Traditionally, the quintessential African trip is all about a safari to Southern or East Africa. But for those seeking experiences other than wildlife, Ethiopia and Mali are two destinations that should certainly be considered. While both are somewhat less sophisticated with a more rudimentary tourism infrastructure, they offer exciting and fascinating travel options based around cultural and historical highlights that will not disappoint.

Gabon and Congo are both tropical rain forest destinations that feature fantastic primate and other forest specials as well as birding opportunities.


Ethiopia, a melting pot of numerous cultural and religious dynasties, is the perfect exploration destination. While charter flights are possible, an extensive road trip is the best way to explore the ancient historical and religious sites of the north before venturing into the impressive highland regions and lake system of the Great Rift Valley that transects the country. 

Highlights include the ancient towns of Axum, Lalibela and Gonder, and the incredible collection of rack-hewn churches. For those in search of wildlife and the country’s impressive birding specials, the gelada baboons and Ethiopian wolves are in the Bale and Simien Mountains, while the birding hotspots are spread throughout. And in the far south, the Omo Valley is a remarkable off-the-beaten track destination offering a rare insight into the lives of traditional communities


Centrally located within the region of West Africa, the continents seventh largest country embraces two of Africa’s most distinctive and alluring geographical features, the Sahara Desert and the Niger River. It also offers some stunning arid scenery, a host of fascinating people and cultures, and an ancient history that has spanned three of the region’s most powerful empires.

Besides the desert and river options, Mali is home to the impressive Djenné Mosque, the world’s largest mud structure, the Dogon people, and the ancient Taureg city of Timbuctou. These are all best experienced by doing a cross-county road trip, which should end with another highlight, the annual Festival in the Desert, a colourful and eventful three-day feast of live West African music that takes place in the Sahara.


The Republic of Congo is another fantastic central African rainforest destination offering all the most exciting wildlife attractions unique to these ecosystems. Because of the infrastructure and terrain, safaris are mostly offered on fixed departure schedules and they focus on the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the remote west-central regions of the country.

Highlights include viewing western lowland gorillas, which occur here at the highest densities in Africa, and forest buffalo and elephant when they come to feed and drink in the bai’s. Afternoon boat and canoe trips up and down the numerous river systems that weave their way across these impressive forests are the best way to explore the wetland habitats, and for the birders, there are a host of endemic and special species to go after. The camps we use here are of the highest quality.


While it is true that this Central African country is best suited to the more hardened traveller, Gabon nonetheless offers a host of exciting wildlife and wilderness experiences. The highlights include the full variety of forest species, lowland gorillas, buffalo, elephant and chimps especially, which are all best seen within the huge rainforest systems of Loango, Ivindo and Lopé National Parks. And Loango has the added attraction of whale-watching during the summer months.

Others may choose the historical and cultural appeal of São Tomé, a short flight into the Atlantic Ocean from Libreville, or the stunning beaches of BomBom on the island of Principe. And wherever you go, the birding is prolific with a host of endemics and specials.

Those in search of the less-trodden destinations will certainly not be disappointed, but all visitors need to know that Gabon does not have a well-established tourism infrastructure.