Some people travel to visit family and friends, others do it for some R&R, and then there are those who travel to push their boundaries. Adventure travel is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel market, drawing in more and more people on a yearly basis.
In fact, a consumer report compiled by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) found that the adventure travel market grew at an incredible rate of 65 percent yearly from 2009-2013. And it’s still growing.
While the all-inclusive, barefoot luxury resorts maintain their appeal to some; the thirst to discover off-the-beaten-path natural treasures is growing. Intrepid travelers want to get out of their comfort zones. We don’t want to travel halfway across the world to eat a Big Mac or meander through half baked tourist traps. We want to get our hands dirty, our feet on the ground, and engage in authentic cultural and natural excursions that challenge our day to day mindset. We want to live life on the road, to climb mountains, talk to strangers, and wade through treacherous waters in pursuit of fun, learning, and the story of a lifetime.
In the not-too-distant past, this type of travel was reserved for hippies, backpackers, and adrenaline junkies. But the rise of adventure travel has made it safer and easier for more people to embrace the unknown and explore new horizons.
So if you’re dreaming of your next great adventure, a trip that pushes both borders and boundaries, look no further than Africa. Whether you’re a wide-eyed first-timer or a frequent visitor, this formidable continent will get under your skin.
The terrain is unrivaled in its diversity and offers audacious travelers a 30 million square km primordial canvas upon which epic stories are made. From the Serengeti’s signature savannah to Uganda’s tropical rainforests and the deep-gash canyons that mark the Great Rift Valley – no matter where you find yourself, Africa is unmatched when it comes to once in a lifetime adventure travel.
With so many places to explore, and so many adrenaline-pumping experiences to be enjoyed in Africa, it might seem impossible to find the best ones. But we’ve traveled the continent far and wide and narrowed it down to the 8 best extreme activities in Africa to get your heart pumping and adventure juices flowing.
1. Trek Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
If you think “adventure in Africa”, summiting Kilimanjaro is one of the first things that comes to mind. I don’t know why we humans love superlatives, but standing on the peak of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain is on many people’s bucket list.
According to Tanzania National Parks, Kilimanjaro attracts about 50,000 climbers a year, which is roughly 50 times the number of people attempting either Everest or Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) in Alaska. And, while Kilimanjaro ranks high on the to-do list of serious mountaineers, scaling the 5,895-metre (19,341 ft) dormant volcano requires no technical skill and is doable for anyone with a moderate fitness level.
But do not be fooled into thinking that it will be a walk in the park. Kilimanjaro treks can take anywhere from 5 to 7 days depending on the route and is truly life changing. Over the years, new routes and camps have helped lengthen and flatten the ascent, and provided more opportunities for climbers to acclimatize. But as far as high altitude trekking goes, Kilimanjaro is definitely one of the highest ascents that can be completed in such a short period of time.
However, high altitude and low success rates shouldn’t deter you. With the right level of preparation Kilimanjaro can be safely conquered by those up for the challenge.
2. Go big wave surfing in South Africa
While vast savannahs and imposing mountains may be the face of Africa, the continent’s glorious coastlines beckon ocean lovers with an abundance of surf spots. From Morocco’s fast paced right-handers to Namibia’s near-perfect lefthanders, Senegal’s uncrowded swells, and Mozambique’s warm waters – Africa has a break for every kind of surfer.
But, when it comes to the kind of waves that really push you to your limit then look no further than South Africa. Home to an abundance of scenic coastlines, surfers from all around the world make the long trip to tackle the country’s legendary surf spots. And, while Jeffrey’s Bay may be the first to come to mind, Dungeons at Hout Bay reigns supreme.
Made famous by Red Bull Big Wave Africa, this monstrous right-hander spot is only tackled by well-honed surfers with the courage to face off with 60-foot waves in shark-infested waters. This is more than adventure, it’s the ultimate challenge. Voted as one of the must-surf ‘big wave’ destinations by numerous international surfing experts, the Dungeons’ distinctive giant swells are few and far between, but always worth the wait.
For those whose adventure scale doesn’t quite tip into the extreme, there are softer surf spots to explore while on your South African overland tour. All along the almost 3000-kilometer coastline, you’ll find barrels that role for kilometers, a variety of point breaks, and plenty of foam for the newbies.
3. Kayak on the third largest lake in Africa
If it’s tamer waters (and adventure) you seek, then be sure to check out Malawi. More specifically, go kayaking on the region’s shimmering lake – which also happens to be the third largest in Africa.
Apart from the legendary Malawian hospitality, the most captivating part of this vivid country is Lake Malawi. Slicing through the landscape in a trough formed by the Great Rift Valley, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is where gram-worthy travel moments are made. The combination of rugged mountain terrain, balmy weather, and warm water swarming with colorful cichlid fish beckon nature enthusiasts for a surreal adventure like no other.
There are no currents or tides to contend with making the lake and its surroundings an aquatic playground, replete with superb snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, water skiing, and kayaking conditions.
4. Whitewater raft on the Nile river in Uganda
When it comes to adventure in Uganda, few places can contend with Jinja. Nested on the shores of Lake Victoria, this vibrant town is also known as the adrenaline capital of East Africa.
From quad biking to horse backing, mountain biking and kayaking, Jinja has it all. But, it’s the Nile River’s world-famous rapids that reign supreme here. The only thing more thrilling than rafting on the birthplace of the mighty Nile river (or one of them anyway), is the epic challenge you’ll face. Those up to task can look forward to grade 5 rapids. Lots of them, in a row, with a few grade 4’s, and one grade 6 thrown in for good measure.
While many people have tackled these waters, you should not underestimate their power. These rapids will beat you, challenge you, and, suck you in and spit you straight back out again if you get too close. This is adventure travel.
5. Traverse 120 million years old granite cliffs in Namibia
Namibia the home of natural superlatives. It’s where the world’s largest land mammals migrate, where the world’s oldest desert imperceptibly shifts, where oldest dated rock art in Africa was discovered and where behemoth dunes rise as high as mountains.
Put simply, if you want a grand adventure, go on an overland tour in Namibia. And, if you want to take that adventure to new heights then be sure to check out the Spitzkoppe. While most people will just see one of Namibia’s most recognizable landmarks, others see a 1728m-high challenge.
The Spitzkoppe/Pontok area is the garden of Eden for climbers, boasting over 100 sport and trad routes to tackle. Legend has it that the first ascent of Spitzkoppe took place as early as 1904 when a soldier of the Royal Schutztruppe supposedly soloed the peak, made a fire on the summit and never returned. But, don’t let the ghost stories put you off.
The Spitzkoppe continues to attract hard-core rock climbers bent on tackling Namibia’s most challenging peak. With burning red sunsets and a breathtaking view into the Namib desert, this primordial area is primed for great travel adventures with uncrowded climbing routes and vast, open wilderness.
6. Take on the highest commercial abseil on the planet in South Africa
If it’s the thrill of a decent you’re after then Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain is where you want to be. This 600 million years old mountain is one of the world’s most recognizable – famed for its flat peak, rich diversity of flora, and for being one of the seven wonders of the world.
You honestly can’t say that you’ve been to Cape Town until you’ve stood on top of it. And, to take it one step further, why not abseil down it. This ancient mountain is one of the highest commercial abseiling routes on the planet and gives daring travelers an unrivaled view of the Mother City.
7. Go mountain biking in Hell’s Gate, Kenya
Kenya is an icon of African travel, synonymous with once in a lifetime adventures. Vast savannahs peppered with immense herds of wildlife, snow-capped equatorial mountains, and of course, the legendary Maasai’s vibrant culture are just a few things to look forward to.
But, a trip to Kenya would be incomplete without stepping foot into Hell’s Gate. Named for the pair of massive red cliffs of the Njorowa Gorge that enclose an area of hot springs and steam vents, Hell’s Gate is one of the two parks in Kenya that allows visitors to explore on foot, making it an ideal place for hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
For an added dose of adrenaline, take on the rocky terrain by bike. It’s of the only National Parks in Kenya that allows cycling and gives travelers the chance to spot herds of giraffes, zebras, antelopes, and ostriches right from the saddle.
8. Trek Uganda’s misty mountains
Nature and adventure loom large in Uganda. Particularly in the World Heritage–listed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where a few of the world’s last remaining gorillas roam free.
There are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas in existence, and gorilla trekking provides a rare opportunity to observe the everyday interactions of these gentle, mysterious primates. But be warned, the journey to get there is tough. Think two-plus hours on a bumpy dirt road high up in the hills with sheer cliffs on one side and imposing dirt walls on the other. On top of that, you have to quietly navigate your way through the hot, dense vegetation of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
It’s not a small feat but having the chance to see these incredible animals in the flesh (or fur) in the Ugandan forest for 60 minutes might be one of life’s greatest privileges.