Travel to Africa Broadens Its Horizons

The Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa has a number of family-friendly lodges.

The Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa has a number of family-friendly lodges.

Over the past few years, travel to Africa has grown from a once-in-a-lifetime safari to explorations of urban hubs like Cape Town and Nairobi, as well as a wider range of wildlife tours. Visitors are learning more about what all the different regions of the continent have to offer — and they are eager to explore it all.

Jim Holden, president of African Travel, says that travelers’ interest in the continent is still “buoyant,” and that South Africa remains a top destination. (He credits awareness of former President Nelson Mandela and the recent biopic Long Walk to Freedom with the country’s popularity among travelers.) 

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“In addition, we are finding that there is an interest in slightly more exotic destinations in Africa such as Madagascar and Ethiopia,” Holden says. African Travel recently launched new 10-day tours of both countries, as well as expanding their range throughout the southern part of the continent. 

“There is now a greater appreciation of the newfound variety to be had in Africa,” Holden says. “For example, more folks are choosing to do flying safaris rather than driving to save time and cover as much ground as they can. In addition, for those active folks, they are finding they can do mountain biking and running in some of the wildlife areas where there are no predators. Those interested in marine life can go shark cage diving and at the same time, from the same boat, watch the marine Big Five in action.” For the record, the water-based Big Five are whales, great white sharks, seals, dolphins and penguins. 

In December, Holden told us he expected business to Africa to be up at least 20 percent year-over-year. 

Ronnie Harris, owner of Under African Skies, agreed that South Africa is in demand, and says that its appeal is growing. “It’s on people’s bucket lists,” she says, adding that recent positive buzz has generated interest. 

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Significantly, she notes that families are increasingly interested in going to Africa together. Many reserves have programs for kids that can include hikes and footprint-tracking. One example is Impodimo Game Lodge, within South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve. “It’s a good pick for families,” Harris says, noting that it also provides childcare services. The reserve has several other child-friendly lodges as well.

Harris also agrees that off-the-beaten-track experiences are growing in popularity. Tours of townships like Soweto (where Nelson Mandela lived for years and where his former home is now a major attraction) have attracted new visitors to see a different side of South Africa.