*Guest writer Stephen R. Wright *
For most people, African travel calls to mind images of the central and southern portions of the continent. We imagine safaris in Kenya and Tanzania, beautiful getaways in West Africa, or perhaps most commonly the stunning allure of Cape Town. These can all be excellent places to travel to. But North Africa shouldn’t be left off your list either.
Here are five of the best North African destinations to put on your travel list.
As far as travel to Morroco goes, it tends to be Marrakesh and Casablanca that draw the most attention. Neither is the capital (that would be Rabat), but Marrakesh is viewed as a fascinating and exotic destination, and Casablanca is the biggest city in the country. Fez, however (sometimes written as “Fes”) has been gaining ground in recent years, and has been featured on a few lists of the trendiest destinations. One of the leading online travel sites wrote just two years ago about why now is the time to visit Fez.
So, why should you visit? The compact answer is that you should visit if you love to travel for the sake of culture and history. Fez isn't bursting with modern attractions or comforts, but it’s as accurate a snapshot of past eras as you’ll find in a North African city. That makes it a worthwhile stop on any vacation in the area. There are several noteworthy sites, including old mosques, ancient tombs, the minaret, and various museums. But the best course of action, provided you’re safe about it, is to lose yourself in the city. The feelings you get and the buildings you run into as you wander about Fez make the experience special.
If you’re looking for a North African destination that feels more like an ideal Caribbean getaway, Tunis may be your best bet—at least among major cities. In some ways, it resembles other North African cities like Fez and Marrakesh. Its Medina quarter is a popular attraction, you can find plenty of old Arab architecture around the city, and the Bardo Museum is filled with interesting glimpses of the ancient world.
But there’s more to Tunis than these features and some of the best reasons to travel there exist on the outskirts of town. One is the ruined ancient city of Carthage. This was the seat of the Carthaginian Empire, which challenged Rome for Mediterranean supremacy in the Punic Wars. The other is Sidi Bou Said, a small coastal town that looks and feels as much like some of the locations on the Greek isles as anything else.
Cairo is one of the most populous cities in Africa, and also one of the most famous. It’s also one of the most interesting cities in the world from a historical perspective. It's located right in the thick of the ancient world, near the Nile delta and the connection from Africa to Asia. It’s become a big, modern city in many respects, but the sightseeing is still incredible. You can take in Saladin’s Citadel (built in the late-12th century), explore the Egyptian Museum and its incredible artifacts, tour many spectacular mosques, and stroll through beautiful Al-Azhar Park, with its views of the city.
The main attraction, however, is the pyramids of Giza. We’ve seen the pyramids and their history fictionalized and used in pop culture over the years. They’ve played roles in countless films and books, as well as in video games. Currently, a game called “Pyramid: Quest For Immortality” is in circulation among several titles produced by NetEnt for internet gamers. Games and movies aside though, the pyramids in real life are more stunning than in any fantasy experience. They’re among the wonders of the ancient world, and seeing them in person is awe-inspiring.
Algiers gets most of the headlines for Algerian travel, and it’s not a bad place to throw on your list. But Constantine, named for the emperor of the same name, is as unique a city as you'll find in this part of the continent. That’s because it was built to be a natural fortress, perched atop a high plateau above a deep gorge and marked by various cliffs, mountains, and canyons. The geography itself is picturesque, and it also makes the city very interesting. Constantine is marked by various bridges connecting small mountains and crossing ravines.
Compared to some other major North African cities, Constantine is a little light on specific attractions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t occupy yourself in some pretty amazing ways. Sightseeing on the larger bridges (the M’cid and the El Kantara) is a treat. You can also hike through the beautiful Gorges du Rhumel that runs beneath and throughout the city. And a visit to the Mediterranean coast roughly 50 miles to the north is perfectly manageable as a day trip.
We’ve already covered some of the wonders of Egyptian travel, which you can find in and around Cairo. But Luxor is arguably an even more impressive destination if you’re primarily looking for pieces of the ancient world, rather than a modern city. Luxor is what now exists at the site of the ancient city of Thebes, which was as glamorous as any place in ancient Egypt.
Luxor is in close proximity to the remains of Karnak, which was a sort of spiritual and religious hub for ancient Egyptians, and where you can still find old monuments and buildings. It’s also just across the Nile from the Valley of Kings, where you’ll find the tomb of King Tut</a> among other incredible burial spots and ancient artifacts. Luxor also has its modern attractions, even including some luxurious hotels and resorts to accommodate the many visitors. But in many respects traveling here can truly feel like going back to the ancient world.