Cities and Towns in Africa
It's hard to imagine a more picturesque location for a town than the one Santo Antonio has. In a protected bay on a backdrop of jungle covered pitons. It's a lovely and relaxed place with friendly people. The are few colourful colonial buildings like the town hall, else it's wonderful makeshift worn. Staying in charming Santo Antonio is a cheaper alternative to the expensive resorts, but you will need to rent a car (with or without driver) to get to the beaches.
The capital of São Tomé and Príncipe is also called São Tomé. Though a third of the nation's total population of about 200,000 lives here, it feels like a giant village, wonderful lively and compact. Most buildings are worn out, even the colonial ones, but the town has plenty of charm and character. The waterfront is interesting and so is the open market, if you like people watching.
Hate it or love it – Dakar is one of Africa's most chaotic and lively cities. It is West Africa's epicentre for art, music, nightlife, food and just about every other sinful joy of life. Once you've figured out how to negotiate the traffic, hustlers and con-artists, and gotten used to the pollution, here is plenty on offer. Except in the realm of sightseeing, where Dakar has surprisingly little to offer. However, some travellers find the city too much, too large and too chaotic and prefer to get out of there quickly after the main sights have been visited. Both stances are legitimate, though it would be a shame not to spend a few days here to figure out which of the two camps you belong to.
A more crumbling and perhaps providing a more realistic picture of a Senegalese colonial town vis-a-vis the renovated splendour of Saint-Louis in the north. Ziguinchor's appear comes partly from this decaying colonial streets, partly from its relaxed atmosphere. Zig (as it is known to its friends) has the distinct feel of a tropical harbour. Its riverside location, the fumes and smell of the harbour, and the pressing heat. Oddly, this seems to work in the town's favour, and while here's nothing in particular to keep you for long, the city will grow on most visitors who spend a few days here. With plenty of banks, a well-stocked market, a good range of accommodation, plenty of wifi spots and the Casamance region's transport hub, Ziguinchor is also a good place to use as a base for exploring the region.
You might wonder why a third of the Seychelles' population live in uneventful Victoria, when there are so many other pretty places. But Victoria is the centre for business, education, transport... well, pretty much anything not related to beaches. The pace is adorably slow and even the main shopping street is a calm affair. There are a few historical buildings and a small local market, but else the prettiest thing is the setting at the foot of jungle covered hills.
Centred on a large Cotton Tree, spreading itself out along the coastline and up and down the hillsides of the peninsula's interior, Freetown feels chaotic at times. Sierra Leone's capital - once you've got your bearings - has a few gems to offer besides the usual nightlife, national museum and markets Africa's capitals have on offer. The city centre is where the first freed slaves based themselves and their Krio Houses, beautiful wooden structures are still found all over the city. Freetown is also one of the most openly religious, and religiously tolerant, cities on the continent. Hundreds, if not thousands, of churches and mosques line the streets. Public transport is decorated with religious slogans. It's not uncommon to be blessed by people on the street and don't be too surprised if the immigration lady who's extending your visa suddenly begin to sing praising tunes about Jesus in an otherwise crowded office.
The Somali port city of Berbera used to be something really special. Back in the days of colonization, the natural port was abuzz with shipping and fishing. The town thrived. This is evident by the beautiful period architecture in the colonial buildings which line the quite streets. However, years and even decades of war and instability have taken their toll on the town. The building lie in virtual ruins, crumbling back to the ground from which they sprang. The port is now littered with more shipwrecks than moving cargo ships. And the mood is much more somber than that of the regional capital, Hargeisa. But all is not lost. Berbera has a shockingly pristine beach which stretch far beyond what you can see. And the water is clean. One resort has banked on the success of the hidden treasure, and scuba diving is even available. So perhaps all is not lost for this phoenix rising from the ashes.
It is no secret to those who have watch a news broadcast or read a newspaper that Somalia has been rife to turmoil and upheaval since seemingly forever. And there are reminders of the troubled past everywhere. But what the sensationalism does not prepare you for is the peace and stability (relatively speaking) of the self-declared independent region of Somaliland. Here, there are no bombings. There are no kidnappings. Just normal everyday folks going about their daily business. And it's capital, Hargeisa, is a laid-back, easy-going town. For the traveller, there aren't any real "sights" of note. But what you get is a genuine welcome. Locals don't see you as a tourist or an invader, but as a visiting friend. The honest nature makes a stay here shockingly easy. One of the last places like it on Earth.
Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest city in South Africa, and a great starting point for those who wish to explore the Karoo (Camdeboo National Park with the magnificent Valley of Desolation are practically on its doorstep). But there is enough inside the town boundaries to keep travellers interested for a while. There are lots of well-maintained Cape Dutch buildings in the town centre, and Graaff-Reinet is home to more national monuments than any other city in South Africa. It also boasts the only church in South Africa with a complete kitchen and chimney. The best view of the town is from the Valley of Desolation, which can be reached by car or on foot, although the latter would be a rather strenuous undertaking.
© Matt Hamilton
A trip to South Africa is not complete without visiting Cape Town, the cosmopolitan capital of the African continent. The city has it all. This visually breathtaking coastal metropolis boasts fine dining, excellent shopping and incredible nightlife filled with pubs and clubs. A stroll down the thriving Long Street on a Saturday night is a party in itself. Cape Town will also satisfy the adventurous. Kite surfing, abseiling and the 1000 m high Table Mountain, the signature of this incredible city, will provide your adrenaline outlets. Climb to the mountain's plateau peek and be rewarded with mind-blowing views of the city, the Indian Ocean and the Twelve Apostles Mountain range. Moreover, there are excellent daytrips that explore the extending region. Spend a day touring the intoxicating vineyards and sample some of the tastiest wines on the planet. Spend another day visiting the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern tip of Africa and where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans converge. Cape Town's beauty, charm and hospitality will ensure to keep you around longer than planned.