Five African Getaways

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With the festive season upon us, it’s that time of year when we’re all looking to relax a little and get away. For some this means relaxing on a pristine beach or enjoying a round of golf, while others may prefer ticking off sites on their personal bucket lists. Business Traveller looks at five African locations, all of which offer something distinctly different on the leisure travel menu.

1. Mauritius
Mauritius holds a special place in the hearts of many South Africans, and it’s not hard to see why… The country’s visa requirements (there are none for South African residents) and proximity (a four-hour flight will get you there) make Mauritius an easily accessible option for those wishing to escape to an island paradise, whether for a honeymoon or just a good old sun-drenched vacation. The island offers a combination of expansive beaches, various land and water-based activities, superb fauna and flora, and a sunny culture that sees a mix of French, Creole, Indian and Chinese influences.

General information
Mauritius lives up to the tropical-island stereotype in that there is a very hot season, and a slightly cooler season. The Mauritian ‘winter’ (with temperatures ranging from 20-28°C, as opposed to low to the medium 30s of summertime) lasts roughly from June to September, and many inhabitants recommend visiting their island home during these months when the heat, humidity and rainfall abate somewhat. Nonetheless, the summer months remain the busiest. English is widely spoken, and a bit of French will be useful. The currency is the Mauritian Rupee.

What is there to see and do?
Numerous dive centres can be found on the island, many offering courses for beginners as well as catering for experienced divers. Other ways of exploring the underwater wonder-world surrounding Mauritius include submarine dives, undersea walks and snorkelling. The island’s many beaches are the real tourist magnet, but in addition to sunbathing, parasailing and daytrips to smaller islands, tourists may also enjoy a visit to bird and wildlife parks, nature reserves and museums (such as a rum distillery, sugar factory or colonial home). Other natural features include a crater, waterfalls and the spectacularly coloured sands of Chamarel. The island is also home to several golf courses, and at the Champs de Mars horse track one can spend a memorable Saturday afternoon at the races.

Where to stay?
While small groups and families may enjoy renting a villa or beach house, there are many B&Bs as well as an astounding number of hotels and resorts dotted all over the island to suit different budgets and tastes. These include five-star favourites (like The Residence, Le Touessrok, Club Med la Plantation d’Albion), four-star options (such as Sugar Beach Resort, Le Preskil, Le Meridien Ile Maurice) and three-star hotels (such as The Bay Hotel and Tamarin Hotel). Choose one with the features you’re looking for, such as a golf course, spa or children-friendly activities.

Go to Mauritius if: you like an island experience laced with luxury.

2. Egypt
Egypt is synonymous with sights like the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, but there is much more to this country than these famous attractions. Tours to Egypt typically incorporate Aswan and Luxor in addition to the capital city of Cairo, and apart from Ancient Egypt, tourists may also enjoy exploring the desert and Bedouin culture, diving in the Red Sea, activities around the Nile, sea-and-beach holidays, and a heady dose of cultural offerings. It is also possible to combine your stay in Egypt with a trip to the city of Petra in Jordan.

General Information
South Africans need a visa to travel to Egypt (call the Embassy on 012 343 1590), but it is free of charge and generally processed within two working days. Flying to Cairo from Johannesburg takes about eight hours. These are typically night-time flights, and since there is no time difference, South African travellers can start their day of arrival afresh. The local currency is the Egyptian Pound.

What is there to see and do?
Take a day-trip from Cairo to visit the Egyptian Museum, various pyramids and other monuments hailing from the era of the Pharaohs, but be sure to allocate some time to spend in Egyptian capital itself. Truly a city that never sleeps, it is possible to enjoy a meal here at 1 o’clock in the morning (try Egyptian specialities such as kebabs, molokhya and koshari). Cairo highlights include the winding alleyways of the famous Khan el-Khalili bazaar, the city’s Islamic architecture and breathtaking mosques, as well as Coptic Cairo, one of the oldest parts of the city.

The Valley of the Kings, Luxor and Karnak temples, Luxor museum, and local bazaars are worth visiting in Luxor, in addition to many other monuments and tombs (such as the exquisite tomb of Queen Nerfertari). Consider taking a hot-air balloon ride. In and around Aswan, notable sights and activities include a felucca ride, the temples at Abu Simbel, High Dam and Philae Island and Elephantine Island. The Sinai Peninsula (with places like Nuweiba, Taba and Dahab) and Red Sea Coast (with prime tourist spots like El-Gouna, Soma Bay, Safaga) are also popular among sun-seeking holidaymakers and divers.

Egypt is an affordable destination for South Africans, and shopping opportunities range from huge malls like City Stars that offer international brands, to great local products like silver, carpets, Egyptian-made clothing, leather products and perfumes for sale at the colourful souks. Don’t leave the country without enjoying a cruise on the Nile and a camel ride.

Where to stay?
In Cairo, it may be tempting to opt for the luxury of the more pricey four and five-star hotels such as the InterContinental Citystars, Grand Hyatt, Novotel or Fairmont, but those on tighter budgets should not dismiss three-star options like the Windsor Hotel, or small establishments like the Talisman Hotel de Charme. Many of the lower-priced hotels are equally comfortable and excellently located with a charm all of their own. The two Oberoi Nile cruisers promise an unforgettably luxurious experience.

Go to Egypt if: you enjoy a sense of history, cultural intrigue and would like to tick the pyramids off your list of must-see sights.

3. Morocco
The Moroccan experience is unmistakeably African, but Berber, Arab, Spanish, Portuguese and French influences are equally evident in this mysteriously beautiful country. The capital of Rabat is located on the Atlantic Coast, but Morocco is far more famous for cities with exotically poetic names like Tangiers, Marrakech, the cosmopolitan hub of Casablanca, religious centres of Fez and Meknes, blue-and-white Asilah and coastal city of Essaouira. The country is loved for delectable cuisine, colourful characters, fabrics and spices, and a thrilling mix of culture and history.

General information
South Africans need a visa to enter Morocco (call the Embassy on 012 343 0230). South African time is two hours ahead of Morocco, and it should be noted that flying to Casablanca, Rabat or any of the other large Moroccan airports from South Africa entails at least one combination – most commonly through carriers like Emirates, Air France and Egyptair. A little bit of French will go a long way in this Northern African country, and it’s the kind of place that teaches you to interact with peddlers only very selectively.

What is there to see and do?
Colonial, whitewashed Casablanca and the fascinating urban sprawls of Fez and Tangiers offer buzzing streets, hidden medinas (walled quarters), sidewalk cafes and the sometimes-chaotic vivacity that one expects from this country. Asilah is known for its easy-going atmosphere, while kite-surfing and fishing are popular pastimes in the old and elegant fishing port of Essaouira. Bargaining for good prices in local souks, lingering over a cup of coffee or glass of mint tea, a camel ride across the Sahara and hiking in the High Atlas mountains are quintessential Moroccan experiences.

Where to stay
International luxury hotel groups can be found in Casablanca and the other big cities, but these five-star options may fail to live up to the price tag. Be sure to check websites like Tripadvisor.com before you book your accommodation, and consider four-star and three-star options, as well as smaller, privately run establishments, as these often offer better value for money.

Go to Morocco if:
a kaleidoscope of colour and culture with a touch of chaos sounds like your idea of a great holiday.

4. Mozambique
Mozambique is an up-and-coming star on the tourist map, especially for those with an appetite for all things sun and sea. The warm waters off the coast of Mozambique offer a host of diving and snorkelling opportunities, and a string of islands wait to be explored. Maputo is a short flight away from Johannesburg, and for South Africans, Mozambique is relatively easily accessible by road.

General information
South Africans don’t need a visa to enter Mozambique, but don’t forget your passport at home and ensure that it is valid for another six months or more. Travelling to this country requires an informed and aware approach. The guerrilla war in Mozambique ended relatively recently (in the early 90s), and some routes still pose a landmine risk. Many roads in Mozambique are also only accessible by vehicles with off-road capabilities, and with filling stations sometimes being far apart, it may be necessary to carry extra fuel with you. Given road conditions, it is wise to avoid driving after dark. If it’s your first time to Mozambique, be sure to familiarise yourself with the route you’ll be travelling on prior to leaving by doing research and speaking to experienced travellers.  Bear in mind that malaria is prevalent in this country, so consult a travel clinic to obtain the necessary prophylactics before departing.

What is there to see and do?
Although many prime coastal spots have seen a boom in development in recent years, there are many pristine beaches and beautiful hidden bays, especially to the less-explored north. Lovers of water sports like kite surfing, diving, fishing and snorkelling are spoilt for choice, and an abundance of fresh seafood and tasty local beer make for great holiday staples. The relative rawness of the Mozambique also offers an affordable and refreshing change from many commercialised coastal alternatives. The vibrant capital of Maputo offers sidewalk cafes and an energetic nightlife, while Inhambane (further south) is a sleepier town and in close proximity to exquisite spots like Tofo (famous for excellent marine life such as whale shark and manta ray), Guinjata Bay, Manta Reef and Gallaria. The Bazaruto Archipelago is also a popular destination.

Where to stay
A holiday in Mozambique can really be tailored to suit any budget. While the young and adventurous may enjoy camping, there are many family-friendly hotels (such as the Southern Sun and Polana) as well as exclusive island resorts (like Matemo and Medjumbe islands) to choose from.

Go to Mozambique if: you enjoy a beach holiday with a bit of authentically African adventure on the side.

5. Zambia
Zambia’s most famous tourist magnet is the Victoria Falls. It is said that Zimbabwe offers more spectacular views of the Falls, but Zambia is often preferred as a more politically stable destination. Additionally, Zambia also offers some truly superb game-viewing opportunities. This country is also popular among birdwatchers, anglers and adventure enthusiasts, with excellent white-water rafting to be had on the Zambezi River.

General information
Air Zambia, South African Airways and British Airways offer direct flights from South Africa to Zambian airports such as Lusaka, Livingstone and Victoria Falls, and South Africans don’t need a visa. Malaria is, however, prevalent, and necessary prophylactics should be taken.

What is there to see and do?
The country has three distinct seasons – wet, hot and dry – and it is best to plan one’s holiday in accordance with these. The wet season runs from December to April, which means that April and May are the best months to visit the Victoria Falls. During this time, also known as the Emerald Season, wildlife sightings are not as good but birdwatching opportunities are optimal. May to August is known as the dry season, also the coolest season, and it is the best time of year to visit the Kafue National Park, Luangwa Valley and other game reserves for wildlife-watching. The hot season lasts from September to November, and soaring temperatures make this the least comfortable time of year for visitors. Lake Kariba is also known for prime fishing opportunities and its abundant wildlife.

Where to stay 
Houseboats are popular on Lake Kariba, while stately hotels with a touch of colonial grandeur abound in Livingstone. There are also many bush lodges and luxury camps to choose from in the rest of the country and the game reserves, guaranteeing an authentically African experience. Guesthouses in the various cities often offer a cheaper alternative, but standards vary vastly and it is best to inspect these prior to booking your accommodation.

Go to Zambia if: you’d like a taste of Africa at its authentic, untamed best.