Africa, a continent of immense diversity and beauty, is often overlooked by travellers. While popular tourist destinations such as Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa attract millions of visitors each year, there are many other Africa travel destinations that remain hidden gems.
According to the World Tourism Organization (2021), despite its vast size and diverse attractions, Africa receives a relatively small share of global tourism. In 2021, Africa accounted for just 5% of global tourist arrivals, compared to 32% for Asia and 25% for Europe. However, there is a growing trend of interest in African tourism, as travellers seek out new and authentic experiences.
There are many reasons why travellers should consider lesser-visited countries in Africa. These destinations often offer a more immersive cultural experience, with fewer tourists and more opportunities to interact with locals. They also tend to be more affordable than more popular tourist destinations.
This article will showcase first-hand accounts of unique cultural and natural experiences from travel bloggers who have explored lesser-known African destinations. Enjoy!
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Africa travel destinations for culture buffs
Contribution by Laura of Laure Wanders
Benin, located on the West coast of Africa, is a unique destination full of interesting things to discover. This is the country where the Voodoo religion was born and it’s a great place to learn more about this – often misinterpreted – religion. The small city of Ouidah is known as the Voodoo Capital of the world and this town is full of places where you can immerse yourself in this culture.
Learning about Voodoo was my favourite thing to do in Benin. Like many people, I had only heard about this religion through American movies, which don’t depict a correct image of what it’s all about. But there’s more to Benin than Voodoo alone!
This country is also home to Ganvie Lake Village one of the largest lake villages in Africa, Pendjari National Park, where you can spot wildlife, Abomey, the capital of Ancient Dahomey, and Grand-Popo, the country’s most famous beach.
If you like exploring traditional villages, Natitingou, in Northwestern Benin, is a great place to head to as well. This municipality is home to 65 villages inhabited by various ethnicities. I visited the village of Taneka Koko here and got to meet the village chief, which was a pretty interesting experience. Many of the villagers don’t like having their picture taken and it’s important to be mindful of that. The village chief is an exception, though. He loves being photographed and was happy to answer all of my questions.
All in all, Benin is an adventurous destination that culture and photography lovers will love. This is a destination unlike any other and you will remember your trip to this country for a lifetime.
Contribution by De Wet from Museum of Wander
Ethiopia is an incredibly unique country and offers adventurous travellers a unique African travel experience. While it might lack the famous safari adventures of the other countries in East Africa, Ethiopia more than makes up for it in terms of unique cultural wonders. From the tribal villages of the Omo Valley to the coffee-growing lowlands and the Christian Orthodox highlands, the country is the proverbial melting pot of cultures. And that is why I came to Ethiopia (and you should too).
Of the many highlights in Ethiopia, my favourite place is Lalibela in the northern highlands. This small town in the Lasta Mountains is the heart of the Orthodox Christians. Here you’ll find Ethiopia’s famous rock-hewn churches- one of Africa’s most incredible sights. The best time to visit the churches is on Sunday morning when thousands of people from the surrounding villages pour into town for Sunday morning mass. Aside from the exceptional architecture and beautiful mountain scenery, I was overwhelmed by the devotion of the pilgrims who attended the services.
If you’re looking for one of the best cultural attractions in the world that’s still a hidden gem, you’d love Lalibela. Photographers, hikers, history fanatics and those interested in religion will be in a very happy place, too.
Please remember that these are still active places of worship, so be respectful, and please don’t hand out anything (candy, money, pencils, ANYTHING) to the children.
Lalibela is best reached by a short flight from the capital, Addis Abeba, as the only other option is a bus that will take roughly two days. To appreciate and enjoy visiting Lalibela, I suggest staying at least three nights. This allows for exploring all eleven churches and for some hiking to other monasteries in the mountains around the town.
Africa travel destinations for outdoor enthusiasts
Contribution by Taylor at Taytrum Travels
Equatorial Guinea is an exciting destination for outdoor enthusiasts because it receives such little tourism that it feels like a hidden gem with lush, pristine natural landscapes. In fact, Equatorial Guinea is one of the least visited countries in the world. Some estimates put the annual number of visitors at less than 1,000. Recently, the state even imposed stricter tourism regulations on American passport holders, likely driving the number of visitors further down. Almost all nationalities need a priorly arranged visa to visit the country. The strict regulations should not dissuade you though. Equatorial Guinea is home to volcanic black sand beaches like those found at San Antonio de Ureca. This is a preserved breeding ground for sea turtles and features many cascading waterfalls. This was my personal favourite place on the island of Bioko. It is an adventure to reach, but being the only people on a pristine beach is a rare thing to experience. It is also considered one of the wettest places on earth because of the amount of rainfall. You can also hike the Moka Volcano to see the Lagoa de Biao inside the filled crater.
On the mainland, I was also impressed by the chimpanzees I saw near Oyala. Wherever you go, it is important to practice the principles of Leave No Trace, meaning you should not leave any trash behind. These natural wonders are so preserved due to the limitation of tourism and the careful practice of the few visitors that do come.
Contribution by Sweta from Zest In A Tote
Namibia is a no-brainer for an off-the-beaten path plus adventure spot in Africa. When we visited more than a decade ago on a road trip, it felt like we were the only Indians in the country. And after the glamorous Cape Town, Namibia was wilderness.
There are too many highlights in the country to recount. The Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world, was the highlight of our road trip across Namibia. And Namib has the highest sand dunes any desert can have.
It is a rare place where the desert meets the sea. It is also one of the driest destinations on earth. Interestingly Namib gets its water supply from the fog that rolls up on almost 180 days in a year. You must climb one of the giant sand dunes. I climbed Dune 45 (80 meters). You can have fun sandboarding or on a quad bike roaming the desert.
A once-in-a-lifetime adventure is to visit the nearby clay pan, Deadvlei. This place has not seen rain in more than 1,000 years. Another highlight is Etosha National Park, a vast area with spectacular wildlife sightings. One characteristic of Etosha Park is a salt pan so large it can be seen from space.
Namibia can be visited throughout the year, though the best season to visit is from June to October. Take your best camera equipment and sense of adventure with you!
Africa travel destinations for animal lovers
Contributed by Linn Haglund of Brainy Backpackers
Madagascar is one of the most unique underrated destinations for adventurous travelers I have been to, and I have traveled there twice. You can go whale watching without the crowds, see turtles hatch ethically, and scuba dive in places where no other tourists go. Madagascar is the home of lemurs among hundreds of other wildlife species that are endemic to the island. You can see them in the wild in several national parks across the country, but stay clear of people asking for money to take pictures with captured animals. One of the most unique experiences I had in Madagascar was hiking in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park on the western side of the country. This is so remote that we travelled by 4WD for a day from Morondava to get there, but the needle-sharp limestone forests will stick with me forever. The Little Tsingy and the Big Tsingy are the two different parts you can explore and it is mandatory to go with a guide which you can book when you get there or through the tourist office in Morondava if you need a driver to take you there too. On my first trip to Madagascar, I worked at a whale-watching centre in Ile Saint Marie. Back then, it was extremely remote and only the most adventurous went there. Now, it is more developed, but still an incredible place to see these gentle giants. If you want something more touristy, head to Nosy Be. Visiting Madagascar is a must for anyone looking for the path less trodden, a less developed destination, where you can truly immerse yourself in the culture and the abundant wildlife.
Contribution by Dotti of Travel Oasis
If you’re looking for adventure and want to get off the beaten track in Africa, then look no further than Rwanda. This tiny country is big on thrills and has a lot to offer the responsible traveller.
Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills, so it should come as no surprise that trekking is a major attraction in Rwanda. Up in Volcanoes National Park, there are a handful of exciting volcanoes to climb. Mount Bisoke is our favourite, where we came up close with a family of silverbacks.
Not to be undone by its natural landscape, Rwanda is also an ideal destination for animal lovers. Do I even have to mention the gorillas? But it’s not just silverbacks here, you can find chimps, golden monkeys and even the big five.
Rwanda is booming in the fair trade coffee industry, so one of my favourite activities is stopping by one of the country’s many coffee farms to pick up some delicious, fresh coffee straight from the source.
Rwanda is fast becoming a leader in community-based tourism (CBT). This is an approach to tourism that ensures that local communities are involved in, and benefit from, increased tourism. Through their growing CBT projects, you can visit local communities and have awesome, authentic experiences. By choosing these experiences, your dollars are making a difference.
On that note, although you may be asked, please do not give money or sweets directly to children.
African travel destinations for beachgoers
Sao Tome and Principe
Contributed by Heather from Conversant Traveller
Well off the beaten tourist track, Sao Tome and Principe is the epitome of a remote and tropical destination in Africa. Thanks to their location, the islands haven’t been ruined by mass tourism and overdevelopment. As a result, I felt that my experience here was more authentic than anywhere else I’ve visited. There are just a handful of places to stay in Sao Tome and Principe, but most have sustainability at heart. Construction has remained environmentally sensitive, using locally sourced materials and labour. Organic produce comes from the abundant plantations and fertile land, with everything from soap to muesli made right here on the islands.
Tourism focuses on eco-conscious activities too. My favourite day was spent snorkelling from one of the pristine beaches, and then enjoying a picnic on the sand with a ‘table’ built by our guide right in front of us, using natural rainforest materials. I loved chatting to locals in the fishing villages too and learning about their traditional way of life. Birdwatching and jungle hikes are also popular pastimes here, as well as visiting the many cacao plantations that carpet the islands. You can even see turtles hatching on the beaches in season.
Sao Tome is the perfect destination for travellers who want to get away from it all. It’s a nature lovers’ paradise, while photographers will enjoy capturing the moody plantation ruins and deserted beaches on camera. There’s a lot of history here too – did you know that this is where Einstein’s theory of relativity was proved?
Contributed by Daniela from Unique-Universe Blog
Travelling through Senegal as a solo female traveller has been an incredible adventure, filled with warmth and enriching experiences. My journey began in Dakar, a bustling metropolis where the vibrant colours of local markets and the rhythm of traditional music captivated my senses.
Daytrips from Dakar led me to hidden gems like the Pink Lake (Lac Rose), where the water’s unique hue and salt-crystallized shores created a surreal landscape. I couldn’t resist taking a traditional pirogue boat ride and floating effortlessly in the buoyant waters.
For a change of pace, I hopped over to Ile de Gorée, a tranquil island that offered not only a chance to surf but also a glimpse into the nation’s colonial history. The crashing waves and the serene atmosphere of the island were perfect for unwinding.
But the real highlight of my trip was venturing into the enchanting region of Casamance, known for its lush landscapes and vibrant culture. The hospitality of the local people left an indelible mark on my heart as I participated in traditional dance rituals and savoured authentic Senegalese cuisine.
Senegal, with its diverse landscapes and rich cultural tapestry, truly made my solo journey unforgettable. The connections I forged with locals and the memories I created along the way made this destination a truly special place for me.
Senegal is the right African travel destination for you if you are open to meeting new people and learning about West African life. Dakar is a very cool metropolis and affords you a glimpse into West African city life. It is also home to a big Jazz festival taking place in July. Foodies will love the devious and diverse food. Water sports enthusiasts will love kitesurfing and surfing.
Responsible travel practices:
- Stay in locally owned places
- Be mindful when taking pictures, especially around Lac Rose and Ile de Gore
- Dress modestly, Senegal is a Muslim Country
Turtle Islands (Sierra Leone)
Contribution by Claudia of My Adventures Across The World
If you are looking for a remote travel destination in Africa, look no further than the Turtle Islands, an archipelago of 8 tiny islands off the coast of Sierra Leone. The pristine islands are the perfect place to completely disconnect from the stress of daily life in the city. You can spend your time there walking on the beach, swimming in the clear waters, visiting the nearby sand bars and checking out the local marine or bird life.
The fondest memory I have of Turtle Islands is going for a lengthy swim with my best friend – also a keen swimmer – in the calm waters, then relaxing for the rest of the afternoon. We were also caught in the mayhem of a thunderstorm in the middle of the night, with rain coming through the roof and dropping directly on our beds!
The islands are incredibly bare in terms of tourist offers and you should not expect a comfortable stay. This means that they are only suitable for independent travellers who don’t mind roughing it up a bit. The only accommodation on the island is a local guest house which is nothing more than a shed with a bed and a separate toilet (whereby you literally get a toilet sitting on the pavement, and a bucket of water; but no sink or shower or running water). There is no electricity and running water either. You can get meals prepared by the women of the local community. Alternatively, you can bring your tent and food supplies.
Getting to the Turtle Islands is a full day trip from the capital Freetown, involving a car ride and a speed boat ride. You can also go there by boat from Bonthe island. As the islands are very remote, you are probably better off trying to arrange a guided tour with a local operator, but don’t expect this to be cheap!
From the ancient rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia to the pristine beaches of Sao Tome and Principe, the lesser-known African destinations featured in this article offer something for everyone. Whether you are interested in history, culture, nature, or simply getting away from the crowds, I encourage you to consider one of these unique destinations for your next adventure.
For more underrated travel destinations around the world, check out these articles:
14 Underrated Destinations in Europe you Need to Explore
16 Unique Asian Destinations Off The Beaten Path
Unique Travel destinations in the Americas
Off the beaten path in Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands