The number of international tourists arriving in Africa every year has reached 85 million as at 2021. This is good news for the continent; however, the number is still very far off the 90 million people who visit France alone. Data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) shows that the top tourist destinations in Africa are making notable strides with a positive 2.4 percent increase. Below, we break it down for you in case you are wondering where to start your visit or where to visit next:
Egypt (over 13 million tourists)
Egypt is an amazing country with a great history and lots of unique attractions. It is a country you should visit before you die (hic!). Tourists to the country have now peaked 13 million annually. Some of the wonderful places to visit in Egypt are the cities of Cairo and Alexandria. Cairo lies along the majestic Nile River and if you sailed down with it, the spectacular Nile Delta awaits you as the river splits into five before pouring in the Mediterranean Sea. Alexandria is a historical city on the coast of the Mediterranean with a lot of experiences to offer. Other attractions in Egypt include the pyramids of Giza (Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure), the Great Sphinx of Giza, which get you to marvel at ancient building technology and civilization, the Suez Canal, the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser, the Valley of Kings, and the seven oases of the western Egypt desert that include the super Dakhla Oasis measuring 80 km.
Morocco (over 12.9 million)
This is the set that all the movie and TV shows creators love. And it is hard not to fall in love with Morocco. Think of shows like Game of Thrones, Prison Break, Homeland, Cleopatra, Jack Ryna, Cleopatra, Vagabond, or movies such as The Bourne Ultimatum, A Hologram for the King, 13 Hours, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, American Sniper, Sex and the City 2, Alexander, Captain Phillips, Gladiator, name them. More than 70 foreign movies have been fully or partially shot in here since 1951. Morocco is the place where the Mediterranean Sea kisses the Atlantic Ocean; Africa hugs Europe; Berber, Arabian and European cultures integrate, where sand storms in the Sahara desert meet their match with the snows of the Atlas and Marrakesh historical regions. So you thought you can’t ski in Morocco? Wrong. Other tourist attractions in Morocco include the Erg Chebbi’s Dunes for camel rides, Essaouira seafront, Volubilis Roman-era ruins, the Dades Valley treks, and the many historical architectural marvels such as castles and mosques. You want to experience what you saw in the movies, get here asap!
South Africa (over 10.2 million tourists)
There is no country in Africa that is as diverse as South Africa, ala the rainbow nation, aka Mzansi. With the second longest coastline on continental Africa where one gets the opportunity to experience penguins, dolphins and the occasional whales, an array of breath-taking nature reserve islands, museums, wineries, national parks with hundreds of bird and animals species, and magnificent man made marvels such as the Bloukrans Bridge, as well as cities with unique offerings and experiences. Like Morocco, South Africa is also a darling of Hollywood move creators. The Gods Must be Crazy ‘end of the earth’ scene was shot at the God’s Window apex in Mpumalanga where you experience breath taking bird’s views of escarpments, forests and the Kruger National Park below. Other movies and TV shows shot in South Africa include Mad Max: Fury Road, 24: Redemption, Avengers, Darfur, Deep Blue Sea 2, Grimsby, Hotel Rwanda, Invictus, Katrina, Queen of Katwe, Seal Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines, The Scorpion King 2, and dozens of others. This is South Africa: it snows too.
Tunisia (over 9.5 million tourists)
The birthplace of the Arab Spring is also the setting of Carthage, the ancient city that gave Rome a run for its money. Carthage was overly destructed, a gloomy version of its glorious past. The Roman influence can be found in other ancient ruins as well in Tunisia, amid the majestic Maghreb architecture doting the Africa’s northernmost country, museums with great history archives, and the dunes in the Sahara Desert. It is perhaps the beautiful seaside that attracts tourists the most given its proximity to Europe. The over 9.5 million visitors every year double up the country’s population which stands just shy of 12 million people.
Algeria (about 3 million tourists)
A vast country, Algeria is Africa’s largest country measuring 2.382 million square km. That’s about 4.3 times the size of France, which is Europe’s biggest country. Like its neighbour Morocco, there are contrasting storms of sand and snow in this sparsely populated country of 43 million people. Like its north African counterparts, the tourist attractions in Algeria lean more towards ancient historical architecture, the Sahara Desert, and the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. There are remnants of the Ottoman empire, Roman empire, and the majestic Neo-Byzantine basilica Notre Dame d’Afrique that is more recent during the French colonisation are quite a spectacle. Visit Constantine and experience the fantasy of crossing bridges across canyons.
Zimbabwe (more than 2.6 million tourists)
Surprising, right? Zimbabwe tops the continent for the most visited landlocked country in Africa. Quite a feat given the bad press this otherwise beautiful country with so much to offer gets. African history cannot be written without the mention of the ancient Kingdom of Zimbabwe. The country has dramatic landscapes and diverse wildlife, magnificent parks fit for safari game trips, and is home to the Zambezi River – one of the biggest rivers in Africa – along which the picturesque Victoria Falls occurs. Experiencing Harare itself, arguably one of the cleanest cities in sub-Saharan Africa, is an unforgettable experience. If you want to watch massive schools of hippos, herds of rhinos and elephants, and other wild animals, or want a camping experience to die for, then Zimbabwe is your place.
Mozambique (over 2.5 million tourists)
If Zimbabwe surprised you, then Mozambique will leave you speechless. Yes, Mozambique is a top 10 tourist destination in Africa attracting more than 2 million visitors every year. The Portuguese speaking country has a 2,500 km long coastline dotted with beautiful sandy beaches, coral reefs and marine parks. The Quirimbas Archipelago is an out of this world 250km stretch of coral islands while the Bazaruto Archipelago in the south contains reefs which protect rare marine life such as the dugongs. If you fancy to explore the inlands, there are variety of safari parks such as the Limpopo National Park where you can watch big game, the Niassa Reserve where you can pitch camp in the wild, and the Gorongosa National Park which gives you the real feel of savannah. You can hike, do scuba-diving, enjoy some fishing and explore the villages and the historical Maputo city.
Ivory Coast (more than 2 million tourists)
Ivory Coast is surprisingly the top tourist destination in West Africa. The number one cocoa producer in the world also boasts of sandy beaches and exotic resorts along the Atlantic Ocean, cultural and architectural attractions in the cities, such as the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix in Yamoussoukro which is deemed to be the largest cathedral in the world. Make time to for boat tours, visits to cocoa and rubber plantations, and have traditional lunch in the Ivorian villages. Get yourself some west African fabric clothes in the markets after sampling the Musee National des Cotumes in Grand Bassam, then have a date with some chimps, duikers, civets, elephants, bushpigs, leopards and hundreds of birds as you admire the diverse flora and fauna of this magnificent country. Complete your forays hiking along the trails of the Banco National Park rainforest.
Kenya (about 2 million tourists)
The numbers are probably disappointing and do not reflect the tourism capability of this East African nation. There is probably no country in the world with such a diverse array of wildlife as Kenya, with bespoke national parks such as the Maasai Mara that is famed for the Wildebeests migration, the Amboseli with its trademark jumbo families, the vast Tsavo that offers fantastic views of the Kilimanjaro apart from the wildlife, the treks and snakes in the Kakamega rainforest, the marine life at Haller Park in Mombasa, and the boat rides on the islands of Lake Victoria such as Rusinga and Mfangano. Wildlife conservancies are a major part of underexplored tourism here where you get close to the wild animals, and the marvel of the Nairobi National Park still astounds, the only game preservation area next to a city in the world. The flamingo spectacle in Lakes Bogoria and Elementaita will leave you mesmerized. If you are a beach enthusiast, the old towns of Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa provide experiences of a lifetime, and the Kenyan cultural scene can never be lost on you with cultural festivals all year round. In the north are spectacular sceneries of sand dunes in the Chalbi desert as well as one of Africa’s largest fresh water lakes, the Lake Turkana. You can never get to explore all the attractions in this beautiful country. If you can, plan for an ascend of Africa’s second highest mountain, Mt Kenya.
Botswana (almost 2 million tourists)
Botswana is a vast sparsely populated landlocked country in the south west of Africa, bordering Namibia. Its famed exemplary leadership and governance has perhaps played a big part in promoting the spectacular tourist attractions consisting of large swathes of the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta which experience seasonal floods. Wild dogs are common, as well as cheetahs and giraffes, hyenas and zebras, lions and elephants, among others. If you are an enthusiast of long safaris in unoccupied grasslands, Botswana is your destination. You can join the elephants in sampling the Marula fruits when in season and wobble your way to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary for closer views of the endangered rhino or go to the rivers for an eye feast of hippos.
African countries have so much to offer tourists, and many have turned and successfully promoted local tourism. Many of the countries not in this article have fantastic tourist destinations such as Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Somalia, Ghana, Gabon, Seychelles, among others.
*The numbers in this article are sourced from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and will be updated accordingly.