East Africa: A Bucket List

If you spent your entire life travelling around Africa, you wouldn’t be able to see everything it has to offer. Most of us, however, are not lucky enough to be able to do that. We’ve created a bucket list of the unmissable places to go and things to see in east Africa. Watch out for the second part in this series - coming soon - on southern Africa.


Balloon Safari Over The Maasai Mara

Wajahat MahmoodBalloon Safari, Maasai Mara - Wajahat Mahmood

What better way to marvel at the vast open plains of the world-famous Maasai Mara National Park, than floating gently above it in a hot air balloon? Flights usually leave as the sun rises and it’s a breath-taking experience watching the African bush awake from above.

Not only do you get an idea of the hugeness of this wild area but, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see herds of Africa’s favourite beasts – antelope, giraffe and wildebeest, to name just three – grazing on the plains that they call home.

Great Migration

Roman BoedGreat Migration - Roman Boed

Ever felt the rhythm of the hooves of about 1.5 million wildebeest as they move in a steady stream northwards? Add to that over 200 000 zebra, almost 500 000 Thomson’s gazelles and a plethora of other herd animals and you’ll have an idea of the power of the great migration.

This circular annual route of animals through the Masaai Mara and Serengeti in search of grazing (followed closely by their predators) has been happening since time immemorial and is an awe-inspiring spectacle to behold.

This is nature, though, and is unruled by western calendars so, although the same route is followed each year, the dates change slightly each year. This uncertainty of whether you’ll catch it or not, adds to the once-in-lifetime nature of witnessing the great migration. Speak to one of our ABS consultants to get the best times to go.

Snorkelling off Lamu Island

GILamu Island - GI

The tropical paradise of Lamu Island is situated just off the Kenyan coast. Think clear, warm sea with coral reefs, white beaches and dhows in the bay.

Lamu Island is a snorkeller’s paradise. The Lamu archipelago consists of numerous reefs with live coral and brightly-coloured reef fish. The water is warm and welcoming and there are numerous dhows that’ll take you out to the reefs. Turtles and dolphins also call this area home, so if you’re lucky, you may find yourself frolicking with some turtle friends.

Lamu’s history dates back to the 14th century, when the first mosque was built, so the architecture is old and beautiful, with strong Muslim and Swahili influences. With narrow alleyways, intricately carved doors and mainly foot (and donkey) traffic, days can be spent exploring the old town, if watersports are not your thing.



Stig NygardNgorongoro - Stig Nygard

The Ngorongoro Crater is an old, collapsed-in volcano. It was formed about two million years ago and has created a bowl-like formation measuring 18 km in diameter and holding incredibly diverse landscapes within its relatively small area.

Sitiuated in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania, which includes part of the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater is a sight to behold. It teems with wildlife, and boasts the highest density of predators in the world, as it provides ‘food on tap’ within the steep sides of the ‘bowl’.

Stay in a camp on the forested rim of the crater with spectacular views and make the steep and rocky trip down into the crater by 4x4. There you’ll be met with scores of animals.

Climb Kilimanjaro

mitchpa1984Kilimanjaro - mitchpa1984

‘I climbed the highest mountain in Africa.’

Now there’s something anyone would be proud to say. And what a trip it is, too, with views across Africa. Kilimanjaro is not only Africa’s highest mountain, but also the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

As such, this is not a bucket list item to take on lightly. It requires a certain level of fitness and some serious endurance. Trips up Kili can be attempted by varying fitness levels – the amount of help is up to you. From carrying your own back-pack and doing your own cooking to having help with all of that, you can choose.

Whichever way you do it, it’s an experience of a lifetime.


Known as the ‘Spice Islands’, due to the farming  of many aromatic spices like cloves and nutmeg, Zanzibar is an archipelago just off Tanzania’s coast. It’s a warm, tropical paradise filled with ancient history, azure seas and palm-fringed islands with plenty of diving opportunities.

richardobeirneZanzibar - richardobeirne

Stone Town, the capital, dates back hundreds of years, it being part of both the slave and spice route. With a strong mix of Arabian and African influences in both architecture and lifestyle, it’s a vibrant mix of narrow alleyways, beautifully carved doors, bustling markets and friendly people.

David BerkowitzForodhani Gardens, Stone Town - David Berkowitz

Do A Spice Tour

Jerry MikalskiSpice Tour - Jerry Mikalski

Zanzibar is colloquially known as the ‘Spice Islands’, and it’s well worth going on a spice tour. It’s a fragrantly aromatic experience!

See how cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and ylang ylang grow. Coffee, chocolate, ginger and nutmeg fill the air with scents and coconut trees wave in the breeze. It’s a feast for the senses.

Be sure to buy some spicy gifts to take home at the market! 

Dhow Palace Hotel

Dhow PalaceDhow Palace - Dhow PalaceThis old hotel was originally the stately home of Sheikh Mushin bin Mujbia in 1559 AD. Since then, it’s passed through various families and changed its function numerous times. In 1987 the Muzammil family bought it and spent six years refurbishing and furnishing it.

Opening in 1993 as a hotel, it’s like being transported back in time. Exquisitely decorated, it’s a pleasure to behold.

Diving/Snorkelling Off Zanzibar

GIZanzibar Scuba - GI

Whether you’re a qualified deep sea diver, or prefer to float about on the surface snorkelling, Zanzibar is heavenly.

The water is warm and crystal clear and there’s spectacular coral, brightly-coloured fish, anemones and turtles. Look out for the bigger marine creatures like barracudas and whale sharks too!

Sunset Cocktails On The Deck At Africa House Hotel

Samir LutherStonetown sunset - Samir Luther

What’s an African holiday without a good view of the spectacular sunsets the continent has to offer?

At the old colonial Africa House Hotel, you can get a cocktail at the Sunset Bar, grab a chair on the deck and watch as the sun sinks into the warm Indian Ocean. Pure bliss.


See The Gorillas, Bwindi, Uganda

Derek KeatsGorillas, Rwanda - Derek Keats

One sighting of the gorillas in Uganda will be enough to convince you that they’re really not that far removed from us. These highly endangered animals – due to humans – are incredible to see in their natural, jungle habitat. Sadly, they’ve been killed at a horrifying rate, so these beautiful creatures may not be around very much longer. It is estimated that less than 800 still exist.

Stay in one of the community rest camps in the fabulously-named Bwindi Impenetrable Park and do your bit, not only for the shy and endearing gorillas, but for the local community, too. Sustainable human settlements will go a long way to curbing the devastating hunting of the gorillas and destruction of their habitat.


Simien Mountain Trekking

GISimian Mountains - GI

It’s hard to top the spectacular scenery of the Simean Mountains. Treks range from one day to twelve, or more, and everybody who’s been says even the longest trek wasn’t long enough!

Situated almost 900 km north of Addis Ababa, the area is known for its deep valleys, jagged peaks, rural villages, beautiful vegetation and a number of rare endemic species.

Treks are guided and routes and amount of help can be chosen according to fitness levels and level of comfort wanted. Expect to be wowed by steep cliffs, rolling pastures, fascinating local culture, plentiful birds and rare animals.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get to spot the highly endangered Walia ibex – a mountain goat with spectacular horns, the comical apes, geladas, and the shy Ethiopian wolf.


Bryan_TLalibela - Bryan_T

Also in northern Ethiopia, lies the little religious town of Lalibela. There’s nothing little, however, about the incredible achievement of the 12th Century inhabitants, who carved eleven churches out of the granite rock there.

Even more amazing, is the fact that these intricately-carved buildings – with their roofs at ground level – have been used for Christian worship continually since the 12th century, and still are.

With numerous steps and passageways, many worn smooth by hundreds of years’ of worshippers, be sure to wear good shoes. You’ll have to remove them when entering the churches, and covered heads are preferable.

As would be expected from a place this old, the whole area whispers with religious myth and legend. Our favourite is that, during construction, angels would come each evening to help with the carving of these incredible structures.

Anything To Add?

Have you visited incredible destinations in east Africa that deserve to be on everybody's bucket list? 

Let us know in the comments section.

If you liked this post, these trips cover similar ground…

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