As the second-largest continent on the globe, Africa is home to some of the most incredible places in the world. But it has so much more to offer beyond its most famous destinations, such as the Pyramids of Giza, Victoria Falls, and Mount Kilimanjaro. From the tallest mountain in central Africa to caves home to the oldest human fossil in the world, here are 10 underrated places to visit in Africa.
Sapo National Park, Liberia
The only national park in Liberia is consistently overlooked but well worth the visit. Covering mostly rainforest, Sapo National Park is a habitat for 125 species of mammals, including West African chimpanzees, forest elephants, and pygmy hippos.
Spanning nearly 700 square miles, the tropical park is located in Sinoe County in southern Liberia. From the capital of Monrovia, accessing the remote park requires a full day of travel in a four-wheel-drive vehicle towards Greenville, the closest city to Sapo at nearly 40 miles away. Hiking through the park is a popular pastime and as no vehicles are allowed in the park, staying overnight at Vera Camp, a rustic wooden encampment, can be arranged.
Stone Town, Tanzania
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is often referred to as the “cultural heart of Zanzibar,” with stunning architecture dating back to the early 19th century. Situated directly on the Indian Ocean, Stone Town was established by merchants involved in the spice and slave trade; when the slave trade was abolished in 1863, Stone Town became a popular tourist stop for European travelers.
As the oldest Swahili town in East Africa, there are many historical sites in Stone Town, including famous landmarks that have been restored beautifully. Visitors should stop by Beit-el-Ajaib or the “House of Wonders,” an ornate building built for the Sultan in the 1870s, and the Anglican Cathedral, constructed by the Brits on the site of the former slave market. To feel the energy of the city, Darajani Market sells a dizzying array of goods, ranging from artisan-made crafts to spices and fresh produce.
Mount Mulanje, Malawi
Rising 10,000 feet above sea level, Mount Mulanje is one of the most impressive sites in Malawi and one of the tallest peaks in southern Africa. The massif’s unique shape stands out on the horizon, where it’s situated between plateaus and surrounded by cascading waterfalls. Referred to by locals as the “Island in the Sky,” the mountain is known for its Mulanje cedars — impressive alpine trees that rise nearly 100 feet tall.
Visitors can drive around Mulanje’s base to get a sense of its size, but the mountain also contains numerous hiking paths that range from easy to difficult. The most adventurous trekkers can make the journey to the summit, a multi-day trip that can be arranged with the help of local guides. For these hikers, Africa Wild Truck Camp and Lodge provides individual rooms and dorm-style lodging and is an hour from Blantyre International Airport.
Great Mosque of Touba, Senegal
Located in Senegal, the Great Mosque of Touba is a marvel of modern architecture in West Africa. As the largest building in the holy city of Touba, and one of the largest mosques on the continent, both the town and its mosque were founded by Sufi religious leader Amadou Bamba in 1887.
Although the mosque was not completely finished until 1963, Bamba was interred in the building after death in 1927. Since then, it has become one of the most important and popular Muslim pilgrimage sites, especially among those in the Sufi sect.
The mosque can be seen from across the holy city, but from an up-close vantage point, visitors can take in the building’s carved ebony doors, peaceful courtyard, and blue marble interior. The building is perhaps most famous for its central minaret that stands 285 feet tall and its mausoleums, where most pilgrims head to pay their respects. Although it is a religious site, tourists are welcome and booking a guide is recommended.
Blue Lagoon National Park, Zambia
Although it has been a national park for quite some time, Blue Lagoon National Park in Zambia is relatively unknown to tourists. The land was originally preserved by a retired British colonel and his wife and sold to the National Parks Department in the 1970s. The colonel’s original farmhouse now serves as the park’s reception area, with two chalets and camping sites available for overnight stays.
Located 75 miles west of Lusaka, Blue Lagoon is part of the Kafu Flats, an African floodplain that attracts numerous animals, including zebras, buffalos, and several species of antelope. Migratory birds also flock to the region, which is home to undisturbed acacia woodland — making the park perfect for bird-watchers. Organized safaris do not currently operate through the park, but visitors can book their own 4x4 vehicles between November and April, when the park is most frequented by animals.
Mudumu National Park, Namibia
Situated on Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, a panhandle of land located between Botswana and Angola, Mudumu National Park has a most unusual landscape. Bordered by the Kwando River, the park consists of a network of waterways, defined by reedy islands and acres of flat land. As a result, the best way to explore Mudumu is by boat, with the added thrill of seeing hippos lurking beneath the water or elephants bathing in a herd.
Other animals can be discovered in Mudumu as well, including zebras, antelope, buffalos, and crocodiles, in addition to 400 species of birds. Organized safaris do operate within Mudumu, with a few camps available to stay overnight. Camp Kwando provides glamorous tree houses and thatched chalets for guests, with meals served in a spacious outdoor dining room overlooking the river.
Tsodilo Hills, Botswana
The Tsodilo Hills in Botswana are not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also contain the largest collection of rock art in the world. Nicknamed the “Louvre of the Desert,” this group of four hills is located in the Kalahari Desert and features prehistoric rock paintings dating back thousands of years.
A place of spiritual significance for the local indigenous San people, Tsodilo has traditionally been used as a place to worship ancestral spirits. Archeological findings point to the fact that humans once inhabited these caves 30,000 years ago, with evidence suggesting that the ancestors of the San people were responsible for the rock paintings numbering 4,000 in total.
Visiting Tsodilo Hills can be booked as part of a safari package, but the hills can also be accessed by vehicle from the village of Shakawe. Admission is free of charge, but visitors must first register at the main camp headquarters. There are also free rustic campsites available, with basic facilities located at the main camp.
Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa
South Africa is home to one of the most important archeological sites in the world — Sterkfontein Caves. Not far from the city of Johannesburg, the caves are situated in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, one of the richest fossil sites on Earth. Major finds inside the World Heritage Site include Little Foot, a 3.67-million-year-old hominid, in addition to stone tools dating back 2 million years, and burnt bones that indicate fire was used by these ancient humans.
The Sterkfontein Caves are open to the public seven days a week, with tours leaving every 60 minutes. Starting aboveground, visitors can take a series of walkways and boardwalks to descend into the caves, with some tight squeezes required through the limestone formations. To make the most of your trip, book the caves and museum combo tour, so you can also visit the Maropeng Museum to learn more about Sterkfontein’s history and geology.
Bazaruto Island, Mozambique
Often referred to as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” the Bazaruto Archipelago is a pristine tropical paradise off the coast of Africa. Of the archipelago's five islands, Bazaruto — which means “Island of the Mists” in Portuguese — is the largest and most-visited. With white-sand beaches, palm trees, sand dunes, and waterfalls, Bazaruto meets all the standard requirements for a picture-perfect vacation in paradise.
The island is also home to incredible scuba-diving in coral reefs home to over 2,000 species of fish, dolphins, and migrating humpback whales from July to September. Situated 18 miles from Mozambique’s mainland, Bazaruto is accessible by boat or plane and is home to two high-end resorts for overnight stays.
Maletsunyane Falls, Lesotho
One of the lesser-known countries in Africa, Lesotho is a landlocked nation located within the boundaries of South Africa. Technically designated as an “enclave,” or territory within a state, Lesotho is known for its natural beauty. In addition to being home to ski resorts, mountain peaks, and dinosaur footprints, the region’s best-known landmark is Maletsunyane Falls.
Located in the Semonkong district, the falls plunge 629 feet into an expansive gorge. Surrounded by a lush valley dotted with cattle and filled with mountain streams, the picturesque region is perfect for adventurous trekkers. Visitors can hike the steep trail to the falls overlook, or view it from afar in a vehicle. For overnight stays, Semonkong Lodge provides modern accommodations with guided hikes.