It doesn’t take much to get your heart pounding in Africa. The continent’s diverse and stunning wilderness and marine environments offer endless opportunities for adventure, from photographic safaris in the Serengeti to surfing the big waves of South Africa’s Wild Coast. And for true adrenaline junkies, there is perhaps no other place on Earth that offers as many exciting experiences. Here are 10 of the most thrilling things to do in Africa.
Summit the World’s Tallest Free-Standing Mountain
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is one of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each continent), placing it squarely on every serious mountaineer’s list of climbing goals. While Kili is the highest point in Africa at 19,341 feet, it is surprisingly accessible to both experienced and amateur climbers because of its non-technical ascent and lack of steep trails. If you’re in good shape and well prepared, the journey to the summit is within reach in six or so days. A good outfitter is essential, and Abercrombie & Kent not only has a high summit success rate but is one of the original luxury adventure companies in Africa, providing excellent direction and support from pre-trip training and logistics to the final triumphant, dizzying photo-op at the top.
Ride Horseback Across the Mysterious Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
Although Botswana is known for its lush delta safaris, the country is also home to some of the most stark and otherworldly landscapes on the continent, including the massive, lunar-like Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, an area that was once an enormous lake and now is part of the Kalahari Desert. One of the coolest ways to experience this unique environment is on horseback, riding through the scrubby bush in search of desert-adapted animals like the Kalahari lion and brown hyena or galloping across the pans by moonlight. At quirky and stylish Jack’s Camp, one can sleep under the stars, hang out with meerkat families or take fascinating bush walks with the hunter-gatherer Zu/’hoasi Bushmen. And if the horses aren’t enough to get your heart pumping, trade hooves for wheels on a quad bike race across the pans.
Cage Dive with Great White Sharks
Cousteau fantasies come to life in South Africa’s Shark Alley off Gansbaai, a quaint seaside village just a few hours’ drive from Cape Town. Here you need a snorkel, a wetsuit and a brave heart (but not a scuba certification) to descend just below the surface of the ocean and observe great whites in their natural habitat. Trips start in the early morning on a boat to Dyer’s Island, home to one of the largest populations of great whites in the world and a hub of research and conservation efforts. Once sharks are spotted, you enter the cage a few people at a time and are lowered into the frigid water, where you spend a few minutes face-to-face with the apex predators. Sightings are not guaranteed, and we recommend spending a few days in the area in case a second trip is necessary. Overnight in nearby Hermanus at the eclectic Birkenhead House, where, between July and November, Southern Right Whales can be seen just offshore.
Take the Plunge at Devil’s Pool
The mighty Zambezi River and Victoria Falls lie between Zambia and Zimbabwe and make for one of the most action-packed natural playgrounds in Africa, offering thrilling experiences from helicopter flips and white-water rafting to zip-lining and bungee jumping. One of the most sought-after activities is a swim in Devil’s Pool, a shallow natural rock pool at the edge of the falls. Imagine the world’s scariest infinity pool where the edge is a sheer drop of nearly 3,000 feet. Trained guides and safety ropes keep things under control, while naturally occurring lunar rainbows add magic to an already amazing experience. You’ll need to enter the water from the Zambia side and the first-class Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara just steps away from the falls and the Zambezi’s many bounties.
Get a Bird’s Eye View of the Great Migration from a Balloon
Africa’s Great Migration is often called the greatest show on Earth for good reason. The planet’s largest movement of herd animals sees more than a million wildebeest, zebra, and various gazelle in a never-ending battle to mate, birth their offspring and make their way across rivers to Serengeti feeding grounds while trying to survive attacks from predatory crocodiles, leopards, lions, and wild dogs. One of the most exciting and exclusive ways to witness this dramatic show is to float above it all in a hot air balloon. While stationary camps make timing visits tricky, Asilia Africa’s mobile camps allow for witnessing the migration throughout the year. During three-day mobile safaris, an optional early morning balloon flight takes guests away from the crowds and offers a view of the awe-inspiring landscape and its animal activity that can’t be matched by a vehicle. After landing back on terra firma, enjoy a Champagne breakfast and relive the spectacular sightings seen from on high.
Play in One of the World’s Largest Sandboxes
Namibia boasts some of the most dramatic desert-meets-the-sea landscapes and largest sand dunes in the world. From top to bottom, this country is filled with rugged beauty and opportunities for extreme physical, wildlife, and cultural encounters. The best way to experience it all is on a flying safari with Natural Selections. Bouncing from one camp to the next via bush plane, you’ll experience the haunting Skeleton Coast full of shipwrecks and marine life, climb the physically challenging Big Daddy sand dune in Sossusvlei, test your balance and feel like a child while sandboarding in Swakopmund, track desert animals including rhino, giraffe, and elephants, speed through the desert on fat-tire bicycles or quad bikes, hot air balloon, stargaze under one of the least light-polluted skies in the world and meet the indigenous Himba tribe. This weeklong trip is perfect for anyone looking for adventure and escapism.
Bungee Jump from Africa’s Highest Bridge
Bungee jumping is such a scary rush that many people don’t dare to try, but at South Africa’s Bloukrans Bridge, getting to the jump point is almost as exciting as the jump itself. Bloukrans Bungy is located near the tony seaside holiday town of Plettenberg Bay, where we recommend a stay at the historic Old Rectory, a design-forward, relaxing boutique hotel housed in a circa-1777 building near the beach. A half-hour away is Bloukrans Bridge, home of the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee jump. The excitement starts with a zipline from the riverbank to the bridge’s arch. From this point jumpers free fall 709 feet before being carried back up via winch to a skywalk suspended under the bridge to take in the spectacular views at a slower (and calmer) pace.
Commune with Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda
Rwanda is one of the cleanest, safest, and most forward-thinking conservation-focused countries in Africa and while its lodges are on the more luxurious side as part of the government’s overall tourism plan, the experience of meeting a mountain gorilla family in the wild takes one back to simple childlike wonder and the feeling of being connected to the larger natural world. From the gorgeous Singita Kwitonda Lodge, join a small group guided by a ranger and porters for a trek through the Volcanoes National Park in search of one of the 12 habituated silverback gorilla families in this area. Once the gorillas are located, you’ll spend up to an hour sitting with the family as they go about their daily lives, sometimes coming so close you can hear them breathing. It’s the ultimate life-changing wildlife encounter.
Paragliding Over the Mother City
Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Take in all the sights, from iconic Table Mountain to the white sand beaches of Clifton to landmark Cape Town Stadium, in one thrilling fell swoop with a tandem Fly Cape Town paraglide. After a safety briefing, step off high points at Signal Hill or Lion’s Head for the easy 10- to 30-minute flight. Since the pilots do all the flying, you can relax and enjoy the sensation of free-flying like a bird before touching down softly near the seaboard. Scenic paragliding also is available from Franschhoek in the Winelands, Hermanus on the Whale Coast, and the dramatic Sir Lowry’s Mountain Pass. It’s a fantastic way to see all this stunning area has to offer.
Visit Antarctica in 24 Hours
Step foot on the Seventh Continent in what is surely one of the most epic travel adventures ever. White Desert Antarctica’s Greatest Day trip starts in Cape Town where guests board a private Gulfstream for a 5-hour evening flight to Wolf’s Fang, Antarctica’s only commercial runway. Once there, adrenaline-charged activities like fat biking and 4X4 rides along the ice, a guided hike across the tundra, and a Champagne picnic atop a frozen peak await. The jet returns to Cape Town in time to tuck into a warm bed at your hotel. White Desert also offers deeper dives into Antarctica with trips ranging from five to 24 days. White Desert is the only company in the world flying commercial flights into Antarctica and all trips are carbon-neutral and created to conserve the polar environment.