It was only on my umpteenth visit to the continent that I finally got around to going to West Africa. I’ve loved every country I’d visited previously, but as soon as we arrived in Mali, part of me wished I’d headed to this part of the world before. That some of the poorest countries in the world can be so rich in spirit and life is humbling – but regardless of economic details, Mali is intoxicating. A few days at the Festival in the Desert, with its music by night and carnivalesque parade of activities during the day, was amazing. Elsewhere, Mali’s Pays Dogon was some of the most stupendous scenery I’ve ever trekked through, and the voodoo culture in Benin and Togo offers up some pretty bizarre sights and unusual experiences. Put it this way, West Africa was the first time I’d ever come face-to-face with a temple full of pythons or a market stall of monkey skulls! At the other end of the continent, one of my best trips was to Mozambique and South Africa. Mozambique is a really special place – somewhere that’s bouncing back with verve and style after many years of ferocious civil conflict. My overriding memory is this idyllic scene: alabaster beaches verging on clear water packed with the most colourful and various marine life I’ve ever seen. Manta rays floated overhead and a dugong nearby, while tropical fish buzzed around the pristine reef. No whale shark for me, but they are regularly sighted in these parts – Mozambique’s underwaters are the ultimate sunken treasure for divers and snorkelers. Just across the border, it’s difficult to imagine safari getting any better than Kruger National Park. We ticked off the Big Five in no time, then headed to the park’s north for a startling close-up of some African wild dogs and we were also lucky enough to see a cheetah. A few days on game rides followed up with some hikes in the Drakensbergs, then a couple of nice meals in Cape Town (preferably reached via the wine route) is pretty much my perfect holiday. I’ve yet to go to Hermanus to check out the whale watching – so my ideal itinerary is always subject to change! Further north, I’ve fond memories of Kenya. Amazing wildlife, and the game walks were a real thrill – but the people were the highlight for me. Getting to meet and sit down with Masai tribespeople in their village was a unique experience – their hospitality and ready smiles continue to linger in the memory. Ethiopia is another very special place. Medieval Lalibela has an awesome collection of churches carved into the rock, but my favourite part of the country is the Simien Mountains National Park. Remote, rugged and green, trekking here is a beautiful adventure. It can get pretty hot, but the terrain isn’t too tough, and the views over the innumerable hills are worth every step. Africa’s such a vast continent that no matter how many times you go, there’s so much more to do. There are definitely a couple of glaring omissions in my travels so far: Tanzania and Uganda. Some time with mountain gorillas, a week spent climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and then a few days exploring Zanzibar would be my dream holiday in Africa – it can’t come soon enough.
"The wildlife was what I went for and I got that in bucket loads. also the various staffs and the local people you meet, most were very friendly"