The Africa Burn Festival in the Tankwa Karoo. Picture: Henk Kruger
The Africa Burn Festival in the Tankwa Karoo. Picture: Henk Kruger


1 AfrikaBurn, SA. Not a hell of a lot survives out in the Tankwa Karoo. There’s a tyre-punishing road leading to it, and then kilometres and kilometres of beautiful desolation. Then, every April, along come The Burners – with their Bedouin tents, contraptions that swing gigantic balls of fire through the air, and everything they need to endure. Their mission? To party like tomorrow will never come and create a community free of commerce, but high on imagination. It’s a zany vision of Utopia. April 25-30 2012,

2 Lake of Stars, Malawi. This magical three-day party on the palm-fringed shore of Lake Malawi features more than 70 acts from around the world.

3 Oppikoppi, SA. You know you’re in for a rowdy gathering when online advice for this annual rock music event includes: “We don’t recommend sleep or rest… Write on your wrist beforehand which band you want to see and when. People are then able to assist if required.” August 9-11,

4 Festival au Desert, Mali. Every year in January, world musicians – from Ali Farke Toure to Manu Chao – gather two hours north of Timbuktu to play in the sand, amid nomadic Tuaregs and a growing international crowd.

5 Gabao Hip Hop Festival, Gabon. Used even in presidential election campaigns, hip hop is big in Gabon – which is why the country’s two biggest cities, Libreville and Port-Gentil, are home to the largest hip hop festival on the continent. July 5-8,


6 Zakouma, Chad. Moving south from the thirstlands of the Sahara, the scene transforms into the bare stubble and gravel plains of the Sahel, where nomads herd goats and camels between distant wells across Chad. Slowly on the two-day drive from capital city N’djamena, arid acacia savanna emerges between massive pillars of granite that look like the Devil has poked fractured fingers up through the earth’s crust. Approaching the south-east corner of the country, you finally come upon one of Africa’s greatest water wonderlands, the Zakouma National Park. Winding through the landscape in agitated coils, the Chari River spills its high banks during the rainy season, engulfing most of the 3 000km² park in a thin sheet of water. The park is packed with game, but it is the water birds that are the superstars: herons, ibises, egrets, storks, cranes, pelicans and many others. Best of all is the paucity of humans. There is one small rest camp in Zakouma, Tinga, with simple but adequate bungalows. In the end, though, the most amazing thing about Zakouma is simply that it is there at all.

7 Chole Mjini, Tanzania. It’s just a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean, near Mafia, the least visited archipelago off the Tanzanian coast. You get there by dhow, sleep in open-sided treehouses, dive in some of the world’s richest coral reefs, feast on fresh fish, and fall asleep to the lullaby of the marine reserve waters trickling through mangrove roots. The lodge comprises just nine treehouses; no electricity makes for night skies as incredible as the surrounding sea.

8 Punda Maria, SA. It’s a long, hot drive to get to Punda Maria, the most remote camp in the Kruger National Park, but it’s the ultimate destination for bird and real bush lovers. Built in the 1930s, the small thatched and whitewashed camp, surrounded by lush alluvial plains, retains a sense of what it must have been like to visit Kruger half a century ago, though it now also has seven fully-equipped safari tents (worth booking) and a much-needed pool.


9 Tracking lowland gorillas with pygmies, CAR. Coming face to face with a large silverback is still one of the wildest experiences to be had in Africa, our adventurers agree. There are plenty of companies operating out of Uganda or Rwanda, but for a truly wild experience, travel to Dzanga Bai, located in the extreme south-western corner of the Central African Republic. If there is one place in Africa to just sit and watch animals all day without moving, this must be it, as there are elevated hides in which you can comfortably spend the whole day watching the continuous stream of animals into the Bai – an open grassland that breaks the blanket of trees carpeting the area for kilometres around. But Dzanga’s mega attraction are the lowland gorillas and other primates of the Sangha forest region. WWF researchers have been working with the Ba’aka pygmies for the past 12 years to slowly gain the trust of two troops of lowland gorillas. The Ba’aka, with legendary tracking skills and knowledge of the forests, are key to the success of this project, and now take a small number of visitors each year to track lowland gorillas. The place to stay is Sangha Lodge, a 16-bed lodge on the river, run by Rod Cassidy, one of Africa’s finest birders.

10 Watching the sun set on Jozi’s golden people, SA. On Sunday afternoons the Rooftop at Main Street Life in the Maboneng Precinct is magical. The DJ spins Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill and Fleetwood Mac. The crowd is home-brewed Jozi at its best: camp posses of boys in bright shirts; hippie chicks in long skirts; twenty-something divas in vintage prom dresses – all silhouetted against Jozi’s skyline. No one sneers if you dance too near, they say “heita!”. What a way to wind down the weekend.


11 ‘Finger’ food, Karoo, SA. In a land of few resources, every part of the animal gets eaten, and heat is carefully generated. There’s stertjies (lambs’ tails), skilpadjies (meaning tortoises, but actually lamb’s liver wrapped in caul fat) and kliprib, the latter ingeniously prepared by heating two large flat rocks and cooking the ribs between them.

12 Bat curry, Mauritius. Known as carri sauve souris, bat curry is a speciality on the island – though you probably won’t find it on menus as locals tend to keep it to themselves. It’s a finicky meal owing to the bats’ myriad small bones, but tasty.

13 Hedgehog “surprise”, Kondoa, Tanzania. Take a stroll into the darkened, dusty streets of Kondoa and the Karibu Café. What’s for dinner? Hedgehogs. Served with a chip omelette and Swahili tea. Bring extra chilli sauce. What does it turn out to be? A scotch egg. But with all the dripping spiky batter, it sure as hell looks like a hedgehog.

14 Banana wine, CAR. Ingredients: ripe bananas, millet porridge, Rauvolfia Caffra bark extract, water. Method: 1. Boil peeled bananas in water. 2. Cool mixture in clay pots for up to 5 days. 3. Add more water and filter. 4. Add millet porridge. 5. Wash, cut, boil, then filter bark and add extract. 6. Gird your loins.


15 Swimming with whale sharks, Tofo Bay, Mozambique. Hunting for whale sharks feeding on plankton, watch for the flip of a fin, then don your own and backflip off the boat. See how long you can hold out for. It’s a huge kick. Whale sharks, some of which grow to be 150 years old, reach a length of 14 metres and weigh in at 15 tons, appear indifferent to the humans paddling alongside them. While it is classified as a shark and has a huge mouth filled with around 3 000 teeth, this gentle giant feeds on enormous amounts of plankton sieved through its gills as it swims. Whale sharks arrive in Tofo Bay around November, and usually stay until February.

16 Watching 10 million fruit bats fill the sky, Zambia. Between mid-October and mid-December, the world’s largest migration of mammals takes place in Zambia, when an estimated five to 10 million fruit bats arrive to roost in the swamp figs that line riverbanks in the Kasanka National Park. Every evening you can climb up on to platforms some 20-30m high and watch a primordial spectacle that has endured for millennia: bats, filling the sky from edge to edge as dusk falls. Having fed on the area’s preponderance of fruit during the night, the sound of a million wingbeats alerts the patient visitor to their return at dawn.

17 Watching two million wildebeest thunder across the Mara River, Serengeti. The most dramatic event in an annual migration comprising two million wildebeest is preceded by a tense build-up as the animals bunch on the riverside for hours, even days. Finally, one or two individuals hurtle blindly into the water, and the rest of the herd surges behind, erupting thunderously on to the opposite bank. Find the right place, alone and standing close to where the wildebeest emerge, and it will be one of the most breathtaking multidimensional experiences of your life, charged with chaos and adrenalin.


18 “Roaring” dunes, Skeleton Coast, Namibia. Hike to the top of a towering dune in the Skeleton Coast Park, then shuffle down it slowly on your bottom: a low hum starts to emanate from deep beneath you, getting louder and louder as more sand shifts, sounding a lot like a squadron of planes from the netherworld.

19 Mwanihana, Udzungwa mountains, Tanzania. The Udzungwas are known as the “Galapagos of Africa”. It’s a three-day hike from bottom to top to bottom. Mangula to Mwanihana to Mangula. Distance: 35km. Climb: 2 000m. Difficult? Not really, apart from the need for a guide and a ranger, armed with an AK-47 to keep grumpy buffaloes at bay. The elephants climb well but descend badly. You can see the slide marks on the banks down to the river. The biggest fright is from a red colobus monkey that loses its grip, hits the ground and dies; the top sight, a mangabey, around the corner, is a better swinger and still


20 Edgiest film industry, Nigeria. Home to the world’s second largest film industry, “Nollywood” produces an estimated 4 000 films a year. This is thanks in part to directors such as Chico Ejiro, said to have produced 80 films in eight years, and able to shoot a film in just three days. Most films are shot on location with cheap handheld cameras and virtually no crew, but the bigger films are shot in the city’s only large studio – Studio Tinapa in Calabar, open to the public. For real insight, the documentary Welcome to Nollywood, available from Amazon, is recommended.;


21 Hippest wine festival, Soweto, SA. This three-night oenophile gathering brings the vineyards of the south to the gritty urban north – but it celebrates social arrival as much as it salutes the Cape’s tradition of grape-fermentation. A mash-up of young and old, black and white, savvy winelovers and keen converts, this is no genteel know-it-all soirée, but rather an effervescent party, everyone keen to learn and eager to mingle. September 6-8,

22 Coolest radio station. The Pan African Space Station, aka PASS radio, streams cutting-edge music live online as well as themed shows, readings, sound art, interviews and more around the clock. It’s currently operating an open studio out of Tagore’s Jazz Bar in Observatory, Cape Town, as well as satellite studios in Limbe, Cameroon and Kisangani in the DRC.


23 Labadi Beach, Accra, Ghana. Said to be named for the badness of the local residents, Labadi is also the best place to hang on Sundays for the parade of acrobats, musicians, fishermen, rastas and tourists.

24 Nsera Beach, Lake Victoria, Uganda. Hands up, who’s heard of the Ssese Islands? No wonder; this group of tiny Ugandan islands, tucked away in the north-western corner of Lake Victoria, is hard to reach. Squeeze on to an open bakkie with 20 others, and run the gauntlet of tropical rainstorms down to the fishing village of Bukakata. There, negotiate a ride in a longboat to Kalangala, the largest town on the largest island, Buggala. Massive tropical trees and prolific birdlife crowd the path through the forest as you tackle the 30-minute walk down to Nsera Beach.



25 Serpent Temple, Ouidah, Benin. Ouidah, on the coast of Benin, is known as the spiritual centre of voodoo, and its humble-looking Serpent Temple the town’s best-known religious site. Watch your step as you enter the simple thatched rondavel: it’s filled with live pythons that slither around uncaged. Local guides insist that no harm comes to those who enter, as the pythons are sacred. Ouidah is also home to an annual Voodoo Festival.

26 The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast. Built by president Félix Houphouët-Boigny in his Ivory Coast home town at a cost of $300 million in the late 1980s, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro is said to be the largest church in the world, covering an astounding 30 000m2.


27 Recontres de Bamako photographic exhibition, Bamako, Mali. Africa’s largest photography exhibition, Rencontres de Bamako proves that many of the world’s most talented photographers – inspired by the continent’s incredible imagery – reside right here. The last exhibition focused on the quest for a sustainable world; South Africans featured included Lien Botha and David

28 Toffie Pop Culture Festival, Cape Town, SA. With its hip slogan “Popular culture that’s thrice as nice”, it’s an antidote (and, at R750 entry, affordable) to the more serious and hefty Design Indaba.

29 Dak’Art, Dakar, Senegal. Africa’s oldest contemporary art event is a good excuse to visit this easy-going Atlantic city, famous for its music and film.


30 Mombasa to Ukunda, Kenya. Climb aboard a jam-packed matatu. No suspension. Sit on your rucksack. Be prepared to disembark at each roadblock – there are at least 10 police points on the 40km stretch. Drinks will be served at every speed hump – just hold the cash out of the window and receive a punctured coconut, complete with straw. Lurch. Bob Marley has never boomed like this before. And everybody’s smiling benignly.

31 Gallabat to Gedaref, Sudan. It doesn’t get any better (or worse) than this: more than five hours in a packed open boksie – local name for an old, battered 19-voetsek bakkie – crawling through wilderness, thunderstorms, roadblocks, and blown tyres changed in the pouring rain. One-hundred-and-sixty kilometres; a lifelong memory.

32 Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Nothing can prepare you for the thrill of riding the most challenging commercially-run rapids in the world. Instructors offer dry-ground preparation but when you plunge into a wall of swirling white waters, and find yourself tossed headfirst into “Boiling Pot”, “Devil’s Toilet Bowl” or “Gnashing Jaws of Death”, you are either fully exhilarated or completely terrified, knowing that this is the kind of crazy activity that occasionally claims lives. One of the oldest, most reliable, operators is Shearwater.


33 Nucleo D’Arte, Maputo, Mozambique. Tucked away in a rambling bunch of sheds in the Polana district, this is a place to watch artists work (including renegade Gonçalo Mabunda, who recycles AK-47s into $6 000 sell-out collections), and on Sunday nights party like there’s no Monday. 194 Rua da Argélia

34 Mai Mai, Johannesburg, SA. This market, the city’s oldest, is dedicated to traditional healing, from pungent roots and bones, to teeth and dried animal hide. Corner Anderson and Berea streets

35 Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco. The hum of a thousand generators, the allure of roast aubergine, and the beguiling spiral of snake charmers’ flutes lure you into the deep warrens of the Square of the Dead, or Djemaa el Fna, in Marrakech’s old medina quarter. Here, traders in burgundy fezzes will offer tea and stories as labyrinthine as the city’s ancient pink walls.


36 Best “bath”, northern Zambia. Fed by the Kapishya Hot Springs on Shiwa Ng’andu Estate, it’s 30m across, around one metre deep, and 41ºC hot.

37 Most memorable monument, Port Elizabeth, SA. The Eastern Cape has produced some of the continent’s fiercest, most revered freedom fighters, and the provincial capital pays homage to them in Red Location Museum. Made up of 12 unmarked, rusted “memory boxes”, each is home to a collection of memories or stories, focusing not only on local heroes of the Struggle against apartheid, but also music, sport, cultural life, and much more, with spaces between for reflection.

38 Most interesting agricultural experiment, SA. Strolling through the vineyards of De Morgenzon farm in Stellenbosch is literally music to the ears… 24 hours a day, pieces by Bach and Corelli are piped through outdoor speakers into the air. According to owner Hylton Appelbaum, his vines respond to a very particular style of music. Rock, pop, rap, techno and jazz won’t cut it. But play them baroque music, and the vines grow more vigorously; certainly they produce one of the most lauded Chenins in the Cape. - Sunday Independent