Not for the Faint of Heart
Sure, Africa is studded with world-class safari destinations, but the continent’s adventures go far beyond those that can be enjoyed from the back seat of a Land Cruiser. From towering sand dunes and vibrant sulfur fields to crystal-blue waters teeming with life, Africa abounds with a diversity of natural beauty that invites exploration. Here, we choose just a few of our top picks for how to get your heart pumping while taking in the terrain.
The Namib Desert’s awe-striking “sand sea” dates back roughly 5 million years — making its desolate dunes among the world’s oldest. Daring travelers can not only climb and walk along the dunes — such as Namibia’s 170-meter-tall “Dune 45,” shown here — but also “sandboard” down from their peaks, either atop a standard snowboard or headfirst along a specially crafted belly board. Pyramidal star dunes such as this one result when three or more wind directions interact.
As the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro screams adventure to the climbing-inclined. Roughly 35,000 hikers attempt the ascent each year, crossing through five separate ecosystems as they go. Those doing so on the fast routes typically reach the summit within 4-5 days, but if you want a chance to break the record, you’ll have to move a bit more quickly; Swiss-Ecuadorian mountain guide Karl Egloff currently lays claim to the fastest ascent, having ran to the top and back in 6 hours and 42 minutes in 2014.
Not far from the wine world of South Africa lies a span of ocean teeming with great white sharks — the largest predatory fish on earth. Known as “Shark Alley,” this channel between the town of Gansbaai and Dyer Island — a roughly 2-hour drive from Cape Town — plays home to the densest population of great whites in the world. Those feeling extra fearless can even get within a fin’s reach of the toothy terrors, plunging into the cold waters in an underwater cage from which to have a close encounter.
Named the “cruelest place on earth” by National Geographic, the Danakil Depression in northeastern Ethiopia boasts an average annual temperature of 34 degrees Celsius (and a peak of close to 50 degrees in summer). From wandering through an extraterrestrial-like environment of salt deposits to hiking Erta Ale, the active, lava-filled volcanic crater, the Danakil includes a variety of terrain in which the risk taker can delight; the dallol sulfur fields shown here present a bubbling explosion of color — the result of underground chemical reactions.