Mount Kilimanjaro is a must-visit destination for many travelers. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Beyond the Safari: Why East Africa Is the Perfect Place to Get Off the Beaten Path

Hopes of spotting the Big Five (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and Cape buffalo) may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of traveling to Africa.

While a safari is certainly a trip worth making, it’s the mind-boggling diversity of the world’s second-largest continent that rewards travelers who are willing to venture off the beaten track. Nowhere is this more true than in East Africa.

Most of the countries that make up this distinctive region are vast, so deciding where to go will be the first mountain you need to climb.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

For the Adventurer

There is no shortage of ways to stay active or get an adrenaline fix in East Africa. Many travelers rise to the challenge of climbing Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, while others venture further afield, hiking Rwanda’s Congo-Nile Trail.

This trek is one of the most rewarding ways to explore the country as you wind your way along Lake Kivu’s glimmering waters and roll up and over countless hills. They don’t call Rwanda the Land of a Thousand Hills for nothing!

lake kivu
Find a moment of quiet by Lake Kivu. (Photo: Getty Images)

The entire route is 141 miles, but a multiday hike of between two and 10 days is sure to include a generous helping of awe-inspiring views. Prefer biking to hiking? The Congo-Nile Trail is well suited to either, so take your pick.

Further south, Malawi’s Zomba Plateau offers one of several hiking opportunities. Towering 6,000 feet above sea level, the magnificent area includes a network of relatively easy hikes through shaded forests where birdlife abounds. Orchid hunters should opt for Nyika Plateau, where grasslands meet hilly horizons that are also home to zebra and antelope.

Prefer your adrenaline rush by the river’s edge? Take to the wild waters of the Zambezi River in southern Zambia, where whitewater rafting requires some real courage. It may even involve a not-too-close encounter with a Nile crocodile! The high-water season stretches all the way from January to early August, so the kind of ride you’re in for is generally impossible to predict until the day of your trip.

Island Escapes

Jet away from the Seychelles’ more crowded spots to Curieuse Island, a boat ride away from Praslin Island. On Curieuse Island you can explore pvia a bridge over a mangrove forest, where you’ll be graced with panoramic ocean views.

boat on lamu island
Head to the water on Lamu Island. (Photo: Getty Images)

Remote-island-hopping is the order of the day in Lamu Island off the coast of Kenya, the largest in the Lamu Archipelago, known for its ban on motorized vehicles. Dodge the donkeys in Lamu Island’s narrow alleys and set sail in a dhow across the water to the even smaller Manda Toto or Kiwayu islands.

Lamu’s white sand beaches will scratch the itch for any beach lover, but the Swahili archipelago’s stone architecture is a rare living example of the African–Arabic coastal tradition. Travelers and traders from Europe, Africa, Far East Asia and the Middle East have each left an imprint on Lamu’s unique culture.

Follow the coast southward from Kenya and you’ll reach an equally diverse melting pot in Zanzibar, off Tanzania’s coast. A mix of cultures from the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and the African Great Lakes have fused into the truly remarkable place that is Stone Town, Zanzibar’s cultural and commercial heart.

stone town zanzibar from above
Set your sights on Stone Town. (Photo: Getty Images)

There are sublime white sand beaches dotted all around the island, with snorkeling or water-skiing for the energetic.

But as easy as it is to bliss out on the island’s south coast, where you’ll almost certainly catch a glimpse of bottlenose dolphins on Kizimkazi Beach, be sure to leave at least one full day to explore Stone Town. Deciphering the stories behind its ornately carved doors is one way to help you peel back the layers of Stone Town’s past.

Mauritius may have no shortage of bucket-list beaches, but once you’ve found your way to the secluded cove where La Preneuse is waiting, you’ll be glad you did. With sand so fine it’d race through an hourglass, there’s every reason to take your time and soak up the exquisite views of Le Morne Brabant peninsula that makes for a picture-perfect backdrop.