Cities and Towns in Africa
Matadi looks like one giant shanty town, as its low-rise houses spread out over the hill sides and river banks. As elsewhere in DRC, it's crowded and has lots of character. The main real sight in Matadi is the bridge across the Congo River. There is a toll to cross it in a vehicle, where the most expensive category is more than 300,000 F (>150 USD)!!!
One of the busiest port in Africa, Djibouti City has a sort of salty-seaman feel to it. Hot, humid and decaying, the former French colony still bares the markers of its former ruler. The old town of Djibouti abounds with the pastels and facades common in 19th-century French buildings. The tight and hemmed in streets are full of vibrant cultural life, while the buildings seem to be slowly dying. Even the mosques and market are stylistically in tune with the period. Sure, Djibouti is expensive. Sure it's hard to get to. But the reward is being one of the few tourists to wander its streets caught in a time warp.
On the paper Cairo can seem like an exciting capital filled with amazing sights: Pyramids, the Nile, historical museums, ancient mosques, traditional souqs, cave churches, the list goes on, but for first time visitors Cairo will just be a chaotic traffic jam. Sights are spread all over town, meaning you have to crisscross downtown, which is a confusing maze of roads and small lanes. There are no really city centre and every street is jampacked with people, goods, and cars, meaning getting from A to B takes an eternity. The air is dusty and the heat is suffocating. So yes, the first couple of days in Cairo will probably be hard, but then the city will grown on you.
The Eritrean capital of Asmara is not at all what you might expect from an African capital of one of the poorest countries on Earth. Firstly, as the 6th highest capital city, Asmara literally elevates you above the heat and humidity plaguing neighbouring big cities. But Asmara's cool feel is more than mere geography. The anarchy and chaos of places like Djibouti or Addis have not made their way here. Wide boulevards remain largely uncongested and shockingly orderly. While the city may lack any significant tourist sites, it's instead the Italian influenced, street-side cafe culture that ends up filling your day. People watching is the name of the game. Although considering Eritrea is also one of the least visited countries on Earth, most of those people are likely watching you!
Despite being the capital and the largest city in Eswatini, Mbabane has the atmosphere of a large village. The town is relaxed and the people are welcoming and friendly. Not many visitors drop by, so they are curious about the few who come. There is not much to see in Mbabane in terms of... well, anything. However, Mbabane does have an oversized Taiwanese embassy, probably due to the fact that Eswatini is one of the few nations that officially recognise Taiwan as an independent state. The centre of action is at the minibus station and the next door open air Swazi Plaza, but don't get fooled with the fancy name, it's very simple. Mbabane is best used as a base to get to nearby sights like Sibebe Rock and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, but if you have your own mean of transportation, there is no reason to stay there.
Downtown Libreville is so chilled and easygoing that it's hard to believe it's an African capital. The sidewalks are clean and nobody is harassing you as you stroll along the picturesque waterfront. Libreville is flooded with oil money, so it is known as one of the most expensive cities in Africa. However, there aren't any major sights beside some funky looking architecture, so many travelers choose not to spend much time here.
Let's be honest. The Gambia's capital is pretty much a dump. Most streets are full of litter and undrained rainwater; it's completely dead after 8 pm, and it's probably the only African capital where people are moving out of the city. Not surprisingly, locals and tourists alike prefer the busy market town of Serekunda or the beach towns along the coast. Despite this, the town does have a few sights that justify spending half a day here. Notable the informative, if slightly confusing, national museum and Arch 22. The latter celebrates the 1994 military coup and offers fine views over the city. A stroll between these two museums passes both the Parliament, the Supreme Court and the State House (presidential palace) – just don't pull out your camera as this will land you in trouble with the security forces. Finally, the Albert Market has hassle written all over it and should be avoided unless in cases of extreme desperation for bringing home that last souvenir. The only other reason for going to Banjul is the ferry crossing across the Gambia River to Barra.
If travelling between the Gambian coast and southeastern Senegal, Basse (as it is commonly known) is a necessary stop on the way – either as the first stop in Gambia or the last before crossing into Senegal. Otherwise, Gambia's easternmost town is somewhat of a dead-end. Travellers who do make it out here will find a busy market town that sits nicely on a pleasant bend in the Gambia River. The market here is surprisingly well-supplied, probably the most well-assorted market between Serakunda on the coast and Tambacounda in Senegal. It is also one of the better places to arrange expeditions out onto the interesting upper part of the Gambian River.
Accra doesn't feel very much like a capital city. Too spread out, without a central business district or another obvious centre. Most interesting for travellers are probably the area around Independence Square with its Black Star Triumphal Arch. Here visitors will also find the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park for Ghana's first president, and the National Cultural Centre – a glorified collection of craft stalls. To the west are Jamestown and Ushertown, known as Old Accra, and to the east Osu (or Christiansborg) Castle, which will eventually open as a museum. North of Independence Square is the central government quarter with governmental and administrative buildings as well as the National Museum. Foodies and party people will want to head northeast where nightlife and the restaurant scene is concentrated around Oxford Street.
Cape Coast is blessed with many things. A beautiful palm lined beach, another fishing beach filled with pirogues, a charming worn town centre, but the star attraction is, of course, the magnificent UNESCO enlisted slave fort positioned right between the two beaches. Due to Cape Coast's popularity with travellers and volunteers alike, there are plenty of hawkers and "artists" congregating at the fort. Some find the rasta guys at the beach a bit pushy, but they mostly prey on the western NGO girls, who don't seem to mind too much. With a god selection of accommodations and restaurants, Cape Coast makes a nice base for while doing day trips to Elmina (another slave fort town) and Kakum National Park (canopy walk).