After a dozen years living and working throughout Africa—studying monkeys in Kenya’s Samburu National Park, directing Peace Corps operations in Uganda, and passing through nearly every other nation—I learned one indispensable truth about travel here: There are no sure things. The animals may or may not appear; the terrain may or may not be navigable; and the weather can be as unpredictable as the elections. But I also discovered a few places in East and southern Africa that deliver nearly every time I visit. (And these days, who really wants to gamble their hard-won travel dollars?) Within these two vast regions, you’ll find the best parks, the most game, and (no kidding) reliable infrastructure. It’s a dizzying variety, which is why I’ve selected my 12 favorite places—from the slopes of Mount Kenya to Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools—as well as the top outfits to get you where you need to go. Consider these four pages your inside line to travel in Africa.
When it comes to sheer beauty and diverse landscapes—alpine meadows, moorlands, and more than 20 glacial lakes—17,058-foot Mount Kenya (not Kilimanjaro) is the best on the continent. Just below the summit, Point Lenana is surrounded by the snowcapped remains of a shattered volcano. It looks a bit like the Swiss Alps, but with elephants, duikers, and colobus monkeys on the hike up. Adventure Consultants is one of the only outfitters to offer trekking to Point Lenana as well as a 703-foot technical climb up to the Batian summit (nine days, from $4,450 per person; adventureconsultants.com).