With welcoming cultures, natural and urban wonders, and innumerable experiences to be had, Africa is an inviting, underrated place to visit. Possessing 54 independent countries, each with a complex political, social, and economic history, most places on the continent—in fairness—require US citizens to obtain a visa in advance of any trip. Still, some countries have extended a visa-free* welcome mat that lets Americans simply book and go with passport in-hand, and maybe a pre-trip vaccination or two (after all, in some places, it’s literally a jungle out there). And they’re all no more than one flight connection away from most major American air hubs. It’s time for Africa.
A nature-lover’s paradise where the river meets the desert, Botswana hosts some of the planet’s oldest landforms and lifeforms. The largest group of Bushmen—who, incidentally, constitute the world’s oldest human civilization—call the country home, roaming the vast Kalahari Desert into which the ancient Okavango River flows. The fertile soils of the resulting delta sustain one of the world’s largest concentrations of game animals, protected by several natural preserves that can be visited by safari.
Fly to Gaborone (GBE) from the USA via Addis Ababa and Johannesburg.
Central African Republic
Located literally at the heart of the continent, the Central African Republic offers visitors a modest, low-rise capital city with bright marketplace and bustling riverfront, safaris with an immense array of wildlife—including elephants and lowland gorillas—and the lovely, 165-foot-high Boali Waterfalls. Be aware, however, that the country has had more than a few security issues over the past couple of years, leading the State Department to issue a travel warning that has been in effect since April 2016.
Fly to Bangui (BGF) from the USA via Casablanca and Paris.
Tiny and tropical, this former Spanish colonial enclave has got oil money to spare and gleaming new high-rises and shopping malls to prove it. The capital city, Malabo, is a mix of colonial and modern architectural styles, reflecting its history as a strategic outpost for during the Triangular Trade; Malabo was also a haven for freed slaves during the 19th century. Outside the city, pristine beaches, jungle treks, and the lush Monte Alen National Park on the mainland pack a big punch within a small area.
Fly to Malabo (SSG) from the USA via Casablanca, Frankfurt, and Madrid.
Landlocked and entirely surrounded by the country of South Africa, mountainous Lesotho is called the “Kingdom in the Sky” for good reason. Living in one of the few places on the continent with regular snowfall every winter, the citizens of the kingdom wrap themselves in warm blankets and wear a distinctive conical hat, almost like a crown. Aside from spectacular trekking and horseback riding in dramatic valleys and gorges, Lesotho welcomes visitors with a friendly local culture and a flavor and atmosphere utterly distinct from its more renowned neighbor.
Fly to Maseru (MSU) from the USA via Johannesburg.
One of Africa’s most easily-accessible destinations by virtue of its proximity to the air hubs of Europe, Morocco melds the cultures of Africa and Europe in an exotic, dream-like haze. Buzzing markets, striking architecture, and scrumptious food define cities such as Marrakech, Fez, and Casablanca, while the endless coastline and cool Atlas Mountains provide plenty of opportunity for outdoor diversion. And despite being at one of the world’s oldest crossroads, Moroccans still welcome visitors warmly.
Fly nonstop to Casablanca (CMN) from New York and Washington.
Sprawling along the remote, sun-drenched southwestern coast of Africa, Namibia’s ancient landscapes appear more out-of-this-world than down-to-earth. Indeed, the Namib Desert is the oldest on the planet and the country’s Bushmen are among the world’s oldest civilizations. Natural and manmade wonders collide on the Skeleton Coast, littered with the remains of innumerable shipwrecks along the beaches, while Etosha National Park shelters plenty of mammals and reptiles, including the endangered black rhino.
Fly to Windhoek (WDH) from the USA via Addis Ababa, Amsterdam, Doha, Frankfurt, and Johannesburg.
With a capital city that is one of the most exhilarating and underrated in the world, Senegal serves up a hefty side of sophisticated urban culture along with its beaches and national parks. Dakar’s nightlife, markets, and art scenes are legendary, while historical sites like the “Door of No Return” at Gorée Island and the colonial capital of Saint-Louis harken back to Senegal’s importance during the transatlantic slave trade. Not only are the Senegal’s sites sublime, sunsets from along its 330-mile coastline are spectacular.
Fly nonstop to Dakar (DKR) from New York.
One of the most beautiful countries in the world, South Africa offers up an array of experiences unmatched by any other part of the continent: the urbane pulse of Johannesburg, the natural splendor of Cape Town, the cultural gumbo of Durban, big-game safaris, coastal drives, affordable luxury, and a home-grown house music scene that rivals Baltimore’s and Berlin’s. No wonder one of ZA’s catch phrases is “Better, Together.”
Fly nonstop to Johannesburg (JNB) from Atlanta and New York; fly direct (same-plane w/stop) from Washington.
The tiniest country in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, Swaziland packs plenty of experiences within its 6,700 square miles. Traditional Swazi ceremonies and celebrations are held proudly and prominently year-round, culminating in the Umhlanga Festival each August, where young women honor the Queen Mother in full regalia. Safaris and adventure sports also feature high on the country’s to-do list, rendering little Swaziland a memorable place to visit.
Fly to Manzini (SHO) from the USA via Johannesburg.
Struggling to recover from two tragic attacks against foreign tourists in 2015, Tunisia still offers broad beaches, thriving marketplaces, and affordable luxury experiences. Many Europeans still book packages to surf and sun destinations, including Monastir and Nabeul, both built on the ruins of settlements from the Roman Empire. The country’s millennia-old history is showcased at the museums and cultural centers of the capital, Tunis, once known as the ancient city of Carthage. Tunisia has indeed been around.
Fly to Tunis (TUN) from the USA via Amsterdam, Barcelona, Casablanca, Frankfurt, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, and Rome.
*Visa requirements are always subject to change. Check the US Department of State website for the most current requirements for US citizens.