The continent of Africa includes 54 countries, all with different cultures, sights, and a varied degree of development. Naturally, some countries have grown their tourism better than others and capture our attention and entice us to visit them. Among these are Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and a few more we’ve seen in countless pictures.
But what about those few underrated countries that we barely hear about? How stunning are they? Is it worth dedicating our vacation time to any of those?
Well, the answer is yes, they are worth it and are all interesting and impressive in their own way, so here I’ll share with you four underrated countries that should be on your radar for your next trip to Africa.
This tiny country is rarely heard of, but it’s one of the most peaceful nations you could visit. In Malawi, it's so common to be the only tourist as you enjoy the natural surroundings or learn more about the local culture.
Malawi lies in Africa’s Great Rift Valley –a 6,000-mile long crack in the earth’s crust– which gives the country a diverse terrain that ranges from high peaks to plateaus, to expansive lakes.
Malawi’s Mount Mulanje is the highest mountain in Central Africa, reaching over 9,800 feet. In the south, the Zomba Plateau rises to a height of 6,500 feet. In the north, Nyika National Park is not only Central Africa’s highest plateau, but also Malawi’s largest national park. It is home to a variety of wild animals including leopards, zebras, elephants, roan antelope, eland, lions, and spotted hyenas.
But probably the country’s most impressive natural feature is Lake Malawi, which is roughly the size of Belgium. Nkhata Bay, which is a small harbor town by the lake serves as the perfect spot to relax on a cabana by the shore. As relaxing and peaceful as it is, Nkhata Bay also includes bustling crafts market where you can find decorative bowls, masks, nativity sets, necklaces and all forms of traditional souvenirs.
Even though Zimbabwe has had a turbulent government and a crumbling economy these past few decades, the country still preserves several stunning natural and historical landmarks that will easily impress even the most seasoned traveler. Its most famous natural feature, Victoria Falls, is considered the world’s greatest curtain of falling water. Back in the 1800’s, the Kololo tribe living in the area described it as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – “The Smoke that Thunders.” And indeed, you can see its columns of spray and hear the water thundering even before you get to see the majestic waterfall dropping over 350 feet down into the Zambezi river.
Other places worthy of visiting are the Great Zimbabwe Ruins in Masvingo – a medieval archaeological site from the 11th century built by the Shona people. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country's Late Iron Age, and today it represents their royal legacy and their interesting architectural concept that includes no right angles – everything is curved here.
Also worth visiting is the Matobo National Park, more specifically its Matobo Hills, composed of weathered granite boulders that are uniquely shaped and balanced by nature, creating some famous figures (for the imagination) like the Mother and Child Kopje.
Namibia enjoys some of the most surreal landscapes you’ll find in all of Africa, Sossusvlei, a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the Namib Desert in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. In it, you’ll see a stark contrast, almost like in a Dalí painting, of bright red dunes, with a white-ish slat flat, and dead trees popping everywhere. The Namib Desert also includes the world’s tallest dunes and probably the most photographed dune in the world, Dune 45, a favorite spot for travelers to climb to watch the sunrise.
A peculiar place that shouldn’t be missed is the ghost town of Kolmanskop. It was founded in the early 1900s when diamonds were found in the desert but abandoned 40 years later. Today, it has been swallowed by the desert, with most buildings already half sunken or entirely covered by dunes.
Namibia also offers a more "traditional African experience” with several game reserves, where you can spot the “Big 5” as well as other wildlife, or see the tribes in Damaraland, where you can learn about their culture and see the ancient rock art in Twyfelfontein.
Ethiopia is one of the most diverse and fascinating countries in all of Africa, yet somehow it has struggled to garner the attention of the western world. If you believe in evolution, then you’ll be interested in paying Lucy a visit at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. Lucy, a fossil found in the Afar region of the country, is considered to be the most ancient early human –or hominin– ever found.
If you travel the different regions of the country, you’ll see how diverse Ethiopia is – almost feeling like completely different countries altogether. On the north, you’ll find the Danakil Depression, one of the deepest and hottest places on earth, with active volcanoes, lava, and a stunning salt flats. Towards the center, you have the Highlands, a series of mountains dominating most of the country, and on the south, you have the Omo Valley – home to dozens of tribes that are all equally impressive as they are diverse.
But just as you can visit several tribes and learn about their culture, hunting skills, simple lifestyle, and art; you can also visit several monasteries and pre-colonial churches where Orthodox Ethiopian Christians still practice their religion. Among some of the most famous churches are the buried churches in Lalibela; a series of rock-hewn churches entirely built underground.
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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