Places with photo galleries in Africa
Only about 40 kilometres from Antsiranana (Diego Suarez), this national park makes a good day trip and also a good place to cool down from the heat of the city. At "Amber mountain", there is a microclimate with temperatures quite a bit lower and a high chance of rain, especially in the afternoon. There are several easy trails to beautiful waterfalls. The dense tropical (rain)forest harbours several species of lemurs. It is mandatory to have a guide as in all parks in Madagascar, which is a good thing because they are experts at finding the animals for you, which you probably wouldn't be able to do on your own. If you get a guide who drives with you to the park you'll probably be able to spot several chameleons on the way there.
Madagascar is sometimes called the "red island". All over the country you can see the red earth rich in iron. While the other tsingy's (of Ankarana close-by and Bemara in the West of the country) are eroded limestone, the red tsingy is completely different. Rain and wind have eroded the red laterite earth creating beautiful white and red shapes. Especially on clear days, the clear blue skies contrast with the reddish pinnacles. It is highly recommended to make the effort of venturing out to the red tsingy, either on a day trip from Diego Suarez or on route to the Ankarana Special Reserve. You will most likely need your own 4x4 transportation as it is located about a one-hour off-road drive away from the main road.
Before 1998, pretty much no-one lived in the plains between Isalo National Park and Tulear. Since the discovery of Sapphire, several towns have appeared and the area has become the "Wild West" of Madagascar. People are attracted here seeking fortune, something that only a few will ever find. They work in the mines and only get paid with whatever they dig up, much like during the gold rush in Northern America. The biggest town of these, Ilakaka, has evolved from a gathering of wooden sheds to a town of over 20,000 people with shops, brothels, places to gamble and even some big mansions for the few that did find their fortune. Security has improved a little but it is still definitely not a town to linger in and even better to be avoided all together at night since the crime rate is very high.
Madagascar has about 20 different ethnic groups. The Vezo people live at the coast in the West of the country, pretty much the region around and North of Toliara (Tulear). Their main activity is fishing. Every day, the Vezo people take their sailing pirogues, which are wooden dug-out canoes, out to the reef and beyond and mostly return about mid-morning with their catch of the day. The Vezo people are skilled sailors and fishermen and it is fascinating to watch them navigate their boats to shore and seeing the crowds of people getting in the fish and seafood. At these moments there is a market atmosphere with sometimes quite a bit of fuzz.
At the tip of a peninsula at the bottom of gorgeous Lake Malawi lies adorable Cape Maclear. The rural village has been a favourite of backpackers and overlanders for decades, and for a good reason. Green mountains make up the inland while the lakeshore is blessed with a narrow sandy beach. The village is a one lane place with shady baobab trees. The men go out on the lake for fishing in small canoes, while the women are constantly washing at the edge of the lake, with playful kids everywhere. The main event of the day is sunset, when the sky turns bright orange before the sun burns out behind the hilly horizon across the lake. Be prepared with the cold drinks for the spectacle is rather short. Afterwards, the night gets filled with African rythms pumping from the small bars along the beach.
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.
The Mozambicans really are a friendly bunch. They are chilled, patient, and good humoured. Even more endaring is their honesty - something you even can expect from bus boys and taxi drivers, though there are a few exceptions. Wherever you go, you will (if you are a man) shake hands (African way of course, if you don't know they will teach you) and exchange names and formalities. Even in small places where you constantly bump into the same people, greeting is still performed like you were meeting up as long lost friends. So the helpful Mozambicans certainly make it easier to endure another full day journey in a rattling, overpacked minibus.
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.