UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa
Ethiopia has a long history of empires coming and empires going. But during the 16th and 17th centuries, one of the mightiest empires placed their capital in Gondar. The result is the UNESCO-listed walled fortress of Fasil Ghebbi. With palaces, churches, monasteries and various other buildings all crammed into a square kilometre, the old fortress has tremendous bang for the buck. Wandering the grounds from building to building, you might think you're in some scene from Lord of the Rings. The buildings run anything from expertly restored to crumbling to the ground. Although the actual town of Gondar ain't much, Fasil Ghebbi is a major highlight, not only of the country, but of the entire region.
There are few sites on Earth like the rock-hewn churches of the UNESCO listed Lalibela. The magnificent religious buildings were actually carved into the stone, almost like a negative impression. Arguably the biggest attraction in the country, this is one of those sites that does NOT disappoint. But beyond the magnificent churches, including the iconic St. George's with its cross roof, the brilliance of Lalibela is the way the whole area is managed. Actually a collection of 7 villages (of which only 1 has the churches), revenues are shared among them all. Guides must be licensed by local authorities and anyone trying to scam tourists is quickly chased off. It is a surprisingly stress-free visit so one can actually enjoy the spiritual sensation the place was built for.
Scaling Mt. Kenya (5,199 m)
Mount Kenya (5,199 m), second only to Kilimanjaro (5,895 m) in Africa, actually consists of several peaks, the third highest (Point Lenana, 4,985 m) of which can be scaled without ropes. The park is stunning, with a wide variety of habitats. There are a number of approaches, with the slightly longer Chogoria being the most beautiful. Sirimon is a good alternative, and the two can be combined for a 5/6-day walk. The walking begins around 3,000 m, and if you are coming from Nairobi (1,500 m), be sure to take the high altitude into account. The summit is best experienced at sunrise; the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro can be seen on clear mornings. The hike is tough, and many visitors have to turn back before they reach the top. Hiring porters and a guide will increase your chances of success, and decrease the risk of getting lost. Also beware of the weather – the top of Mt Kenya has a permanent glacier, and temperatures on the mountains fall well below freezing on most nights. Too much rain or snow can make the experience unpleasant and dangerous. On a clear day, however, there are few places that can claim to be more beautiful.
Mozambique Island is the cradle of African colonialism and so soaked in history that it's deserved a UNESCO site. First came Arabian traders, and later the Portuguese. It became one of the central ports for the slave trade and was for a long time the capital of Portuguese East Africa, leaving the island with a density of colonial buildings not matched by many other places in Africa. What makes Mozambique Island further unique today, is that people are living in and among these decayed mansions, giving the island an almost squatter feel. Most of the historical sites are at the northern end, where the once cobbled streets are now sandy and potholed and the crumbling once-grand buildings stand neglected among bushes and shady trees. The southern end of the island is a densely populated shack town with easy going people. There are also several beaches around Mozambique Island, but they are mostly used by playing children and fishermen fixing their boats, but local guys will be happy to do boat tours to nearby islands. However, Mozambique Island's charm is the old houses and laid back atmosphere.
Even centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, countless architectural symbols of it's magnificence still scatter the Mediterranean coastline. While everyone knows about the Colosseum in the centre of Rome, not so many know of the UNESCO listed Amphitheatre of El Jem. Built in the 3rd century for up to 60,000 spectators, the amphitheatre is the 3rd largest of it's kind in the world. Even today, the amphitheatre is the centre of town life. Surprisingly, the area is not a touristic as you might expect for such an great site. And being so big, it's easy to escape any of the few tour groups that make it here.
On the border to Zimbabwe
Amazing Victoria Falls is just an impressive sight. A wall of water more than 1700 m wide, plunging more than 100 m down into a gorge. It can be visited from both the Zimbabwean side and the Zambian side. Though most of the front of the falls is one the Zimbabwean side, the Zambian side has its fair share of great view points, some really close to the action. And for views of Victoria Bridge (where the bungy jumping is done from), you can't beat the Boiling Point. In the end of the dry season (April to October) and before the rainy season (November to March) picks up, parts of the Zambezi dry up and it's possible to walk across some streches at the crest of the falls. Through Livingstone Island you can get out to Devil's Pool, a natural rock pool right on the edge of the falls, where brave people have a dip and foolish people slip over. In the flood season (February to May) the falls are enveloped in mist, which can be seen many kilometers away. A visit to the falls at this time will leave you drenched and entranced by the power of nature.
On the border to Zambia
Without actually holding any record, Victoria Falls is considered to be the greatest waterfall on the planet. Though its measurements are impressive - 107 m high, 1737 m wide and gushing out 1746 m³ of water every second - it is beaten in all categories by other falls. Angel Falls is 979 m high, Iguazu is 2700 m wide and 2407 m³ flows over Niagara Falls every second. But Victoira Falls is not about records, it's just one of those places that have to be seen. The Zambezi River flows between Zimbabwe and Zambia acting as the natural border. Wide upriver, but suddenly plunges into a deep narrow chasm at Victoria Falls before it winds its way hidden at the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the rainy season (November to March) the falls are almost obscured in spray, and during dry season (April to October) and right after, large sections are almost dried up. But no matter which season you come, you will be blown away by its sheer size and beauty.