai-!Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
- Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area
- Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park
- Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area
- Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area
- Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area
- Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area
- Lower Zambezi-Mana Pools Transfrontier Conservation Area
- Liuwa Plains-Mussuma Transfrontier Conservation Area
Every site worth exploring offers its own brand of endearing African hospitality to charm and delight visitors from across the world.
You can choose from the full range of accommodation options including 5-star hotels, bed and breakfast, guest lodges, glamping sites, mobile camps, rustic campsites and self-catering apartments and even tree houses.
Whether you choose to sleep under the stars or want your every whim addressed, you’ll find something to suit your tastes throughout Africa.
Africa’s restaurants will take you on a culinary journey of their own. Very often you’ll find that your chosen accommodation has an onsite restaurant offering a wide range of eats.
International favourites are common, local dishes are a treat and you’ll often find that the resident chef has found a way to add an indigenous spin to almost everything. Buying the freshest local ingredients is de rigeur and there is no shortage of vegan or vegetarian options either.
Many of the big city eateries have internationally acclaimed chefs at the helm to wow you with their inspired creations, while small mom and pop cafés make up for what they lack in pizazz with comforting flavours and overwhelming hospitality.
Markets overflow with street food and you’ll find a few locally-inspired outlets offering fast food with a local twist too. Whether you prefer a hearty pizza or artistic haute cuisine, you won’t go hungry during your travels around Africa.
It can be difficult to decide where to start when you visit one of Africa’s tourist hotspots. From coast to coast, there are thousands of amazing things to see and experience.
Some of Africa’s don’t-miss attractions include:
Nearby, you’ll find plenty of activities, accommodation and amenities to cope with the tourist influx.
- Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo National Reserves
- Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha
- Lamu Island
- Mount Kenya
- Serengeti National Park
- Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area
- Mt Kilimanjaro
- Zanzibar and the Spice Islands
- Pemba Island
- Victoria Falls
- Lake Kariba
- South Luangwa National Park
- Kafue National Park
- Lower Zambezi National Park
- Victoria Falls
- Mana Pools
- Matobo Hills
- The Great Zimbabwe Ruins
- Hwange National Park
- Okavango Delta
- Chobe National Park
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
There is no shortage of action on the African continent. From safari’s to sunbathing and sightseeing, you’ll find no shortage of things to fill your days.
Don’t miss the chance to:
- Go hot air ballooning or take a Cessna Flip
- Hike walk and bike wherever you go
- Ride camels, quad bikes and horses
- Go dune boarding skydiving or cave diving
- Take a self-drive or guided game drive or walk
- Go for a Dolphin Cruise or whale watching outing
- Abseil, climb and boulder to your heart’s content
- Relax with the sounds of nature all around you
- Play a game of golf in the desert
- Fish, water-ski or swim in rivers and dams * Join in the local good cheer and fabulous fare at pubs, markets and restaurants
- Sample locally made craft beers and gin
- Visit wine farms
Check out our activities listings to start planning the adventure of a lifetime.
There is enormous cultural diversity throughout Africa. Many of these folks retain some of their traditional ways. You can get to know them better at cultural villages and museums all over the continent.
Africa has a rich tradition of art and music. Find out more about these at markets, where you can also get to sample some local cuisine.
While there are just as many languages in Africa as there are cultures, you will find that English is spoken in all the major tourist destinations.
As a throwback to colonial times, German, Afrikaans, Portuguese, French and Spanish are also more common than you think.
Most major airlines fly into OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, which in turn serves smaller destinations throughout the continent.
Many of them will fly direct to major international airports in other countries too. Unless you are taking a guided tour, it is advisable to hire a car for your travels around Africa. This allows you to explore in your own time without relying on public
transport. There are often vast distances between attractions and a GPS is essential for finding your way around more remote areas.
Always plan your route carefully and make plenty of provision for unexpected delays. Be sure to carry drinking water with you at all times.
Visa and Vaccination Requirements
Like every country in the world, you will need a passport to visit African countries, but may not require a visa depending on where you are travelling from, or be able to get one on arrival.
Check at VisaHQ or ask your travel agent for assistance if you are unsure.
A yellow fever vaccination is required to travel anywhere in Africa if you are travelling from a destination with a risk of yellow fever transmission.
What to Pack
Wherever you go in the world, you should bring your own medications. Check with your GP regarding the risk of malaria in your host country.
Sunscreen and a hat are vital even if you are travelling in winter, as is insect repellent. You will be able to purchase these on arrival if you are landing at a major airport.
A camera, chargers, spare batteries and memory cards are essential, and try to bring one pair of binoculars per person.
Keep a list of important telephone numbers within easy reach. A mobile phone is great for GPS capabilities and in case of emergencies when travelling in Africa.
For more information or to book your trip to Africa, pop African Travel Guide a message via our contact us page, and we will gladly assist you.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.