There aren’t a lot of things that can come close to the feeling turning the key on your engine at the start of a road trip with your family or close friends. The excitement you feel at the start of a great adventure simply can’t be ignored. Once you’ve experienced it, you’re going to want it over and over again. This is why we’ve compiled a list of the best road trip destinations you can take your oil burner on.
What You’ll Need on an African Road Trip
Before we talk about what the best driving routes in Africa are, let’s discuss first the things you’ll need to take into consideration on your trip. Most importantly, you’ll need a sturdy vehicle that can get you from point A to point B, or in this case all the way to Z, without much problem. Contrary to what some people might believe, Africa is actually quite a developed region nowadays. While most of the roads in this continent are paved, don’t discount the chance of you having to go off-road every now and then.
You can get away with road tripping using your old sedan in places like South Africa and Mauritius. However, you may need something a bit more rugged, especially if you plan to go off the beaten path. To get the most out of your African road trip, you really have to go through the road less travelled. Family cars simply can’t handle the gravel and sand in most of these routes, lest you want scratches that you can’t simply buff out. A roadworthy and reliable 4×4 vehicle is your best bet on a self-driven excursion in Africa. These can take a beating and still work fine.
Africa also drives on the opposite side of the road compared to what most people are used to. If you normally drive on the left side of the road, then take some time to practice driving on the right since this is more common in Africa. Fortunately, a small percentage of African countries do drive on the left, including Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. Other countries have very specific driving laws also, so read up on them. You can ask the people you’re renting your car from about what to do and what to avoid when driving in a particular country.
Aside from having the right car for your trip, it’s also important that you possess all of the necessary paperwork and documentation to operate a motorized vehicle in the country you’re visiting. It’s pretty easy to apply for a driver’s license in Africa if you have a valid one from your home country. We suggest doing this, since going on the road with an expired license can result in hefty fines and possible jail time.
If you’re planning to road trip across multiple countries, you can also apply for an International Driving Permit from the American Automobile Touring Alliance or the AATA. You can also get one of these from the American Automobile Association or the AAA. This document allows you to drive in every country in Africa. It’s a lot easier than signing up for a new driving permit every time you come into the jurisdiction of a new territory.
Like with everything else in life, patience is a virtue, and an important one at that. You’re going to encounter a lot of unexpected setbacks during your road trip. The roads in Africa are notorious for the, quite frankly, obscene number of roadblocks they have in place. You may even encounter a pack of wild animals in the middle of the road once or twice. However, there’s no need to be frustrated. Give your self a leeway of a couple of days to get the most out of your road trip even when these things happen.
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The Atlas Mountains
Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, let’s talk about the best places to go on a road trip in Africa. Firstly, we recommend paying a visit to the beautiful Atlas Mountains. Going through this route lets you see the natural marvels that the Moroccan wilderness has to offer. You could hop on a bus to make your way here. However, since the pavement on this mountain is well-maintained, we think that a true gearhead would appreciate driving him or herself through the winding roads that go through these mountains.
Kind locals and honest law enforcement also draw a lot of travelers to this region. Once you’re in the heart of the Atlas Mountains, you can find a lot of hiking and camping spots your outdoor enthusiast self can revel in. Spectacles such as the Majorelle Garden and the Ouzoud Falls can be found here as well. There are also lots of historical places you can visit in the High Atlas Region such as the Koutoubia Mosque and the Bahia Palace. You could even stop by a nearby Berber village if you have the time.
Kruger National Park
Up next on this list is the Kruger National Park in South Africa. This may be the best open safari drive in the entire continent. Also, since the roads in this area are smooth and freshly paved, you can drive through here in a vehicle as small as a sedan without much trouble. If you didn’t get enough of this natural wonder during your self-drive, you can also book a night drive at your accommodation. If you’re planning a trip here, we advise getting essentials at the nearest town. You’ll be hard pressed to find a serviceable store in this national park.
Our suggested route here starts in Timbavati, where you can find the Olifants Rest Camp. After that, make your way to the Lower Sabie and finally to the Golden Gate Highlands. When you’re taking a break from shifting gears, you can look for the “big five” – lions, buffalo, elephants, leopards, and rhino – that call this place there home. Aside from these fauna, you can also spot hippos, zebras, giraffes, and even an impala or two when you go sightseeing here.
If mountains and safaris aren’t your thing, you can haul your 4×4 over and put the pedal to metal in the open desert. The Karoo, also located in South Africa, is a prime example of this. This semi-desert landscape lets you spend some quality time with the people you brought along on your trip without the hustle and bustle of tourist attractions. You can also get some alone time here if you need it, since not a lot of people stop to appreciate the beauty of this area.
Nearby, you can park your car at The Rest Farm, which allows its visitors to pay for their accommodations in a pretty unique way. Unlike traditional lodgings where you need to pay for your stay, The Rest Farm lets you get a good night’s rest in exchange for volunteer work. If you want more upper class accommodations though, these are also available in and around the area. If ever you find yourself at the Karoo on your next holiday, you should also visit the Gamkapoort Dam as well as the Showroom Theater.
The Ethiopian Highlands
Back to the mountains, we have the Ethiopian Highlands. For the most part, you’d want to avoid going here in the months of June to September since that’s the rainy season. October to March is the best time to go to the Ethiopian Highlands due to the warmer weather. However, you should also consider that this is the peak season for tourists, so traffic and fuel prices will skyrocket. Plan your trip accordingly. You’ll want to reserve at least a month of your time in order to fully experience the Highlands and the rest of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia boasts some of the best culture and history in all of Africa. Most importantly for a number of travelers, they have some of the best cuisine as well. If you’re a fan of activities such as bird watching and photography, then the Highlands in Ethiopia may be the perfect destination for your next road trip. Simian Mountains Park is the must visit spot in this area. One of the great things about that park is that you can drive going there. When you go to Ethiopia in the near future, make sure to fuel up and head on over to the country’s mountain region.
Rounding out the top five and keeping with the mountain theme, are Lesotho’s Drakensberg Mountains. Taking a self drive through this UNESCO World Heritage Site culminates with a four to five-hour hike that leads you to the second tallest waterfall in the whole world. We promise you that all of your effort is going to be worth it. Alternatively, you can drive to the park in the middle of the mountain range and take a short hike before completing the rest of the drive in the next day.
It may be obvious, but since you’re in a mountain range, try putting the car keys down for a bit and do some physical activity. There are loads of hiking spots to choose from here including the Rainbow Gorge and the Cascades. The Cathedral route is also an option if you want just a short trek. Some of these routes also allow visitors to set up camp so they can truly experience the wonders that the area has to offer. If you have extra time on your hands, try interacting with the local horsemen in the area to experience their unique culture.
Up next on this list is the country of Rwanda in East Africa. You can cast away your doubts about road tripping here, since Rwanda has actually experienced massive economic growth in the past couple of decades. It is now one of the safest and cleanest places not only in Africa, but in the entire world. This is one of the few places on this list where getting an all-terrain vehicle is wholly necessary. Aside from concrete roads, there are also cobblestone streets in some parts of Rwanda. A couple of roads have been left unpaved here as well.
Obviously, your first stop in Rwanda will be its capital city of Kigali. This is where you’ll find the best deals for car rentals. Once you’ve experienced all you can in the capital, you can test your car’s mettle by going to one of the country’s many national parks. You can go to the Volcanoes National Park, which is not only a site filled with active volcanoes, but also a habitat for many endemic species. Other places you can visit in Rwanda include the Nyungwe Forest and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
One of the more popular road trip options in Africa is Tanzania. A road trip here takes you through key destinations such as Ngorongoro, the Serengeti, and Dar es Salaam. You’ll enjoy testing your driving skills on the twists and turns of the winding, but paved roads of this country. You have to drive carefully though, as wildlife have a tendency to just stop and lounge in the middle of the road. If you learn to keep an eye out for these loitering creatures, you’ll have yourself a, literally, smooth road trip to Tanzania.
Aside from those that have already been mentioned, there’s still plenty to do in Tanzania. For instance, you can visit historical sites such as the Olduvai Gorge and ruins of the Mtoni Palace. If you’re a person of culture, you may also enjoy a quick stop at the Mama Africa Curio and the Tanzanite Experience. If the wonders of the great outdoors tickle your fancy more, try stopping by Cheetah’s Rock as well as Tarangire National Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for a short hike at Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in the continent.
Madagascar is another one of the awe-inspiring road trip destinations in Africa. Seeing as this island is the fourth largest in the world, it’s no wonder why there’s an abundance of places to go to and things to do here. Many people say that the best way to experience Madagascar is to “get lost” in it. What they really mean by this is that you should spend a good chunk of your schedule – a month or two at least – with a map, a 4×4, and a coupe of friends to just drive around and see what this hidden gem has to offer.
If ever you find yourself on a road trip in Madagascar, you can visit one of the country’s many national parks such as the Isalo National Park and the Ranomafana National Park. You can’t go wrong with either of these. If neither of them pique your interest, you have more than a dozen others to choose from. If you want to spend some time with wildlife, we suggest you go to the island’s crocodile farm or their lemur park. For a more historical trip, drive on over to Fort Manda and Gara de Soarano.
Blyde River Canyon
On the penultimate spot on our list of African road trip destinations is the Blyde River Canyon in South Africa. This wonder of nature has been described as a combination of the best parts of the Horseshoe Bend and the previously mentioned Drakensberg Mountain Range. Also known as the Panorama Route, this road trip destination is one of the most popular photography spots in Africa. It’s also the world’s third largest river-formed canyon, which means you’ll have a lot of road tripping to do if you want to experience this area in full.
Some of the landmarks you can go to on the Panorama Route are the Pinnacle Rock viewpoint and hiking trails such as the Three Rondavels and God’s Window. If you want to see a one of a kind natural phenomenon, go to Bourke’s Luck Potholes. These openings were created by the naturally occurring swirling waters in the area, which you can observe from time to time. Waterfalls are also abundant in this region. Examples of these include the Mac Mac Falls as well as the Lisbon and Berlin Falls.
The African Gold Coast
Lastly, we have the area known as the Gold Coast. You should consider stocking up on fuel and supplies if you’re going on a road trip here since this route encompasses parts of Ghana, Togo, Benin, and a bit of West Africa as well. You’ll need a couple of weeks up to a month to get the most out of each location you’ll pass through during this trip. The course you’ll be taking is filled with parks, beaches, historical landmarks, and other breathtaking sights.
If you’re looking into having fun in the sun, go to Busua or Big Milly’s Backyard. If animals are more your thing, take a detour to Monkey Hill or Kakum National Park. Give yourself and your precious vehicle a break once in a while to. One of the best ways to do that here is by soaking up the history and culture at places like St. George’s Castle as well as Nzulezu and Anomabo.
Those are the ten best road trip destinations in the African continent. Once you embark on a journey to one of these routes, we’re certain you’ll want to try the other ones as well.