From kayaking the Nile and mountain biking in the shadow of Kilimanjaro to exploring Africa’s amazing national parks
Jinja, Uganda, is a town on the banks of the Nile that is gaining a reputation as the extreme sports capital of east Africa. This is, in part, thanks to the range of whitewater rapids on the nearby stretch of the river Nile. It is where Sam Ward (Team GB freestyle kayaking coach) and Emily Wall (two-time British champion) decided to set up their school, Kayak the Nile. “I have kayaked across five continents,” says Emily, “yet I’ve chosen to call the Nile home. The whitewater we have here is unique: not only are the rapids warm and deep (with no rocks or crocodiles), but the sun shines and the water flows all year round.”
Expedition days start on tranquil Bujagali Lake, a large expanse of picturesque flat water, with practice runs breaking in and out of fast-moving water before finally, with much trepidation, you kayak the churning grade-three rapid that is aptly named Jaws. This stretch of the river, with its selection of grade-five and grade-six rapids (not for learners) attracts adrenaline seekers from around the world. There are a number of reasons why Uganda is an amazing place to learn to whitewater kayak: average air temperatures of around 22C (which means shorts and T-shirts, not wetsuits), dam-controlled water (meaning you get a consistent run over the rapids) and plenty of routes to try. There really is something for everyone, regardless of ability or confidence level.
• One-day introduction to whitewater kayaking £70, +256 772 880322, kayakthenile.com
Biking Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and Kenya
Walking up Kilimanjaro is a well-known adventure but what about cycling around it? Starting in the Chyulu hills on the Kenyan side, the route keeps the great mountain in sight while traversing the Maasai plains – red-dirt roads, termite mounds, grazing savannah animals – towards the market village of Loitokitok. It then then crosses into Tanzania and skirts the south side of the mountain, going through rainforest and banana plantations plus villages of the Chagga people.
• The 10-day trip including most meals, three nights in a hotel and six nights camping, costs £2,425pp including flights (land only £1,645). 01768 773966, keadventure.com
Island safari, Madagascar
Based on Nosy Be, a small but busy island off the north-west coast of Madagascar, this adventure takes you by dhow or houseboat along the coast to a backwater of coral reefs, ylang-ylang plantations, lemurs, mangroves and rustic campsites. The coast is exquisite, with great snorkelling, including sightings of turtles if you’re lucky. But this is not a luxury tour: nights are in simple A-frame huts. The joy is in getting off the tourist track into a timeless and a laid-back Madagascar few get to see.
• From £420 for six nights including all meals but not flights. +27 21 783 3536, madagascarislandsafaris.co.za
Great white shark dive, South Africa
Cage diving with sharks has attracted bad publicity because of “chumming”: filling the sea with blood and guts to attract the animals. Apex does not do that, instead using local knowledge to find the sharks. Gaansbai is the best spot to see great whites between October and January as they come looking for snacks from the 40,000-strong fur seal colony. If you’ve never done it, this is an adrenaline-pumping experience. You slide into the water protected by the cage, and the sharks, ever curious, mosey past. At other times of year it is better to take a boat to Seal Island – with August the peak time for spectacular breaching behaviour.
• One-day trip from Gaansbai including breakfast and dive equipment, £80. If no sharks are sighted you get a voucher to do it again. +27 79 051 8558, apexpredators.com
Walk the Rim of Africa, South Africa
A 372-mile trail that curls around the base of the continent, the Rim of Africa is a charitable venture that is working to connects a host of nature reserves, wildernesses and private ranches into a single world-class trail. The full hike would take 52 days, some of them quite gruelling, but there are shorter options along a route that starts in the Cederberg mountains in the west and finishes in the Eastern Cape at the Outeniqua mountains. This is proper mountain backpacking; facilities are few and far between but the rewards are immense with fabulous views, flora and fauna, and remote caves where you might come across ancient rock paintings.
• Seven-day guided tour from £550, including all meals. + 27 76 453 2366, rimofafrica.co.za
Sand and shore, Algeria
Algeria is opening up as a fascinating destination for the intrepid traveller. This exploratory tour is a good introduction for the first-time visitor, covering some of the highlights of the country in a nine-day trip: the spectacular M’zab valley with the old Roman port of Tipaza, the fascinating Berber town of Tlemcen, and Algeria’s second city, Oran. There’s also the capital, Algiers, which offers an engaging mix of modernity, Ottoman grandeur and colonial chic.
• £1,695pp including all meals, but not flights. Departs 29 March. 020-7736 3968, wildfrontierstravel.com
Biking the High Atlas, Morocco
Starting in Ouirgane, 40 miles south of Marrakech, this epic bike ride goes through a mountain landscape of stark limestone peaks and verdant valleys. The going is not easy: roads are never more than rough tracks and frequently just mule paths – in fact some stretches are unrideable and mules will carry the bikes up. But the rewards are enormous, with beautiful stone-and-adobe villages unchanged in centuries plus amazing views across the Atlas mountains.
• An eight-day trip with six days of biking and hiking, departing October 2014, costs £870. 020-8150 6131, epicmorocco.co.uk/mountainbiking
Get (really) off the beaten track, South Atlantic
An island you can only get to after a five-day boat trip must be a serious lure for the intrepid. But in 2016, when the airport opens on St Helena (where Napoleon was exiled in 1815), this speck, 1,750 miles from the nearest land, will lose the sense of isolation that provides much of its charm. For now, you get there on the world’s last working Royal Mail ship, which has launched a 19-day Hideaway Tour taking in the island’s main sites (including the Boer POW camp, Napoleon’s residences and the famous giant tortoise at Plantation House) as well as 10 days on the boat (part of the adventure). Add in tiny Tristan Da Chuna, 1,510 miles south and you can tick the most remote inhabited island in the world off your list.
• 19 days from £2,745 all-inclusive. 020-7575 6480, rms-st-helena.com
On the wild side, Zimbabwe
Gonarezhou national park is one of Africa’s true wilderness areas, a 5,000sq km slice of rugged forests and rivers in south-east Zimbabwe. Along with neighbouring Kruger national park in South Africa and Mozambique’s Limpopo national park, it forms part of the vast Greater Limpopo ecosystem. Wildlife here can be wary: the park reopened in 1994 after years of being off-limits due to war – and there’s a real sense of remoteness. In the heart of the park is the Chilo Gorge Safari lodge, run by Clive Stockil, a renowned conservationist who has spent 40 years working with rhinos in the Save Valley. Walks from the lodge include a 3km trail to the Chivilila Falls, and you can spend three nights in a bush camp deep in this magical part of Africa.
• A seven-night trip including flights, two nights at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge and three nights camping costs from £2,910 all-inclusive, including international flights. 020-8232 9777, expertafrica.com
Township Tour, Cape Town, South Africa
Founded by local men Loyiso Mfuku and Mvuyisi Mbono, this Cape Town trip will take you to a part of the city not usually seen by outsiders: the toughest of townships, Khayelitsha. Home to 400,000 people, it is a world in itself with shacks sitting right by smart new homes. It is a place filled with energy (positive and negative), and a great spot for street food, markets and restaurants. The tour also teaches you basic Xhosa language skills (with clicks) (with clicks), takes you to a school, introduces local music as well as food and drink, and finishes with storytelling at the recycling yard.
• Full day tour £20pp, based on two-three people. Accommodation in local B&Bs can be arranged. +27 21 360 4505, khayelitshatravel.com