7 African Destinations for a True Experience


Do not tell me you visited Africa after spending a week or so in a resort. At best, you discovered a part of Africa. It is amazing how many people travel to Kenya or South Africa, often locked up in a resort with guided safaris and all the clichés, and think they’ve been to Africa. Well no! Africa is 54 sovereign countries. Each nation presents a rich diversity of culture, people and geography.

If you want to have a sense of the real Africa outside the resort but still feel safe and comfortable, here are 7 cities perfect for you. They each combine modernism and local traditions.

African Elephant

Addis Ababa – Ethiopia

The Ethiopian capital has long been a cultural center in Africa. With more than 100 embassies and diplomatic delegations, it is also an international hub. Addis Ababa is developing fast. It has an intercity rail system in construction to top a modern public transportation system. Visitors have no issues getting around from an attraction to the other. Go see the university Haile Selassie I, said to be the largest of Africa. Also, explore the roots of the Rastafari movement in the National museum and in Menelik’s old imperial palace. A stroll in Addis Ababa is a walk through Africa’s most glorious past.

African Metropolis: a statue of the Lion of Judas in Addis Ababa
photo credit: D-Stanley via photopin cc

Cairo – Egypt

Egypt has a history distinct from that of Africa itself. Cairo is a huge metropolis where travelers can revisit the age of kings without giving up on comfort. No gated resorts needed. Walk the path of ancient pharaohs in Old Cairo along the Nile River. Awe at the Giza Pyramids. Give in to Cairo’s modern nightlife and lavish institutions. There is a wealth of things to do. But be respectful and wary of your dress code as not to offend the natives in any way. No matter how modern or liberal they may seem, the descendants of the pharaohs value their traditions.

African metropolis - Cairo, Egypt
photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc

Marrakesh – Morocco

Who needs a gated resort in Marrakesh? The city has a clear contrasting landscape. On one side, the historic Medina with its narrow streets and local characteristic shops. On the other side is the Ville Nouvelle (New City). Like the name suggests, the newest borough of Marrakesh homes more modern infrastructures.

Wherever you choose to stay, be sure to wander the souks and the Palmeraies oasis. Visit the hammams of Medina and spend the nights in music at the square of Djemaa El-Fna.

Street musician in Marrakesh Morocco
photo credit: Ahron de Leeuw via photopin cc

Dakar – Senegal

Welcome to the West African Teranga: land of hospitality. Dakar is the most Western city on the African continent and a significant hub for air traffic and businesses. Senegal has always been close to the colonial France. Its capital profited from that relation in its development.

Although the famous Paris-Dakar race was exported to South America, there are still a lot to see and do in Dakar. Visit the ile of Goree (Goree Island), which used to be a minor port for slave ships heading to the Americas. The island still has the remains of that dark past for visitors to see. Also, it has excellent tropical beaches worth visiting.

Dakar's coastline
photo credit: Jeff Attaway via photopin cc

Accra – Ghana

Founded during the 17th century, Accra has first been the capital of the British Gold Coast. Travelers can visit the many colonial edifices scattered across town. Some serve as government buildings with restricted access. Others are now museums or part of national parks.

The Ghanaian metropolis is quite spread out making it hard to explore by foot. Your best bet is to get around by car; be it a taxi, a rental, or by tro-tro. If you are seeking a local experience, you will love the latter. A tro-tro is a minivan that acts as public transport along the city’s popular routes.

African Metropolis - Accra, Ghana
photo credit: coreycam via photopin cc

Cape Town – RSA

Unlike other capitals on this list, Cape Town is not the South African official capital. Instead, it is its most iconic, liberal and progressive city.

The Mother City of South Africa has a historic significance that balances with its vivid nightlife. You will find locals to be more open-minded than in the rest of the country. In fact, it is one of the rare African capital that promote its gay-friendliness. To visit the many historical sites or get around, you won’t lack of transportation options. If you get tired of the roads or the rails, opt for a cruise ship. Cape Town is not Sun City; it’s actually better.

African metropolis - Cape Town, RSA
photo credit: Steve Crane via photopin cc

Luanda – Angola

Angola’s wealth in natural resources caused decades of instability and atrocities. Now that peace has returned, Angola has renovated its capital to compete with the world’s biggest cities. They sure have the means to do so. Luanda attracts investment capitals from all over the world. Not only this ensures top-notch infrastructures but also the affluent crowd to use them.

African Metropolis - Luanda, Angola
photo credit: Ana Sofia Guerreirinho via photopin cc

Each of the 7 metropolises mentioned here illustrate the complexity and diversity that is Africa. It will take a traveler a lifetime to explore all the different cultures scattered over 11.67 million sq. miles. Come experience life like an African, with the natives, without giving up on your Western living standards. At least, that is if you choose not to.

Which part of Africa have you visited or would love to visit?