Back to the first human homeland, in Africa

STEPHEN SCOURFIELD maps depth and breadth of our original continent

Africa. Six letters alone don’t capture the variety and textures of the world’s second biggest and most populous continent (behind Asia in both instances).

The countries of the African continent are as varied, in culture, history and landscape, as those of Europe.

From Copenhagen to Catania, from Denmark to Sicily, is a mere 2670km.

From Cairo to Cape Town, from Egypt to South Africa, is 10,150km.

And in between, the 54 member states of the African Union are diverse and disparate. (There are only 28 countries in the European Union, until October 31.)

So, let’s not think or talk about “Africa”.

Let’s think about its many and varied countries and components. They are individual, diverse and disparate. Let’s understand their light and shade; the polyharmonic choruses that are formed between some and the individual voices of others…


A cheetah walks delicately towards a smorgasbord of impala, seemingly uninterested.

And then there’s the tiniest twitch of its tail, and the alarm goes up.

A lion rolls over in the shade of an acacia tree, replete, drops back off to sleep — and snores.

Hippos appear from the depths of a muddy pool, pink-mouthed, big-toothed, unsavoury air bubbling to the surface all around them.

Elephants come 20 abreast down a hill towards our safari vehicle, and pass either side.

Big females often weight three tonnes, yet the only real sound is them tugging grass from the savannah.

Wildebeest pass on the Serengeti in an almost imperceptibly moving surge, thousands between me and the horizon.

A big pack of wild dogs rises from long grass, and sets off to hunt, seemingly now one efficient, single minded body.

Five giraffe stand, bodies close, necks wound together like medusa.

But I still love the Burchell’s zebra for their crazy black-and-white, graphic compositions. They so often stand end to end, seemingly one body and two heads.

African wildlife moments come in a torrent for me, as they will for other visitors. Wildlife viewing is, indeed, one of the main reasons for travelling in southern Africa — part of the cost, part of the value.

In Tanzania, it’s the big wildebeest and zebra migration across the Serengeti, with the predators that follow. It’s the Ngorongoro Crater (and don’t dismiss Tarangire National Park, which is less visited, but I like).

And, to the north, the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

In South Africa, there’s a good reason that Kruger National Park remains the iconic wildlife park — there are lots of animals and guests are pretty well guaranteed good viewing. And, a short flight from Johannesburg in South Africa, it is good pretty much all year, though wildlife viewing is best from May to September.

In Botswana, it’s elephants, particularly in Chobe River, and the wildlife and landscape of Okavango Delta, which then combines with Namibia to take visitors from delta to dunes. They’re good to combine with Zambia for a big trip.

Botswana and Zambia are stable, safe, comfortable countries — and I would emphasise again that each is different and there’s a great deal to be said for travelling to either, and just staying, and immersing.

Read Stephen Scourfield's full Africa Guide, and more, at

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