Cities and Towns in Africa
Morocco's capital city is often overlooked and bypassed by visitor's, who quickly to head to better-known destinations. That's a shame as the city offers visitors a cultural mix unique to Morocco. Rabat is at once both the past and the present, both in Africa and in Europe; UNESCO has recognised this by letting the "Modern Capital and the Historic City" share its World Heritage status. Nothing illustrates this better than riding the city's tram – it's virtually a time machine. Hop on at the Medina's medieval city walls below the castle, drive through the wide boulevards of the colonial neighbourhood, Nouvelle Ville, and disembark in Agdal, where European cafés and designer brands dominate the streets. Exploring Rabat is at the same time exploring all of Morocco's history – from the idyllic Roman ruin just outside the city's centre – to the modern Morocco in Agdal. Both will be a breath of fresh air for anyone who wants a break from the country's more hectic destinations.
Tafraoute is a cute oasis town close to the Painted Rocks. It's beautifully nested in a valley with panoramic views of the Anti-Atlas mountains. The spectacular winding journey to get here is half the adventure. And though it's hard to reach, a steady stream of campervans find their way here, meaning there are plenty of cafes, hotels and camping.
You might not believe it, but Morocco is actually home to some world-class surfing. Most surfers head to the coast north of Agadir, where the small village of Taghazout has become the epicenter. Around are numerous spots, generally breaking right over flat rock and sand. And all are easily accessible from the coastal road. The most prominent points include Anchor Point, Killers, and Panoramas. Most accommodation is clustered in Taghazout, where surf shops, rentals, and repairs are literally on every corner. The season runs from mid-September to mid-April – the beginning and end of the season will be ideal for any potential surfers who want to try out smaller waves. The village is set over a small sandy beach, which will make it an enjoyable stop, even for the non-surfing crowd.
By being Mozambique's second largest city, busiest port and vacuumed of any significent sights, Beira is understandably not high on any traveller's itinerary. But since it's also the natural transport hub between north and south Mozambique (besides the dusty junction of Inchope), it means you might have to spend a night or so here. But fear not, Beira is actually a nice place and a good change to see some 'real' Mozambique away from the 'beaten track' of beaches and islands. Beira people are used to a small flow of mlungus (white people) due to the overseas contractors, but not enough to create any form of hassle. Here you will only be met by curious and friendly locals. The city has tree-lined boulevards with dilapidated houses, some colonial some newer. Whole hotel complexes lie abandoned at the waterfront and even the lighthouse in the north end has a discarded ship wreck right at the base, making Beira a wonderful orderly junkyard.
Tiny Inhambane might be the most charming town in Mozambique. Its history goes way back, first in the 11th century as a port for Arabic traders and later for the flourishing ivory and slave trade, but it's the deteriorated Portuguese colonial architecture that makes Inhambane cute - that and then its pretty waterside setting at Inhambane Bay. It's shockingly orderly and slow paced, making it a very quiet place. There aren't any particularly sights, it's merely just the ambiance and the faded pastel coloured houses that make the attractions. Besides being friendly and easy going (as everywhere in Mozambique), the people are almost indifferent to the few tourists that trickle in on day trips from the beaches at Tofo and Barra.
Maputo is a wonderful mix of worn Potuguese colonial leftovers, concrete mansions, palm lined avenues and a few high-rises here and there - and lots of potholes. It has a beautiful seaside location with a long beach (Costa do Sol) within chapa (minibus) distance, but also a fair share of scruffy areas. Downtown is bustling but never hectic, and the central market is colourful and surprisingly small and tranquil. There are street cafes on the main avenues and small shack bars with plastic chairs that spill onto the side streets in the afternoon. Maputo is known for its friendly vibe and has enough charisma and character to charm anyone who chooses to explore the city for a couple of days.
Pemba is the most important city in northern Mozambique, a major port and the gateway to the Quarimbas Archipelago. It's a spread-out affair, occupying a peninsula facing Pemba Bay. The city has some nice colonial architecture, although of a more recent generation than other parts of Mozambique, and a local market selling arts, crafts and traditional silverwear. But most people don't come here to enjoy the charms of the city itself, but to get in the water: Pemba is the diving capital of northern Mozambique, with a coral reef laying just off the coast. There are dolphins, turtles and humpback whales. For longer excursions, and to get away from the crowds, the Quirimbas are just a boat excursion away. Pemba is on the verge of changing from somewhat quaintly provincial to urban sprawl, and the recent discovery of off-shore gas deposits is likely to speed that process up. In the meantime, however, stop by for a dive, some seafood and a dhow trip.
Swakopmund is Namibia's main seaside resort. Its centre is colourful, and quaint enough by African standards - its German and Afrikaner heritage apparent. The seafood is excellent, and the shores around the city are famous for the fishing. Swakopmund (or Swakop, as it is known locally) is located right at the edge of the Namib desert, and is - together with Walvis Bay - an ideal place for desert adventures: scenic flights, skydives, quad biking, dune boarding and much else besides can be organised here. If such is your desire, it is wise to allow for more than one day, as Swakop frequently gets inundated in fog. The dunes beyond the city host many relics from the First World War, and occasionally play host to Hollywood productions.
Niger's capital and biggest city is wonderfully laid back and hassle free. Even the central market is an almost chilled experience, and it's possible to walk through the narrow and colourful corridors without experience a single hard sell. Both the market and the city as a whole have a more Middle Eastern and Islamic feel to it than other Sahel capitals, like Ouagadougou or Bamako. It's also the most visible diverse city in West Africa. From the Tuaregs from the Sahara in the north to the Hausas no the Nigerian border and ethnic group in between, all still largely wear traditional outfits, which hugely differ from one another, making it a distinct ethnological experience to walk the city's streets.
With a population of more than 20 millions Lagos is not only the biggest city in Nigeria, but also the biggest in Africa (though exact numbers don't exist). Though it's the economic hub of Nigeria, Abuja is the capital. It's obviously very big and spread out. It doesn't have a traditional city centre, but is more split into neighbourhoods. The islands (Victoria Island and Lagos Island) are the posh part of town, where Ikoyi is the most affluent neighborhood with a lot of embassies. Ikeja, near the airport, is an orderly commercial center, where the markets have some bustle. Of course there are slums and crazy congested neighborhoods, but they have little appeal for most travelers, maybe except for Makoko stilt village, which can be seen from the expressway at the 3rd Mainland Bridge.